Knight of Swords (I)

Notes of a Hermetic Conversation on September 13, 2020

September 13, 2020

Knight of Swords, pt 1

We began with the protective practice.

We then invited the presence of Hermes Trismegistus to guide our conversation by reading the Emerald Tablet.

After briefly focusing the mantra IT THINKS on the region of the larynx, we moved the third part of the Inner Radiance sequence (“I Rest within the Godhead of the World”), and the 13th letter of the Divine Alphabet, Mem, in relation to the 13th Arcanum, Death.

We then read from Revelation 12:10-12, and turned to the Knight of Swords:

– The first impression is the number of details—it feels endless. And it is hard to even decide where to begin.

– His knee looks like an eye, the profile of an eye. A blue eye with a pupil. Like a traditional Egyptian profile of an eye?

Summer 2018 Global Collection: EGYPTIAN LOVER – Billionaire Boys Club

– Attempting to “zoom out”, to get an overall impression, but constantly drawn back into a specific detail. It’s not that the image is disjointed or chaotic—just incredibly elaborate. But at the same time the plethora of details lends itself to doing into different frames of reference:

The horse and the face on the shoulder bring us into The Chariot

The Sword’s angle and alignment with the mane of the horse is somehow reminiscent of The Fool.

…and so on. Similar to the Knave of Swords, it seems to reference many different Major Arcana. This is more so by far with both the Knave and Knight of Swords versus the Coin Court Arcana. There it was discreet and specific Majors that were referenced. For example, the Knave of Coins was clearly a mixture of Magician and Emperor, not really anyone else. Whereas here, anything goes.

– So many dots! The first one Joel noticed was the one on the ground, that looks like an eye or the Sun sigil. An open circle with a point in the middle.

Solar System Symbols | NASA Solar System Exploration

You notice one, but then you start to see them all over the place. The one on the ground is similar to two on the horse’s bridle. By his ear and his mouth. And then there are two on the Knight’s breast plate that are a circle with a line in them. Many of them are open circles—on his helmet, the fringe of his garment and knee. There are ten on his helmet. And then there are also a series of half-circles on the yellow flap by his left shoulder.

Somehow the crazy lump on the horse’s left shoulder seems connected to these dots. This baseball-sized, three-quarter circle. I mean, what is that? It seems so unnecessary. The way it is shaped and shaded, it doesn’t seem to indicate any kind of normal anatomy on a horse. There isn’t a knee there or anything. 

– Feeling drawn to the horse. It’s incredibly active. The front two feet are in motion. You feel like he’s charging forward, especially with the front legs, curling them under actively. The hind feet aren’t really even touching the ground—you can see bottom of the hooves. The Knight of Coins, by contrast, clearly has only one hoof off the ground. Whereas the horse here is in full gallop, the rear hooves about to come down in the gait cycle and push off again. Compared to the Knight of Swords, the Knight of Coins may as well be standing totally still. He’s very passive in comparison. 

But also in terms of the Knights themselves, not just their horses. The Knight of Swords is pointing his sword forward, he’s on the attack. The Knight of Coins doesn’t even have a sword, and his club is resting on his shoulder. The Knight of Coins is wearing a bonnet, while the Knight of Swords has a proper helmet. The helmet bearing Ten, the ten dots. 

This helmet completely covers his head, you can’t see his hair at all. This is utterly unique, in terms of the shape of the hat and the covering of the hair, compared to what we have seen so far. And this blue helmet seems to be related to the rest of the blue: the blue hooves below, and the blue garment which blends right into the blue mane of the horse. 

The yellow belt connects with the yellow bridle—he seems to be somehow united with his horse, like they are one being.

Maybe this is tied up with the mane area of the horse? Taking the image at face value, you get the impression that the Knight is missing his right arm at this point. From a more literal, 3-dimensional perspective, the right arm is pulling the horse in that direction. He’s being yanked to the right, into the distance of the card, and therefore the neck is bending to the left a bit.

– The left arm is so strange as well. Why is that face on it? But also colour-wise, it is flesh-coloured and red, which resonates with the horse. In the sense that you expect there to be a counter-poised right shoulder face like in The Chariot, but that’s exactly where the horse ends up being. 

Is the horse the right arm??

The horse’s head would be the shoulder. The transformed hand would be down by the front hooves.

Ha! Therefore the transformed elbow would be in the red part of the horse—and what do we see??? The seemingly out of place elbow-shaped lump! The weird knob is an elbow.

