Saying the Quiet Part Loud: Silence in the Tarot

I got a daily draw that I felt was particularly “quiet,” and I got to thinking: which cards are quiet? Which are loud? I thought about it and the 2, 3, and 4 of Swords came to mind, all very quiet. But I sat down with my Waite-Smith deck and made some piles and while some things aren’t so surprising, others were, a bit. Most of the quiet cards are in the Swords! And the rest of the suit isn’t particularly loud. So now I’m wondering what we can do with this information.

First, note that I am skipping the majors and the court cards, since “events” and “people” can be both quiet and loud. Maybe I’ll sort them out later, though. Given that, it broke down like this: six quiet cards in the Swords, three in the Wands, three in the Cups, and two in the Disks. I’m surprised the Disks have so few. I have a third category, of in-between cards, and most of the Disks are in there. Anyway, let’s start with the big list:

  • 2 of Swords: lady sitting silently by the ocean
  • 3 of Swords: a heart pierced in a void filled only by rain
  • 4 of Swords: a tomb, with a man or an effigy of a man in repose on its lid, in a church
  • 8 of Swords: a woman standing blindfolded amid swords thrust in the ground in a watery waste outside town
  • 9 of Swords: a person clutching their face in the bed in darkness
  • 10 of Swords: a corpse on the shore pierced by swords as the sun rises (or sets)
  • 2 of Wands: a man holds a globe and contemplates it while standing on a balcony above a town
  • 3 of Wands: a figure stands on a hill and watches distant ships
  • 9 of Wands: a bandaged man stands behind a wall of wands looking over his shoulder past them
  • 4 of Cups: a man sits meditatively, ignoring a hand proffering a cup while he looks on three identical cups
  • 5 of Cups: a figure in black looks down at spilled cups; upright cups stand behind them
  • 8 of Cups: as the Moon watches, a figure walks away from cups stacked atop cups, with a gap revealing the feet of the figure. Cups sit on a table or stage, behind which is a river and mountains.
  • 5 of Disks: two injured or disabled people walk in the snow outside a church window
  • 7 of Disks: a man leans on his hoe and looks at a bush covered in disks

I’m sure this list, on its own, can start some arguments. The things that surprised me were that the 6 of Swords didn’t look as quiet as I assumed it would. The people in the boat surely speak some, and the water would slap at the boat. Despite the sneaking posture of the man in the 7 of Swords, it doesn’t seem quiet; he is quiet but there’s probably a lot of noise covering his departure behind. And the 8 of Disks isn’t exactly loud but I don’t think you can sit and do hammerwork in silence. Interestingly, in my smaller pile of “loud” cards, there are no swords. Unsurprisingly, there are more Wands than Cups or Disks.

Why though?

This isn’t a theory-heavy post. I leafed through the cards and pulled what I pulled. I’m struck by a few things: in the absence of actual sound (they are pictures, after all), I appear to have had some criteria. With one exception, every card I chose shows an individual, not a group or even a couple. The 5 of Disks evokes late night quiet snow, which isn’t silent, but is somehow what silence could sound like if it were to be paradoxical that way.

There’s a lot of water in these cards, showing, again, that they aren’t strictly silent, but instead peaceful – the 6 of Swords’ water scene is too fraught and has too many people, I guess, while the water behind the 2 of Swords’ Libran sword balancer looks a bit rough but is in the distance. Enough to make some white noise or ASMR but not enough to sound like a sound. Eight of the fourteen cards could be read as related to grief, with the big Grief Card, the 5 of Cups, being present, naturally.

By the Numbers

As above, there are fourteen cards I’ve identified as quiet. There are nine I felt were “loud,” and of course thirteen that were “middling” or “indeterminate.” For instance, the guys in the middle ground of the 5 of Swords are probably pretty quiet, but is the smug douche in the foreground quiet or saying something sarcastic? Is the background a set of bleachers or stands with a noisy crowd screaming? Who knows?! So almost but not quite half the pack of minors is “quiet.” It sort of makes sense, if you just think of tarot’s pragmatic function: either as a tool for fortunetelling or for meditation it’s usually used in quiet situations.

There are six cardinal signs represented, three fixed, and five mutable. Decans of the Moon, Saturn, and Mars show up three times, while decans of Jupiter and the Sun show up twice, decans of Mercury show up one time, and decans of Venus show up not at all. I think it’s no surprise that the Moon and Saturn are often “quiet,” but Mars is an odd one to be sure! It is always Mars in the aftermath: grief, insomnia, standing up there and looking out over what you’ve successfully struggled in the past to build up. You can start to see how this might be useful: the story that each card tells, and that you build up and tell as a reader, can not only be punctuated with silence (“well, many of the cards are quiet, so you’re probably going to be less active this month”) but specifically narrated within the kinds of silence (“all the quiet on the table has to do with grief, while all the noise has to do with friendships. Are you avoiding talking about your dad’s diagnosis with anyone?”).

And just to be thorough, most of the numbers have two cards in, with a couple only having one, while six is noticeably absent. As the big, noble culmination of things, and the center of the Tree of Life, maybe the six is always trumpets and shouting? Susan Chang often calls them “the sexy sixes,” and one could argue that sex is never silent – except, I mean, if that’s your fetish then it’s probably pretty close.

The Fourth Power of the Sphinx

Many of us are chasing silence, I suspect: our world is noisy, from the music we put on to lower our nervousness to the keyboard clacking as we type. Right now my chair is squeaking, the dishwasher is galumphing, I’m still incidentally belching from whatever is going on in my digestive system, the keyboard is in fact clacking as I go, and boats out on the river are chugging away. And as I typed that some dillweed drove by on our little windy road too quickly. I also suspect many of us turn to tarot not only in our quiet moments but to help produce those quiet moments. So aside from reading diagnosis tools, we can close by considering cards good for meditation: the 2 of Swords, 3 of Swords, 4 of Swords, 10 of Swords, 4 of Cups, and 7 of Disks. Yes, that’s a lot.

The 4 of Cups is, I think, traditionally considered the card of meditation. It’s the decan of Cancer administered by the Moon. The 2 of Swords is the Moon’s decan of Libra, so it works about as well. But the others can be kinds of meditation: meditation on death is a common practice in many forms of Buddhism. Imagining one’s body decaying is actually, I’ve found, a calming experience on its own. Death comes for us all, I’m afraid. So the 10 of Swords is an excellent image for meditating. I’m not going to list out all the possibilities but just use your imagination! That’s the whole point of tarot! Get in there and get quiet!

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