The Meaning of
the "Six of Swords" Tarot Card
Tarot Quick Info
What is the inverted meaning of
the "Six of Swords"?
The Meaning of
the "Six of Swords"
The Symbolism of the Six of Swords
On the Six of Swords card, a man navigates a small boat with two passengers.
The adult passenger is slouching forwards and covered completely in a shawl — as if hiding from something. The suggestion here is that the passengers are fleeing something which lies behind them.
Next to the covered passenger, a child huddles closely for warmth or protection.
The distant shore they move towards is colorless and lifeless, and has a surreal, dreamlike quality.
The water on the near-side of the boat is troubled and turbulent, contrasting with the serene, undisturbed waters beyond. The distant shore they move towards is colorless and lifeless, and has a surreal, dreamlike quality.
At the front of the boat stand six swords, positioned in a downward direction. The swords seem to surround the passengers, which can be seen either as a reference to a prison or to protective defenses, depending on one's interpretation.
NOTE: The obvious allusion to Charon, the boatman of Greek mythology who ferries the dead souls across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the afterlife cannot be ignored. The fully draped shawl over the head of the adult passenger, and the pale, lifeless quality of the far-shore only reinforce this reference. In this case, the symbolic "afterlife" is not so much a reference to death, but a reference to the mystery and the unknown they move towards.
NOTE: The gender of both passengers is usually assumed to be a female adult and a young boy. It is also often assumed that the three people on the boat are a family. Because the gender of the passengers is left vague, it is also possible that the cloaked passenger is an adult male, and the child a young girl. Both the gender and familial interpretations are up to you.
How to Interpret the Six of Swords
Moving and changing is always a little scary; When we pick-up stakes and move houses, change jobs, end relationships or otherwise go off on our own, there is a moment where we realize we are taking a leap of faith.
We may temporarily get lost in nostalgia and sadness for what we're leaving behind. We may also feel regret for things left incomplete or things we could have done better.
What lies ahead is filled with mystery and trepidation, but also with hope and the promise of something better than what we are leaving.
The simplest interpretation of the Six of Swords is that it indicates a transition.
The more subtle interpretation however, is that what lies behind is the known and what lies ahead is unknown. The card represents movement away from the familiar and towards hope.
... we are being asked to recognize the importance of change — and to trust in ourselves and our ability ...
When the Six of Swords appears in a reading, we are being asked to recognize the importance of change — and to trust in ourselves and our ability to deal with whatever lies ahead.
Also referenced here is the idea of emotional baggage. The Six of Swords reminds us that our own past and experience can imprison us and prevent us from embracing a transition to something new.
Despite its somewhat spooky imagery, the Six of Swords is a positive card. It asks us to accept our fear of change and to go with the flow towards whatever comes next.
The card has overtones of nostalgia and regret, but also carries a strong message of hope and positive change.
The Six of Swords Inverted
The reversed Six of Swords can have several possible meanings, but they all center around the ways we deal with change.
Sometimes when the facts of a situation change, we are slow to internalize those changes. We cling to the way things used to be.
The inverted position of the Six of Swords typically references someone who is adapting poorly to a changing situation:
Sometimes when the facts of a situation change, we are slow to internalize those changes. We cling to the way things used to be. That immobility leaves us ill-prepared for the next set of changes, whenever they come.
When the inverted Six of Swords appears in a reading it serves as a reminder that changing circumstances require personal, internal changes within each of us.
The Six of Swords reversed may also be an indication that change is going unnoticed; Often when change is slow, we don't perceive it until a significant amount of time has gone by. The appearance of the inverted Six of Swords may be a reminder to recognize a silent change that needs attention.
The inverted Six of Swords may also reference an old practice or a way of doing something which is now outdated.
When change happens, it's up to each of us to change with it. Don't miss the boat.
Common Symbols Found On the Six of Swords Card
Tarot cards often use a symbolic or iconographic language to illustrate additional hints about the cards. The Six of Swords includes at least four well-known, repeating Tarot symbols. Each of these common symbols can add additional levels of meaning to the card.
The symbols which appear on the Six of Swords card are:
Water symbolism appears on the Six of Swords card:
In Tarot, water appears in many forms — ranging from rain, to sacred pools, to bubbling rivers and streams, to expansive oceans and seas. While each of these types of water may carry a more specific meaning, water in broad strokes references emotion, nourishment and intuition. In the Tarot deck, water is more common in the Minor Arcana, and is very often (but not exclusively) found in the Suit of Cups.
Rivers and Streams
Rivers and streams symbolism appears on the Six of Swords card:
Water in general, suggests emotion. A stream or brook traversing the land frequently suggests a dimension of emotional overtones or a spiritual significance to the card. A river may also indicate that emotions are a vital factor in the scene unfolding.
NOTE: The river shown on the Six of Swords is an allusion to the river Styx — legendary gateway to the afterlife, from Greek mythology. The water is turbulent on the near-side of the boat, and calm and peaceful on the foggy far-side.
Read more about the symbolism of "Rivers and Streams" in Tarot
Boats and Ships
Boats and ships symbolism appears on the Six of Swords card:
Historically, boats symbolize not just safe-passage overseas, but also adventure, commercial ventures and risks taken for the sake of profit. In the imagery of Tarot cards, boats shown in the distance generally suggest a risk-taken or something being attempted.
Turbulent water symbolism appears on the Six of Swords card:
While all types of water in Tarot symbology represent creativity, emotions, or a connection to the spiritual, the appearance of turbulent water in Tarot imagery points to an physical, emotional or psychic disturbance. Another way to look at turbulent water, is that it's unsettling and chaotic — requiring greater skill to navigate successfully.
NOTE: The Six of Swords card is notable as it includes both turbulent water and placid water on the same card. The meaning here is of movement from a state of emotional and psychic conflict and turmoil towards a state of clarity, serenity and stillness.
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