The 9 of Swords shows Juliet in the play Romeo & Juliet (1597) by William Shakespeare, specifically Act IV, scene III.
She is as A. E. Waite describes, “One seated on her couch in lamentation, with the swords over her. She is as one who knows no sorrow which is like unto hers. It is a card of utter desolation”.
According to the Golden Dawn Book T, to which Pamela probably worked, the 9 of Swords signifies;
“Despair, cruelty, pitilessness, malice, suffering, want, loss, misery …” and also “subtlety and craft, dishonesty, lying and slander.”
If the card is better “dignified” by the cards around it in a reading, Book T also suggests it can be more positively read as “obedience, faithfulness.”
So Pamela has painted it to signify despair & loss, sometimes from cruel communications.
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If we look at the card, we see in the carving below the bed a man looking to be beating another man who lies prone.
This has sometimes been suggested as the biblical myth of Cain and Abel, the two brothers, one of whom beat the other with a weapon lying on the ground, possibly a bone.
Now read Juliet’s monologue in this scene, as she wakes in her bed, and sits up, distraught, just before she drinks the sleeping draft.
Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Scene 3.
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
And madly play with my forefather’s joints?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud?
And, in this rage, with some great kinsman’s bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?
O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier’s point: stay, Tybalt, stay!
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
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Pamela, influenced by her theatrical life with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, two of the greatest stage actors of the time, drew deeply upon Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright, to design the world’s most popular tarot deck.
That is why it is capable of telling any of life’s stories in every reading.
The points of the Swords do not fit into the design deliberately, because despair literally has no point and feels like it is never-ending. This card is the darkest hour before the dawn.
The quilt contains a rose and zodiacal/planetary design but like other examples (such as the Geomantic symbols on the Charioteer) Pamela is not consistent nor particularly versed in their design or correspondences.
The quilt symbolises the passing of time which is the only thing that can comfort such pain and despair if it is allowed to happen.
As this card is also the “9” (Yesod) of “Swords” (Atziluth) in the Kabbalah, it signifies the battle between the mind and the ego/personality.
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Learn More about the meanings of this card in everyday readings in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot and over at our free sister-site, My Tarot Card Meanings where you can also download a free guide to card meanings and spreads, Keys to the Tarot by Andrea Green.