This super-enlarged, enlivened, animated right arm…this carries on directly from the theme of the sheath in the Knave of Swords, this extrusion of the sheath from his own body. And the animal forms in the Knave, of fish and owl. 

And so here we have a face on one arm, and the front part of a horse on the other—or rather, as the other. 

– Even from the start the sword aligned with the mane seemed like something was happening there. Now we get the sense it’s cutting open some sort of rift. Like the mane is a dark rift, removing this right arm that has become its own independent being. Giving this being autonomy, and making it a companion and a partner in the task.

– Doesn’t this bring us full circle to Death again? Death not as surgery, but as conception, gestation, and birth. This picture of Sacrifice vs Death. He sacrifices the arm and thereby creates new life.

– It’s a two-stage sacrifice. He sacrifices his arm functionally in that he allows it to become horse-like. Then he sacrifices it completely, substantially, by cutting it off and setting it free. Then the horse honors the sacrifice by obeying the rider. It is still his, but in a new, more complex and dynamic way.

– And so is the left arm gestating? Will it too become a horse or another being?

– Looking back at the Chariot now with a totally new perspective. His shoulders are very germinal, only just gestating. But maybe he already gave birth to “horse legs”! He sacrificed his legs. And he’s also covered in little circles!

Wow, we’ve never before thought of him as effectively being in a wheelchair. We only have looked at this image in a relatively static, symbolic/geometric way. Not a gestational way, not a “what was he, and what is he becoming” point of view.

– One of the weirdest things in this image is the hilt of the sword. The rest of the image is so ornate, and yet in comparison to all the other swords so far, this hilt is terribly crude. To the point that one would wonder if this is actually the hilt at all, it almost looks like it could be something coming out of the horse.

The handguard’s shape is similar to the Knave’s. But now just noticing that you can’t see all of the Knave’s hand guard—and one side of it looks like just a dot, like the dots all over the Knight. Maybe this is their origin?

– This brings up something from the last conversation that Joel had meant to mention and forgot about or never got to. This idea and image of the pearl, that runs like a thread through both the Suit of Coins and the Suit of Swords. The last time we saw this pearl it was blue, and in the centre of this “flower of death,” this blue flower on the Eight of Swords. And if we picture the Knave of Swords in his origin—as this “blue bag,” this blue blob from which he struggles out, extracting the sheath in the process—he is like a large, enlivened version of the blue pearl. The blue pearl blossoming. 

But now, with the Knave’s emergence, he has this neat arrangement of buttons, and the pearl/circle on the side of the hilt, it’s like the pearl has begun to multiply itself. 

The pearl was the germ around which things were focused, especially in the Three of Coins. The Ego, the pearl of great price, the human soul or personality. 

Now it’s like Leibnitz, monadism—little egos or monads everywhere. 

Or they are like potentialities scattered all over the body. Potential faces that are potential horses, for example. And this is in stark contrast to the Ace through Ten. This evolutionary, developmental gesture is so strong and prominent and explicit in the Court Swords, but in the Numbered Swords it was veiled, indeterminate, and vague. You feel that there is some kind of evolution happening, but the form doesn’t change. You aren’t even certain whether this is something progressive, degenerating, or static really. So we have this very polarised contrast of the absolutely implicit/veiled in the Numbered Swords vs the totally and explosively explicit in the Court Swords.

But isn’t that like a flower bud, a dandelion for example? Before it unfolds you can break it open, you can dig out everything that’s inside. But if you do it too early, it’s still this unified and undifferentiated thing. For most flowers it is that way. All is merged until it’s time to blossom. You can never actually observe that pre-blossoming development. Similar to a chrysalis vs eclosion. The caterpillar dissolves completely in the chrysalis, you couldn’t open it up and find a Butterly. You would only find mush. You disturb the mystery completely, upset the whole process.

– It all goes back to timing again. You can’t force eclosion, or blossoming, or birth—it has to happen at just this right moment. In that moment it shows you everything that it has been doing, but as a tableau or mosaic, as a summary all in one moment. 

The Knave is like the process right after insemination, this rapid articulation of various parts, and the Knight is like the process right after the birth, showing how my body unfolds and develops. 

Or looking at it more in the context of our previous conversation. That the Ace through Ten are the process of dilation, the contractions that occur in a particular rhythm that slowly dilate the cervix to ten (yes, ten!) centimetres. Then the Knave of Swords is the baby breaking out of the bag of waters, the baby actually being born (“crowning” is what the child does when the top of its head appears, like this exposing of the top of the Knave’s head). 

