In the four of swords a man or knight lies dead upon his tomb. Three swords are suspended on a wall behind him, the fourth lies along the length of the tomb. A stained glass window in the background depicts a scene of confession or forgiveness.
The Four of Swords is an intriguing card and its meaning depends on what we interpret from the imagery before us. First we have to decide if the man is dead or sleeping. If he is sleeping, the stained glass window may represent his dreams while if he has passed away, the stained glass window may be hinting at something on a deeper level.
It is interesting to note the striking symbology in the card relating to the number four. Four, is the first number of the second triad. The first triad, one to three, represents the trinity, the realisation of the divine into something more tangible, something real. With three, we have a reference against which to measure distance and depth, a three dimensional reality. When we move onto four, we have a repeat of the symbology of the first triad but on a more physical level and reality.
In the Tree of Life, fours belong to Geburah, the sphere of severity or strength. Life at this time can be mistaken for being cruel and unkind to us, when really, it is teaching us strength. We need to realise that we are moving from one period or situation to the next, that change will soon be upon us. There may soon be a sense of change and upheaval (i.e. in the Five of Swords). Swords, being related to the mind in the Tarot, tells us that this ”moving on” is very much an experience of the mind.
That the man is lying down, almost in a state of prayer, tells us that this time of learning and change is not something we can necessarily avoid. Four is a natural progression, as is death. It is something we all will experience and we must learn to deal with it.
There is a strong association with letting go of the past and forgiveness in the Four of Swords. The imagery in the stained glass window reminds us that a higher power can absolve us if we so wish. It could also be signaling that we should forgive others or ourselves, that whatever we may have done it is time to leave it go and move on with our lives. A crisis that may be coming our way will not be made any easier by holding onto grudges or punishing ourselves because of past actions.
Others view the imagery in the stained glass as that of a woman and possibly her son or daughter. Either way, the position of the person kneeling suggests some element of worship and of looking up to the mother or holy person for advice and guidance if not outright forgiveness.
The single sword beneath the man is notable in itself. It signals a new beginning or that new action is required. It does not hang useless like the three other swords. Instead, it is waiting by the man”s side, ready for use. In a sense, the four of swords may be urging us to take up the sword and tackle our problems. The time of the three swords hanging has passed, now is the time to grab the fourth and forge our way ahead.
If we perceive the man as sleeping the card suggests that we need to relax and allow events to take their course. There may be stresses at work in our lives or a crisis is brewing on the horizon. Now is a good time to contemplate and reflect on our situation and accept that life is constantly moving forward. Some alone time to gather our thoughts or recuperate or steel ourselves is in order.
The Three of Swords depicted a pierced heart and possibly heartbreak, pain and grief. The Four of Swords may be telling us to rest and take time to recover after our pain.
Reversed: The Four of Swords reversed warns us of two extremes. We may have taken our need for solitude and reflection to extreme, cutting ourselves off from life in general. We should be wary of isolation for locking ourselves away will not prevent a crisis or life from coming our way. Events will still happen, we will still have to go through them and attempting to avoid them is not the solution.
At the other extreme, we may be ignoring our need for time alone. In contrast to the card before us, we may be so busy with life that we are ignoring our need to reflect on life and its deeper meaning. We may be turning away from that inner voice that nags us to just say ”no” to new tasks and undertakings. Rest and relaxation is necessary to maintain a healthy balance in life, particularly in the mental sphere. Time away gives our brain a rest, it eases the stresses and strain and we should ensure that we take time to recuperate.