This journey then, is nothing more, yet nothing less, than a period of acclimating to a new way of seeing, a time of transition and revelation…
When I woke up this morning, saying my prayers for the people of Texas and Louisiana, I wondered what card might resonate with the catastrophe now unfolding there. This one came immediately to mind. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when, cards face down in the circle, at random it pulled me to it. Sure enough, this week, the Six of Swords is our visitor.
As you probably know, Swords are the suit of the element of Air and rule thought, intellect, perception, communication, and our stories. And sixes are the cards that show how the conflicts of the Fives may be resolved. They usually indicate restoration of balance, and support given or received.
In the case of Swords, the unfair defeat depicted in the Five has perhaps now led to a strategic retreat, or a necessary, yet mournful withdrawal from a situation.
Beyond Arthur Waite’s rather perfunctory “journey by water” description, deck artist Pamela Colman Smith has given the R-W-S version of the Six of Swords a more mythic depth that hints of Charon, the ferryman who crosses the River Styx, carrying those who are departing the land of mortal life. Or he could be a boatman guiding the woman and child to the shores of Avalon.
Behind them are troubled waters, ahead is a calmer, yet unclear shore. As they glide towards the lands in the distance, they float lightly. No one looks back with regret. They are not weighed down, despite their cargo.
Although the swords are stuck through the bottom of the vessel, the boat does not appear to be in danger of sinking, hinting at how we may eventually adapt to even the most perilous or painful circumstances. In fact, it may well be that the swords are plugging holes that might otherwise imperil the travelers.
Notice that the seated adult figure is bent over, like there is a weight on his or her shoulders. It is a demeanor of despair and even defeat. But both the child and ferryman are more upright, less burdened, and gazing forward.
In the Swords suit, only the Five and Six depict more than one person. But unlike the Five, there is no conflict here, and no one bears this journey alone.
As is the case with all cards that feature multiple figures, we may choose which of these most closely resembles us. Who is the helper in a current situation that keeps the balance as he steers the boat to new shores?
Who is the innocent one who looks ahead? Who is the shrouded one, bent over with care?
It is rare that the Tarot is so literal. Yet we have all been seeing non-stop reports of the many thousands of boat rescues throughout Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. These life-and-death dramas also include many other Texas and Louisiana cities, towns, and rural areas in the path of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.
Somewhat reminiscent of the great WWII evacuation of the armies at Dunkirk, a giant, hastily improvised navy of volunteer private boat owners throughout the area is braving the ongoing torrential rain to rescue countless flood victims. (Recent estimates in the Houston metro area today indicated about 2,000, with hundreds more on a waiting list).
Aiding the overwhelmed police and first responders, they are rescuing the elderly trapped in nursing homes, assisting the evacuation of an entire hospital, and plying raging rivers that were once roads, answering desperate calls for help.
We are seeing their fierce tenacity as they pluck families off of highway overpasses and rooftops, as flood waters inundate neighborhoods from Galveston to Austin, and are expected to continue to do so for several more days.
These volunteers are saving tens of thousands of lives — one bass boat, one skiff, one dinghy, one runabout — at a time. Exactly like our card, they are ferrying men, women, and children with little more than the clothes on their backs from the edge of death to survival.
Their destination will be a world that is radically changed and uncertain for a long, long time. But it is survival nonetheless.
What Journey Lies Ahead?
Besides the Six’s correlation to the Harvey disaster, its timing is very interesting as a “back-to-school” card for the countless thousands of students whose Summer vacations end this week, and they begin a new school year.
Swords are the realm of the mind, ideas, and communication, but the boatman poles the vessel through the waters of dreams and the unconscious. And it may well be that the ferryman’s pole is the wand of magic and creativity.
So we have Air, Fire, and Water combining to help us make this journey. But the lands (Earth) ahead are only barely differentiated from the waters. Their solidity, or the outcome of this voyage, remains ungrounded and uncertain.
Thus we are still betwixt and between what has been, and what still awaits. The only choice is to be present during this transition.
Although task-master Saturn left his Retrograde and stationed direct on Friday, revving us up for new plans and projects, we may have to wait until Mercury also turns direct after Labor Day, before any progress can be made.
And in the wake of the profound changes initiated by last week’s Solar eclipse, what new ways of seeing are opening for you at this time? Is there some adjustment and restoration of balance that is needed?
Perhaps this is literal travel. Or it could indicate a time of spiritual movement. You are invited this week to undergo an important rite of passage. What rebirth may await us on the shores ahead?
What transitions are you making? Has some personal story now run its course, or an idea failed to come to fruition? What slow progress are you making until new inspiration comes more clearly into view?
If the past has been painful, we are at least reassured that we can now truly leave it behind. And there is help for us to do so.
While it may be difficult to yet see the destination clearly, we are long past looking backwards.
There is no way but forward.