Radiant Rider-Waite-Smith, © U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
This is the “scorched earth” card of the RWS deck – even more so than the Tower, which flattens the structure but doesn’t necessarily raze it to its foundation and then poison the surrounding soil. The 10 of Swords gets personal, right down to the particulars. Here, there is nothing left worth salvaging, so the advice is to not look back, just pick yourself up and soldier on. “Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along.” It often represents the last cut in an acrimonious divorce, decisively severing all ties. Trying to rebuild on the same toxic ground is not really an option, and neither is amicable reconciliation.
The main solace in this card is that it is a Ten, representing the end of one phase and the opportunity to begin a new one. This is embodied in the numerological expression “10 = 1+0 = 1,” the Ace. But I’ve always believed – and I just discovered in reading The Way of Tarot that Alejandro Jodorowsky does too – that the Ace is not that of the same suit, but the Ace of the next suit in the series. Tarot is not so much cyclical as evolutionary, so I view its path as a spiral rather than a simple return to its starting point (which implies that nothing was learned in working all the way through a suit). Quoting Joseph Maxwell from The Tarot: “The 10 of Swords brings us to firmer ground after the dark night of the soul figured in previous cards. The devoted and dedicated being will not fail: a new unity will be attained, and with it the promise of harvest after the labour that has gone before.”
The Ace of Pentacles follows, but as in primitive “slash-and-burn” farming, the soil may have been leached of its nutrients to the point of infertility, and time will have to pass before it is ready for replanting. Thus, the 10 of Swords indicates a period of mental exhaustion, mourning and contemplation. The breaking dawn in the distance suggests that healing is about to begin, and the right-facing posture of the slain man once again shows a “future” orientation. The adversaries have left the field, leaving the victim to take stock and regroup. What may feel like a “near-death experience” is in reality a chance for a reboot, but it may take some time to find the trigger.
There is a grim finality here that can be almost impossible to see beyond, which makes this one of the most daunting cards to have in a reading, especially as an outcome card. I once had a very instructive case in point. I was reading for a gentleman and as usual I didn’t ask to know his question in advance. He received the 10 of Cups as the” previous environment” of an abbreviated Celtic Cross spread and the 10 of Swords as the “future environment.” This was an almost textbook example of past familial happiness giving way to debilitating anguish. I explained my theory that he had the Ace of Pentacles to look forward to, an opportunity to put down new roots once the dust had settled. He told me as we wrapped up that the reading perfectly captured his present circumstances; he had just finalized a divorce and was in a quandary as to what to do next. The Ace of Pentacles made perfect sense and gave him hope that a new direction would present itself. As I like to say, sometimes the tarot can be perfectly literal.