Saturday, 23 October 2010

Bad rep well deserved? Knight of Swords

Returning to the idea of the Swords cards getting a lot of bad press, and asking if they really have no redeeming features, I wanted to take a look at the Knight of Swords.  This fine fellow is traditionally seen charging into battle, rage in his face, sword in hand.  Phrases that come to mind are: rushing in where angels fear to tread; using thoughts and words to attack others; like a bull in a china shop.

Following these ideas about the Knight of Swords, elementally air of air, he is often seen as someone quite aggressive and negative.  For example, I have sometimes thought of him as being a combative debater or orator, delighting in the ideas and words being bandied about, fighting his cause and not above making personal attacks on his opponents in order to score a point or two.

Looking to Paul Huson's historical take on this Knight, Etteilla talks of: "an armed man... a duelist...opposition, resistance, destruction, ruin...hate, anger, resentment... bodyguard."  Waite even went so far as to say: "There is a sense in which the card signifies death, but only in its proximity to other cards of fatality."

In the Bohemian Gothic Tarot we see a less obviously bellicose, but nevertheless very dark figure.  Around him are instruments of torture, and he applies his intellect to study how best to use them.

So, what might the positive points of the Knight of Swords be?  For one thing, as air of air he can certainly be seen as a harbinger of change.  And while this is something people often fear, in reality life is always changing and it can be very good to sweep out the cobwebs and move on.

On a more personal note, a couple of days ago I was in a situation where I ended up feeling very defensive.  Someone asked me if there was anything I could do to protect myself, and what came to mind was an image of the Knight of Swords.  Thinking of his energy and ability to wield his intellect in defense of what he believes helped support me to do the same.

Even the scary Bohemian Gothic Knight can be seen in this light: I feel he is willing to torture and kill only because there is a cause or a person he feels he is defending.  He needs information to do so, and will get this by any means.

This highlights another of the Knight's strengths: he is interested in knowledge.  While he may not yet have the wisdom to use this kindly (as I think the Queen can), at least he is on the path Maslow described from unconscious incompetence, towards unconscious competence.

In fact, I think a case could be made to associate each of these stages to one of the Swords Courts.  The Page as unconscious incompetence, not yet knowing all that he doesn't know.  The Knight as conscious incompetence, hence wanting more learning to move him along.  The Queen as conscious competence, aware of all the lessons that have been so hard won.  The King as unconscious competence, wielding his sword without conscious thought after years of practice, or making decisions without knowing exactly why he is making that choice, but trusting his gut.

I am left with a sense that the Knight of Swords may at times go a bit far, but that I can see how there is a positive intent behind what he does.  If he attacks, it may not just be for the joy of winning, but rather to protect an ideal or a loved one.  And if he digs for information, it may not be from mere curiosity, but from a need to know to be able to make better, more conscious choices.  To end on an up-beat historical note, the Golden Dawn said of him: "Full of ideas and thoughts and designs... firm in friendship and enmity,"  So, a good friend and a bad enemy?

How do you feel about the Knight of Swords?  Who does he most represent to you?

Images: Radiant Rider Waite Tarot, Bohemian Gothic Tarot (1st Ed).


  1. Definitely someone to keep "on your side" although I think all the Swords' Courts have the potential for mental cruelty if upset. Not just sticking the Sword in but twisting it as well so yes, certainly a bad enemy.

  2. I rather think of him as an activist. Heart in the right place but a tendency to kneejerk reaction as he lacks maturity. He'll rush in to rescue princesses from dragons only to be slapped for killing their favourite pet. On the extreme negative side, he is liable to be quite destructive for his "cause", in the mistaken certainty that he is in the right.

  3. Hi Lori,

    Interesting comment about mental cruelty and twisting the sword. I hadn't thought of twisting a sword in someone in those terms, but I've been seeing lately how small acts of cruelty and unkind words can do a terrible amount of harm.

    Hi Ania,

    Almost snorted Vitamin C drink over the computer at the thought of the princess slapping the knight for killing her pet! Thanks ;-D

    More seriously, that sense of fanaticism isn't something I'd thought of for the Knight of Swords, but I can really see what you mean.