That feeling when, right upon waking up, just before you open your eyelids, your thoughts are already hours, days, weeks ahead of you. Were you even asleep? Vague recollections of tossing and turning suggest you did, in fact, close your eyes. Still, it feels like you were ruminating all night, a theory the familiar ache in your jaw corroborates. You roll over, sink deeper into your warm bed, hoping to fall back to sleep, but your head hurts and your shoulders tighten and the thoughts just go, worries and stresses and stimuli running wild through your mind, contaminating every positive space with a breathless feeling of dread. There is no point in pretending to sleep, and with heaviness, you know this feeling will follow you throughout the entire day. So you just get up.

image4How many mornings of this can we take? This constant sense of impending doom is revealed in the Nine of Swords. Aptly named “Cruelty,” the Nine of Swords represents the incessant anguish of the anxious, hyper functioning mind: a mind that cannot settle in one moment, instead delivering a new fear or worry every hour, analyzing situation after situation for errors, evaluating every relationship to expose potential breakdowns. This torment is deeply felt: in the restlessness of our limbs; the under-oxygenated tightness of our chest and clenching of our shoulders, jaw, and palms; and in our dry, sleepless eyes. The Nine of Swords reflects the cruelty of expectantly waiting for the sword to strike, but never knowing where from.

image1However, it is not these agonizing symptoms of the Nine of Swords from which it gets its name. In fact, the true cruelty of this card is in its self-inflicted nature; the Nine of Swords embodies the kind of pain that we impose on ourselves. Developing from the entrapment of the Eight, the Nine of Swords speaks to our emotional, psychic, and physical response to a predicament or bind. Options and choices limited, our mind, made vigilant with strife and conflict, simultaneously punishes us for our mistakes and shores up our defenses. In the Nine of Swords, our mind is our torturer, incessantly berating us with a barrage of past errors and potential misfortunes- resulting in deeply felt despondency, regret, and anxiety. Indeed, the cruelty of the Nine of Swords is so profound because it is designed and enacted by the person who knows how to target our wounds and weaknesses precisely- our self.

image3Yet, while the Nine of Swords acknowledges our despair and anxiety, it also reminds us to hang on tight. Nines move us toward completion, culmination, and while the Nine of Swords in no way promises a happy ending, a conclusion often signifies potential for renewal. Without dismissing or invalidating our suffering, the Nine of Swords offers that perhaps there is some comfort to be found: a familiar face or voice, a breathing exercise, a warm dish, a half hour without screens, a comfortable room lit by a beeswax candle.

It is there, in our safe spaces, we might allow a pause in our self-inflicted punishment, momentarily easing the stress of our self-imposed beliefs. To stave off the cruelty of the Nine of Swords, it is imperative we find space and time, even at the most minimal, to allow ourselves some kindness. We memorize the path back to these spaces, find them as often as possible, rest in them, stay as long as we can, gather our strength to endure even the deepest anguish. Hold fast, the Nine of Swords urges, it should be over soon.

Cards pictured here from Aquarian Tarot, Wild Unknown Tarot, and Collective Tarot