One thing I have always appreciated about tarot is its ability to speak the plain truth in difficult circumstances. Its advice is often bluntly constructive rather than comforting, and the reader must walk a fine line when imparting its wisdom to assure impartiality. It’s a truism that “bad things” do still happen to “good people,” and deciphering the unpleasant cards that can foretell upcoming trouble in a sensitive and supportive way is the reader’s chief duty. In an effort to avoid dismaying or distressing the sitter, it can be tempting to gloss over their negative import in favor of a “silver lining” evasion that can encourage an unhelpful fence-sitting posture rather than fostering a more assertive response. I see this misguided attempt at kindness as enabling an avoidance mentality rather than empowering forthright engagement in mending the situation. Despite the social climate of uncritical affirmation we presently live in, it most certainly isn’t “all good.”
A classic example is the bleak 10 of Swords, one of the most unhappy cards in the deck. There is nothing hopeful about a man lying on the ground with ten swords sticking out of his back. Although there are less devastating examples of this card that try to sidestep its severity, the iconic Waite-Smith version is the one I view as showing a “scorched earth” scenario. The battle is over and the cause has been lost; there is nothing to do but pick up the pieces and soldier on toward the breaking dawn that is just peeking over the horizon. The main advice is to not look back or dwell on the misfortune since there is no profit in “crying over spilt milk.”
I tend to rely on qabalistic number symbolism, which portrays the tarot as cyclical but also spiral in nature: every Ten depicts the exhaustion of the elemental energy that originated with the Ace of its suit, but it also contains the seed of a new beginning since “10” reduces numerologically to “1” (1+0=1). However, I don’t see it as a reboot of the same energy that has just stalled by merely paging back to the original Ace. Instead, I consider the Ace of the next suit in the series as being the logical place to start over. Wands give way to Cups, which cede to Swords, which presage Pentacles, and only then does the flow revert to the suit of Wands.
I recently did a reading for a local man. As is my customary practice, I didn’t ask to know his specific question or area of interest in advance. The 10 of Swords appeared as the outcome card. (Interestingly, the 10 of Cups came up as “the situation as it stands,” showing the culmination of an emotional matter.) I told him all of the above about the 10 of Swords and the Tens in general, and only found out after the reading that he had just gone through a divorce and was very appreciative of hearing about the chance for a fresh – and more grounded – start with the implied Ace of Pentacles “roll-over.” I didn’t downplay the harshness of the 10 of Swords so much as try to reveal the constructive opportunity for renewal it suggests He commented that the reading nailed his current circumstances with precision and gave him a lot to think about going forward. I considered it a success.