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The Ten of Swords in Tarot and How to Read It

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

The Ten of Swords in the Sola-Busca tarot deck. The Ten of Swords is associated with excess and finality.

The Ten of Swords in the Sola-Busca tarot deck. The Ten of Swords is associated with excess and finality.

The Ten of Swords

Death, Tower, Hanged Man, Devil, the Nine of Swords, and the Ten of Swords all have grim imagery. Let's just say that they are not the happiest cards. The Ten of Swords—the last numbered sword card—is associated with finality and excess, and is often seen as a substitution for the Death card.

This card suggests a huge attack was planned to prevent you from doing something. See this scenario as the hand of fate—something you wanted wasn't meant to be. This card is a sign that you're meant for something else, and now is the perfect time to cut your losses.

The Ten of Swords signals that you lost the battle. It doesn't mean the war is over, but you need to completely change your strategy, and perhaps, take on a completely different role (e.g., should you be in the role of a knight or that of a healer?).

Card Alignments

Upright

Destruction, sorrow, burdened, excess, deep wounds, finality, ending, betrayal, loss, crisis, calamity, breakdown, too much pressure, rejection, failure, abysmal, destitution.

Reversed

Stuck in past, repeating traumas, resisting the end, preventing recovery, preventing regeneration, crippling pain, neverending, torture, dissonance, discord, great disturbance.

Ten Swords go into the back of a man. He is lying on the ground. He is in serious pain and dying. He will soon return to dust.

Ten Swords go into the back of a man. He is lying on the ground. He is in serious pain and dying. He will soon return to dust.

Card Description

In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Ten of Swords shows a man on the ground with ten swords going into his back. Pools of blood are coming out of him, and it looks like a scarlet blanket or cape is wrapped over his legs. His tunic is a brownish, humble color. His right arm can be seen, and he is wearing knight armor underneath his tunic.

The sky is full of black clouds, but there is a thin layer of sunlight underneath all the clouds. There are mountains or waves in the distance. The card is full of contrasts. It's essentially pieced together in different rows of color.

Color Symbolism

  • The top layer is black, signaling emptiness, death, and destruction.
  • There is a thin layer below black of dark gray, suggesting destitution, apathy, and oppression.
  • Yellow is below the gray, representing sickness, fear, and discoloration. This yellow is jarring, not happy.
  • The layer of blue suggests convoluted emotions and upsetting memories. Blue is the most comforting color in the scene, and it's hard to see because of all the blades in the man's back. The blue could suggest serenity after the storm.
  • Below the blue, a vibrant red. It represents repressed desires, freedoms, and movement. The red color is pierced. Movement is severely restricted. This isn't a red of valor, passion, or hope. It's a red of defeat.
  • The final layer is brown, suggesting man will go back to the dust. He is becoming one with the dirt. His shirt and skin color already blend in with the ground. He is finding his resting place. This is a good thing: he is promised rest and escape from his horrible injuries.

The Second Estate

The Suit of Swords deals with the Second Estate. This puts the suit on a different level than the other three suits, particularly when dealing with numbered cards. Logic in a way provides for something new and different in comparison to free will (fire/wands), physical manifestation (earth/pentacles), and emotions (water/cups).

Logic is the key to humanity as it is something that separates us from the other species. Our ability to conceptualize beyond our senses has allowed us to solve complex riddles.

Logic and wisdom try to look beyond the scope of what we can perceive in reality. It's what we use to try and understand the cosmos, to reach out to God, and to develop theories and philosophies about the world around us. Logic in and of itself doesn't automatically designate someone to a throne, a position of power, or herald them into the higher powers of the Major Arcana.

Logic dances with empirical data and beyond it. Humans' mental signature gives them more power than they really understand, and in some ways, deserve.

