2 of Swords: Libra I
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Moon
Hermetic Title: Peace/Peace Restored
Corresponding major arcana: The High Priestess [Moon] + Justice [Libra]
Dates: September 23 - October 2
Few minors show as clear a blend of their corresponding majors as the 2 of Swords does. In Pamela Colman Smith's image, we see the moon and the waters of the High Priestess; meanwhile, Justice's sword and scales have transformed into two balanced swords. Justice's blindfold (not seen in the major arcanum) and Justice's bench also appear in the minor card.
Why do I call the 2 of Swords the "Little Priestess"? Partly it has to do with the strong visual echoes between the two cards. It's not just the composure of the seated figure; it's also the waters, which seem to extend seamlessly from the shorefront obscured by the Priestess's veil into the background of the 2 of Swords. Sometimes I think of these as the waters of the unconscious, since the Priestess helps us to find our way to those realms beyond words. The 2 of Swords, too, can be the meditative state that helps us find peaceful refuge from the mental chatter of our conscious minds.
Sometimes I think of those waters as other realms - the realm of spirit, or perhaps the underworld. If the Devil is the Great Adversary, the Priestess is the Great Intermediary - whether she is Isis, who intercedes for the spirits of the dead, or Persephone, whose cyclical journey between upper and lower worlds makes her the ultimate liminal goddess.
Something else I associate with the Priestess is the practice of lectio divina, or in the Jewish mystical tradition, pardes (from PaRDeS - peshat, remez, derash, sod). Both are approaches to reading sacred texts for meaning (note the scroll or book always held by the Priestess). Without getting too far into the details, each system implies that while there are literal and symbolic ways to understand something you read, there is also an innermost, secret communion that is between you and God alone. The blindfold on the 2 of Swords, and the veils behind the Priestess and Justice, always make me think of that secret meaning, incommunicable in speech.
A final word about 'Little Empress' and 'Little Priestess'... I have this personal theory that each of the 7 traditional planets has a minor card that expresses its nature in miniature. Besides the 9 of Pentacles and the 2 of Swords, I sometimes like to think about what some of the others might be. Just for fun, this is where my ruminations have led to date:
While the 2 of Swords' blindfold may remind me of scriptural exegesis, it probably alludes much more directly to the iconic representation of Justice. So often we see Lady Justice portrayed with scales (for measuring fairly) and sword (for enacting judgement upon the wrongful party). So it is no real surprise that even where the Picatrix commentaries on this face diverge, they agree that it signifies "justice," "fairness," "protection of the weak" from the evil and powerful. This speaks specifically to the power of the law- i.e. what everyone agrees is fair. And symbolically, the law is intimately connected with the word: it is "codified" or written down in books; we speak of the "letter of the law," we enact "sentences". "Books" can thus be a shorthand way of referring to the law, a connection we see illustrated in the Astrolabium Planum image for Libra I.
The law as a beautiful, impartial, and learned goddess also shows up in the Queen of Swords archetype. Often a widowed or divorced figure, this Queen may be defined by her relationship with the law and the rights granted to her by it. But she may also be the law's personification - a brilliant scholar who sees the patterns within ideas and who is committed to fairness and the truth. These days - a year after the Christine Blasey Ford hearings - it's hard not to feel the truth of women needs a particularly strong defender.
Self and Other
The 2 of Swords coincides with the equinox (the fall equinox in the Northern hemisphere, the spring equinox in the Southern hemisphere). At this moment, day and night are equally balanced in the scales of Libra. In fact, all 2's correlate to solstices and equinoxes: the 2 of Pentacles represents the longest night, and the 2 of Cups the longest day. The 2 of Wands marks the beginning of daylight's increase; falling in the sign of Aries, it is ruled by Mars. The 2 of Swords marks the beginning of night's increase; falling in the sign of Libra, it is ruled by Venus.
[I always wince a little at how much northern-hemisphere bias informs these metaphors. It's hard to get away from it, though, since the symbol systems of tarot are all northern-hemisphere systems.]
Falling directly opposite Aries, sign of self-assertion, Libra represents the recognition of the Other. In the scales of Venus, both points of view have equal weight. In Libra, beauty means symmetry: proportional features, measured tones.
