This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.
(Notice the switched order of the Six and Seven in the picture–Six is on the top right and Seven is on the left right. The switch has no meaning–just an accident.)
Six of Stones
An antler which curves into a circle has five small gems growing out of it. Above them hovers a sixth, larger gem.
Traditionally, this is the victory card. That’s the title of the Six of Wands in the Thoth tarot and the Waite-Smith card features a victorious laurel-wreathed rider on the back of a horse in some sort of victory pageant. In the same way that rider is elevated above the people looking on, this large stone rises above the smaller ones. Something decisive has happened and the larger, more important stone has risen to the top for better recognition.
This card also suggests independence, since the large stone floats free while the smaller stones are still attached to the antler. This is about leaving the community to go accomplish something on your own and returning. However, doesn’t mean that it has an antagonistic relationship with the stones below it. To me, the antler curved into the circle suggests wholeness, a solid foundation from which the large stone has grown, like the others, but also from which it is distinguished. If this is the card of victory, it’s very different from a card like the Five of Swords/Plumes, which is about winning at all costs. This is a well-recognized and deserved victory that brings honor to the community.
Keys: victory; independence; recognition for one’s accomplishments; a victory for oneself as well as others
Reversed: delayed success or a partial victory; not being recognized by the community for one’s achievements or a victory that is not in line with the values of one’s community
Seven of Stones
Six gems clustered together form a base out of which a spiraled horn emerges.
My guess is that this is also an antelope horn, although I can’t be sure of the species. But let’s get down to what’s really important about this card. Every time I see it, a voice in my head says PHALLIC! Not just “phallic,” but PHALLIC ringed in flashing lights. This is our penis card, people. I suppose there has to be one in every deck, and this is it. My comments on virility in the Two of Stones are also relevant here in thinking about what masculinity symbolizes in this card: energy, effort, courage, and will.
When I see this card, well, after my brain screams PHALLIC!, it then says “defiance.” It’s pretty consistent with both the Waite-Smith card (a man defending himself from an elevated position) and the Thoth card, whose keyword is “Valor.” This is a card about standing up for yourself and your values. Unlike with the Five of Stones, this card may find you with your back against the wall needing to be your own defender when nobody else is willing to help. But it’s not just about being egotistical and defensive. The energy and courage behind this defiance come from knowing that you are on the side of right. The erect horn doesn’t just symbolize virility, it also symbolizes backbone.
Keys: standing up to a challenge to your values or integrity; maintaining a sense of self-worth in the face of setbacks; not backing down; feeling embattled; defending (or being) the underdog
Reversed: being worn down by challenges; questioning yourself or your values because they are being challenged overwhelmingly; being the victim of gaslighting or crazymaking; giving up
Eight of Stones
Eight long, thin gems all point in one direction as if flying through the air.
This is one of the few cards, along with the Three of Plumes and maybe a couple others, that directly mimics its corresponding card in the Waite-Smith deck. In that card, eight wands have been launched in the air like javelins, traveling upward or about to hit their mark, depending on how you look about it.
As such, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this card. The traditional meaning is swiftness–a project is coming together quickly and there are a lot of details to keep together. I imagine it’s like getting a new job and having to do a cross country move because there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with all at once in a short amount of time–selling/subletting your current place, renting/buying a new one, switching insurance, finding a school for your kids, etc. etc. This card can be a mixed blessing for sure.
Keys: swiftness; many things happening quickly all at once, especially with employment or a creative project; labor on something finally coming to fruition, everything falling into place
Reversed: things moving ahead too quickly to keep tabs on; losing control, dropping details or responsibilities; OR (depending on the context of the reading) being stuck; a situation that can’t move forward; timing is wrong
Nine of Stones
Nine gems grow out of an antler.
The interesting thing about Swartz’s choice of stones for this suit is that it emphasizes heaviness in a way that we don’t really see with the Waite-Smith deck or the Thoth, except for Pamela Colman-Smith’s rendition of the Ten of Wands. (The Sola-Busca Tarot, on the other hand, makes the wands look extremely burdensome throughout.) And yet, that’s how I always feel about the last few cards in the suit of Wands–“Oh wow, there’s all this cool creativity and stuff and there’s just so much of it and it keeps coming AND OH MY GOD WHAT DO WE DO WITH IT?”
So here we have an antler that looks quite heavy, with stones coming out of it almost like encrustations. The antler shows that, even though much has been achieved, fighting and self-defense are perhaps necessary. This recalls the defensive-looking man in Smith’s card who stands in front of his eight wands, jealously clutching the ninth as if preparing for an attack. In the Thoth tarot, this card is called Strength, so we could also think of these stones as amassed resources that can be used in the face of adversity. After all, I’m pretty sure that an antler covered with stones could put a hurtin’ on somebody.
The question, however, is whether such force or strength is justified. The wands in the Thoth card seem….I dunno, pretty confident and self assured (if wands can feel that way), but the look on the man in Smith’s card has long had people questioning whether his defensiveness is necessary, or he’s just so used to being challenged that he’s looking for more fights. It’s interesting that the word “defensive” has come to have a mostly negative meaning–“He was being so defensive”–suggesting that someone’s need to defend themselves takes precedence over everything else.
Keys: strength; resourcefulness–as in, having many spiritual or creative resources at hand in the face of a challenge or crisis; responding to challenges from a fortified, secured place; defending oneself successfully
Reversed: over-use of strength; reacting to events with unwarranted defensiveness or hostility; feeling insecure and over-compensating with displays of power and authority; thinking too much of one’s own credentials
Ten of Stones
Ten gems of various sizes form a clustered mass.
The stones signify a great amount of spiritual or creative achievement that now need to be properly tended to. So great–you became a certified Dharma teacher or got that new job, but now you have to deal with the responsibilities. More so than Pamela Colman-Smith’s dude walking away from us holding a bunch of wands in front of his face, the Ten of Stones shows that great achievement can be both wonderful and burdening.
In this last card, the horns and antlers drop away. We no longer need to defend ourselves from outside attacks or prove ourselves to others. Instead, we’re left with both the richness and the weight of our accomplishments. Almost all of the last five cards have been about fighting or working, but what happens when we finally achieve our goals and everything is as we wanted it? There’s a familiar phenomenon in which people work for years to achieve a dream that they think will make them truly happy–perhaps becoming a doctor, moving to a country the fantasize about, having a child. But then as soon as they achieve that thing, they fall into depression because they realize that they had depended on this accomplishment to make them happy…and it didn’t.
If we understand that accomplishing things doesn’t make us truly happy, then we may be able to savor the gems in this card for what they are. However, if we worked for them because we depended on them to make us finally happy, they may become little more than dead weight.
Keys: something that is both a great joy and a great responsibility, like having a child or a job with a lot of authority; being able to keep things together, but only with a great amount of work; “living the dream”–and all of the burdens that come with it
Reversed: being crushed under burdens and expectations; the realization that a hard-won accomplishment or possession does not bring happiness; not being able to keep up with responsibilities; being forced to drop some things
Thank you so much for these explanations! I have been struggling to understand this deck. It is my first deck (I know it’s not a recommended starter but I was drawn to the beauty of the illustrations)! This is a great starting point for me to understand and remember the cards and their meanings and to begin understanding what they signify to me. Thank you again! ❤