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What does the King of Swords mean?

September 29, 2016

King of Swords -- Tarot of the MastersHere is a pithy meaning for the King of Swords:
In the Country of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King.

This quote is attributed to Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. It says that within a group of unintelligent people, someone of average intelligence will be considered special. (More generally, it can refer to any sort of talent or ability, but for the King of Swords, I see it as being about intelligence.) To some extent, this is true, but it is often the case that the following alternate meaning for this card is just as likely:

In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is mocked and shunned.

Why is that?

Consider a short story by H.G. Wells called “The Country of the Blind.” In that tale, a man comes across a village populated by blind people in an isolated valley. Recalling the saying, “In the Country of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King,” he thinks he will be able to rule them. However, the villagers have somewhat compensated for their blindness, so he is not as special as he thinks. Worse, over their centuries of isolation they have lost all memory of the sense of sight, so they think he’s crazy when he talks about his ability to see.

But wait, it gets worse.

The man falls in love with one of the women of the village, but when he asks the village elders for her hand, he is refused due to his crazy ideas about this imaginary thing called “sight.” Finally, they tell him that he can marry the woman if he consents to have his eyes surgically removed, since obviously, they are diseased and are damaging his mind. He reluctantly consents, but then balks and tries to escape the isolated valley.

Wells wrote a later expanded version of this tale in which the man, fleeing the valley at the end, sees that an avalanche is imminent, so he returns and tries to warn the villagers. Again, they scoff at his crazy notions of “sight” so he flees and the village is destroyed. (This may remind you of climate change deniers and the danger their blindness presents to all of us.)

Here are a few take-aways from this story:

  • People can compensate for their shortcomings. We might make this more specific by saying that even people who seem dull-witted may have some compensating abilities, so don’t discount that.
  • People will think you are crazy if your ideas and concepts are outside their paradigm for reality, no matter how correct or even brilliant your revelations are.
  • People often think that scientific truth is a democratic process. (The more ignorant they are, the more likely they are to think this.)

PS: This story calls to mind a concept called “Tall poppy syndrome.” This is when people resent and denigrate people of extraordinary intelligence or talents. It indicates a sort of inferiority syndrome. 

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Note: Each of these pithy Tarot meanings is just one facet of its card. Find more of them on my Card Meanings page.  Also, get my Pithy Tarot eBook and LIKE my Pithy Tarot Facebook page!

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