A boat dominates this scene—a boat with six menacing, upright swords. A ferryman punts it forward, navigating the choppy water on one side of the vessel and the calm water on the other.
Two figures huddle together upfront—probably an adult and a child. Unless they own the swords, they don’t seem to possess anything but the clothes on their backs.
Who are these figures? Are they fleeing from someone? Are they refugees? This doesn’t seem to be a well-planned journey. And where are they heading? Those isles in the distance—is that their destination? Will they be welcome there?
Hard to say. It depends on whether you think the choppy water is falling behind them now. And whether you believe that gray sky will give way to sunlight.
Meanwhile, what’s with those swords? They seem to be poised in the boat of their own volition—neither the ferryman nor the passengers seem to be claiming them for their own. Do they speak of some sort of treachery? Are they piercing the bottom of the boat? Or are they there for protection?
In most decks—including the Rider-Waite-Smith—the suit of Swords represents the element of air. (A few decks switch it up, using Swords to represent fire and Wands to represent air.) Air symbolizes our mind and our intellect. It’s the suit of sharp wit and even sharper ideas. Given that, my gut says this card represents a flight from some kind of mental anguish.
There’s a darker possibility. That ferryman could be a psychopomp; a figure like Charon who guides the dead across the River Styx and into the Underworld. But in the suit of Swords—and, for the matter, in the Tarot overall—death tends to be symbolic, not literal. And there’s always a hope for rebirth.
I’ve never used this card in writing, though it’s deep enough and rich enough to suggest any number of stories. So many angles to attack it from: do you choose the ferryman for the main character? The adult? The child? Should any of them keep ignoring those swords? Or should they claim them instead and use them to cut through whatever nightmarish thoughts are plaguing them?
I know, I know. I have a lot more questions about this card than answers. How do you see it? Have you used it as inspiration for a story or a character? Can you see yourself doing so? Feel free to comment here. Or post your own meta, story or poem on this card and link back to it in the comments.
And now for next week’s random card: Judgment. Ooh! We finally get to the Major Arcana or “big secret” cards. (The suit cards—Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles—are known as the Minor Arcana or “little secret” cards.) We’re heading for the big leagues now . . . .