Reflections on The Four of Swords

I woke up this morning after experiencing the the most relaxing night of sleep I’d felt in many weeks—I actually slept for seven hours straight, when, as a rule, I don’t sleep more than two or three hours at a time before insomnia snaps me back, in an agitated state, to consciousness—and feeling newly invigorated and refreshed, I consulted the Tarot to see if there was any significance to this. It would be nice if it could happen more often! The reply: Four of Swords.


It’s amazing how this Tarot stuff works, isn’t it?

I say “amazing” because, above all else, this is a card of rest: “Rest from strife [and] relief from anxiety,” as Paul Foster Case describes it. It was also interesting that I drew this card today since it implies a time spent in solitude—a “hermit’s repose,” in Arthur Waite’s words—in juxtaposition with some event of religious or spiritual significance; see the stained-glass window in the chapel depicting Christ healing the afflicted while the knight of the Four rests in his bier. Similarly, Jesus rested for three days in solitude after enduring the agony of crucifixion before reappearing to proclaim His ministry for all time.

And what day is it today? Well, yesterday was Good Friday (and Passover), and tomorrow is Easter—in other words, today is the day when, two thousand years ago, Christ lay in the tomb; like our knight, resting after strife. Like I said, it’s truly amazing how the Tarot works sometimes . . .

We should also keep in mind the connection between the number “4” and the cross itself: As we have noted previously, it is a symbolic representation of a perfected work—the four seasons, the four elements, the four cardinal points, the four emanations of kabbalistic God-consciousness , the four suits of the Tarot, the four-lettered name of God (YHVH) , the four living creatures of Ezekiel’s vision, the four stages of consciousness of Jungian psychology . . . the list is practically endless. Any time we see a “4” in a Tarot spread, it generally portends the conclusion or resolution of a matter—and as a rule, in a favorable manner.

Perhaps we can appreciate this card more fully once we see what precedes it in the suit:


The agony of crucifixion, indeed!

Swords, in general, are the most difficult of the Tarot suits to work with as they mostly depict scenes of disruption and despair, and there is a calmness and serenity to the Four of Swords that is notably lacking in the suit as a whole. Unlike the Four of Wands, however, which depicts a public celebration, or the Four of Cups, which implies Divine intervention, the Four of Swords advises us that time spent alone, “off the grid” in seclusion and meditation, is the best course of action we can take for now, particularly if we are feeling the kind of emotional unrest implied by the Three.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”: So said Socrates over two millennia ago, and his words are still as relevant to us today as they were in the days of the ancients—perhaps even more so, given the distractions posed us every day by so-called “social media” that invites us to share every minutiae of our waking existence with billions of people online. There is a liberating element to this, of course, but also a “masking” element that fools people into thinking that the sum and total of all Creation is what we perceive in the physical world when those of us who have engaged in any spiritual or metaphysical work knows that this is simply not the case. The Four of Swords—which is the only card in the Trumps Minor to depict the interior of a church—urges us to look within to God, not without to the world, for the answers to life’s problems. If we devote ourselves to the task in earnest, and give ourselves enough time free from the myriad distractions of the present age, the answers shall eventually be given us. In the season of the solstice, the Eastertide, and the literal “passing over” from one chapter of our lives to another, this may be the most important lesson we can learn for now. Once we work our own inner healing, we can all enjoy the sleep of the just.

Dante DiMatteo 

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