And this being that is born is a being that can give birth to other beings, or other levels of being. The Knight is this continuation, this procreation, which is like what the child does as they develop. A series of births after the physical birth—birth of the etheric, astral, etc. 

– Some reflections from last time…realising that the Knave pulls out the sheath so that he can breathe, and pulls out the sword so that he can sense. These are the two primal impulses of the newborn child—never before have they either breathed or used their senses. You can’t do these things until you leave the womb.

The red sheath is like an umbilical cord.

And then preparing to teach Karma of Vocation (lectures from 1916), Joel refreshed himself on The First Three Years by Karl Koenig. There Koenig describes this relationship between the three gifts of Christ: walking, speaking, thinking, with the development of the organs of the higher senses (sense of word, sense of thought, sense of ego). 

In the first year of life, the child is primarily working on establishing control of movement, rather than being overwhelmed by compulsive movements. This control of movement culminates in walking at the end of the first year. Control of movement stimulates the pyramidal complex, which Koenig identifies as the organ for the sense of word. So controlled movement results in the ability to recognise speech. Only now is the child really able to imitate the speaking of those around them, rather than simply babbling. This second challenge is the gradual control over speaking, which culminates over the course of the second year of life. Speaking involves the use of the larynx, which stimulates the vagus nerve. Koenig names this nerve the organ for the sense of thought. So it is only through speaking and activating the vagus nerve that children can become aware of thoughts. The vagus nerve is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, whereas the sense of life is related to the sympathetic nervous system. This sense for thoughts leads to the third challenge, over the course of the third year of life, which is the ability to think—to have some control over one’s thought life. This thinking stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands, which Koenig identifies as the organs for the sense of the ego of the other person—to recognize other individuals as individuals. This sense of the ego of the other person leads to the recognition of one’s own “I”—the fourth gift, the gift of ego-consciousness, saying the word “I” and knowing what it refers to. It’s only around ages 2-4 that the earliest memories are formed. Again it is this gesture of “here I am, in the midst of a rational activity, but I have no idea how I got here, no memory of what led up to this moment.” We have no memory of the most important, earliest events of our lives. 

Those three gifts of walking, speaking, and thinking are related to both the lower and higher senses. Sense of movement is related to sense of language, since it is only activated by the control of movement. Sense of life is related to sense of thought, since they are two branches of the tree of the lower nervous system. And the sense of touch is related to the sense of ego, since both are related to the pineal and pituitary glands, and the growth of the human form (one is more active prior to puberty, one more active after). 

The Knave expresses this in his threefold division of trunk (pyramidal complex), larynx (vagus nerve) and head (pineal/pituitary glands). 

Although there is something more there with the Knave—there’s this fourth region opened up by the sword cutting off the scalp, unfurling the flower and creating the form of the hat. This yellow crown area is opened to the fourth realm of the spiritual world, of revelation. It isn’t just trunk/larynx/head. The fourth is above the head, above the threefoldness. 

– What an image of incarnation this yields—beginning as a being of merged thinking/feeling/willing, as a unified and chaotic mush. One is like a spiritual/physical mush that slowly differentiates itself into body, soul, and spirit distinct from each other. Here too there is an eclosion, an emergence of a differentiated being. You can’t see at the beginning (i.e. with a baby) that these things are or could be separate from each other. We experience ourselves as totally merged with them, we are indistinct from them—therefore without ego-consciousness. 

Going even further back, prior to birth, we are totally merged with the ten hierarchies. These are the ten Numbered Swords as well. Jacob’s Ladder. And the Knave is Jacob, who has wrestled with the Angel, had his hip displaced. 

– Is the Knight consciously separating the newly developed portion away? Or is this an instinctive reaction, “Oh my God, I’ve gotta get rid of this! It’s bothering me, taking me over.” Like with an initiate who is attempting to remain pure. Does he consciously cut himself off from that which is emerging from his own activity, the shadow that emerges from his own activity inevitably? As a matter of taking responsibility or ownership for what has to be cut off. Like taking on the responsibilities of hierarchical beings. Or is it more like a sense of strong distaste for what is arising, a wish to escape from that which seems impure?

Well, what exactly is being “cut off” in terms of an initiate’s activity? A way of speaking very politely about the darkness, not wishing to bring his personality close to that which is seen as impure. 

