Thursday, 21 October 2010

Bad rep well deserved? Queen of Swords

Recently, Ali (Hestia) posted a comment about Swords cards getting a lot of bad press.  It was something I'd been thinking about, especially in light of several decks out this summer.  While Swords cards in general are often perceived as being "bad", what of the Court cards?  I think the Swords Courts are generally interpreted in a more negative light than their counterparts in any of the other suits!

In particular, in these recent decks, I was struck by how the Queen of Swords was portrayed.  In the new A King's Journey Tarot, she's represented as a bitter, old shrew.  In the Tarot of the Celtic Fairies, she's a little needle-wielding fairy who pokes people she doesn't like, who she thinks are lying or just being vain.  And in the second edition of the Bohemian Gothic Tarot, from being a rather dark but demure figure, with a suggestion of intellectual leanings and a warm heart, she has become a sword-wielding vampire.  This isn't totally clear in the images here, but if you examine the second queen closely, her hair is much blacker, and there is only a hint of red at her throat, while tiny canines poke out the sides of her mouth.  Also, from just holding a book in the first version, in the second edition her other hand is now wrapped around the hilt of the sword that before merely stood beside her.

In any case, these three instances in such a short time made me think about how the Queen of Swords is generally represented, and also about how I perceive her.  Being a Gemini myself, my element of Air is often considered to correspond to the suit of Swords.  And while according to good ole Uncle Aleister my birth decan officially corresponds to the King of Swords, I have more frequently felt an affinity for the Queen of Swords.  She is Water of Air, so a tempering of the sharp air energy through an immersion in the depths of emotional water. 

With Swords representing intellect and communication, and the Queen being the nurturing aspect of the suit, I see her being a good fit for a blogging mum, for instance, interested in sharing ideas around how to live life and deal with family and relationships (or cleaning and plumbing) :-)  Good examples might be Hestia, Kismet's Companion, or Ania!  She could also be someone who uses their mind to think of good ways to manage others and their emotions, and who communicates clearly and kindly. 

In the Rider-Waite-Smith version of this card, we see a woman on a throne, with a sword held straight up, suggesting a dedication to the truth, and with a tassel around one wrist, a Victorian symbol of widowhood.  Hence someone who has been through emotional pain and come through it all the wiser.  I also like the idea, based again on Victorian society, of a widow as a woman who is now, perhaps for the first time, in charge of her destiny, emotionally and intellectually mature enough to make something of it.

We find another positive interpretation from Aleister Crowley (whose birth card was actually the Queen of Swords), who said of her: "intensely perceptive, a keen observer, a subtle interpreter, an intense individualist, swift and accurate at recording ideas; in action confident, in spirit gracious and just."  So, what's not to like?

Looking to other traditional pictorial interpretations, it's easy to see where the Queen of Swords got her bad rep.  Following Golden Dawn tradition, Alesiter Crowley asked Frieda Harris to draw her with a decapitated head in one hand, and a sword in the other.  While extremely positive in his description of the Queen of Swords upright as quoted above, Crowley tells us: "If ill-dignified... She will be cruel, sly, deceitful and unreliable; in this way, very dangerous, on account of the superficial beauty and attractiveness which distinguish her."  This seems far closer to the intuitive reading of how she is drawn in the Thoth.

In terms of her sword-wielding, Lon Milo Duquette highlights that: "Using the sword of discretion and reason, the Queen has separated the higher faculties of the intellect from the influences of the lower nature."

Still, if we look at a deck such as the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn, we see the Thoth Tarot's interpretation taken to a bloody extreme, which on the face of it would not incline anyone to think well of this lady.

So, cruel b**ch or insightful woman, what's your take on the Queen of Swords?

Images: Bohemian Gothic First Edition, Bohemian Gothic 2nd Edition, Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn.


  1. Well, I think you already know my take LOL

  2. LOL me too :-)
    Interesting article - thanks :-)

  3. Hi Ania, hi Viv,

    Yes, I think you both prove admirably that in this modern age you needn't be a widow to take charge of your life :-) And that it's possible to be insightful and empathic without being mushy LOL Thanks for dropping by!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Deleted because of some terrible spelling mistakes! :O)

    I think what is often forgotten about this Queen is that she also has the Water element attached to her along with the Air - this element softens her character a bit. I think what is often portrayed in this Queen is the hardened side of her, where she can be over analytical, critical and sharp tongued (I've known a few of those LOL). However it is her ability that we often forget about, to put aside her emotions in order to form a clear opinion of a situation, that is not governed by those very emotions, that makes her able to analyse situations and show good judgement over the decisions that need to be made. We must remember she does have the water element that enables her to use that strength in a positive and caring way. It is her self-reliant personality that makes her a good leader and stand out from the other Queens. She may not be as charismatic as the Queen of Wands but in her positive demeanour her heart is in the right place.

    So I do think that she along with the whole of the Swords suit gets a bad rap - in fact so much so that I wrote an article a fair while ago for the magazine Spheres called Tarot Swords - Sorrow or Opportunity.

  6. Hi Helen,

    Glad to have found another Queen of Swords enthusiast, I like what you say about her being softened but not overwhelmed by emotion so she can still show good judgement.

    By the way, that sounds like a really interesting article! Does it appear on-line?

  7. There is a shortened version that I wrote for my blog - this was written before I wrote the article for the magazine - you can see it here:-

  8. Hi Helen,

    That was a great post, thanks for the link. I loved your interpretations, very insightful. I also loved the Peanuts deck you used to illustrate the Nine of Swords - it was never published, right? What a shame!

  9. Yes Peanuts, it was after I found out that it was never published and I believe there was a copyright issue that I never showed anymore, infact I should remove that one - thanks for the reminder!