I’ve been away from the blog for a while, and I apologize for that. My father died unexpectedly, and I had to fly out to the West Coast to deal with that. I will likely write about the grieving process at some point here on the blog, but for now, I prefer to keep it more or less private; I took some time away, and now I’m slowly returning myself back to my normal routine.
Today, I’d like to write about two cards that have been on my mind for quite a while, and that I’d been planning to write about before my unforeseen hiatus: The Four of Swords and the Nine of Wands. These are, I think, the two cards in the Tarot deck that deal most significantly with themes of rest and recuperation.
The Four of Swords comes off the heels of the heartbreak in the Three, and is immediately followed by the defeat and instability of the Five. In the midst of all that sorrow and pain, the Four of Swords is a brief respite, a moment of stability and safety where we have the opportunity to catch our breath and prepare ourselves for what’s to come.
The Nine of Wands, by contrast, comes at the end of its suit. We’ve been slogging through the suit of Wands, and as we’ve progressed, things have become heavier and more difficult. We started out light and easy with the Ace and Two, cards that forecast ambition and aspiration; but then slowly, over the course of the suit, as stick after stick has been added to the load, things have started to weigh us down. By the time we get to the Nine, almost at the end of the suit, we’re exhausted. We can’t imagine holding on any longer, and we want nothing more than to drop our burdens, collapse on the spot, and sleep. Unfortunately, though, we don’t get that opportunity; the Nine of Wands is a card that tells us we have no choice but to carry on, because the time for rest is not yet nigh. We don’t get to rest until we reach the end of the suit, whether we like it or not.
I think of these cards as mirror images of each other. The Four of Swords is rest achieved, when we see an opportunity to take a break and we seize it; the Nine of Wands is rest deferred, when we want nothing more than to take a break but we force ourselves to push on just a little bit longer. Looking at the Nine of Wands, visually, there is no place the central character could rest; he’s standing on top of a battlement, where he’s exposed and unsafe if he drops his guard. It is only when we get to the culmination of the suit, in the Ten of Wands, that we see a house on the horizon promising some kind of reprieve.
And yet, both cards carry the same underlying message: You have to rest eventually. We all need to take a break, to get away from whatever work or struggle we’re dealing with. We all need time to relax, to recuperate, to lick our wounds. In the Nine of Wands, the message is “Hold on just a little bit longer,” whereas the Four of Swords tells us that the time to rest is now—and brooks no argument on the subject. But in both cases, we do have to rest. The figure in the Nine of Wands has to hold himself together a little bit longer, but he cannot go on indefinitely. He needs someone to relieve him of his post so he can go rest; otherwise, he will collapse on his feet. Part of the message of the Nine of Wands is that we need to create opportunities for ourselves to rest, and if those opportunities are nowhere in sight, something has to change. We can hold on a little bit longer, but we cannot hold on forever.
If you don’t make time for yourself to rest, rest will impose itself. Try to go a week without sleep, and your body will shut down on you. Work 80-hour weeks for months on end, and the same thing is likely to happen. Whether rest comes now or later, it does have to come. It cannot be deferred indefinitely. Both of these cards remind us of the need to take care of ourselves, to pay attention when we’re running out of fuel. Whether the need for rest is physical, emotional, or intellectual, it is real and inescapable. When I see the Four of Swords in a reading, one of the things it most often says to me is “You need to take a break, right now. Drop everything and take some time away.” When I see the Nine of Wands, it’s more of a warning: “I know you don’t have the luxury of taking a break right now, but you’d better find a way to do so soon, because you’re starting to wear down.”
That’s about all I have for this post; just a few thoughts that have been knocking around in my head. (I suppose it’s appropriate that this is my first post back after several weeks of unplanned leave from the blog. Rest imposes itself, indeed!) I’m still juggling a lot of things, both emotional and logistical, in the aftermath of my father’s death,* so I may not be writing here as consistently as I’d like, but I’ll be around. I have a couple of fun things that I’ve really been looking forward to writing about, so hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do. Until next time!