9 of Swords – Nightmares

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” Epictetus

Crowley’s Title: “Cruelty”
Tree of Life: Yesod through Air — reflection and imagination
Astrology: Mars in the 2. decan of Gemini
Suit: Swords
Arcana:  Minor

Initial Impressions

Fuck.  No one likes when the 9 of Swords pops up (or most of the swords suit, for that matter).  It is one of the nastier cards of the tarot, and it always leaves me a bit unsettled.  It is usually an indication that some demon has run amuck in my mind, and that I will probably be acting in passive aggressive, obsessive, or self-loathing ways.  As a writer, I naturally know all about crippling self-doubt and anxiety.  On top of this artists’ curse, I have struggled with an anxiety disorder most of my life.  This card is probably the best depiction of this particular mental state in the entire tarot.  When you are plagued with anxiety, everything, including yourself, turns into the enemy.

Unfortunately, all of the scenarios you create in your head may, in fact, manifest in your reality because you are putting so much god damn intention into them.  Our minds are built so that we analyze the hell out of our environment.  This can become a torture mechanism for those of us with an overactive panic button.  If you have insecurities, obsessive thinking will leave you cemented in one place, sweating from stress and anxiety until you rot right into your bed.

Sometimes I think I have finally defeated this anxiety demon, but then it rears its ugly head in the strangest of situations.  I could be having a perfectly normal conversation with someone, and then suddenly, an anxiety that I have not consciously accepted yet starts to color the situation.  Before I know it, I am misrepresenting the person’s words because I have come to believe the fabrications in my head.   The thoughts have solidified and woven so deeply into my self-narrative that they have literally become “demons.”  This is the archetype of the 9 of Swords.

Rider-Wait Depiction

9 of swords

A woman sits up in agony as she wakes from what appears to be a nightmare.  There are 9 swords in repetition above her bed, all missing points – reminding us that the processes in our heads have no end.  Her covers are checkered like that of a board game, reminding one of the games we play with ourselves in our head; constantly looking for the best move.  There is a cut out depicting one man stabbing another on the side of her bed.  The background is black as night, reminding us of those things we try and bury.  The bed covers and pillow are yellow and blue, both colors of the mental planet Mercury.


“It’s all in my mind.” This card depicts the nightmares and anxiety that are so common to our intellectual species. With our giant frontal lobes comes this thing called introspection. It can be a beautiful mental function that leads to wondrous growth and understanding, but, like everything under the sun, it can also become a vice.

There is a restless searching in this card; the type that keeps you up at night with dread and despair as you go through every single possible outcome a situation could have had. This card is traditionally associated with nightmares; the failures of our past, present, or prospective future coming to haunt us.  If we step back and look at this card more abstractly, it represents the ability of the mind to seep into every single crack desperately looking for all of the answers.

This is a natural human behavior, and depending on the cards surrounding the 9 of swords, it could be a beneficial state in certain circumstances.  Unfortunately, most of us do not have good coping mechanisms when it comes to obsessive analysis, so this type of energy usually leads to an emotionally purging cruelty of some sort.  Our anxieties can wreak havoc on those around us, and deep seeded insecurities can manifest nasty behavior so that we protect our tender spots.  This nasty behavior only adds to the nightmares and obsessive thinking, creating an emotionally overwhelming loop.

The suit of Swords represents the mind and all of its processes. The 9 of this suit depicts how the mind never stops; especially when we think we are, or we know we are, to blame for a situation. On and on and on it goes, milling through every possible thing someone’s silence or someone’s shrug could have meant. Those with anxiety disorders know this feeling all too well. Once an insecurity is tapped, it could send you spiraling into obsessive self-loathing and hysteria. Unfortunately, behavior like this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What could I have done differently? Why am I such a fucking piece of shit? How the fuck do I fix this? There is nowhere to run, is there? Maybe if I obsessively think of this same goddamn thing for the next 5 hours, I will finally figure out a way to change it…

The 9 of Swords is about worry, fabricating fatal fantasies because of excessive over thinking, or being plagued with dread due to our role in a horrible situation. This minor arcana can be a huge blow to a person’s ego. 9’s are the number before 10, representing the whole. This means that 9’s fall just short of perfection. They are the cards that are all in, fully involved in the energy of the suit. There is also a restlessness to the number; a realization that something is not fulfilled.  There is no other swords card that has mental stimulation turned up to the max like the 9 of Swords. Where 10 of Swords represents ruin, the 9 of swords represents the state we are in before this ruin takes place – the trigger for the ruin. There is the possibility for change and alteration of destiny here, but one must first defeat obsessive thinking – tame/master the self-talk.

The 9 of Swords can also represent existential dread.  In the spirit of Gemini, we have a very Mercurial spirit here.  Obsessive analysis of the world can lead you to more and more dead ends (hence the missing points on the swords in the Rider-Waite depiction).  Now, this card doesn’t have to be negative.  It could represent going all in with regards to something intellectual; fully mentally committed to it.  But you should always heed the warning that obsession could lead to anxiety and dread.

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