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Tarot and Hierarchies

The Second Estate was one of the hierarchy tiers of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe's social system. The social system differed by region, but looked something like this:

First Estate: Monarchy, kings and queens, high clergy

Second Estate: Knights and nobles

Third Estate: Peasants and bourgeoise

Knights and nobles had far more wealth than the peasants. The Second Estate often had direct connections to the First Estate. It was composed of people of power, wealth, and sway. If knights or nobles walked into your establishment, they commanded some amount of attention and respect.

To be someone who carries the sword is also someone who carries burden. Knights and nobles have a life of luxury but at a cost. Their lives are often more competitive and unstable because people are jealous of them. People will steal from them and try to get them to fall. Perhaps the knights and nobles are hoarding too much wealth and not sharing. Many of the peasants' criticisms of the knights and nobles are valid.

Carrying the sword will come with enemies, but it's a necessary role. We need people who stand up for intelligence, who are willing to fight for causes they believe in. We give gifts to these people who make sacrifices many of us never would.

The Ten of Swords represents a knight or noble who was killed in a battlefield. He wasn't just killed—he was excessively killed. Ten swords in one back is absolutely unnecessary. This man must have inspired a lot of rage. He had enemies, and he was ill-prepared to stand up against them. He also may have been betrayed by those close to him, and they wanted to ransack him because of their greed. No matter what angle, the man's death (and life) is a tragedy.

Tarot Suits

CategoryWandsPentaclesSwordsCups

Element

Fire

Earth

Air

Water

Elementals

Salamanders

Gnomes

Sylphs

Undines

Represents

Free will

Physical Manifestation (The Body)

Thoughts

Emotions

Colors

Red

Green

Yellow

Blue

Animals

Land Mammals

Reptiles

Birds

Fish

Numbers

1, 5, 9

2, 6, 10

3, 7, 11

4, 8, 12

Music

Percussion

Brass

Woodwinds

Strings

Four Humors

Yellow Bile

Black Bile

Blood

Phlegm

Body Representations

Head, Heart, Thighs

Throat/Neck, Chest, Legs/Shins

Arms & Shoulders, Belly, Ankles

Hands, Root Chakra (Spine Base), Feet

Seasons

Summer

Spring

Winter

Fall

Ruling Planets

Mars, Sun, Jupiter

Mercury, Venus, Saturn

Mercury, Venus, Uranus

Moon, Pluto, Neptune

Western Astrology

Aries, Leo, Sagittarius

Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Gemini, Libra, Aquariu

Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Chinese Zodiac

Dragon, Monkey, Rat

Snake, Rooster, Ox

Horse, Dog, Tiger

Sheep, Pig, Rabbit

Yin and Yang

Yang

Yin

Yang

Yin

Poker Equivalents

Clubs

Diamonds

Spades

Hearts

Court Cards

Knights

Pages

Kings

Queens

Upright Ten of Swords

The Ten of Swords represents destruction. The gravity of a situation is pinning you to the ground. You are overcome by a heavy burden that is excessive in its magnitude.

You're not the victor of a battle, nor should you pretend that you have won. This card signals that things have gone horribly wrong. My best recommendation—if you're feeling a connection to this card—is to get some rest. Stop trying to force your way through something and take a break. You can't afford to exert any more energy.

The more you try to force your way through this bad situation, the more your personal demons are going to take advantage of you. Get to a place where you can sleep, turn off your phone, pull down the shades. Collapse into your bed and finally let go. The only way you're going to find stability is by freeing yourself of your burdens.

Believe In Your Future

Don't let present circumstances control you. Perhaps you did really bad on a test and in a subject you typically ace. Grades are just place markers; they're not permanent. Something could be distracting you and preventing you from succeeding. You may need to walk away from things for a bit to improve your perspective.

The swords in this situation represent anguish and strife, particularly of the mind. You are overwhelmed, maybe you feel like you're facing a giant wave, and you're about to be engulfed by a sea. I have been in this position. It's awful, and I eventually had to cut myself out of certain engagements. I reached out and got help; I needed a professional to guide me. I turned to therapy. I had too many restless thoughts at the time, and my job had turned viciously toxic. I had to separate myself from my excessive burdens. This card is warning you what will happen if you try to do too much.