Furthermore, all 2's in tarot relate to the sephira Chokmah: the insight, the dawning of consciousness, the sense of having a point of view. If there is a point of view, that implies it is not the only one. For this reason, I associate Chokmah with the "Gaze" (2's, Chokmah, insight). And that is why when I think about the 1-2-3 sequence of the supernal sephiroth (Kether, Chokmah, and Binah), I think "Lights! Camera! Action!"
The 2 of Swords combines the number of the Other (2) with the sign of the Other (Libra) and the element of thought (Air/Swords). Therefore, when I think of this card, I think of a mind making room within itself for another's point of view.
The Mind at Peace
There are a couple ways the image suggests this act of mental deference. Looked at one way, you can see the 2 of Swords as a picture of meditation: sitting still, looking (without physical sight) for balance. Indeed, I sometimes use this image as a basis for visualization when I am entering a meditative state.
But you can also look at the 2 of Swords as a symbol for initiation. The blindfold is the "hoodwink" of secret societies; it signifies the suspension of the ego, the setting aside of an individual identity as one joins a group, or apprentices to a master. When I see the 2 of Swords, I can't help thinking of Luke Skywalker, when Obi Wan Kenobi forces him to train blind at light saber practice - or practically any other martial arts prequel that involves a blindfolded training sequence. Taking away the sense of sight allows you to *feel* or adjust your way towards alignment with a greater balance: as within, so without.
The peace of Venus is the peace of connection; of knowing you are not alone. By silencing the voice of the ego, you recognize that you are companioned through your ordeals - by the divine, by those you love, by your teacher, by the Force.
Many esoteric traditions consider the Moon a symbol of the mind. So another way to look at this is to recognize that the mind is changeable: it waxes and wanes. Like the High Priestess, it is fluid and secret, but we can close our eyes and ride its changeful waters to peace.
Justice vs. Adjustment
While we are talking about Libra, there is one final distinction worth highlighting in the major arcanum of the Scales. From its 14th century beginnings, tarot featured a Justice card to go along with the cardinal virtues of Temperance and Fortitude/Strength. (What happened to Prudence, the 4th cardinal virtue? That's a whole 'nother story.)
But when Aleister Crowley conceptualized the Thoth deck in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, he chose to call Justice "Adjustment". This raises the question: What is equilibrium really? Crowley liked to say that "Nature is not just, but nature is exact" - the idea that there's a natural equilibrium that asserts itself within the dance of life; he even goes so far as to call it karma. Adjustment is the "Fool's dancing partner" - taking the elemental Air or breath of life and shaping it into infinite tiny, balanced movements. Another way to put it: taking air waves - pure sound - and shaping it into music. (I think this is why I often get Justice/Adjustment when doing sound editing.)
Crowley contrasted this natural tendency toward equilibrium with the human concept of justice. In the human judicial system, "justice" is an artifact of thought. It seems that "adjustment" occurs naturally, while Justice must be constructed and imposed. Because while you see nature performing Adjustment on a macro scale, everywhere (see climate change), I am not convinced that the arc of history "naturally" bends towards Justice. For that, we need correction. In Kabbalah, the letter of the Fool's path is aleph, the "ox", but the letter of Justice's path is lamed, the "ox-goad"; it can also mean teach, prod or learn. How else will the Fool, who is literally defined by ignorance, gain his knowledge of the World? Perhaps we all need prodding in the right direction from time to time.
When you draw the 2 of Swords, ask yourself what you can do to create peace in your mind. Take a step back from whatever single-minded agenda you have been pursuing. If you are in an argument, give your opponent's point of view a full and equal airing. If you are a student (of any kind), set aside your preconceptions about your subject so you can learn something new. Turn to whatever meditative practice allows you to clear your mind, and listen for silence.
"Two of Swords" can simply be a way of saying "two breaths" - the inhale and the exhale. Peace may be as simple as witnessing both in your mind, until there is nothing else to see.
"The moment you develop a sense of concern for others, you realize that, just like ourselves, they also want happiness; they also want satisfaction. When you have this sense of concern, your mind automatically widens. At this point, your own problems, even big problems, will not be so significant. The result? Big increase in peace of mind." - Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama