As a reminder, the suit of wands is driven by masculine energy and usually represents willpower, change, and an impulse to create and make something new. Scholars and academics have connected the suit of wands to the classical element of fire, and most of the cards from that suit embody the symbolic attributes of this element, one way or another.
Ten of Wands: Traditional meanings
The ten of wand is the last numbered card in the suit of wands and closes the series with a pretty bleak image and an even bleaker meaning. Self-inflicted at best, deadlocked and inescapable at worst, the ten of wands is a reminder that life can be tough and difficult sometimes. However, there is a kind of nobility to be found in the willing sacrifice of one’s time, health, or energy for a greater cause too.
Upright: Duty, obligations, heavy burden, honor, and devotion.
Reversed: Intrigues, hardships, physical exhaustion, and tyrants.
Upright Ten of Wands
The first impression that usually comes to mind when someone sees the RWS tarot deck illustration for the ten of wands is one of oppression and pain. The main character is carrying a bunch of ten staves, and it is a visibly painful and hard task.
He is turning his back to the reader so it is impossible to see his face, but his facial expression is easy to imagine from the situation as a whole.
There aren’t a lot of positive elements to be found in the ten of wands card meaning. The core element of this card from the suit of Wands, when it appears in a reading is one of burden and oppression. Just like the man depicted in the scene, this minor arcana represents the weight of duty and responsibility.
There is a kind of noble honor and devotion that can be found in this card though. The man carrying the staves is not wearing the trappings of a slave, so the burden he bears is a choice that he made deliberately. It might be to receive a decent wage, it might be because it was something that needed doing, regardless, the man on the card has taken it upon himself to shoulder that burden.
The deliberate aspect of this work is commendable, but should not distract the reader from the painful and almost unbearable aspect of that tarot card meaning.
Reversed Ten of Wands
The situation gets even worse when the reversed ten of wands is drawn for a tarot reading. All the noble element of free will that came to smooth the pain of having that burden to bear now disappears. The situation is the same, but the man shouldering that burden did not do it of his own free will.
Indeed, this card is a symbol of coercion, of tyrannical authority, leading to mental oppression and physical exhaustion. This card can represent a situation towards which the Querent feels hopeless and disarmed, unable to find any way out.
Ten of Wands and love
The picture painted by the ten of wands is just as bleak when reading in the context of a love tarot spread. When the oppressive and painful element is put in parallel of a romantic relationship, it usually means that this is a toxic relationship for one or both people in the relationship. This might be due to a lapse of communication, the presence of a mentally or physically abusive element within the couple, or a recurrent pattern of passive-aggressive behavior meant to slowly but surely sap the willpower and free will of the other person.
Drawing the ten of wands in a romantic tarot of love session should always be seen as a warning sign that something is probably wrong in your relationship, and you need to work on specific details together.
The ten of wands in a love drawing next to particularly physical cards could be a sign of domestic abuse and violence. Do not hesitate to bring it up if it ever comes up in a reading, because if this is correct it might mean that the other person is looking for help but doesn’t know how or where to ask.