Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.
This week, millions across the globe will be commemorating Vesak. It is one of the most sacred days of the year for Buddhists, many Hindus, and a number of esoteric practitioners, as it celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. Others will be celebrating Lunar Beltane on this week’s Full Flower Moon. So what guidance are we offered for this profound time? This week let us welcome the Six of Swords.
As you probably know, Swords are the suit associated with 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.
Tarot legend Rachel Pollack notes that in the Waite-Smith deck, this Six is a classic example of how illustrator Pamela Colman Smith’s images could illuminate, and even surpass, Arthur Waite’s own interpretations.
Waite was rather literal in his explanation, calling this card a journey by water and pretty much leaving it at that.
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 guiding the woman and child to the Isle of Avalon.
Letting Go and Looking Forward
There is a sense in this card 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 lands in the distance, they float lightly, not weighed down despite their cargo.
And, she points out, although the swords are stuck through the bottom of the vessel, the passengers do not appear to be in danger of sinking, hinting at how we may eventually adapt to even the most perilous or painful circumstances.
Notice that the cloaked figure is bent over, like there is a weight on his or her shoulders. It is a demeanor of despair and even defeat. The Swords would naturally indicate memories, perceptions, and thoughts. Perhaps the past lies heavy upon this person.
Also, Tarot expert Paul Quinn notes that the oar’s position can be seen as a dividing line that unites the child and ferryman, isolating the hooded figure. Both the child and boatman are similar to one another — they are more upright, less burdened, and gazing forward.
Who Do You See Here
In the Swords suit, only the Five and Six clearly depict more than one person. But unlike the Five (shown above), there is no conflict here and we are not alone in this transition.
In fact, 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 or she steers the boat?
Who is the one who looks ahead?
Who is the shrouded person, burdened with care? Could this be last month’s grief-stricken figure in the Five of Cups, now moving forward in a lighter cloak, crossing the river?
This card is one that shows a period of transition, of long-term change. Perhaps this is literal travel, or a time of spiritual movement.
Although Swords address the airy realms of the mind, perception and communication, 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 the Swords of Air, Wands (Fire), and Cups (Water) combining to help us make this voyage. But the land ahead (Earthy Pentacles) is only barely differentiated from the water. Its solidity, as well as the outcome of this crossing, remains uncertain.
Thus we are betwixt and between what has been, and what still awaits. The only choice is to be present during this transition, and keep moving forward.
Between the Worlds
Like during the last visit from the Six of Swords, the southern United States is again dealing with record-breaking floods. Of course, Hurricane Harvey was much, much worse, but I can’t help but see this card now and think of our waterlogged friends on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
And then I think of how our world is transforming. Global climate change is real, and just about everything else we may focus on could be compared to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
For better or worse, we have left the shoreline of what was, and nothing will ever be the same. Not for us, not for future generations. There is no turning back.
But there is still time for us to make good decisions. The Swords remind us that our great skill as a species seems to be our ability to imagine, including the visualization of better routes forward.
Staying Afloat During Change
This quiet, somewhat melancholy card of change urges us to be thoughtful and calm as we approach unknown outcomes. It is time to let go of the attitudes and baggage of the past, and face prospects as yet unclear.
This week, you and I may transit waters of not knowing. Our journey may be borne of grief and loss, but we are not forsaken. While the past can seem safer and more peaceful because it is over, look more closely. The truth is that we are leaving the turbulence behind.
Let us therefore move forward with grace, bearing both our uncertainty, and our hope.