The Suit of Swords is possibly one of the most difficult projects on which I’ve worked but I recognized this early on, before I’d even drawn a single line. The Swords deal with matters of the mind, often exploring challenging themes and disturbing elements that we’d rather ignore than face. Perhaps more so than in any of the other Suits, the Swords deal with fears and doubts. Immersing oneself in the Season of Swords can be a cold, isolating experience.
Caught on the Winds of the Season of Swords
I knew that the Swords would be challenging but what followed were some of the most difficult moments in my life. I was caught off guard by the end of my 7-year marriage, saw one of my greatest inspirations and a lifelong hero David Bowie die, voted unsuccessfully against the ascendance of a political administration more disgusting than any I could have imagined possible. I dreaded working on the Swords Suit knowing that my life often absorbs the essence of these cards as I work on them, drawing uncanny parallels. Yet, I felt its frigid currents blowing through my life and knew ignoring them would be much worse. Shortly following the loss of Bowie but prior to the nightmare of November and the personal devastation of December, I began to actually draw the Ace of Swords…and so began the stirring of those winds that would eventually blow away the ashes of the life I had known.
Omega Meets Alpha in the Ace of Swords
The Ace of Swords begins my Suit of Swords with the death of its protagonist, a self-obsessed bounty hunter who is reborn into an underworld-style afterlife under the name Ash Gravedust. The card depicts two distinct scenes in Ash’s story: his violent death and his resurrection into his afterlife. Bisecting this scenes is Ash himself, wrapped around his sword that is a central focus for much of his story. In the Ace of Swords, the dual nature of the sword is thematically significant. I decided to make Ash’s sword itself reflect this dual nature. The black edge of the blade touches his past; a scene in which he dies from a head wound, reinforcing the Suit of Swords’ purpose of understanding the mind. The silver edge of his sword touches his present; his resurrection with new “life” into the underworld. While his decisions to pursue a career as a bounty hunter eventually cost him his life, it was not the end as he had always imagined. Death was not final after all.
This bleeds into another concept of the Ace of Swords: what we perceive as negative may ultimately be positive. That’s not to say this card calls for celebration. Rather, the blessing in disguise is often accompanied by hardships and challenges that must be overcome. Thus, as Ash claws his way triumphantly from the earth, it is amidst a Japanese cemetery with a haunted house in the distance illuminated by an ominous bolt of blue lightning. Ash isn’t exactly dead but he’s certainly not safe either.
Walking With or Against the Wind
As with the Ace cards in all of the Suits, the Ace of Swords carries a current of dynamic energy. Ash isn’t exhaustedly pulling himself from the earth, he’s triumphantly emerging from dead limbo, reaching for the sky. Likewise, wrapped around his sword at the center of the card, Ash wears an expression of marked determination though he may not fully realize the challenges he is about to face. Again, the dual nature of the Swords comes into play. We see this spark in Ash, this desire to live. But the Swords are representative of wind, a force with the ability to push our sails forward or immobilize us or even set us back with merciless resistance to our intentions. It’s difficult to make out but the haunted house actually features stone gargoyle-like faces that emerge from some of its corners. These are actually tiny faces of Fujin, the Japanese god of wind blowing gusts of air to remind us of the adversity on the horizon for Ash.
The Futility of Resisting Life’s Lessons
But Ash isn’t necessarily in the underworld to be punished for his self-obsession or as condemnation for his scoundrel lifestyle. He is here to learn lessons that he resisted in life. In his moment of death, he is sprawled across a cold, metallic floor with a series of arrows pointing downward, indicating his need to go to the underworld to learn his next lesson. Likewise, the sword at the center of the card is pointed downward. Ash’s lessons will be delivered with a fair amount of pain, though this is directly proportionate to how long he walks against the wind as opposed to letting it guide him into the direction of the fears he must confront. Again, that dual nature rears its head as there is a beneficial type of resistance that Ash must embrace: the resistance that finds him facing his challenges. There’s also a destructive form of resistance which will be explored in the next card: an unwillingness to accept a harsh reality and deal with it.
The Symbolism of Ash’s Sword
Ash’s sword is forged with some other general symbolism important to the Suit of Swords. The pommel of the sword is a silver owl with white diamond eyes. In Native American mythology, the owl is skilled at seeing through deception to a hidden truth. The Suit of Swords often deals with great truths and communication being either obscured by lies or guided through truth. The significance of diamond eyes is twofold: I used eyes as a recurring theme in several of my Swords cards as a reminder of the relation of personal perception to the truth or an echo of the saying “open your eyes” to an apparent truth. Diamonds parallel the lessons learned by Ash; highly precious but arrived at through great pressure. The handle of Ash’s sword is marked by a silver lightning bolt, another common symbol on several of my Swords cards. Lightning is often used to symbolize new ideas or philosophies and the illumination of truth. But lightning is also seen as an agent heralding destruction; a supernatural cleansing that allows for creative fertility in its wake. In this way, lightning can be traumatic but eventually leads to great benefit. As Ash goes through a private hell, he’s learning vital truths. The guard of his sword is comprised of a series of symbols including an eye, a crescent moon, and the sun. This shows the duality of mystery and the illumination of truth.
In the border of the card, we find simple reinforcements of the themes already discussed. Sky blue diamonds, partially obscured by shadow punctuate the border. At the corners, we see Ash’s swords bisecting panels to create a silver and black duality.