Every other Wednesday, I will explore a different tarot card poetically, philosophically, and personally. While understanding textbook meanings of the tarot cards is useful, my Wild Card Wednesday series is not meant to be instructive. Rather, it is a free-flowing tarot card interpretation that may inspire you to delve deeper into the nuances of the cards.
Some may say the worst card in Tarot is the Tower; others say the Death card. The Devil card is among the top five on most people’s list, as is the Three of Swords. But for me, the worst card in the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is the Ten of Swords. Even if the card appears reversed (upside down), you know some heavy shit just went down–and that someone is struggling to heal from the aftermath.
Why the Ten of Swords is the Worst Card in Tarot
The imagery is disturbing, to say the least. Ten perfectly placed swords stabbing into the very support that holds a person up–the spine. This is a card about backstabbing, yes, but betrayal from a source you would least expect. Maybe a friend or lover betrayed you. Maybe you betrayed yourself, doing something you swore you never would do ever again. Maybe you feel like the Universe did not have your back and allowed something very terrible to occur–so terrible that you are lying face down in the mud, unable to rise up from the the tragedy of lost hopes.
Betrayal can happen when expectations on both sides collide like tectonic plates and create a geographic crisis (earthquake!). In an instant, one person’s selfishness or survival takes precedence over love, friendship, common decency. As a world comes crashing down, the betrayed stumbles and falls face down into despair. A dark night of the soul can be the aftermath, reflected in the dark sky on the horizon.
All trust involves vulnerability and risk, and nothing would count as trust if there were no possibility of betrayal.
–Robert C. Solomon
Is it cynical to believe? Do we really have to lower our expectations, as a friend of mine used to frequently advise me, his own life leaving him adrift on a sea of his parents’ alcoholism, abuse, and neglect. My friend found it hard to stand up for himself. His social anxiety caused him to spend a good portion of his time in hiding, in his apartment, his face in a book.
When he died at age 52 of a sudden heart attack, it was not the three of Swords that appeared in my tarot spreads at that time. Yes, I was heartbroken at losing my friend. But it was the ten of swords that kept surfacing. After he died, I had a long talk with his brother and learned the extent of my friend’s suffering. Many truths came out and I felt as though I did not have any clue as to who this person was that I knew for 25 years.
I felt betrayed.
I felt betrayed that I didn’t see the signs of his distress–that he didn’t let me see them. I felt betrayed because maybe I could have done something to help him. I felt betrayed because the Universe took from me someone I had a 25-year history with, someone who had helped me through some difficult times, someone who was a gentle soul who never seemed to find his place in this world.
The Ten of Swords brings home the point–in a rather painful way–that every time we love, we risk. We risk the pain of endings, yes, but we also risk the pain of being misunderstood, of being caught unawares by a disaster that maybe we could have prevented–or at least minimized.
The Ten of Swords shatters our illusions about constancy. People and situations do not remain the same. For some of us with a lot of fixed energy in our astrology charts, we find change excruciatingly painful and will hold on past the point of decency, to our detriment.
We often experience the Ten of Swords as the worst card in Tarot because letting go seems like a failure–and that somehow we are failures if we do let go. We betray our intuition that may be urging us to move on. We beat ourselves up for not taking action sooner when we started to suspect something was amiss.
And then, when our hopes are dealt ten terrible blows with ten terrible swords, we fall—just as my friend did that fateful day in May 2004, as his heart gave out after holding onto so much despair for so many years.
That, I believe, is the ultimate purpose of the ten of swords: to make us instruments of our own healing before it’s too late.
Which card, in your experience, is the worst card in the Tarot deck? Please share in the comments.