Radiant Rider-Waite-Smith, © U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Now things start to go downhill fast in the morose-looking 9 of Swords! By all accounts, Nine is a positive number; the Third Perfection of the Greeks, the fulfillment of the element of a suit (with the Ten as a fading postscript), the number representing return to balance on the Tree of Life. Aleister Crowley quotes Zoroaster: “The number Nine is sacred, and attains the summit of perfection.” So how did the 9 of Swords manage to fall so far from grace? A hint can be found in another Crowley observation: “As a general remark, one may say that the multiplication of a symbol of Energy always tends to degrade its essential meaning, as well as to complicate it.” A second telling point is the association of this card with the precipitous energy of Mars in the nearly as hasty sign of Gemini; the combination is unpredictable at best and potentially traumatizing at worst.
In this case we’re considering mental energy, which by its very nature is inquisitive, but here it displays what Crowley calls the relentless “temper of the inquisitor” rather than mere idle curiosity. When slowed down to the extent it is in the 9 of Swords, it has a tendency to pick itself apart, looking for flaws in its logic. The exhilaration of pure thought has been replaced by the cold-blooded analytical dissection of the critic and the cynic. When it is directed at the self, fatalism can result (especially in the dead of night).
Much has been made of the RWS version of the card as depicting the Dark Night of the Soul, the physical and spiritual “purgations” described by Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross in his 16th Century poem. But my purpose here isn’t to focus on the challenges present in the card, it is to find a ray of light in the gloom. So a more fitting aphorism is probably “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” All thought has not yet ceased, as it has in the 10 of Swords, but it’s hard-pressed to find a way out of its cognitive dead-end. The obvious clue here is that almost all movement in this card is toward the right, usually considered a “future” focus, and the sword points are cut off by the frame of the card, suggesting that – although the distraught insomniac can’t yet see it – the “rest of the story” lies just out of sight. The “completion” of this Nine is still a work in progress, and by “letting the scales fall from his eyes,” the victim will no longer be powerless to direct its course; there is still an opportunity to do something sensible in the situation, and not to be blindly “railroaded” by circumstances. Patience and composure will be rewarded by renewed clarity when the dawn finally breaks, as long as despair doesn’t gain too tight a grip in the meantime. If it does, self-defeating thoughts and attitudes may hold the upper hand, leaving some kind of drastic “purgative” not necessarily of the victim’s choosing as the only recourse. The good news is that the sufferer is safe at home in bed and not stranded on a battlefield somewhere, making it entirely possible that his nightmares are entirely phantasmal, if he only has eyes to see.