Scary Cards in the Tarot

Updated on July 31, 2016
Some images on Tarot cards can be disconcerting
Some images on Tarot cards can be disconcerting | Source

Oh No! I got THAT Card!

Every reader has been there. You are doing a reading, you lay out cards, and one, or several, of “those” cards show up. You know, the traditionally scary looking cards that cause anyone not acquainted with Tarot to want to bolt. The fact is, these cards usually deal with internal issues or struggles, and our attitudes towards them. Spreads also have “positions” where cards take on new meaning. Yes, they can indicate problem areas, or something that needs attention, but they probably do not indicate some cataclysmic event in the querent’s life. For example, most everyone is aware that the Death card does not represent physical death. It indicates transformation, an ending to an old way of life, life transitions and so on. When faced with the Tower or the Ten of Swords, however, even the strongest many tremble.

Five of the most dreaded cards in a Tarot deck
Five of the most dreaded cards in a Tarot deck | Source

Five Cards That Give Pause

Disclaimer - this is a very brief rundown of interpretations. The meanings I am giving are my own, based on my experience, and do not necessarily follow “traditional” meanings. They are practical, real world interpretations based on the results of my readings over a thirty year span. As with most sites, blogs and books, they are born from the author’s experience with the cards. Your interpretations will likely be different. I encourage each and every person to form their own relationships with the cards, and allow “book” meanings and other reader’s interpretations to back up your own intuition, not the other way around.

For the purpose of this article, I have chosen five cards that tend to make readers (especially new ones) skittish. They are The Devil, The Tower, The Three of Swords, the Nine of Swords, and the Ten of Swords. We have already established that Death does not imply a physical death, so I won’t delve further for now. Also, you may be asking why the minor cards are all swords. First of all, yes, there are “unpleasant” looking cards in other suits. Swords, however, by their nature tend to look scarier than, lets say, Cups. I am using the Rider Waite Smith deck (the version here is the Radiant) because it is the most common and easily recognisable. Most readers have started with this deck and have one within reach. Other decks may vary on the names and therefore meanings of certain cards.

The Devil and The Tower
The Devil and The Tower | Source

The Devil and The Tower

The Devil - This card usually denotes some type of oppression or depression. Sometimes it is self inflicted (such as a negative thought cycle). It can mean fear keeping us immobile. It can mean an unhealthy relationship (with another, with ourselves, with food or alcohol etc.). Often, it implies a bondage that we keep upon ourselves. Again, position in the spread does matter. For example, if it is in the “past” position, this could mean an old fear that is affecting us in the present depending on supporting cards. Ask yourself: “What am I suppressing? What am I obsessing about? What is causing oppression?”

The Tower - This one is rough in the sense that it means a shake up of the status quo. It can also, however, mean inspiration that strikes from out of the blue (although the inspiration can lead to a shake up of the status quo, so it depends on where you stand). If it falls in the "atmosphere around you" position, this can mean that things are about to get a bit chaotic. There can be realizations that shake the very foundation. Again, it all depends on where you stand. If you are unsupported and unstable at the top of the tower, then you had best hold on as it could be a bumpy ride. This card can also mean an awakening, or an evolution where the ego is tamed. Ask yourself: “Where do I stand? Is my footing secure enough to withstand shaky ground? Have I done all I can to prepare for the unexpected?”

The Three, Nine and Ten of Swords
The Three, Nine and Ten of Swords | Source

The Three, Nine and Ten of Swords

The Three of Swords - At first glance it looks like an awful heartbreaking event has happened. The suit of Swords is the logic, thought, mental and communication suit. Most often, the events are influenced by thought patterns, speech or our mental state. The Three of Swords has rain in the background and a heart, denoting emotion. So, one logical interpretation is using speech in a cutting way and causing pain. Also, it could be a logical culling of an emotion that is not serving our higher purpose. It can be painful, but necessary. “Cutting to the heart of the matter” is another meaning that springs to mind here. If this card falls in the “possible outcome” position, depending on the other cards, this can mean that the path you are on will lead to a needed cutting away of things that you take to heart. Ask yourself: “Have I used my words harshly? Do I need to make a painful choice about something in my life? What needs to be cut away to allow me to heal and move forward?”

Nine of Swords - This is a card that I tend to actually see as a very reassuring card. To me, it says that what I am dreading, worrying about and losing sleep over is all in my mind and is not likely to ever happen. It is what weighs heavily on us and wakes us up at three in the morning. It can of course mean “things hanging over our head”, but very often those things are not quite as bad as they seem. Ask yourself - “Is there anything more I can do about the situation right now? Is my fear based thinking getting in the way of sleep or progress? Is my anxiety caused by real or imaginary sources?”

Ten of Swords - Anything that shows a prone figure stabbed by ten swords can be a bit off putting. But, like the Death card, sometimes endings are necessary to allow new growth. This is such a message. A new day is dawning to dispel the dark clouds. Some see this as the sun setting which beckons the night and time for rest. Either way, the worst is over and although it may not be pleasant, now the future looms all the better for allowing a part of the past to die. Another meaning I have found in readings is “pierced by one’s own logic”. How often does our over thinking something cause us difficulties? Ask yourself - “What needs to be cut off for good in order for me to move forward? Do I have a limiting thought process that is impeding my progress? Do I need to let go of control in order to get to a better place in my life?”

A word about swords here. At times, in the right positions and with supporting cards, swords can mean physical surgery.

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The Outcome

If you draw a whole bunch of these scary looking cards in one reading, it can mean that things are going to be a bit uncertain or difficult for a time. Remember, we always have choices and free will. I tell clients when I read for them that nothing is set in stone and what we see as we are sitting there is the situation and probable outcome if things progress as they are. A person can get up and turn left instead of right, causing a whole different series of events to unfold. Remember that each card supports and enhances the cards around it. Again, the cards can (and usually do) refer to the atmosphere and our inner workings. Of course, this could manifest in physical ways, which may not be all doom and gloom. Once you develop your own relationship with the cards, they will tell you their secrets. Treat them as you would a valued friend who will "tell it as it is." Insight can be disconcerting at times, but it will lead to personal growth.

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    • profile image

      sam 

      7 weeks ago

      I just had a reading today asking about my sons health and this is what I got ...SHITE.. in position 9,10,11 were

      four of swords , death , ten of swords .. thoughts

    • SM OBrien profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon OBrien 

      4 years ago

      Thank you! Yes, I have found certain combinations that give me pause as well, and I always have to look at the context.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      So many people (mostly those with passing interests but who have not studied the Tarot or any mystical/esoteric systems) fear the Death card & the Devil. I always try to put their minds at ease but the ones that always make me brace myself are the Tower & the 10 of Swords. Especially when they come up together, which thankfully has only happened to me once in a reading. Good article!

    • SM OBrien profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon OBrien 

      4 years ago

      Thank you. Yes, the Devil can represent many different things. Everyone seems to have certain cards that turn up when things are about to go a bit haywire and as a result tend to dread those cards. I think it is also wise to see what message they are giving us.

    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image

      LastRoseofSummer2 

      4 years ago from Arizona

      The Devil card never really bothers me - unless, like you wrote, position matters, it falls within the context of an otherwise dismal reading. For me, this card symbolizes sort of a general negativity. I also feels this card can have a sexual connotation. The only cards that get to me are the Tower and the Ten of Swords. But your Tarot reading is not your future etched in stone (thank goodness!)

      Great hub! I really enjoyed this.

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