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.
King of Swords card: Traditional meanings
As the final embodiment of the values and concepts of the suit of Swords and element of Air (Libra), the King of Swords is a wise and knowledgeable figure of authority, one that has learned the far-reaching consequences of his actions and has just taken upon himself to use this kind of power responsibly and wisely.
He can represent a figure of authority in the Querent’s life, like a parent, teacher, or employer, or might simply be the one person the Querent of the subject goes to when they need some advice with something important.
Upright: A stern middle-aged man, intelligent, objective, and confident. Someone highly cultivated that uses that knowledge wisely.
Reversed: Manipulative, abusive, and self-centered.
Upright King of Swords card
The first thing that comes to mind when looking at the King of Swords in the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck is how similar he looks to the character in the Justice major arcana card. This is deliberate, as even A. E. Waite mentions it in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot. The king is sitting upright on his throne, facing the viewer, the sword symbolizing his suit in his right hand. He is wearing long, flowing robes and a cape, and the throne itself is barely visible as if it were made of solid air.
There are the usual clouds to underline the presence of the element of Air, too, and a pair of flying birds on the horizon, but the King of Swords still has his feet on solid ground.
As the paragon of his suit of Swords and element, the King of Swords represents ultimate power and control coming from the mind and the intellect. It is a symbol of authority, with the conviction that he will use this authority wisely and fairly. This combination between authority and the mind creates a kind of militant intelligence, with righteous arguments that are hard to ignore.
The King of Swords of the minor arcana also ultimately represents a mind with enough experience and knowledge to be able to provide wisdom, too, so he will often be someone you will come to see when you need some advice and want that advice to be based on facts and objective truth.
Reversed King of Swords card
A reversed King of Swords in a reading needs some proper handling to avoid negative consequences. Indeed, this situation is what happens when the usually wise and brilliant ruler forgets to keep his feet on the ground like the illustration on the RWS deck. Out of touch with reality and the consequences of his decisions, a streak of tyranny and abusive authority can appear in a reversed King of Swords.
In context, it might represent a figure of authority above the Querent or subject of the reading, and abusing the bond between them. In that case, the rest of the reading should provide clues and advice as to how to deal with them to minimize the power they hold over them. Alternatively, it might represent the Querent in that situation, and highlight a potential danger to misbehave or act without thinking of the consequences. In that case, it is usually not too late to change, and the tarot will provide advice for it too.
King of Swords and love
The King of Swords is a wise and intelligent man in a position of authority, confident about who they are. He doesn’t need to prove himself anymore, and will often take his time before making any sort of lasting commitment, weighing pros and cons and taking an objective look at the situation before they jump in, even in love.
As such, the King of Swords is someone you can ultimately count on when he enters a relationship, though the way they obviously prioritize their own mind and values over their actual feelings might make it difficult to create meaningful emotional connections with them.