A man dressed in Cossack garb sneaks into an enemy camp to steal weapons in broad daylight. He runs away carrying five swords, but two remain behind.
Of all the images in the Tarot deck, this one may be the closest to being a complete and total cipher. Even Arthur Waite admitted that the card was “uncertain in its import, because the significations are widely at variance with each other.” (???) We can at least assume that this card, like the Six that precedes it, signifies some kind of motion—”travel by land” is one traditional reading—but of what type? The Cossack intends to steal his opponents’ arms by means of stealth, yet he does it in broad daylight. He cannot carry all the weapons available to him—a missed opportunity to help his own cause. What’s worse, the enemy still has weapons by which it can wage war on the hapless Cossack and his allies—and if he is detected, he will soon be a fugitive with an angry war party on his tail.
Crowley titled this card “Futility,” and that seems an apt description. This is Netzach, primordial emotion, in Yetzirah, the world of formation, in the realm of the collective unconscious of man. It is a very unstable station along the Tree, and one where it becomes easy for us to lose our way and make mistakes in judgment.
In short, our Cossack represents the kind of “sound and fury signifying nothing” that we experience in our minds when we refuse to accept the inevitability of “passing over” implied by the Six—those moments when we look for ways to “cheat death,” or more mundanely, to “rig the game” of life. This is only so much wasted activity that leaves ourselves exposed, like our Cossack, to revenge and reprisal. In this case, the “revenge” comes not from the beyond but from within ourselves, when we torture ourselves emotionally for making mistakes rather than taking the time to evaluate them objectively to see what we can learn from them. The “guilt complex” has been instilled in many of us since childhood, and liberating ourselves from it is one of the biggest psychological breakthroughs we can make in this life.
Meanings of this card in a reading can include: Stealth, deceit, cunning, ineptitude, opportunities missed, tasks only partially accomplished, energy misapplied, intellectual property theft, and theft of any kind; but also acknowledgment of futility, rededication to the task, reassessing one’s priorities, restitution for offenses against others. When we fight the inevitable, we only make ourselves miserable. Better that we live in the joy of the present day, and release the future to God.