The Queen of Swords is Hjördis, a Viking whose name means “Sword Goddess”.
It signifies a character who is proud and stately, and/or suppressed and controlling.
The Queen of Swords is depicted in a specific gesture which immediately connects it to the images we have of Ellen Terry playing the Viking Queen, Hjördis in the play, The Vikings of Helgeland, by Henrik Ibsen.
Pamela painted Terry as Hjördis also in 1903, some seven years before she painted the Tarot.
It is therefore a good sign we are on the right track with these theatrical correspondences when we also learn that Hjördis means “Goddess of the Sword”!
The character of Hjördis deepens our appreciation of the Queen of Swords. In the play she is first mentioned as encouraging her husband to war with “scornful words”, hindering the peace. She appears to be already known for this behaviour.
When Waite writes this is a card of “bale” when reversed, he is presenting this side of the image, as “bale” is an archaic word for ‘evil considered as a destructive force’. The words of the Queen of Swords can be baleful indeed and lead to much misery.
In our book, Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot, we reveal much more about how understanding Pamela’s choice of model for the card adds much to our readings and identifies specific people, or qualities, or aspects of any situation. You can also see the full illustrations and much more!
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Bonus Fact One!
The card image is also inspired by the Sola Busca Queen of Swords, representing Olimpia (Olympias), sister of Alexander I.
Bonus Fact Two!
The tassels that adorn the wrists of the Queen are of note in that a close‐up view of the original ‘Rose & Lilies’ deck shows (on the right tassel) that these are Rose & Lilly designs, similar to the Rose & Lilies we see elsewhere through the deck.
The Queen of Swords wears these symbols of passion and purity, with all their associated iconography, as a rosary upon both her wrists.
This detail has been lost in all subsequent copies of the deck.
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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.