6 of Swords: Death Work in Service of Life

I gave a reading yesterday. And the reading was beautiful and amazing and so much healing came through for the client. Among the many cards I pulled, one of the central cards in the reading was the 6 of Swords. And I wasn’t at all surprised to see it there, but I was a little annoyed. The 6 of Swords is following me. Or, more accurately, it’s following my clients. In nearly every long-form reading I do for clients the 6 of Swords is there, in some way, coming forward with invitations into healing.

A twitter post from Lex, @thelexritchie that reads: "6 of Swords comes up in damn near every reading I give and it's damn near always about the ancestors, breaking ancestral patterns, and finding healing. So, uhhhhh, if you got ancestral baggage you want a tarot reading about my books are open."

6 of Swords isn’t exactly the happiest card out there. And it’s one that is deeply intertwined with themes of death, vulnerability, and the afterlife. But I love to see it every time it comes up. Because while it carries these death-like themes, and even seems to evoke Charon ferrying souls across the River Styx, it is deeply intertwined with themes of life. That’s what all 6s do in tarot: they play with opposites, with reflections, the liminal space where the individual and the collective meld.

Image shows the 6 of Swords card from the Tarot of the Holy Spectrum atop a blank notebook page. Card shows two people being ferried across a river, from choppy water to smooth water. 6 swords are in the bow of the ferry. In the stern, the ferrier stands above the two passengers.
6 of Swords card from the Tarot of the Holy Spectrum

The 6 of Swords invites us to ask for help, to let ourselves be ferried across a river, to let others do for us what we do not have the skill to do for ourselves. An important, if mundane, message on its own. But so often this card also comes up as an invitation into the work of the psychopomp. Psychopomps are those who can span two realms and who use that ability to ferry people, spirits, souls, ideas across that liminal space in between. For examples from myth, think Charon, Mercury, Hermes, Odin; they are the guides of the undead. In a more spiritual sense, this card offers an invitation into ancestor work, breaking ancestral patterns, and healing the deep hurt of those who came before us. If that sounds heavy, well, it can be. Much like the work of working with magic, enchantment, abundance, and nature spirits in a society that denies them. Working with anything that you were raised to fear, avoid or deny, will always have its heavy parts.

But it always fills my heart to see this card come up for my clients, to seem them called into their own role of psychopomping, in their own ways. Because this is a work of hope and life.

You see, I, too, am a psychopomp, a guide of the dead. And yet, I am so utterly bored with talk of the beyond, of grief, of passing away. I am a psychopomp firmly rooted in and concerned with this material plane. I am a psychopomp in service to life. And I firmly believe that the work of psychopomps generally is the work of life. Ancestor work is the work of living.

We’re physical beings. We’re in a physical existence. We have influence on the physical world in a way that spirits do not. And our ability to influence the physical, to create change in the material world, is our power. Ancestor work helps you tap into that power. It helps you to use your power in a way that creates what you want to see created, instead of perpetuating the patterns of your ancestors. Looking to the past to heal, helps you create and move forward into a better world. Confronting legacies of white supremacy, the ways our ancestors worked to survive the devastating impacts of a capitalist/partriarchal/colonialist system on all of our ancestors…this is the the kind of death work that the 6 of Swords invites us into and it is in service of living and living well.

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