In this essay, I would like to explore why the sword is used to esoterically represent the mind. My understanding is that the tradition likens the action of the mind to a sword or a knife, cutting something into separate pieces. The mind establishes categories, labels and names, so that we can understand the world we experience around us, and remember our experiences and learn from them. Ideally, our system of categories and names corresponds reasonably usefully with the reality that they try to represent. For example, if we can recognise, name and remember a useful food plant, we can seek it out again, talk about it to others, and remember when it is in season. If our main interest is in recognising useful plants, we are likely to have a different system of classification to someone who is mainly interested in how plants evolved.
If we get our food from the supermarket, and have no interest in botany, our personal classification system for plants is likely to be very simple. Trees, shrubs, flowers (perhaps a few named varieties), weeds, some vegetables, maybe a couple of different types of trees. For example, when one person sees a Gum tree, someone else might see a Mountain Gum, and a third person might see Eucalyptus Dalrympleana.
Take another example. Someone who is interested in Astrology might categorise people as Cancers, Gemini, Libra etc. When meeting a person, they may enquire as to their birth date, and they might be careful to get compatible star signs when putting together a group for some purpose. Or they may meet a person, and decide that they fit the profile for a certain sign, and then use that information in order to conduct their relationship in the most harmonious way possible.
Another person might think star signs are a bunch of baloney, and categorise people according to Meyers-Briggs personality types, or Jungian types, or even in simple terms such as friend or foe. All these ways of classifying the world, and our experience are represented by the esoteric symbol of the sword.
The Ace of swords tarot card in the Rider-Waite tarot deck depicts a sword piercing a golden crown, from which hang two boughs of wood. On the right, appears to be a palm branch, on the left is what appears to be a laurel, with red berries, or perhaps an Olive branch. According to Paul Fenton-Smith in “The Tarot Revealed”, the crown represents the material world. The symbolism may be deepened by noting that the arrangement of the sword and crown is representative of the union of male and female. Traditionally (in Western Anglo-Celtic Esotericism), the material world is seen as feminine, as in Mother Nature, and the Goddess of the Spring, the Goddess of the Flowers.
This union of the material ground of being (feminine) with the mental perceptive apparatus (masculine) gives rise to the phenomena of existence, just as a mother and a father give rise to their children. The symbolism reminds us that our experience has two sources – raw undifferentiated nature, and the mind’s categorising and sense-making efforts. The mind is nothing without something to work on, and raw experience is unintelligible without a mind to categorise it and find commonalities and regulaities.
This symbolism is also expressed neatly in the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention”.
In meditating on the symbol of the sword, hold the intention of becoming aware of how your experience of the world has two parents – the external undifferentiated reality, and the internal categorisation you place upon it. Every name becomes a symbol that holds both a cultural and collective experience, and a personal resonance of lived experience. As useful as the mind is, it brings this baggage to everything we experience. This can be incredibly useful, and also a mechanism for holding us in bondage to our past. The symbol of the sword reminds us of this, and reminds us that we can turn our perceptive powers on to ourselves, and free our selves from the bondage of mental constructs that have outlived their usefulness.
To meditate upon the symbol of the sword, a useful practice is to place the Ace of Swords from the Tarot at eye level. Establish sacred space in your usual manner, and invite the presence of your spirit helpers and Deities, and become relaxed. A useful method is to focus your attention in turn on the right palm, the left palm, the sole of the right foot, and then the sole of the left foot, and then the third eye. One can also move the attention in the manner of a pentagram. The third eye represents the point of spirit. The right hand represent the point of Air, the left hand the point of Fire, the left foot the point of Water, and the right foot represents the point of Earth. Different paths may use different attributions, this is the attribution used by the Fellowship in the Southern Hemisphere. Move the attention from Spirit to Water to Air to Fire to Earth and back to Spirit again – Brow, Left foot, Right Hand, Left Hand, Right Foot, Spirit. This movement represents the the divine impulse working in the life of the Adept. The spark of spirit causes the intuition Water) to deliver images, feelings, or knowingness to the self. These inputs are then processed by the mind (air), and appropriate action is decided upon. Action is then taken (Fire), with the intention of honouring the Divine impulse. The action is grounded (Earth), drawn to completion, and the ground of being responds. The cycle then begins anew.
Once you have become relaxed and have harnessed your attention, then begin to move your attention between the tarot card and your third eye. Move it out to the card as you breathe out, and back to the brow as you breathe in. Visualise a thread connecting the third eye to the card. Do the first few with eyes open, then with eyes closed, visualising the card in as much detail as possible. Continue this exercise for at least four or five breaths, more if you feel that would be useful. Open your eyes and look at the card if you need to refresh your visualisation. When you feel it is right, begin the next part of the practice, which is to be receptive, and to allow whatever insights and inspiration you may be priveeged to receive to arise. Gently note them mentally as they arise, so that you can write them down afterwards.
And of course conclude by thanking your Spirit Helpers and/or Deities, and returning the space to normal.
I am sure that you will find this exercise beneficial!