Ten of Swords | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

10 of Swords

Keywords for the Ten of Swords 

DEFEATMARTYRDOM
EXTREME LOSSVICTIMIZATION
SUFFERINGANNIHILATION
TRAGEDYOVERKILL
DESTRUCTION“PLAYING THE VICTIM”

In this card, we come upon a disturbing scene. We see a mountain range in the background, backlit by what appears to be a setting afternoon sun. Clouds of smoke trail across the evening sky, filling the complete upper half of the car with a dark black cloud that threatens to take over.

On the ground before us, a dead man lies face down on the dirt floor. His lower body is wrapped in a blood red clot, while blood streams out from his head onto the ground around him.

We see ten swords which puncture the flesh of his back, all arranged in a line down his spine. He has not been killed once, but many times, it seems. He has suffered misfortune beyond measure here.

Interpretation of the 10 of Swords in a Reading

When this card appears in a reading, it often indicates where you feel you have suffered an extreme loss or defeat. It can feel like the world is ending after such a great loss. You may feel that you will never recover from such a humiliating failure. 

When this card appears, the loss we have experienced may very well be real. However, there’s also the potential that we may perhaps be overdramatizing the consequences that this has had or will have on our lives.

As we see in the image on the card, the man lies face down with 10 swords in his back. We may ask if all 10 of those were truly necessary. He would likely have been equally as defeated with just one sword in his back.

This is further emphasized by the position of the man’s right hand on the ground on his side. He holds two fingers extended with the other two tucked under near his thumb. 

Notice this is the same position held by the Hierophant in Key 5.  In both cases, it is a signal that all is not what it seems. Some of the truth is indeed being revealed, but another half is obscured and held back and not shared with others. 

Sometimes when this card appears it is asking us to consider our role, and our present circumstances. If this is a difficult situation we often repeatedly find ourselves in, we may want to ask ourselves questions such as:  

  • Am I truly the victim here? 
  • Is there anything I might be getting out of repeatedly playing this role? 
  • What do I get from feeling like a martyr?

We might find that we are willingly putting ourselves in a position of self-sacrifice and loss that stem from unconscious motives, such as “being the bigger person”, or the belief that “love means sacrifice,” or “selflessness is equal to goodness.” 

When this card appears, we may want to re-examine some of our current values and past conditioning, if we truly desire to have a different future outcome for ourselves. 

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