Skip to main content

The Nine of Swords in Tarot and How to Read It

Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.

When your brain is on overdrive, it can be near impossible to go to sleep. You can't stop replaying all of your worries.

When your brain is on overdrive, it can be near impossible to go to sleep. You can't stop replaying all of your worries.

The Nine of Swords

You might be looking for an explanation for this card because of its dark, forbidding imagery. The card traditionally has a person weeping into their hands, a dark background, and nine swords hanging on a wall.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at this card and tell it's not associated with happy and cheerful things. It's not about getting a puppy or a happy romantic vacation in Hawaii. This card is about negative mental activity.

The Nine of Swords is sometimes referred to as the "Lord of Cruelty" as it often indicates someone in your circle has been cruel to someone.

Card Alignments


Deception, bad dreams, depression, suffering, violence, loss, scandal, delusions, anxiety, worry, fear, paranoia, despair, mistrust, anticipation, insomnia, limbo, stuck.


Distrust, malice, misery, suspicion, despair, isolation, imprisonment, rebirth, resurrection, martyr, mourning period, sorrow, shame, rejection, betrayal.

Nine Swords hang on a wall. A woman weeps into her hands. It's the middle of the night, and sleep refuses to come.

Nine Swords hang on a wall. A woman weeps into her hands. It's the middle of the night, and sleep refuses to come.

Card Description

In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Nine of Swords shows a woman crying into her hands. She is sitting up in bed. Nine swords are hanging on the black wall that surrounds her.

The woman is wealthy and has expensive possessions. She is in a wooden bed, which is engraved with what appears to be a scene from mythology or a great battle. Her bedding looks expensive. She has a quilt with differing patches in yellow, blue, and red. Her mattress is pinkish, and she wears a white nightgown.

Colors often help tell the stories on tarot cards. The woman's blanket could represent that she is overwhelmed by her different thoughts, emotions, and desires. Yellow represents thoughts, blue represents emotions, and red represents desires. The blanket has various symbols of zodiac signs and could signal that the woman is unsure what angle she should take.

The woman could be sick, and that's why she is in bed. She drops her head in her hands as if in pain. The scene appears to take place at night or in a darkened room.

The Second Estate

The Suit of Swords is associated with the second estate. This makes the Suit of Swords a little more complicated compared to the other three suits.

What is the second estate? It's one of the hierarchy tiers of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe's social system. The hierarchy differed in some regions, but for the most part, it went something like this:

First Estate: Monarchy, kings and queens, high clergy

Second Estate: Knights and nobles

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Exemplore

Third Estate: Peasants and bourgeoise

When it comes to swords cards, we can safely assume they have to do with knights or nobles. It deals with people who have more luxuries than the general population. The cards could also represent nations that have a great deal of wealth.

The Nine of Swords is called the Lord of Cruelty. The circumstances of the card come from the actions of a "Lord of Cruelty." The woman on the card is noble, and she is suffering from something huge. Whatever this is, it's keeping her awake at night with anxiety. She hasn't given up all hope, but she is definitely preoccupied with her misfortune. She has lost something of value, like a job or property.

The woman is worried that she'll fall from grace, that she'll be excommunicated and deemed worthless. The woman is the target of someone's cruelty.

Hanging Sword of Damocles

A story dating back more than 2,000 years could have been the inspiration for the Nine of Swords.

The ancient story is about the imminent and ever-present peril that those in power endure. Damocles was a courtier of the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse. He was pandering to the king by going on about his great fortune and power. Dionysius offered to switch places with him so that Damocles could get a real sense of what it was like on the throne.

Damocles happily took the king up on this deal. There were beautiful items all around him, silver, gold, and everything nice and in excess. It was, at first, a dream come true. The problem? The king had made many enemies. So, even though he had great fortune, he had to watch it scrupulously out of fear someone would try to come into the castle to seize his power.

The king had his servants hoist a sword above the throne, hanging by a single hair of a horse's tail. He really wanted Damocles to get a sense of the direness of ruling a kingdom.

Damocles eventually begged the king to let him go because he didn't want the responsibility of the throne anymore. It was more of a burden than a reward.

The story concludes that having virtue is enough to live a happy life.

Tarot Suits













Free will

Physical Manifestation (The Body)









Land Mammals





1, 5, 9

2, 6, 10

3, 7, 11

4, 8, 12






Body Representations

Head, Heart, Thighs

Neck/Throat, Chest, Legs/Shins

Arms & Shoulders, Belly, Ankles

Hands, Root Chakra (Spine Base), Feet

Four Humors

Yellow Bile

Black Bile








Ruling Planets

Mars, Sun, Jupiter

Mercury, Venus, Saturn

Mercury, Venus, Uranus

Moon, Pluto, Neptune

Western Astrology

Aries, Leo, Sagittarius

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Gemini, Libra, Aquarius

Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Chinese Zodiac

Dragon, Monkey, Rat

Snake, Rooster, Ox

Horse, Dog, Tiger

Sheep, Pig, Rabbit

Yin and Yang





Poker Equivalents





Court Cards





Upright Card

This card indicates doubt and pain. It's associated with insomnia and suffering. It is a representation of one of those long nights where you can't fall asleep. Perhaps you start digging through Quora answers on whether the soul exists, the meaning of life, and so on.

