Comrade Femme Tarot: The Ten of Swords

Each month I share a reflection on a tarot card in the service of self- and community-care, healing, and social and political transformation. I am still relatively new to tarot and nothing I post is meant to serve as an expert guide to the deck. Rather, I hope to illuminate, as I learn in public, the ways in which the tarot can act as a tool for healing, activism, movement building, and worldmaking. I am thankful for the teachers who have guided me in this embracing this modality and humbly recommend visiting more seasoned readers and intuitives to learn more (on tarot and/or related practices), including: Sara Gottesdiener, adrienne maree brown, The Firebrand Witch, Lindsay Mack, Dori Midnight, The Hoodwitch, Little Red Tarot, among many others!

I was called this month to share and reflect on the Ten of Swords. This is an often ominous-looking card and it happens to be the card I pulled the day I got the news that I wasn’t offered my dream job (or what I had begun to construct as my dream job). I had a feeling in my gut that I was going to get news about the job that day, so when I drew the Ten of Swords, I felt a pang in my gut. I really thought I had the offer in the bag, and this card was one of the first and clearest signals I got that it might not be mine after all. When, a few hours later, I got a rejection email, I thought of the card and knew it was my time to be burdened, it was my time to collapse, it was my time to sink deep in the kind of pain that renders one immobile. It was my time to be in the Ten of Swords.

In the tarot, the Ten of Swords follows the Nine of Swords, which is often described as a period of realization that the situation you’re in is not a good one. The Ten that follows is-- to rely on a cliche--the straw that breaks the camel’s back. When I think of this in relation to my life in academia, it makes perfect sense that I pulled this card the day I got my job news. I have known, for years, that being a precarious academic has been a bad situation--I’ve been in the Nine of Swords for quite some time about it. But it wasn’t until I lost a job I actually wanted that the pain pummeled me so as to break me. To bleed me. To force a death of a dream, so as to give way to rebirth toward something new.

deck art: Cristy C. Road - Next World Tarot

This is the beauty of the Ten of Swords (and all cards that seem “bad” in the tarot): it is a reminder that when things are so very dark, we will be forced to seek for light wherever we can find it. And when our external situations tell us it’s nowhere to be found: we get to seek it out inside ourselves.

There is value in these dark times. There is something to be gained from the bottom of pits and the bleakest of skies. Our suffering is so heavy and concretized because it becomes a tool for us later--a reference when a friend needs empathy or when we need a reminder of gratitude for how far we’ve come. And, as Sara Ahmed notes of unhappy times, that when joy is killed (so literally in the aesthetic depiction of the Ten of Swords), it makes room “for life..for possibility...for chance.”

The ten of swords is a time to acquiesce to suffering. To grieve and deflate. To honor sorrow so that we may move through it. It is a time, as Cristy Road notes in her beautiful tarot guide, to seek validation of the pain not only from yourself, but also your community. We can’t do it alone: “The Ten of Swords believes now is the time to ask your people for safety.”

We’ve surely all lived through many Ten of Swords periods. I’m glad to be on the other side of it in relation to my job, but the only reason I didn’t get stuck there is because I let myself suffer with reckless abandon. I wailed and spiraled and emotionally (and a couple times physically) collapsed. But this is how we get out: by moving through.

In the tarot, the Ten of Swords is followed by the Page of Swords. The Page stands tall, free of laceration, albeit likely scarred. But the Page is ready, reborn, and eager to choose thoughts that serve them better. Ready, reborn, and eager to believe that the new world is better than the old, and that they (and their beloved community) have everything they need to build it.

So if you find yourself in the Ten of Swords, feel it, sweet one. Know that it is the surrender that will propel you onward.

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