4 of Swords

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The Four of Swords Minor Arcana card is offers reprieve and a moment of much needed rest from the hectic and tumultuous activities of life and its many demands. Whether you are taking an intentional sabbatical or are recovering in the wake of surgery, the Four of Swords stands for rest and recuperation.

Taking the time you need for yourself to focus on things like self love and your own physical or psychological healing can be a challenge in a culture that puts stress and self-sacrifice on a pedestal. Nevertheless, alone time, retreat and recuperation are absolutely vital to long-term physical, financial, spiritual and mental health.

When the upright Four of Swords Tarot card appears in readings, it can either be an indication that you are intentionally taking the quality time for yourself that you need – or it can be a wakeup call, a sign that you are operating too close to burnout. In the latter scenario, the 4 of Swords is a loving reminder from the universe, asking you to start taking care of yourself and to be take some proactive steps towards bringing your stress levels down.

No matter what our situation in life or the number of responsibilities stacked on our shoulders, we all have the right and a need as human beings to occasional rest, reset, recover and re-evaluate.

What the Swords mean in Tarot

In the pictorial language of the Tarot, the Minor Arcana suit of Swords embodies the element of the air. The air is connected to the invisible yet vital realm of the mind, consisting of thought patterns, beliefs, self-talk as well as outward communication.

When the mind is well-balanced, focused and healthy, it is a powerful weapon and a singularly useful tool. When, on the other hand, the mind is unbalanced, cluttered and overburdened, we suffer. We become trapped, the wings of our potential clipped.

Swords appear throughout the Tarot, not confined to the Minor Arcana suit of Swords. In the Justice Major Arcana card we have a prime example of the swords – symbolic of the mind – in perfect equilibrium. Here, we see the wise and fair judge holding one sword perfectly balanced, its tip pointing heavenward as if poised to receive divine justice.

An example of the swords in their negative aspect is the Nine of Swords, where we see a woman sitting bolt upright in bed at night, unable to sleep. The nine swords mounted on the dark wall above her bed are causing her intense stress and anxiety.

The numerological number 4 in Tarot

The 4 of Swords Minor Arcana Tarot card is labelled IV, the roman numerical meaning 4.

According to numerology, the number 4 indicates balance, stability and structure. This is very fitting in connection with the 4 of Swords Tarot card, which is all about restoring inner calm and balance.

Four of Swords Tarot card description

The Four of Swords Tarot card differs from deck to deck, but most renditions include versions of the key symbol found in the classical Rider-Waite Tarot. These are the ones we will be taking a closer look at here.

The knight

The main character in the Four of Swords Tarot card is the knight. Lying horizontally on a tomb inside a church, his hand are folded in prayer, indicating rest as well as inner connectedness.

Whether he has sought out the peaceful surroundings of the church during a deliberate time-out from the battlefield or whether he has been injured in battle and forced to retreat remains unclear.

The swords

Three swords hang on the wall above the resting figure, their tips pointing downward towards his torso. They represent the tumult, the stress and the distractions from which he has sought shelter in the church.

A fourth sword is lying close to where the knight is resting, as if waiting for him to pick it up and resume his crusade when he is good and ready. The single sword symbolises mental clarity and a single point of focus.

The stained glass window

The stained glass window of the church depicts a woman and a child together, adding to the scene a sense of comfort, safety and protection.

Four of of Swords Tarot card meanings

The Four of Swords, like every other Tarot card, contains within it a many-faceted, multi-layered prism of meaning. Here are some of the most prevalent 4 of Swords Tarot card meanings.

Timeout

The word timeout summarises and encapsulates the overall meaning of the 4 of Swords Tarot card.

A timeout can be either voluntary, such as going away on a restful holiday with the specific intention to rest and regenerate, or involuntary, such as having to recover after a surgery.

A timeout always means taking a step back from the hectic activities and demands of your life. A timeout can be as long as a gap year or as short as some intentional time spent meditating or contemplating in your own company, away from it all.

Rest and relaxation

A key meaning of the Four of Swords card is a moment of rest and relaxation.

Rest can mean anything from a deliberate retreat to a rented cabin for a weekend of de-stressing in nature, to picking up a journalling or meditation practice.

The Four of Swords reminds us how vital it is that we find and create pockets of space within our busy lives to stop, lay down our weapons and take a deep breath before heading back out there, ready to pursue or face whatever lies ahead.