The card is about both real and imagined pain. You could be suffering from nightmares and hallucinations. The person on the card is someone who is caught between the world of dreaming and reality. They're in limbo—suspended between life and death.

Sickness can make you feel like you're caught between life and death. You might feel yourself slipping into another world because you're in so much pain. The card could indicate someone who is about to give birth and is suffering from labor pains.

Fear Dominating Over You

The swords in the card can be interpreted in multiple different ways. The swords could be the source of all trouble or tools to cut yourself away from your problems.

The swords could represent fears that hang above you. This is scary because at any moment, you could be pierced by your fears. Your heart is racing, your mind is going through every possibility, and there is nothing you can do to get rest. This is an awful situation.

This card is associated with unsightly visions: demons, devils, and more. The knives on this card could cut you to pieces at any moment. On the bright side, the swords can also be seen as tools to help you cut off your difficulties.

With calculated inaction, like meditation, you could overcome the troubles of the Nine of Swords. You need a mix of faith and stasis to curb restless thoughts.

The Restless Martyr

This card can represent a martyr who is suffering but hopes their suffering will bring in new life. In a way, this card represents someone like Pisces.

The card is reminiscent of a pivotal scene that leads up to Christ's crucifixion. He spends time in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. He asks for God to spare him. An angel comes from heaven to be with him. The Agony in the Garden takes place before Jesus is captured and hung on a cross.

Don't Let Fear Control You

You don't want to be plagued by fear, guilt, or doubt. This card could be a sign that you need to change your filter because you're clogged up with unhealthy things. Perhaps you're not seeing things right and need to unplug. If so, try to get some distance from your issues.

Your worst fear is unlikely to materialize. I was really worried in my twenties that a giant earthquake was going to happen, and I started telling people this premonition of mine. It didn't happen. People were nice to me when I was being over the top, but the point is, sometimes you really think something is going to happen deep down in your gut, but you're wrong. Not every fancy that falls into your head is correct. Slow down and be patient. Let things unfold and try not to let yourself be easily shaken.

Don't Let Negativity Rule Over You

This card could be a sign that you've got to break your thought patterns. You're just cycling through your negative thoughts. Your negative thoughts are like layers stacked on top of each other, kind of like the swords on the walls.

Don't give your negative thoughts credence. Sometimes we become our own worst enemy by giving fuel to bad ideas. You don't want your worries to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try to temper your expectations and even see the humor in things. You're taking things too hard and it's pulling you down like quicksand.

You need to master your thoughts. Perhaps allow yourself to think of the bad things, acknowledge them by writing them down, and then light them on fire. Your worst fears don't have to come into fruition. You can manifest them into ashes. Sometimes you have to show negativity that it isn't your boss.

Live a Balanced Life

Your thoughts need to be balanced. You don't want to be overwhelmed by negativity, as the card suggests, but you also don't want to be seen as someone who only sees the positive side of things. You want to be realistic and have a good handle on the truth. Be honest: you're not going to be taken into a ship by aliens, your house likely won't get sucked into a sinkhole, and you probably won't be locked into a basement for weeks.

Bad things do happen, but worst-case scenarios rarely do. Remember that you can reach out for help. You don't have to go through your unpleasant situation alone. Find a friend or a professional who can help guide you through your stressful time.

Whether the pain is real or imagined, the Nine of Swords can be unforgiving.

Whether the pain is real or imagined, the Nine of Swords can be unforgiving.

Nine of Swords Reversed

This card in a reversed position is a sign that you're likely hanging together by loose threads. You're at the end of someone else's malice and are the Lord of Cruelty's victim. You will need to carefully untangle yourself, somewhat like the character in the Hanged Man card.

Fortunately, this card indicates that a nightmare is ending. Relief is around the corner, but you have to be careful about how you reach it. In the upright position, the Nine of Swords suggest that you're caught in limbo. In the reversed position, it is a sign that you are about to be born, and the thread you are hanging onto is like an umbilical cord. You have to let go at some point.

The Nine of Swords reversed can sometimes be seen as a hopeful card. It indicates a future despite the grim situations of your present. Try to make a commitment not to let your thoughts spiral out of control. Once you can whittle down your thoughts, it'll be easier to direct them.

Fear can limit your potential. A healthy dose of fear can prevent you from doing something stupid. But an exorbitant amount of fear can stop you from doing anything. You want to go forward with life, not stall into oblivion.

Stop being hard on yourself. Don't let your inner critic call all the shots. No one is perfect, so stop acting like you're above all mistakes. If you let yourself fail a little, you'll grow. Life is about gaining experience, but if you're too afraid to make a mistake, then you'll never get anywhere.

Track Your Ego

You don't want to have a bloated ego where you praise yourself for everything big and small, but you also don't want to attack yourself for every little grievance imaginable. Would you like to be in a relationship with someone who makes a big deal out of everything, who makes you feel bad for everything? I hope your answer is no. You can do better than that! You want a partner who is understanding and forgiving, not judgmental and rude.


The Nine of Swords reversed could also indicate that you are on the way to recovery, so you can soon relax and take things easy. The awful situation you're going through won't last forever.

The Nine of Swords upright depicts Christ's agony in the garden. The Nine of Swords reversed depicts him leaving his tomb after his crucifixion and death. The suffering he endured was real and terrible, but he triumphed over it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Andrea Lawrence

Related Articles