The Twos and the Sword of Damocles

The analogy I’m attempting here may be too much of a stretch even for me, but let’s see where it takes us.

Damocles was a courtier to King Dionysius II, 4th Century BC ruler of Syracuse. He was the classic “Man Who Would Be King,” envious of the tyrant’s power and glory. His thinking would have been right at home in the Mel Brooks universe: “It’s good to be the king.” To disabuse him of his erroneous assumptions, Dionysius offered to trade places with him for a day but, after installing Damocles on the throne, suspended a huge sword over his head by a single horsehair. Since his fate hung in such a slender thread, Damocles experienced so much anxiety that he begged to be restored to his former humble state. The moral of this tale is “Be careful what you wish for.” Shakespeare captured the royal malaise perfectly in his line from Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Which brings us to the tarot Twos. These are often seen as benign, even innocuous, cards, creating no real cause for worry. The number Two signifies duality, polarity, alternation and adjustment, often implying a choice between two extremes in a situation. At worst, they portend a sometimes slippery decision-making scenario that is revealed in pairs of diametrical opposites: black-and-white; yes-and-no; good-and-bad; odd-and-even; high-and-low; back-and-forth; up-and-down; in-and-out; etc. Where to come down on that spectrum is the chooser’s dilemma.

As the first even-numbered binary, the Two represents a primal state of balance which is echoed in its multiples. At least in theory, the “Two” cards are harmonious in their action and should not be difficult to get a handle on. But all of them are overhung by an uneasy sense of insecurity, as if waiting for the bubble to burst. This is due to the fact that the number Two, although it is expressed in esoteric geometry by the Line, isn’t simply a static “flat-line” between Point A and Point B. It is in constant motion, a reciprocating or compensating state of flux that cycles between two poles and is seldom at rest. Thus, the steadiness it implies can be something of an illusion and isn’t a foregone conclusion. There is always the possibility of false starts and interruptions or “hiccups” in the seamless flow of events. It can be a boulder-strewn byway fraught with potholes, detours and double-backs rather than a smooth highway, and the Sword of Damocles often hangs low over its operation.

The idea of a pendulum is instructive; it only achieves a momentary equilibrium when it passes through the bottom of the arc in its oscillation between two extremes of travel. Think of one of those desktop “perpetual motion machines:” the steel balls eventually stop swinging when the initial motive force is exhausted through multiple collisions. A child’s top is another good example; it is only in balance when it is spinning at a steady rate of spreed and starts to wobble when it slows. Aleister Crowley pegged it quite well in his description of the 2 of Disks: “According to the doctrine that Change is the support of stability, the card is called Change.” Elsewhere he said “Of all the important doctrines concerning equilibrium, this is the easiest to understand, that change is stability; that stability is guaranteed by change; that if anything should stop changing for the fraction of a split second, it would go to pieces.” As in learning to ride a bicycle, “balance is made difficult by not going fast enough.” The RWS 2 of Pentacles shows this in another way: if the juggler stops gyrating, he will most likely over-compensate, lose his balance, drop his load and topple.

One of my favorite examples of the inconstancy of the Twos is the 2 of Cups. It’s title “Love” conveys an almost saccharine impression of relational bliss. But it is the joy of discovery that drives it, the early stages of which are typified by mutual excitement, an ascending spiral of emotional euphoria that clearly can’t last. For this reason, I see the 2 of Cups as describing an incipient fascination or affinity built around an accelerated (and often exaggerated) sense of shared destiny rather than a durable commitment. Once the momentum slows and habitual behavior emerges, much of the bloom can go off the rose. As the couple ceases changing and growing together in creative ways, onerous repetition sets in and things can soon go downhill as ennui grows. In my opinion, this creeping boredom is what causes many “2 of Cups” relationships that don’t mature beyond their initial glamor to ultimately fail. In the days of mechanical clocks, the wound spring slowly gave up its stored energy to propel the gears until the clock slowed and stopped. Translating it into the realm of faltering relationships, I call this the “tick-tock effect:” it’s only a matter of time before the sword drops, cleaving the connection.

In the interest of completeness, I should add that the trump cards that vibrate to the energy of “Two-ness” (the High Priestess, Justice and Judgement) have this sense of polarity encoded in their archetypes, as expressed in RWS terms by the black and white pillars and the division between Heaven and Earth. However, they would seem to be wielding the Sword of Damocles rather than submitting to it.

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