A Story of Swords by Don Dudding
This is the first in a planned series of stories that will eventually cover all four suits, plus a story of the court cards.
A mnemonic is a device which helps us remember something. One common mnemonic is to tell a story that relates the elements you wish to remember. Here is a story I wrote to help new readers associate meanings with the suit of swords.
(Ace) Once upon time, a young fool named Jack lived alone in the forest. Being alone, Jack developed the habit of thinking about only one thing at a time. In his solitude, Jack lived in a happy and peaceful certainty. Being alone, Jack was not required to please anyone but himself. Being alone, Jack never had to convince anyone of anything and so Jack never learned to argue. Thus, for Jack, truth was always self-evident, and he believed everything he knew to be true. Though serious issues weighed heavy in the hearts of people all over the world, worry passed by Jack like a feather in the breeze. Jack had no one to compare himself to, and he never worried if he was smart enough, strong enough, or handsome enough. It never occurred to Jack that anyone might be better than him because someone else owned more things or knew more about the way in which things worked. As long as he thought about one true thing at a time, Jack was happy.
(Two) One day, some people moved into the woods near where Jack had lived alone, and they began to build a village. They owned things Jack had never seen before. They spoke of things he had never heard before. Some people told Jack he was inferior to them for a variety of reasons, and for the first time in his life, Jack felt confused. Jack found himself trying to consider two things at once: who he was in terms of how he saw himself and who he was in terms of how others saw him. This type of thinking was new to Jack, and he felt he wanted to avoid these people and their complications. Discontent was new to Jack, and he wanted to put these feelings behind him. "Maybe," Jack told himself, "if I donít face my emotions, I wonít have to deal with them." Jack thought he might be better off shunning the society of others, and so he moved deeper into the woods to live further away from the village. Still, though Jack found solitude deep in the woods, he was not as happy as he had been before. He could not put out of his mind the things to which he had previously been so blissfully ignorant.
(Three) One day as Jack wandered the forest collecting mushrooms for his dinner, he met a beautiful, young maiden who was also collecting mushrooms for her dinner. Her hair was as dark as the ravenís wing, and her skin was as pale as the winter snow. Because she had found so few mushrooms, and he had found so many, Jack offered to show this girl where she could fill her basket from the places where he knew they grew large and plentiful. She repaid his kindness with soft words and warm smiles. Now Jack felt something wonderful and new beneath his chest; he felt the air beneath his ribs expand like the first rays of dawn and his breath felt sweet and fresh. His heart bubbled like a creek about to crest its banks. All that day, Jack accompanied the maiden, and when her basket was full, he walked her back to her home in the village. When she came to her hut, a tall and muscular woodcutter approached Jack from within, shook his hand, and thanked him for showing his bride the places where the mushrooms grew so abundantly. The woodcutter and his wife invited Jack to stay for dinner, but suddenly, Jack found he had no appetite and he told his hosts he needed to return to his house before it grew too dark to traverse the woods. Once home, Jack threw his mushrooms into the fire and swore he would never eat another. Jack listened to the silence of the forest that lay outside his door, and he began to cry. At this moment, he realized how empty he felt from being alone. Jack recognized he was confused. He tried to think about three things at once: the girl, the woodcutter, and himself. He thought about how the girl had been both kind and cruel, how the woodcutter had been both good and in the way, and how he, himself, had been tricked by his own desires and how pleasant he had felt before he realized his misconception.
(Four) The next day, Jack tried to put his sadness behind him by keeping busy; paradoxically, however, the more active he became, the quicker his mind raced about the things that bothered him the most. He worked himself into a frenzy, and though his body grew tired, his mind crackled and popped like green wood in a fire. Finally, in the midst of the afternoon heat, he found a shady spot near a brook and lay down. In his repose, he felt his muscles relax, and the tension flowed from him as if it were being carried away by the nearby stream. He fell asleep, and in his sleep, he dreamed that the three thoughts that had tormented him so much the day before hovered above his head in the shape of bees Ė while beneath him, one comforting thought that had sustained him his whole life waited silently to comfort him again. When he awoke, he was refreshed; and for a short time, he was happy as he once again fell into the habit of thinking only one true thought at a time.
