A Tarot de Marseille “Pips” Overview: The Exclamatory and Meditative Swords

The suit of Swords in the Tarot de Marseille doesn’t really benefit from a card-by-card analysis of the pips the way I’ve done with the Coins and will do with the Cups (and, to a lesser extent, the Batons). There are really only two basic “flavors:” those cards with a vertical sword at their center surrounded by curved pairs of what look like “gatekeeper” companions, and those with a central flower instead. There is no suggestive outer foliage like that in the “soft” suits except the four severed flower buds on each card that I mentioned in a previous post. Other than that, each iteration seems like an incremental  bolstering of defenses (or, alternatively, the “piling on” of opposition) by adding more boundary swords to the vesica pisces. (As I said earlier, the Ace is a “different animal” that doesn’t partake of these design conventions.)


The accepted purview of this suit is to promote (and often provoke) the genesis and transmission of thoughts and ideas, both oral and written, and the upshot may be to generate controversy and even outright conflict, hence their reputation for being difficult. The odd-numbered cards with a central sword seem assertive, making a bold statement punctuated by an exclamation mark, while the even-numbered cards bearing a flower are meditative and low-key, concerned more with cultivation of the idea than its declaration. The fact that the points of the raised swords exit the top of the pattern shows “taking it public” (in a conflict situation it could mean venting or “letting off steam”), while the flowers are content to remain aloof within their “ivory tower” (or, like Candide, the confines of their “garden”).

The proliferation of exterior swords as the number series advances from Two to Ten could be viewed as showing the associated convictions becoming more entrenched or “hidebound” over time. At some point the surrounding thicket of swords becomes so dense that not even the light of reason can escape. All of the cells are self-contained (and therefore ultimately self-limiting) except the 10 of Swords, which allows the opportunity for external intervention via the two swords penetrating from the sides.

When the Swords appear in a reading, they favor mental pursuits and solutions. They pair well with Batons because they argue against blind ambition, a weakness of the latter, while they keep Cups from becoming overly sentimental. They are too facile for the methodical Coins, which are wary of “quick fixes.” You can probably figure out the individual card meanings for yourself using number theory within the context of the suit, but here are a few hints from my own experience:

the Ace is the “bright idea” card showing a thought process that is completely fluid at that point, unconstrained by practical considerations (the concept of “brainstorming” begins here).

the Two with its robust central flower implies a strategic outreach or offer (one-on-one communication such as a visit, phone call, message or letter);

the Three suggests the painful realization that accord is unlikely;

the Four speaks of a bridge-building “good faith” follow-up to the Two, bringing good will and a spirit of compromise to the bargaining table, with each party negotiating from a position of strength;

the Five sows argument and discord;

the Six shows the benefits of taking a strong-willed stance,“sticking to your guns” after examining all sides of an issue;

the Seven alludes to a departure from the norm (highly original or visionary thinking);

the Eight advises a well-reasoned equanimity, favoring the “benefit of the doubt” over adamant opposition; discretion is paramount (note the overbearing swords, the shrunken maneuvering room and the demure blossom shorn of its leaves);

the Nine imparts a sense of staving off oppression;

the Ten implies the interjection of critical thinking from unexpected quarters (the flower is untouched and the intruding sword-points remain within the core, suggesting that their input will be “taken under advisement”).


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