Eight of Swords: A Different Perspective

Eight of Swords: A Different Perspective

The Eight of Swords from the Waite-Smith Tarot, created by A E Waite and Pamela Colman Smith © US Games, Inc. The Eight of Swords from the Waite-Smith Tarot, created by A E Waite and Pamela Colman Smith © US Games, Inc.

This card has come up quite a lot recently in readings on other pages, in snatches of online conversations I've read, and also in my own client work - and something occurred to me about the Eight of Swords that adds another dimension to it for me.

This "something" is nascent, and I may write more about it in due course (or this post may suffice), but these are my thoughts for now in point form - and I'm not planning ahead:

  • I'm a psychodynamic psychotherapist as well as a tarot reader so I am regularly immersed in the concept and realm of the unconscious: that part of our psyche that lies out of our awareness, giving hints of its presence through our dreams, our feelings, bodily sensations ... and our defence mechanisms.

  • One of those defence mechanisms is repression. A part of us that also resides in the unconscious acts as a key decision-maker about what is let into our awareness with ease, and what needs to remain out of our awareness so that we are protected from it.

  • We are protected from what is hidden for good reasons always - but these reasons are often historical: what is repressed remains repressed for reasons long gone, by a part of us that lives in the past and believes that it continues to be a real and immediate danger to us.

  • The Eight of Swords embodies this idea of repression and our being bound by ghosts. The woman is alone; there is nothing there but flimsy bindings, and the swords of her mind surrounding her. She is imprisoned. She is imprisoned by the past.

  • When we meet this card in a reading to describe our situation, we can understand intellectually what the Eight of Swords symbolises: we are trapped by mental and psychological bonds that have no basis in outer reality.

  • This is called "insight": the conscious awareness of an unconscious process that has come to light. A part of our psyche has bypassed the gatekeeper and can see the framework of what is going on.

  • Repression, however, is more powerful than this, and insight, for all of its value (and it is valuable) is only the first step taken on a longer journey.

  • While we understand this all intellectually ("I am my own jailer", "I am the writer of my own story", "I am the creator of my own reality" etc, etc.), we still elude ourselves. Repression remains intact.

  • We believe that, because we know what's going on, then we have found the way out. Yet why do we still feel so damned *bound*?!

  • Because there is another phase. This is known in psychotherapy as "working through". Insight, as I wrote above, is the first step. It exists at the level of the mind. "Working through" is the next, longer, step: it exists at the level of feeling, of the body, of the trial and error of lived experience. We understand; and then comes the work of embodiment, and then of change, which has its own schedule.

  • So the Eight of Swords is no "easy peasy" card. It's nowhere near as easy peasy to free ourselves from it as it looks.

  • Repression is powerful; let's give it its due.

  • My suggestion in the face of repression and the presence of the Eight of Swords: gentleness and patience. And more gentleness and more patience. There is no time limit, no rush, no race. If you're now thinking, "But, yes, there is a race, Sarah. There's the race to avoid the Nine of Swords!", my answer is this:

  • What if the Nine of Swords is the depiction of the kind of self-reproach that happens when you feel you're "not doing things right"? What if it describes the pain of replay, after replay, after replay of self-judgement? Yes, it can describe illness plain and simple, but frequently it describes agony. What if that agony is not the failure to escape the Eight of Swords, but the failure to escape the judgement of not escaping the Eight of Swords?

This is complex stuff! I didn't mean to write for so long, but I didn't want to cut corners on a story that demands its day.

But the reason I wrote this was to challenge the FOMO-like nature in so many of us that tells us we're not doing it right, and we're certainly not doing it as well as everyone else.

Bollocks to that. You're just fine. You are where you are - so how can that be a mistake? Life is complex, and the Eight of Swords exemplifies this. It looks simple. It isn't easy. Remind yourself next time you find yourself up against it in one way or another.

You are where you are, as is the woman in the Eight of Swords. If she was meant to be elsewhere, doing other things, all we'd see is a pile of bandages lying among the puddles. But we do not. Her presence symbolises and mirrors something to us; she encapsulates our plight and normalises it.

All of us understand the Eight of Swords because all of us have been there - and all of us continue to be there in one way or another.

What is there to avoid?