(Five) Soon, however, Jack found himself more often in the village and less often in the quiet solitude of his lonely hut. In the village, he began to feel scorn for the people who looked down upon him for his lack of worldly knowledge and his lack of material possessions. Once again, he fell from the habit of thinking one thought at a time, and his mind raced with dark plans of revenge for the arrogance of the villagers. He hated them Ė not only for the things they possessed, but also for the manner in which they lorded their possessions over him. They called him ignorant, and they laughed at his crude clothes. They stopped laughing, however, when a strange malady swept through the village and everyone, but Jack, became quite ill. "How is it," they asked Jack, "that you alone are not sick?" "I know how to avoid the sickness," Jack replied. "And I know how to cure this fever. It is a simple matter of knowing which roots to chew and which berries to eat." The people of the village, who were now on the verge of death from their flu, begged Jack to save their lives. "I will give you the remedy you seek, " Jack said to them all, "but first, you will let me go from house to house and take whatever I wish to keep." The villagers agreed, but as they watched Jack amass the possessions from their homes, they complained vigorously that the things Jack took from them where beyond his use or appreciation. "You take our books, and you cannot read. You take our musical instruments, and you cannot play. You take our jewels and have no sense of their worth. What good are these things to you?" they asked in bitterness. "What good are these things to you if you are dead?" Jack replied. At last, when Jack had carried off the finest possessions the village had to offer, he gave them the roots and berries they needed to cure their sickness. Afterwards, the villagers demanded that Jack give back their possessions. "You took advantage of our sickness, " they cried. "We were desperate. Give us back our things." "I donít have them anymore, " Jack told them. " I buried them in a cave." "Why did you take these things from us?" the villagers demanded to know. "Only so that you could not have them," Jack replied. His mind danced with the many things he had taken from them, and his thoughts scrambled as busy as wasps in a hive. Though he had long wanted revenge, he was surprised at how unsatisfied it left him.
(Six) Somehow, Jack expected the people of the village to be grateful for saving their lives, but they never were; furthermore, they never let him forget the many things he took from them through his vicious bargain. Soon, Jack realized he was no longer welcome in the village, and he stopped going there altogether. Alone again in his hut, a sadness crept into his heart that he could not put a name to. He tried to tell himself that the villagers had earned their losses, and that if they had only been kind to him, he would have gladly cured them for nothing at all. Still, while he was able to convince himself that he had strong justification for taking their things, he felt no joy in his ownership (for he had lied to the people of the village when he told them he had destroyed their things). He had not buried their possessions in a cave; he kept them in his hut where he could hold them in his hands and ponder the grip these objects had on the villagersí imaginations. As the days passed, the sadness grew stronger within him; it was as though the sickness of the village had come back to haunt him as a drain upon his soul. Before he completely lost the will to live, Jack summoned the strength he had left and walked away from his home, his forest, and his ill-gotten booty. Though he felt better upon leaving his home and putting his troubles behind him, the weight of all he had taken continued to hang heavy in his imagination.
(Seven) For many years, Jack traveled the world alone. He often told himself that someday he would return to his hut and he would give back the things he had taken, but he always found reasons not to travel in the direction that would take him home again. Throughout his travels, he sometimes encountered people who offered him friendship and help, but Jack discovered he could not stay with anyone for very long before his new companions sensed Jackís shame and resignation. It was as though without ever telling his story, anyone he came to know somehow knew his secret disgrace. Because Jack recognized no friends, Jack made only enemies. And though he had once taken what he wanted from the village while his victims watched beneath a noonday sun, he found it easier to steal from the people he now met while they were sleeping beneath a clouded moon. Jack justified his stealing by telling himself the things he took were the price his victims paid for the lesson he gave them in human nature. Jack busied his mind with the explanations he would give, were he ever asked, for the sneaky and underhanded deeds he pulled on the unsuspecting folk unfortunate enough to cross his path. His mind spun explanations like wool from a wheel. His mind was always busy with these justifications, and he never even tried to stop and think about one true thing at a time.
