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The better side of the Ten of Wands

January 31, 2014

Ten of Wands -- Tarot of the MastersThere are no “good” cards or “bad” cards; they all have a spectrum of meaning.  Here are some thoughts about positive aspects of a card that is typically seen as being negative. 

The Ten of Wands typically depicts a person trudging along, struggling under the weight of a heavy load.  Hence, it suggests our struggles and burdens in life, and it may ask the question, “Did you bite off more than you can chew?”  Another meaning we can see in this card is “the burden of success” because success always comes with a price.  Even after we have worked hard to achieve it, we still must continue to work hard if we are to keep it.  This all sounds rather unpleasant, but of course, there’s more to it than that.

First of all, a bit of helpful advice implicit in this card is to find a way to lighten the load if you can.  Perhaps you can get someone to help you.  I am also reminded of a parable I heard long ago about a boy carrying a heavy backpack who was traveling by foot.  A kind farmer offered him a ride in the back of his wagon, but even while he sat there in the wagon, the boy continued to carry his backpack.  When asked why he didn’t set it down, he said it was because he didn’t want to be too much of an imposition. What he didn’t realize was that it didn’t matter to the horse drawing the wagon if he carried the pack or set it on the floor.  So sometimes this card says that you are carrying a load that you don’t have to bear.  Let it go for now; turn over the responsibility.

This card also may say that you need to consider if the burdens you feel are really all your responsibility.  Although you may feel they are, often they are not.  For example, in her book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack says the following about this card:

In emotional situations, the card shows us a person who takes on himself or herself all the weight of a relationship.

However, in a relationship one person should not have to carry the whole burden of making sure it works. Realizing that can be quite a relief.

Certainly, though, we all have a cross to bear now and then, but even so, it can help to get encouragement that we have the strength to carry on. So even if you do need to continue to shoulder the burdens you are carrying, this card can suggest that you have the strength to do so, which is good to know.

Another suggestion for lightening the load is to prioritize your tasks.  The disarray of the wands held by the figure in the RWS Ten of Wands implies that putting things in order might help. Also, consider that the number TEN reduces numerologically to ONE (1+0 = 1).  This suggests that rather than worrying about all the things you have to do, pick the number one thing you need to do and just focus on that.  Do one thing at a time because you certainly can’t do ten things all at once.

This use of this card’s numerological association is a reminder that in addition to using the image on a card, we can also interpret it using its numerological and elemental (suit) associations. (You can also use other systems that work for you, such as astrological associations).  For example, the number TEN may be about endings, but it is about new beginnings as well.  Thus this card can be about the end of one endeavor and the consequent beginning of a new one.

We can also interpret any card in light of the cards that either precede or follow it in the deck. For example, in his book, The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, Robert Place says the following about the RWS Ten of Wands:

Because this card also makes use of a stagelike setting, like the Nine of Wands, and the man’s tunic is similar to the one worn by the man on that card, it may be that the man on the Ten of Wands is removing the barrier or fortification that was depicted in the previous pip [card].

Nine and Ten of Wands

This is a lovely interpretation of this card which I have never seen anyone else suggest.  It is so obvious, though, when you look at the two cards together.  So instead of saying that you are carrying a burden, this card might say that you are removing a barrier.

Another problem with “bad cards” is that we tend to get so caught up in the image that we see on one particular version of it that we forget that the essence of the Tarot transcends individual images and versions of the cards.  Thus, we might do well to consider also what this card looks like in other decks.

Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery Ten of StaffsIn his decks, The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery and the Alchemical Tarot, Robert Place uses a very atypical sort of image for the Ten of Staffs (Wands).  In both of those decks we see a Phoenix rising from a fire on this card. The following is the description of it from the Little White Book for The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery:

The Phoenix reborn from the flames represents rebirth, renewal, or being strengthened by meeting challenges.

And in the book that came with the Alchemical Tarot deck, Place writes:

The phoenix is also a solar symbol, representing the cycle of the sun as it is born again every day.

This presents a metaphor that we may use with this card.  It reminds us that the fall of night is not the beginning of eternal darkness since the sun will come up again in the morning, and we can view times of trouble in our lives the same way.  In addition, night, as a time of cessation of activity, brings us regeneration, an interpretation for this card similar to what Place writes about it.  The “Tarot Wisdom” for this card in the Alchemical Tarot book also gives us a much more encouraging message than we usually see for the Ten of Wands:

You have been transformed by your experiences.  You have been tested by fire; your old self has died away, and a new self is being born.  You are renewed.

Let’s also consider the Ten of Fire in the Gaian Tarot where we see a forest fire depicted.  This is what Joanna Powell Colbert says about her version of this card:Gaian ten of fire

Fire is necessary to clear away undergrowth and debris and is important to the overall health of a forest. Fires are beneficial for prairies, which may need fire to maintain their very existence, and to some species such as the Lodgepole Pine, whose cones often need exposure to high temperatures in order to release their seeds.

The implications here are similar to those we saw in Place’s decks: regeneration and new life that rises up from the ruins.  In addition, though, it suggests that a situation we see as being about loss and damage will have the beneficial effect of clearing away undergrowth and debris.  This removal of clutter returns us to the vast potential for growth that is the hallmark of an Ace, as we again see the TEN numerologically reduced to a ONE.

You can find more blog posts about the other side of the cards listed here: And if you want to further explore this or any other Tarot card, you can find links to a wealth of card meanings here




  1. Daniel Alencar permalink

    Thanks for this post. I have really gotten this card very often these days (like almost every read that I decide to make). And the negative twist “oh you’re getting burdens from others or you’re feeling like you’re working too much” really doesn’t fit!!!

    But reading your post, something made me feel “aha!”, which is this one: “However, in a relationship one person should not have to carry the whole burden of making sure it works. Realizing that can be quite a relief.”

    And the removing barrier things. Finally this card started to make sense now a bit.

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