8 of Swords: Gemini I
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Jupiter
Hermetic Title: Interference / Shortened Force
Corresponding major arcana: The Wheel of Fortune [Jupiter] + The Lovers [Gemini]
The Eight of Swords was one of the first cards that triggered my curiosity about the correspondences between minor and major arcana. The Wheel of Fortune and The Lovers usually bring excitement and joy to those who encounter them, don’t they? How could they combine to form this troubling image: a woman, bound and blindfolded, encircled by swords? I've been thinking about this paradox for a little over 4 years now. And the conclusions I've reached have re-shaped the way I read, and deal with, a card I used to think represented only frustration, pure and simple.
The God of Small Things
We begin with thrice-great Mercury, because we've entered the astrological year's first Mercury-ruled sign: Gemini. Mercury is famously double-natured - helpful and wily, male and female, hero and thief - and he is never moreso than in the sign of the Twins. So we shall encounter tropes concerning choice, splitting, doubling, and the issues that come with them. In Gemini I, Mercury embarks on his never-ending quest to break down immanent mysteries into bite-size chunks. In Virgo he will focus in on every particle with forensic determination. But here on the threshold of his own domain, he is dazzled - even confounded - by a wealth of bifurcating paths. His attention is literally split.
The Lovers card is associated with Hebrew letter zain, meaning "sword". The Wheel of Fortune corresponds to Jupiter, the force of expansion. It is as if reality has been sliced into innumerable 1's and 0's. So much choice can be paralyzing, as the Eight of Swords suggests.
Questions of Detriment.
Jupiter may be the Greater Benefic, but there's another reason why this Jupiter-flavor moment is a traffic jam rather than a jackpot. Jupiter is in detriment in Mercury-ruled signs (Gemini, Virgo), and Mercury is in detriment in Jupiter-ruled signs (Sagittarius, Pisces). We will see a similar situation with 8 of Wands (Mercury in Sagittarius), although it's mitigated because Mercury does better as an 8 than Jupiter does. We won't get into that here though.
The face description we see in the Latin Picatrix is: "... scribanie: numeri dandi et accipiendi: petitionum et sapientiarum in quibus non est utilitas" - or, “of writing, numbers, giving and taking, of arts in which there is no profit”! which could mean either arts too trivial to matter, or knowledge for its own sake. It's probably derogatory. Why don't you study something that will pay off someday?! What are you going to do with a degree in ancient Greek?! Oh, whoops, did I say that out loud?
Fate vs. free will
I mentioned earlier that The Lovers corresponds to Hebrew letter zain, sword. Similarly, the Wheel of Fortune corresponds to Hebrew letter kaph, the outstretched palm. The Lovers represents the moment when we are most free to choose - whether we're selecting a mate, a future, or simply our next action. The Wheel of Fortune endlessly spins out destinies, good lots and bad ones, but what it does not offer you is choice. In other words, the hand outstretched for blessings cannot also grasp a sword. So: what happens when Fate runs into Free Will?
What's interesting about the 8 of Swords is that the two majors are struggling for supremacy in this card. The Wheel of Fortune keeps turning, spinning out destinies, and the Lovers keep trying to pause it and choose. The 8 of Swords has bound itself - unable to accept what is given, but unable to choose anything else. It's not like the 4 of Cups, which is too full to be interested in what's on offer. It's more like choosing feels too dangerous, like throwing a stick into a spinning bicycle wheel. The Lovers' sword is designed for paring down, dividing, separating. But how do you prune infinity? How do you divide by zero?
In this state of paralysis, you experience frustration. You are unable to complete what you intended. To put it Hermetically, you get "interference". You get "shortened force" - because the Wheel of Fortune has no interest in stopping on account of your sense of personal agency. Better to run with the wheel than try to freeze it in place!
The Eden Story.
Pamela Colman Smith's Lovers card clearly depicts the last prelapsarian moment in Eden - but it is also a capsule drama of this interplay of Fortune and Free Will. Adam stands before the Tree of Life, Eve stands before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - and we all know what happens next. We also remember that one of the first acts of Hermes/Mercury was stealing the cattle of his brother Apollo: transgression, rule-breaking, the lure of the forbidden.
“Providence [X] was granted to you. You made a choice [VI], you broke the rules. You ate the Fruit of Knowledge. You thought you were smart - and now you must live by your wits. You think you want self-determination and free will? Go ahead and knock yourself out!”
Threads of Destiny
The Picatrix and some of its cohort texts make repeated reference to a "woman skilled in needlework," "experienced in dressmaking," "fond of needlework and ornamentation". As a person who makes some of her living from sewing, I could not stop thinking about sewing metaphors in the context of Fate, which is so often spoken of as a "web," a "design," a "thread" - among other things, the Wheel of Fortune is the spinning wheel of the Norns. What if we think of these cards as loom and shuttle, wheel and spindle, handwheel and needle? Anyone who sews has probably had the awful experience of causing a massive thread jam in their machine. Something goes wrong with the timing (Fate!) of the needle (the tiniest *sword*!), and the bobbin snags into a Gordian knot of confusion. So I sometimes think of this card as The Snagged Bobbin. When that happens, you mustn't force the needle; you can only cut the thread; i.e. face Fate head on, and do what you must to earn back your freedom.
The last thing you want to do is try to force and stab your way out of your problem, as you will only become further ensnared. (I destroyed three sewing machines before learning this.) The remedy for anxiety is not more control. That way lies madness - or at least, despair and cruelty. That way lies the 9 of Swords!
Pieces of Eight
So perhaps it is time to ask: What on earth do you do with an 8 of Swords?
Interestingly enough, I think you can look to all 4 Eights for answers, depending on the nature of your problem and your temperament.
For me, meditating + working with my hands almost always works. Swords (Air) and Pentacles (Earth) are elemental opposites, and there is something very grounding to me about using one to balance out the other.
When you draw the 8 of Swords, you're probably unable to do exactly what you want. You might be stuck in traffic. Your plans might not be working out. People might not be understanding what you're saying. You might have a cold. Recognize there is probably a reason for this, and choose one (or more) of the following solutions:
1. Wait it out.. Like a cold, it will probably get better by itself.
2. Walk away. There is no emotional payoff for you here.
3. Still your mind. Meditation will make it seem so much less urgent than it did at first.
4. Do something physical. Clean something, rake outside, accomplish something - anything - concrete.
Whatever you do, don't just keep worrying at the problem in the hopes you can change it through sheer cussed persistence. It won't work - not unless you back off and do something else first.