This is a powerful card that, as Tarot scholar Rachel Pollack notes, shows how Tarot illustrator Pamela Coleman Smith’s images could illuminate, and even surpass, Arthur Waite’s own interpretations.
Waite was rather literal in his interpretation, calling this card a journey by water. But Smith has given it a mythic depth that hints of Charon, the ferryman who crosses the River Styx, carrying the shrouded figures as they depart the land of mortal life. Or he could be a boatman guiding the woman and child to the shores of Avalon.
There is a sense of sorrow and even resignation, of “quiet passage through long difficulty,” as Rachel notes. But there is also a deep peacefulness here. As they glide towards the gray lands in the distance, they float lightly, not weighed down despite their cargo. And although the swords are stuck through the bottom of the vessel, they do not appear to be in danger of sinking, hinting at how we may eventually adapt to even the most perilous or painful circumstances.
This card is one that shows a time of transition, of quiet change. Perhaps this is literal travel, or a time of spiritual movement. But of course, Swords are often more about perception and thought than action or literal physicality.
The way may have been troubled in the past, as we see in the rougher waters the three figures move away from. But ahead, the waters are smooth.
What transitions are you making? In what ways might you now be journeying through a time of sorrow, mourning, or recovery? Perhaps this is a chance for you to get some distance, in order to gain perspective. Is it possible that you have been carrying some grief for so long that you barely notice it anymore? Healing takes time, and this is given to you now.
Is there an important journey you still need to make? While it may be difficult to yet see what is ahead, you are long past looking backwards. There is no way but forward.
This week, we all stand in the Gateway between what has been, and what still awaits. If the past has been painful, we can at least be reassured to know that we are truly leaving it behind. We are given this time to understand that we are undergoing nothing less than a rite of passage.
Happy New Year.