The story goes that, the knight before a man was to become knighted, he was to go into complete seclusion and total silence. He swore to speak to no one, and to not see another soul until the morning of his knighting. This usually started the day before, and continued all throughout the evening. The knight would spend his watch in prayer – prayer that he serve his god well, that he be honorable and just, and do no wrong. He prayed to make sure he was even with his god – that no ill was left unforgiven, so that he could spend the rest of his days doing his duty to his king. This is the nature of the Four of Swords.
The image of the Four of Swords card may be a familiar one for those who have visited a church or a mausoleum. In the foreground is a tomb, with a stone carving lying on top that depicts a “sleeping” (possibly dead) man, with his hands folded and his head on a pillow. The man does not look in pain... he looks rested and peaceful. On his tomb is a sword. Behind the tomb there hang three more sword, and in the wall is a stained glass window depicting a child and an adult.
Pausing to reflect is the most prominent meaning of this card. Like the knight, the Four of Swords may be asking you to take time to be still, to see all that is behind you and all that is before you. We seldom take as much time out of our days to meditate or reflect as we do talking and acting – perhaps if we did, there would be less pain and suffering in our world.
This card can also signal a period of recovery. Whether from a physical injury or an emotional one, sometimes we need to take a step or two outside of our normal routines to rest. Don't expect recovery to be quick – a day off from work isn't going to do the trick: even a little cold needs more rest than that.
Lastly, this card asks us to take a moment to think of the beyond and the role it plays in our lives. The man who rests in the picture on the card is a man who is dead. He is experiencing the ultimate, final rest. What does that mean for you? How would you prepare yourself for death? Would you make peace with loved ones? Spend all your time with those you care about? What's stopping you from doing that today, rather than on that fateful day? Many who are on their death beds don't say they wish they had worked harder or spent more time pursuing their financial stability... they say they wish they had spent so much more time with those they love. Food for thought.
Consider this when you see the Four of Swords. When was the last time you took time to be still, to reflect, to meditate? What benefit would you get from it? Are there any downsides to taking time apart? Do you have anything you need to recover from?
The Hermit shares a good deal with the Four of Swords – the only real difference is to the type of reflection that is signaled by each card. The Hermit represents a more overarching concept of internalized thought, while the Four of Swords signals that something has happened and you need to turn inward and be still in order to work through it. The Four of Cups is another card with commonalities found in the Four of Swords: both reference a moment where you turn inward. Here the difference is in the reasoning – the Four of Cups signals a refusal, even a sort of “pouting” in this inward turn, while the Four of Swords is almost begging a querent to look within.