10 of Swords: Gemini III
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Sun
Hermetic title: Ruin
Corresponding major arcana: The Sun (Sun) + The Lovers (Gemini)
On the face of it, the 10 of Swords has to be the most terrifying of the 56 minor arcana. In fact, it's such a figure of fright I usually show it to new clients right up front, along with the Death card, and I tell them how often I get it (31 times since 2015 alone). Once they have satisfied themselves that I appear to be in reasonably good health, we can talk about what it really means.
Kill the Twin!
As cards of Gemini, the 8, 9, and 10 of Swords all have something to do with doubleness - but perhaps none moreso than the 10. In historical tarot, the Sun card traditionally shows twins, though Pamela Colman Smith chose to depict one child only. The Lovers deals with doubles, too, as a a card of choice: a man choosing between two women, or Eve choosing the fruit of Knowledge with Adam alongside her, on the brink of the end of the world as they know it.
The world's twin myths often involve the death or mortality of one twin: Cain and Abel, Castor and Pollux, the Oak King and the Holly King. When the twins are sun and moon, as they so often are, only one can reign in the sky at once. So forced choice - taking a side when both cannot co-exist - is a core concept in this card.
Hazards of Mind
While the 9's of any suit represent its culmination, the 10's represents what you might call an oversaturation of the suit's potential. The suit comes to its logical conclusion or grand finale and must begin again. We think of swords as words, thoughts, and conflicts in tarot. If you add the hyper-rationalism of the Sun to the analytical power of Swords you can end up thinking yourself into a corner. The bright sun turns all shades of grey into black and white. This is the argument you took so far that you ended up delivering an ultimatum, throwing the china, driving off in a huff, slamming the door. This is the theological argument that ends up in schism or even warfare. This is the home of the fanatic, painting it black till he can paint no more.
The decan commentators, while split about the specifics of the imagery, generally agree on two things: 1) There's an armed man. He bears "a sword and missiles," or is "armoured with quiver and bow" or is "wearing a shield and carrying a bow and its arrow in its case." 2) He is mercurial - "skilled in dancing, drumming, and arts, and a poet"; "he desires to play music and laugh and mock in all sorts of ways". Agrippa says it signifies forgetfulness, anger,boldness, joking, trifling and useless words. (oblivionis, dedignationus, ioandi, truffandi, et audiendi verba inutilia)
The overall impression is of one who is skillful with words but lacking in empathy. His skills of language are used to hit hard, where you live. In other words, this is a card of trash talk.
Becket's Grisly End.
The prone figure in the 10 of Swords is said to be the martyr Thomas à Becket, the onetime Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket died at the hands of King Henry's royal henchmen, who - in a very 10 of Swords move - inflicted multiple stab wounds, including a very gory and vividly described blow to the head. (The Hebrew letter associated with the Sun, resh, means "head," and the letter associated with The Lovers is zayin, which means..."sword".)
The victim's right hand makes the same papal gesture of benediction we see in the Hierophant card. It represent the dual nature of Christ (2 fingers up) and the triune nature of God (3 fingers down) - or two fingers up for what is revealed, and two down for what is concealed. Or you could say the gesture means "As above, so below" - another Hermes/Mercury allusion.
The Price of Knowing
In practice, I find that the 8-9-10 of Swords sequence goes something like this: frustration --> anxiety --> paralysis. That paralysis can take a couple of different forms. It can be the cathartic deep sleep that follows a big ugly cry, where you wake up puffy-eyed and parched but reborn. But it can also be the heavy-limbed depression that makes it impossible to get out of bed.
The weight of knowing too much, of being exposed to the unfiltered brutality of the world, can cause us to give up. We need the benefit of the doubt (represented by the 2 of Swords) to survive. The intellect, crown jewel of humanity, can be a cruel tyrant when its power goes unchecked. When we receive knowledge in the Garden of Eden, it leads immediately to our expulsion.
But the idea that knowledge is dangerous can be used for our empowerment as well. Mercury, god of secret knowledge and trash talk, is also the god who gives us the tools to escape traps of our own making. Where will he take you next?
The End of the Line, the Beginning of ???
There are a lot of candidates for "last card of the minor arcana". You could make a case for the 10 of Cups, which comes at the end of the zodiacal year in Pisces. Or you could say it's the 10 of Pentacles, the bottom of the Tree of Life. You could even make a case for the 4 of Cups (if you're the Golden Dawn and you start the new year in Leo.)
But the 10 of Swords is also an ending of a kind, and here's why. For us northerners, the summer solstice arrives at the end of this decan, marking the end of the lengthening light, the marriage of the Lord and Lady, the sacrifice of the King (the King is dead! Long live the King!). In ancient Egypt, the heliacal rising of Sirius heralded the solstice. This moment at the beginning of Cancer season marked the new year and the flooding of the Nile.
The 10 of Swords, whose Hermetic title is the Lord of Ruin, marks the end of a cycle as it closes out Gemini III. What card comes next? The 2 of Cups - Cancer I, or the Lord of Love. So to observe the re-emergence of Love from Ruin, let's finish off with a passage from Robert Browning's 'Love Among the Ruins'.
...When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
Each on each.
In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best.
The takeaway: 10 Swords, 2 solutions
No one will argue that the 10 of Swords is a pleasant experience. However, it can be a crucial reset button after it seems you have exhausted all your options. Whether it means you walk away from the argument, tell your best friend you need help, get back on your meds, or just go to bed for tonight: don't be afraid to hit that button. There’s always tomorrow.
After you do, there are a couple of ways to go:
10 of Swords --> 2 of Cups.
As noted above, the Lord of Ruin lives right next to the Lord of Love. When your intellectual rigidity has led you to Ruin, there is nothing left but to give up and surrender to Love. The hardliner King of Swords gives way to the forgiving Queen of Cups. Only by opening up the heart can we cure the wounds of the mind.
10 of Swords --> 2 of Disks
In Hermetic Qabalah, the four Worlds descend in this order: Atziluth (Fire/Wands) - Briah (Water/Cups) - Yetzirah (Air/Swords) - Assiah (Earth/Pentacles). Swords/Yetzirah, lead to Disks/Assiah. In one model of the Four worlds, the 10 of one suit overlaps the Ace of the next - causing the airy 10 of Swords to leads directly to the earthy 2 of Disks. In other words, the Lord of Ruin leads directly to the Lord of Change.
So, to sum up, here's your choices if you're stuck (10 times!) with the 10 of Swords and you don't know what to do:
1) Give up the fight and listen to your heart. Sometimes, it's not so important to be right. Forgive and forget, and you'll both be happier.
2) Go for a change of scenery. Break up your habits. Take a trip. Shake up your routines and try something new. The shock may be enough to reset your faulty neurome.
Personally when I draw the 10 of Swords, I sometimes go to the fabric store and buy 10 sewing machine needles. This act of "sympathetic magic" is a way of retrieving some sense of agency in the face of the card's sharpness and finality. Deliberately taking a nap in broad daylight is another favorite way of drawing off the spirit. The 10 of Swords inevitably summons decisive acts - better they should be your own choice than a choice made for you.
Finally, remember: the last decan of Gemini is a mutable decan of a mutable sign. One thing is for certain: this too shall pass.