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.
Six of Swords card: Traditional meanings
All in all, it may be said that the six of swords meaning is closely related to personal development, a kind of new awareness arising regarding the subject’s own situation, and a desire to change it for the better and grow, even if some personal sacrifices are to be expected on the path to renewal. The final step of the journey will provide a better and safer place, so any loss or sacrifice should be well rewarded in the end.
Upright: Transition, movement, journey, change, and safe haven.
Reversed: Resistance to change, worsening situation, and a price too high to pay.
Upright Six of Swords card
The RWS version of the six of swords is another scene viewed from the back (which is particularly appropriate here when you consider the six of swords meaning). You see a ferryman on a lake or river, carrying two people in his boat. The six swords are all planted on the boat, but it doesn’t seem to be leaking. And this is not the only peculiar card in the suit of Swords.
It is interesting to note that the ferryman is the focus of the scene, but his tool of use is a large staff and not a sword, as usually most main characters are somehow connected with the element of their suit. As mentioned above, the scene is perceived from the back, so the boat and passengers are moving away from us.
The core element of this minor arcana card must be understood from the six of swords meaning is one of transition and change. Just like the characters on the boat, the situation is currently evolving from one stage to another.
Traditionally, this journey differs from the one encountered in the chariot tarot card, for instance, in that the goal is not necessarily to move to a better position or come as a victor after a challenge, but rather to move to safety, find better shelter, in other words being willing to lose some ground in exchange for more safety and security.
The journey might also be figurative, and in that way might represent someone deliberately changing their point of view or position, letting go what used to be important beliefs or values to grow and change as a person, like a rite of passage where you learn to see the world through a different perspective.
Reversed Six of Swords card
A reversed six of swords focuses on the negative outcomes of such a transition or change, the things you had to leave behind. Even when the journey objectively brings something positive to the mix, there is always some part of the self who will look back in longing at the comfort of a past routine, wondering if it was worth it.
When it is combined with other negative cards in the spread (especially the Tower major arcana, or a reversed Judgment), it could be a sign that the journey was indeed a bad decision overall, with the cost outweighing the gains, and the mind unable to ignore everything that was lost and convinced that the situation is getting worse.
Six of Swords and love
The six of swords also embodies the concept of transition when it is drawn in a love-based tarot spread. While it could represent a change for the better, either related to increased commitment or newly shared ambitions, it will more often than not echo a more radical kind of change within the relationship, up to and including a potential breakup.
However, even more so in love, the six of swords also hints that this transition and change is absolutely necessary because without such change the subject might lose themselves and who they really are. Stagnation brings a bad kind of entropy, and the only salvation comes through change and evolution.