Gators and the Nine of Swords, oh my!

The Nine of Swords, from the Rider-Waite deck

In the dream I am floating. Floating, not in relaxation or enjoyment, but because I have forgotten how to swim. It is as though my brain has stopped communicating with my muscles and I cannot move.

I am paralyzed, floating on my back in a murky inlet. It is just past sunset and I have no idea how I will ever reach the shore in my immobile state. I am terrified yet can’t even thrash about in panic.

Naturally, that’s when the alligators come.

At first I am aware of them swimming just beneath my body. Their scales brush the backs of my knees and shins. Still unable to move, I mentally brace myself for the first bite. I am aware that my heart is pounding, the adrenaline pumping through my motionless body. I wonder how it will feel to be torn apart by alligators. I imagine their gaping mouths opening to clamp down on my unmoving flesh. I imagine their horrific reptilian grins and how their eyes will meet mine a moment before…

… the first bite.

It’s just a tickle on the bottom of my foot, this first bite. I steel myself for the next, more painful, wound.

The second bite is almost kittenish. Little needlelike teeth sinking into my heel, and then another on my big toe. And all the while, I feel the gators undulating beneath me and around me. I feel like I’m being… teased.

Somehow I am able to lift my head up now and I examine my feet, the toes poking up out of the water at the sky. Here and there I see a flash of scales as the gators break the surface and then dive back underneath. They are swift, fleeting things, these gators. Perhaps they don’t intent to eat me after all…

…and suddenly, I can move, and I am awake.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So by now you’re probably wondering what all this gator stuff has to do with Tarot. Hang on, I’m getting there.

I recently moved cross-country from my home of 13 years in California to a resort town in South Carolina. This was certainly a traumatic experience for me, as I left behind a steady career, good friends, and a landscape I loved dearly. I came to South Carolina to reunite with family and hopefully, to start a new career and enjoy a lower cost of living. I arrived here with high hopes. But now, the anxiety comes creeping in. I haven’t yet found a job and a relative very dear to me was hospitalized with serious health problems shortly after I arrived. It’s scary not knowing when I’ll have a paycheck again. And it’s scary to watch someone you love go through a rapid decline in health.

And so, the worry creeps into my dreams. Even in sleep, it seems, I cannot escape it. Yet in dreams I am sometimes able to find more creative and productive solutions to problems than I can in waking life.

The Nine of Swords is most definitely a card of mental anguish and despair. It depicts quite clearly the way I must have looked when I woke up from my alligator dream- terrified, out of control, and overwhelmed. Nine swords float above the figure in the bed, symbolizing a panicked mental state. The scene is one of certain doom…

… and yet, it was just a bad dream. No matter how scary it might have seemed, it is over. I haven’t been eaten by alligators. I am still here, despite the problems I face.

The Nine of Swords is, to me, an important reminder to assess my mental state. It can be an indication that I am blowing my troubles out of proportion and allowing them to take over my life. When that happens, I need to take a step back and take a hard look at what I can do to help myself. The kind of worry indicated by the Nine of Swords is often not productive. It’s the kind of worry that sets your mind running on an endless hamster wheel and steals your sleep at 3 a.m. (and gives you crazy alligator dreams). That kind of worry is going to wear you down when you’re already in the midst of problems.

On the other hand, this card can come up to illustrate very real and serious problems. Life gets ugly at times and we all have to deal with some seriously scary and stressful stuff. Ignoring the problem is not an option. The Nine of Swords asks you to honestly allow yourself to feel your stress, worry, or sadness, and then find productive ways to deal with it. With this card, you may be feeling a sense of helplessness or powerlessness, much like I did in my dream. The trick here is not to allow yourself to succumb to those feelings of paralysis and hopelessness. You aren’t a prey animal waiting to be eaten. You are alive, and it’s time to rely on your survival instincts.

When this card comes up:

I suggest meditating on the Temperance and Strength cards. Temperance can help you strike a balance between productive vs. nonproductive worry. Strength (obviously) will help you trust in your own ability to cope. Try placing these two cards in a prominent place where you can sit with them for a few minutes daily.