We might think of karmic clairvoyance, of perceiving for example the incarnation of Mr. X, perhaps in all its gory detail, but not remaining merged with this experience. The initiate cuts it off, separates it from his own being, and only keeps the essence or knowledge. The rest of it is the messy incarnational/earthly part, while he distills the pure, almost abstracted, spiritual essence and leaves the earthly and base behind. 

The question is whether a part of this gesture is instinctive, due to having little tolerance for being in the presence of certain situations or content. A certain nobility or aristocratic sensibility. The upper class gentleman. The shadow side of a disdain for the base, and cutting it off at the root to remove it, is a potential fascination with this abstracted darkness, the allure of the darkest conspiracy. 

– Going back a step…it is interesting for Joel that Phillip has framed this question in terms of either a sense of duty in removing the arm, or a sense of disgust with what is happening and impulsively removing it. A lot hinges on how the Knight experiences, understands, and reacts to this whole process.

Because Joel’s immediate subconscious sense was that he’s either totally neutral—like this is just how the world works, this is how beings come into being and what he does to facilitate that—or he thinks it is totally awesome, like he’s some kind of superhero. “Oh my God, my arm just turned into a horse!! Awesome!”

– This is related to Joel’s experience of karmic memory. It can vacillate between these three modes: a feeling of disgust, of terror, of wanting to separate oneself immediately from what one has become aware of and retain the integrity of one’s (formerly protected and intact) personality; or a feeling of elation, of ecstasy, that this is utterly amazing to be somehow identical with this historical figure; or finally, to accept “it is what it is” and carry on as though this is simply a matter of course, the “way it is.” And it’s like this is what the Knight is carrying and experiencing: all these little seeds all over him are these karmic packages or weights he bears with him, and they both destroy him yet carry him forward in his destiny. The Swords over and over again, are never just destructive, always a back and forth. 

It is like an image of multiple past lives gradually coming into varying degrees of consciousness. 

And perhaps Robert too has experienced karmic memory in this threefold way that Joel has struggled with it? But out of his strong sense of propriety, does not display this outwardly. Or very likely he has truly learned to remain in the middle, in the balance of “this is the way it is, this is the process of which I am a part.” After 43 years, very likely it is as natural as breathing for him.

– Looking to the sword itself: it has a half yellow and half white hilt, but the blade itself is pure white. This is the first pure white blade that we have had. And this blade is very simple, only a straight line through it. No break like in the Nine, no triangular shape like in the Ace, Three and Five. Like the Seven and one of the Ten, yet pure white. There is something so simple and pure about it. All adornment has left it and gone elsewhere. The quality of neutrality, of purity of purpose. There is no impediment to its function, nothing extraneous or superfluous. 

– Looking through the Majors, no other white sword presents itself at first glance. The Devil jumps out for two reasons: his cap is very similar to that of the Knight of Coins, which we’d never noticed before. But also his candle or torch looks a lot like a white sword. And the arrow of Cupid in The Lover is pure white. What about the Wheel of Fortune? The Sphinx? And the Sphinx too is a hodgepodge of creatures. 

– Going back to a few other reflections from taking the notes of the previous conversation:

We had noted this gesture of finger touching thumb in the way the Knave holds the sword. This is the gesture of the lotus position of meditation. Holding a sword with a buddhist gesture! Again bringing in this Buddhism in relation to the realm of Mars (Sword as larynx chakra/Mars sphere). 

Dealing with Pleasure | Buddhistdoor

And then also that the head/larynx combination looks like a pointed acorn with a yellow cap. Like the acorn is in the ground sprouting, and the Knave is the oak coming out of this acorn. 

Then if we place the Knight to the Knave’s right, his gaze is directed to the rump of the horse. In the design on the yellow on the back of the horse, there is this upside-down acorn shape. A reversed acorn, with sprouting coming out of it. The seeds of the fruits of the past, of former lives, revealing the whole in their own particular lines of development. There is a map-like quality on this yellow covering with the acorn on it. Or it’s like words, like form-words from this Platonic realm where word and concept and being are united as self-sustaining unity.

– Whereas the Knight of Coins has a strong vertical story (above vs below the club), there is a strong horizontal arrangement here due to the horse: right, middle, left.

Next time let’s elaborate on the umbilical cord, and the four regions (of trunk, larynx, head, above head) in relation to the Knight. 

It’s very hard to stop this conversation! Hard to reign in the horse.

We ended with the third portion of the Foundation Stone Meditation.