Leave Bad Situations

Dark clouds hang over you and the field around you. If you stay, you will continue to be in a land of storms. This could be a sign that you need to journey away from this place. You need to be somewhere with sunshine, rolling hills, green grass, and fertile land. Don't let yourself get stuck in a bad place. Awaken your feet and move. Air rules three things: your arms, belly, and ankles. It's time to awaken the ankles to move. Be like Aquarius who knows how to flow and is a master of new perspectives.

Find Hope

Destruction and failure are often not permanent. It may feel like you've been marked by a Scarlet letter, but you can be free of this. Even tattoos can be reversed. Your current situation could be bad—that doesn't mean it will be forever.

The Ten of Swords is often associated with a shocking loss. Perhaps your house caught on fire, your dog died, or your car exploded. It's something big and terrible. The card indicates you are going through some kind of heavy grief. Tarot cards are intended to teach you about human experiences and emotions; all 78 cards deal with real-life situations that people go through.

All things will inevitably end. That doesn't mean that things are permanently over and finished—nothing lasts forever. This is an important lesson, even if you're not currently going through a rough time. The Ten of Swords depicts a moment in a life that's crucial, important, and will be a core memory. It's something that would be in the "Top Ten Worst Moments of Your Life," to put it in a tongue-in-cheek way.

A card from the Visconti tarot deck. (Ten of Spades)

A card from the Visconti tarot deck. (Ten of Spades)

Reversed Ten of Swords

Imagine you're repeatedly getting stabbed by swords without any release. The Ten of Swords reversed is about having no momentum to move forward. In this position, the card suggests that you're still in the midst of pain and your suffering is extreme. The only way through this bad time is to call out for patience. Perhaps see patience as a living creature that can comfort you. Until you can move past the pain, it's going to be hard to find rest.

Stop Hurting Yourself

Reversed, this card means you may be reflecting too much on your past pain when what you really need to do is let go. The longer you hold onto this pain, the more it's going to rip you to pieces. This card indicates a significant trauma. You're having a hard time getting out of your memories, and those memories are starting to blur together. I don't wish any of this on anyone. I've met people who have had to go through serious things, and it's not easy to get a sense of mental control or direction. Pain like this is wild, especially when it's mental.

Meditation can help you slow your thoughts. You can't fire through all your thoughts all the time: this will keep you awake when you should be sleeping. This kind of imbalance will steal from you. You'll struggle to make cohesive thoughts or good decisions.

Don't Wallow in Misery Forever

Stop letting things drag out for all of eternity. This card is an invitation to take the back the reins of your life. Take baby steps forward. You don't have to fix everything all at once . . . nor is that necessarily feasible.

Eventually, you need to remove yourself from the source of pain. Instead of picking at scabs and old wounds, apply bandages. Give yourself room to heal. Sometimes physical healing is easier than mental healing. You don't need to replay the same memories over and over: give yourself permission to stop haunting yourself.

Your old demons can be put to rest. Send them out to pasture, not yourself.

Continue to seek growth and hope that years from now you'll be in a better place. Have hope that there is a better tomorrow. Terrible situations can't endure forever: eventually, energy must be released and allowed to relax.

Seek your healing now and don't clutch to painful memories. You should process these monsters, but don't let it overwhelm you.

Seek Professional Help

If you really are relating to this card or this article, I highly encourage you to seek help. Get a professional therapist who can help guide you. There are affordable options for your mental health and wellbeing. Get help when you're off course.

Remember: there are free YouTube videos for meditation, yoga, and easy listening. Separate from conspiracy theories and seek expert advice.

The Ten of Swords reversed encourages you to let go of pain. Release so you can begin to heal. You can't stay in a spot of torture forever; your body and mind ultimately want to reject pain.

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

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