A king bears a sword while seated on his throne. Carvings on the throne represent the waxing and waning moons, two butterflies and a representation of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Two birds soar in the distance, and the air is still.
The King of Swords represents the “fiery” element of air; that is to say, the component of air that is the most potentially transformative. The fact that fire needs air to simply exist makes the King a very strong, and potentially very combustible, card in a reading. He can plunge the world into the fiery pit of hell; he can rage out of control; or he can balance the elements of air and fire to provide light and warmth to his kingdom. Because he tips his sword slightly to his right—toward the Pillar of Mercy on the Tree of Life—his natural inclination is to use his power for the benefit of his subjects; but woe to he who offends!
Crowley described the King’s “psychological makeup” thus: “A pure intellect who destroys as soon as he creates, intentionally clever, admirably rational, unstable as to purpose since he knows that each of his ideas is as worthless or worthwhile as the last and the next and thus reduces everything to unreality. [It’s] totally impossible to get a grip on such people.” This could be due to the fact that the King is assigned to the astrological sign of Gemini the Twins, sign of mutable air, and he possesses all of the dualistic aspects of a personality associated with that sign. We get a glimpse into the King’s psyche in its exaltation in the card of the Trumps Major associated with Gemini, and the psyche in its debasement in its “funhouse” mirror image:
This is the reason the bucolic scene of Eden is carved into the King’s throne, and also why the waxing and waning moons are portrayed—for they are ever coming and going, growing brighter and growing dimmer: the duality of ego and psyche within the mind of man. As the King is the epitome of will personified in Swords, it should come as no surprise that this card is often associated with “power professions”: Politics, government, and the armed services.
The King of Swords, then, has the capacity for infinite good and infinite evil. We, too, have these same capacities, though we do not like to admit it. The king challenges us to examine the dualistic nature of our own psyches, for that is the only way we ever come to truly know our Selves in full. Should we fail to answer his challenge, we may end up repeating many bad habits in the presence of others that either “suck all the air out of the room” or that “blow up in our faces.”
Meanings in a reading can include: The will to power exalted, authority and control, kingship in all its highest aspects, strength and certainty, and mundanely, an older man born under an air sign; but also cruelty, misrule, wars and pestilence, collapse of empire, dictatorship and oppression. Like swords themselves, the King epitomizes the curative and destructive power of his suit. As we proceed into the realm of the material world and all its petty distractions, it’s best for us to remember the mission given us from God—the reconciliation of the opposites that the King of Swords personifies.