As a reminder, the suit of swords is driven by masculine energy and channels the power of the intellect and mind, including all the concepts, knowledge, and beliefs that it holds. Scholars and academics have connected the suit of swords to the classical element of air, and most of the cards from that suit embody the symbolic attributes of this element, one way or another.
Four of Swords card: Traditional meanings
The quiet silence that can usually be found when one visits a sacred tomb or shrine resonates within the four of swords tarot card. It is not meant to represent an actual tomb, but the introspective time needed to get some rest and perspective when dealing with a tense and stressful situation. Too much pressure tends to warp perceptions and lead to rash judgments and decisions, so the four of swords is here as a reminder to take a step back and breathe before you act.
Upright: Meditation, peace, silence, rest, and contemplation.
Reversed: Burnout, stress, exhaustion, and procrastination.
Upright Four of Swords card
The Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck paint another grim picture on the Four of Swords, but the overall meaning won’t be as painful and confusing as the previous two cards in the suit of Swords.
The image clearly represents a tomb, with an effigy of a praying knight. Most colored versions of the RWS deck use a golden hue for the effigy instead of stone gray. One sword adorns the tomb itself, and the other three are hung from a wall, though perspective makes it seem like they are hanging over the effigy knight’s head, echoing the myth of the sword of Damocles.
This Minor Arcana card has also the presence of a stained glass picture on the top left of the image strongly suggests that this scene takes place in some kind of church or cathedral.
It might not be obvious from the rather grim image of a tomb, but the core meaning of the Four of Swords in a reading is a time of rest and relaxation. It calls for a timeout, a way to break from the usual stress and fast-paced life most people lead in modern times.
As always, context is important. Combined with other positive cards in a tarot reading, it might refer to a nice time away from the subject’s routine, like a quiet country holiday, or some paid leave away from work. When the four of Swords is drawn next to more ominous tarot cards, however, it should be seen as some kind of warning that rest and relaxation are of primal importance in the current situation to avoid reaching a breaking point, advising you to stop before it is too late.
Reversed Four of Swords card
As a segue to this last comment, a reversed Four of Swords in a tarot reading usually deals with the consequences of reaching that breaking point. In a professional context, this minor arcana card would probably represent a case of burnout, where stress has become so overwhelming that the subject feels powerless and lost.
Alternatively, a reversed four of swords in a reading might represent a detrimental form of “rest”, ineffective procrastination that does nothing more than waste precious time and endanger deadlines without being impactful enough to restore as much energy as a clear-cut period of rest would.
Four of Swords and love
When drawn in a tarot spread that focuses on love, the Four of Swords should be seen as a warning. While not really a negative card per se in that context, it nonetheless calls for a timeout, some moments spent in isolation in order to build back your energy.
Usually, it means that there is a real and tangible danger hovering over the subject’s romantic situation, a big argument about to break, or an urge to lash out at the other that might be motivated by the stress and pressure of everyday life rather than a genuine concern or cause for a fight. Deliberately spending some time alone will usually be enough to gain some perspective on the situation and get back to the relationship without causing undue harm.