The Tao Te Ching opens simply. The more of it you study, the more you realize that the first four lines sum up its entirety, and how we may find the Tao in tarot in the Ace of Swords:
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
(Stephen Mitchell translation)
The remainder of the first chapter, and indeed the remainder of the text, go on to illustrate this point. However, these opening lines do much to pinpoint the Tao, as much as can be said.
The Ace of Swords
In the tarot deck, I believe the Ace of Swords is these opening lines of the Tao Te Ching. This card is the unmanifested: the subconscious before thought, the power before before its exercise, and the will before its definition. Once these things are shaped and defines, once they are named, they stop being the Ace of Swords and they immediately become another card.
The Ace of Swords featured prominently in two recent draws I did. The first was, in a traditional Celtic Cross:
- 1: Situation – Ace of Swords
- 2: Conflict – Page of Pentacles
- 3: Past – Five of Cups
- 4: Future – Ten of Pentacles
- 5: Goal – Wheel of Fortune
- 6: Subconscious – Queen of Cups
- 7: Advice – Five of Wands
- 8: Internal/External – The Fool
- 9: Hope/Fear – Eight of Cups
- 10: Outcome – Queen of Wands
Enough of this spread covers issues of attempts, accomplishment, and struggle (disappointment, physical wealth, conflict, withdrawal, concern, and creation, etc.) that I think we can move past analyzing much of the particulars and focus in on a few cards for now.
We see that the Ace of Swords is central to this spread, in a progression from failure to success. How does this centrality fit, though? The Ace of Swords is in conflict with the Page of Pentacles – these two cards form a crossroads of decision. The Page is asking to settle in and accept the “traditional” path in our late-stage capitalist society, while the Ace suggests… otherwise.
I’ll admit that lately I’ve been settling in to a middle-class, career-oriented life, concerned with contributing towards the provisions of family and comfort. But there’s been a certain dissatisfaction to that settling, most outwardly manifesting itself in seasons of parties, extensive tattooing projects, and, well, you get it. A certain heading-towards-middle-age rebellion and reflection where I’m sorting out what is actually important. My family and its security, certainly, but how much else is extraneous?
The Tao in Tarot in the Ace of Swords
That’s the Ace of Swords coming through. The last vestiges of youthful indiscretion coming through before I finally, decades after the fact, commit to “being an adult.” You can see support of the Ace of Swords throughout the spread. Urges to fight the powers that be, throw in my lot with the vagaries of The Wheel, leap like The Fool, and so on. That’s the rebellious side. The two Queens, though, that’s the Tao peeking in and saying, “hi.”
These two cards, the Queen of Cups and the and the Queen of Wands, are the most cautious, concerned, and supportive cards of the tarot deck. These are the cards that say, “hey, it’s ok, reel it back in.” You don’t have to rage against the dying of the light, in other words. There’s another less destructive option. Be the Ace of Swords. Let The Wheel turn, let the rage flow around without touching you, the inner you. Be like the water in the Tao, still but deep. Leap and withdraw at the same time.
Just… let it go. Be the Nameless Name. Easier said than done, perhaps? Let’s continue this next time and see how, in Part 2, or Letting Go with the Ace of Swords, King of Pentacles, and Five of Swords.
The cards used in this post are from the Linestrider tarot deck.