Recuperation, healing and recovery

The Four of Swords, when it appears in its upright position in Tarot readings, encourages rest and allowing yourself the time you need to fully recover and heal whether physically, mentally, spiritually or financially.

If you keep burning your candle at both ends instead of allowing yourself time to shed your stress and rebuild your mental strength, you will only slow yourself down even more. Taking a break is an act of self protection and self preservation when your bank balance, body or energy levels are in the red. Taking time to heal and recover is never going to slow you down in life – quite the reverse.

Meditation

The Four of Swords can sometimes mean mediation, either by encouraging you to pick up a meditation practice or applauding you for already having one, and assuring you that the practice is going to prove immensely helpful by decreasing your stress levels, increasing inner peace and allowing you to go about your day-to-day life with a clear and refreshed mind.

Deep contemplation

The upright Four of Swords often indicates a period of deep contemplation and can indicate that you are re-evaluating choices, relationships or paths.

This period of quiet contemplation is a deep and intense process, and has the potential to lead you to some life-changing insights and realisations.

Four of Swords reversed Tarot card meanings

When the reversed Four of Swords appears in Tarot readings, its regenerative powers and constructive energies become distorted. Here are some of the most prominent reversed Four of Swords Tarot card meanings.

Chronic stress

The Four of Swords reversed can indicate permanent state of stress; stress that won’t let up or let go while slowly edging you towards an impending mental breakdown.

When stress becomes chronic, it becomes a seamless and invisible aspect of life, and the discomfort and the dangerously high cortisol levels that go with it become status quo.

You might have more or less completely forgotten what it feels like when your body and your mind are relaxed and focused. The Four of Swords reversed can appear as a reminder that it is about time that you start taking better care of your body and your mind by granting yourself permission to meditate, to spend more time in nature, to turn off your phone.

Exhaustion

A key reversed Four of Swords Tarot card meaning is exhaustion.

You might have been running so fast and working so hard for so long that you suddenly look back and realise that you passed the point of exhaustion months ago, and now you are feeling the burn. Coming back from the point of utter exhaustion can be a lengthy process. It is decidedly preferable not to end up there in the first place, but since you are here, take it as a valuable lesson and an opportunity to take better care of yourself in the future.

Burnout

Almost inextricably linked with exhaustion is burnout. Burnout can be experienced both physically, mentally, creatively sand spiritually and can be very difficult to recover from.

Burnout often happens as a result of prolonged mental, emotional and physical stress and exhaustion. Burnout descends when you have been pushing yourself past your limits – and neglected taking the necessary time out to regenerate – for too long. Burnout is the high price you pay for skipping sleep too often and for denying yourself the physical, mental or emotional sustenance you need as a creative human being.

Stagnation

The Four of Swords reversed can sometimes indicate stagnation.

Here, you have long since restored your energy levels, refilled your creative well and deescalated your stress, and yet, you remain inactive and withdrawn.

Four of Swords Tarot card interpretations

Which layer or facet of the Four of Swords is relevant in any specific Tarot reading is always going to depend on a number of factors, including any important card combinations surrounding the 4 of Swords, and the individual Tarot reader’s interpretation. Here are some examples of what the 4 of Swords could mean in the context of different Tarot readings.

What the Four of Swords card means in a love Tarot reading

Upright

Your love life is at an impasse. If you are in a relationship you are not ready to take it to the next level – you might be unsure of whether you see this relationship going anywhere at all. If you are single, you might be taking some time away from the dating pool altogether.

Reversed

You are completely fed up with love and romance. You might have been single for a while and have become hesitant to give love another chance.

What the Four of Swords card means in a career Tarot reading

Upright

You might be in-between jobs, or simply contemplating what your next project or move should be. You might be contemplating a major career change.

Reversed

Career stress and financial pressures are getting to you. Take a much-needed time out destress and refocus your mind.

Lucius Nothing

Lucius has been slinging tarot cards professionally since 2014. He’s taken the tarot to places most wouldn’t think of: His best-known patrons include Torture Garden, The Dark Circus Party, Handel & Hendrix, A Curious Invitation and The Candlelight Club, where he has been resident tarot reader for the past half-decade. His writing on divination, magic and creativity has been published in Sabbat Magazine and on Medium.

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