(Eight) After many years living as a rogue and thief, Jack was arrested one night when he was caught in the act of poaching game on a rich manís land. He was thrown into a dungeon and chained to a wall. The chains were heavy, and he could not stand up except by exerting a great deal of effort. Although he could not remember being very happy throughout the time he had spent traveling the world, he longed to be free to move about once again. At dusk on the second night of his imprisonment, he was visited by the wealthy landowner who had had him arrested. His affluent captor told him, "I have a reputation for having a capricious wit, and so I will make you this bargain: If when I visit you at this time tomorrow you can give me one good reason why I should allow you to go free, I shall allow you to go free. If you can not give me one good reason for letting you go, you will never leave this cell again." After the landowner left, Jackís mind scurried from idea to idea as he desperately tried to think of the one thing to say that might give him back his freedom. That night as the moon moved slowly across the small, barred window that lie above where Jack lay chained on the cold, damp floor, he thought of many reasons he could give for wanting to be set free, but not one reason, did he feel, was good enough to insure his freedom.
(Nine) As Jack slept on the floor in the early hours of the next morning, he awoke to the sounds of another man being chained to the wall next to him. After the jailers left, Jack soon learned that the man chained next to him had also been caught poaching on the same lands. Jack told the man the bargain the landowner had made with him and said, "I hope you can think of a good reason to be let go. I, for one, cannot." The other man spoke of having left family behind in a small village far away. As the prisoner told of his family, Jack recognized details of the village he had left so many years before. Without realizing whom he was speaking to, the prisoner told Jack of a time in his childhood when he nearly died from an illness that had gripped the entire village. The prisoner went on to say that the illness had returned the following spring, and this time, without Jack to show them which roots to chew, most of the people of the village did die this time from the fever. "The few of us who escaped the fever searched frantically for the one man who could again save the lives of our people, but he was nowhere to be found. We never even found his home. It was as though he had never existed." The responsibility for so many deaths fell on Jack like a heavy sack. Suddenly, Jack felt as though he were about to drown in a whirlpool of grief and regret. The prisoner went on to say, "I wasnít even sure if we had found him if would have helped us anyway. After all, he may have left us because we no longer owned anything he wanted." Jack wept large, bitter tears at the mistakes he had made so many years before in his youth. As Jackís grief overwhelmed him, the prisoner next to him misunderstood these tears and said, "If you can stop crying, I might be able to help you think of the one reason you need to be allowed to go free."
(Ten) "I have no reason to go free," said Jack. "But the least
I can do is give you one." Jack confessed to the prisoner next to him that
he was, indeed, the one who had disappeared from the village so many years
before. When the landowner arrived that evening to hear what Jack had to say on
his own behalf, Jack replied in reverent tones and said, "I ask not that
you grant me my freedom, but that you free the prisoner next to me here. The one
reason I can give you for granting his freedom is that I can guarantee that he
will never need to poach game from your lands again. I have told him where he
can find many valuable possessions that no longer interest me, and with this
wealth, he can sustain his family and he will never need to stray from his
village ever again." "So you are willing to sacrifice your freedom for
his?" the landowner asked. "Yes," said Jack. "I will suffer
here and eventually die, but I can bear it if you will allow this one to go
free." Soon, the landowner was gone, and Jack was left alone to die in his
cell. As Jack watched the moon slowly creep into view through the small, barred
window above his head, he once again fell into the habit of thinking of but one
true thing at a time. Jack resolved to never again lose this habit, and a gentle
peace, like an old and comfortable blanket, covered his heart.
Don Dudding has been working with the tarot for about 15 years, but only began a serious study of the subject about six months ago. Don lives on a small farm in rural Southeast Ohio with his wife and two daughters. Don teaches English and other language arts classes at a local high school, and is also an obscure folk musician. Don has a B.S. in journalism and a M.Ed. in mental health counseling.
Don currently uses the Universal Waite Deck for readings and meditation. He bought his first deck (The Motherpeace Round Deck) more than 15 years ago after a friend used this deck to accurately predict his upcoming engagement and marriage a full month before he had ever met his wife. You can learn more about Don at his website. Don welcomes emails and will respond to them, but be patient as he has been known to go a few days without checking his mailbox.
Story © 2001 Don Dudding
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes