The Ten of Swords, the Death Card, Child Abuse and Forgiveness

It’s hard to put an exact figure on it because child abuse tends to operate in the darkness, but most statistics indicate that about one in five people were abused as children. That abuse can, of course, be a broad spectrum of behaviors from physical abuse to emotional and social abuse to sexual abuse, or a combination of all of those. And therapists will take different approaches in treating those abuses, depending upon the type and severity.

We can simplify that by just lumping it all under one word: trauma. Victims of child abuse suffered severe trauma at a point in their lives when they were totally ill-equipped to process it intellectually or psychologically. Child abuse is normally committed by those who are closest to us – our parents, siblings, uncles, teachers, priests, pastors – and so it involves a deep betrayal of the most basic sense of trust. It leaves its victims with an enduring, often unconscious, feeling that the world is NOT a safe place and that we can never feel secure or at peace, even in our own homes. To use a current phrase, we suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, just like people who have been in combat for extended periods of time.

Eventually, that lack of trust in life, that basic inability to ever really relax into safety, will cause us to build impenetrable walls that destroy the quality of life. We are so wounded that we just can’t let other people all the way into our lives because they might hurt us, too. Very much like the figure in the Ten of Swords, the battle is over and we lost. And how could we not? We were just children when the battle took place.

We may seek help through therapy or spiritual resources in an attempt to remove the toxins, to tear down the walls of distrust and fear. If we’re blessed with a really good therapist or a wonderful teacher, we may actually make progress with our issues and begin to engage in life in a more open, loving way. We still feel wounded, though, pierced with countless swords of pain when we recall what happened to us as children.

And then an odd thing happens somewhere along the journey: our abusers die. Abusers, like everyone else, are ultimately mortal and they age and die like everyone else.

When that happens it can be a very odd time in our lives. There may initially be a real feeling of catharsis, a sort of a joyful crying out into the world: “I’m still here and you’re not, you son of a bitch.” Or there may be a total numbness and lack of grief. After all, they taught us the value of learning to feel nothing again and again and again while they beat us. Later, if we go into therapy, there may be a deep regret: “Why didn’t I confront him when he was still alive? Why didn’t I ever ask her why she couldn’t love me?”

At the end of the day, though, they’re dead. As the coroner in Wizard of Oz put it, “She isn’t simply merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”

Or is she?

The terrible truth of the matter is that, for most of us, they go on living in our own heads and hearts long, long after they’re physically dead. There are constant inner dialogues with them, sometimes dozens a day, that we carry on as if they were right there in the room with us, instead of lying in a grave. There are the critical, shaming voices that intrude on our every activity.

“That was stupid.”

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“Well, THAT was typical. You screwed up again.”

Many times these inner critics have become so natural to us, so much a part of our existences, that we don’t even realize that they aren’t us. They’re the disembodied voices of our dead abusers.

So how do we ever get rid of them? How do we ever get to a point where we can say, “You know what? You’re dead. Go away now?” The answer for me came in the form of forgiveness, but not forgiveness in the normal sense of the word. At least not the way I’d ever thought about it.

At first, the idea of forgiving your abusers feels grotesque, even outrageous. “Wait a minute . . . I was a little tiny, helpless kid and this person beat me (fucked me, fondled me, burned me, shamed me – fill in the blank with your particular form of abuse.) Why in hell should I forgive them? Just because they’re dead?”

Well, there are two reasons and, oddly, neither one of them has a thing to do with the abuser.

First of all, yes, they’re dead. Yes, in a physical sense, they really ARE most sincerely dead. Whatever they are now, they aren’t any longer the specific person who abused us.

And that means that, as Louise Hay pointed out, all that they are right now is thought constructs in our heads. That’s it: they are literally just our memories now and they have no existence beyond that. When that really hit me, when I finally GOT that, my first thought was, “Wow! I’m CHOOSING to live with my abusers. All they are is my thoughts and I’m in charge of my thoughts. This is a choice to continue the abuse.”

And once I got that, I realized that if I continued to keep those thought patterns alive, it was a CONSCIOUS choice to live with abuse.

That’s where forgiveness comes in. Louise Haye also pointed out that forgiveness is, ultimately, an act that takes place in our own minds. We don’t tend to think of it that way. We tend to think of it as always involving another person and it usually has a lot of drama attached. It goes something like this:

“I forgive you for the fact that – even though I was deeply in love with you, had your three children, and was a good and faithful wife who adored you with all of her heart – you just couldn’t keep your dick in your pants and you screwed my best friend. That slut.”

In other words, we’re SAYING that we’re forgiving the other person, but we’re really not. What we’re really doing is pointing out what a total piece of shit the other person is and saying that we’ll live with that, as long as they feel good and guilty about what they did wrong. It’s a power thing disguised as a kindness thing.

Real forgiveness, though, is truly letting it go, not choosing to live in it, and that’s why it’s so important in healing the wounds of abuse. It means recognizing that we’re keeping the abusers alive in our own minds, acknowledging what they did to us and honoring ourselves as survivors, and then just . . . letting them go . . . for once and for all . . . back into Universe. “If hating you means I’m keeping you alive, then I can let go of that hatred. I forgive you, I bless you, I release you.” And in doing that, we’re really blessing ourselves. We’re really releasing ourselves from the prisons they built in our minds.

You can invent your own rituals for doing that. I like to use Nick Ortner’s Meridian Tapping with three rounds of what they did to me and three rounds of letting them go. You might prefer to build a Day of the Dead Altar with their picture on it. Talk to the picture, tell them what they did and how it felt, and then throw the picture away.

Light a candle, meditate on the abuser and then release him or her as you blow out the flame.

Do a Buddhist Sur Ceremony and release them with love and compassion.

They don’t exist anymore. We’re free.

Abuse Cards in the Tarot

One of the most frequent reasons for people to consult a Tarot reader is relationships, specifically romantic relationships.  This includes the full gamut of topics from, “Does Bobby like me?” to, “Is my marriage worth saving?”

You may find that a prominent subcategory of that topic is physically and/or emotionally abusive relationships.  People who are in abusive relationships are frequently desperate for advice and guidance.

You may also find – as any cop, social worker, or emergency department nurse can tell you – that the questioner may not even be willing to admit that he or she is in an abusive relationship.  They may be deeply ashamed of it. They may have been victims for so long that they’re afraid to reveal the truth, afraid that talking about it will only bring more abuse down on their heads.

It can be very puzzling to a reader.  You’re looking at a reading that indicates that something is very, very wrong in the questioners life and, yet, they assure you that everything’s fine.  There are, however, a few cards that can tip you to what’s actually happening.

NINE OF WANDS


The picture kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  This card may well indicate an abusive relationship though at this point – given that this is a Wands card and, thus, ideas card – the abuse is probably more verbal than physical.  A couple living in a constant state of verbal warfare with nasty, wounding arguments.

EIGHT OF CUPS

A card of stealing away in the night, this may indicate someone who is literally fleeing from a really bad relationship.  This can be a relationship that is SO bad that the questioner is leaving town to get away from his or her partner.

FIVE OF SWORDS

This is a card of really ugly power games and can indicate a person who is a serious sadist.  Deep wounds are being inflicted here and they may be actual physical wounds as well as emotional wounds.

SIX OF SWORDS

This appears to be a fairly placid card on its’ surface but there are undertones that can indicate abuse. As I said in the original definition from my book, “Just the Tarot,” this is a card of leaving troubles behind and moving toward better times.  A journey from rough waters to waters that are placid and calm. There is a definite element of escape, of fleeing in this card.

There is also an element of hiding and of turning your power over to someone else and asking them to guide you to safety.  The woman and child are cloaked and bent over, as if to conceal their identities.

I have seen this card frequently in the context of an abused wife or girl-friend fleeing to a women’s shelter or finally, finally calling the cops to stop the abuse.  

SEVEN OF SWORDS

This card doesn’t so much indicate physical abuse but may point toward a form of emotional abuse.  The questioner may be involved with someone who is stealing his or her power in a relationship, belittling them, and grinding down their sense of self-worth on a daily basis.

EIGHT OF SWORDS

Again, the picture pretty much speaks for itself.  A person who is literally being held prisoner in a terrible relationship.  The blindfold can indicate a high level of denial on his or her part, refusing to even acknowledge, much less deal with, the fact that they’re in deep shit.

TEN OF SWORDS

This may well be the scariest of the abuse cards.  It’s the end of the power cycle and the subject lies dead on the battlefield stuck full of the swords that he or she tried to wield.  A reminder that abusive relationships can have horrible endings.

NINE OF PENTACLES

I’m including this card in the post, not because it shows overt physical or emotional abuse, but because it may show a certain form of emotional or financial bondage in a relationship.  The woman in the card is to all appearances happy, content, and surrounded by wealth. One of the key elements of the card, though, is the blindfolded hawk. This card may indicate a person who has – perhaps willingly – surrendered his or her freedom for financial security.  There can be a great deal of inequity and inequality of power in a relationship like that and that can certainly lead to abuse.

THE DEVIL – UPRIGHT OR REVERSED

The Devil can, of course, indicate a whole slew of other things besides relationship abuse but it’s almost always there when abuse is present.  You have to be a wee bit cautious in automatically assuming that, though, because human sexuality covers a whole spectrum of behaviors. I have never personally understood it but there ARE people who enjoy giving and receiving pain as a part of their sexual experience.  If it’s mutually agreed on, it’s none of our business.

Despite that, The Devil can be a clear indicator of a relationship that has gone very, very wrong.  The man and woman are chained but the chains are obviously loose enough to be slipped off if they chose to do so.  There is an element of voluntarily sinking into a terrible, poisonous relationship and elevating the very worst of human nature into a so-called, “relationship.”  The abuse here can be emotional, physical and spiritual.

THE TOWER

The Tower can show abuse but it’s probably just happened.  The Tower is sudden calamity, a bolt from the blue, a shocking development.  Chronic abuse can go on for years. It may be shocking to others to discover it’s been going on but it’s certainly not shocking to the victims or perpetrators.  Depending upon the surrounding cards this may indicate the very start of the abuse cycle.

THE MOON

As I said in my original definition:  The Moon shows that the questioner may be involved with someone on a very primitive, unconscious level and that there may be deception on the part of the partner or, more likely, denial on the part of the questioner.  There is a lot of emotion present but it may not be of a healthy, evolved nature.

This card can show the depths of rationalization and deception involved in an abusive relationship.  Everything is murky, shadowy, and there’s no clear path out for the victim.

So those are the primary cards that may indicate an abusive relationship.  They don’t always indicate that but you’ll be able to tell a great deal by the surrounding cards.  I would also emphasize that these are by no means the only cards that can indicate abuse. Abusive relationships can be incredibly complex and so can the readings for the person being abused.

Ten of Swords

And you thought the Eight of Swords was a scary card!  A man lies on the ground, obviously dead, his body pierced with ten swords.  The sun is either setting or rising in the background.

This is the ultimate ending to the power cycle.  If we approach life in terms of power and dominance rather than love and compassion we end up face down, defeated, and full of swords.  This is a card of basic karma: whatever you put out there comes back to you ten fold.

This card indicates treachery, deceit, changes for the worse.  It can signal a very bad ending to a relationship or the loss of a job.

Reversed:  Things will gradually get better.  The swords will fall out and the situation will improve.  If the questioner has been having health problems there will be a slow, but steady, improvement.

EXAMPLES:  An alcoholic or drug addict who has really and truly – finally – bottomed out and is ready to admit that he or she is powerless.

Going through bankruptcy and losing everything.