Close Examination: Ace of Swords

When my tarot teacher instructed me to do a ‘close examination’ of the Ace of Swords and to write an insanely long chapter on my findings, I was stumped! No interpretations were allowed at this point, only a recording of exactly what I saw. What could I possibly find in the card that could fill up all those pages I wondered?

He’s been teaching this course for many years, so when he told (a disbelieving) me to look, I looked, and this is what I found: 

Ace of  Swords

From the Universal Waite Tarot Deck, this card measures 60mm across and 120mm in length. It is printed on what feels like 310 GSM (or possibly less) gloss laminated card. The corners of the card have been rounded, taking 4mm off each corner to meet in a smooth rounded arc.

The card has a black border consisting of a single black line on all four sides of the card, forming 90° angles at the corners. The top and bottom border lines measure 60mm each, the left and right border lines measure 110mm each. The four corners where the border lines meet are sharp, and have not been rounded.

The card has a white frame, measuring between 4 and 5 mm in width. In the right length of the frame, towards the bottom, are the following words “© 1990 U.S. Games Systems, Inc.” This writing is in a small plain black font that has been printed vertically from the bottom upwards.

What follows is a description of everything that I noticed within the frame of this card:

The words “ACE of SWORDS” appear at the bottom of the card in a bold black font against a plain white background. It spans the width of the card within its borders. ‘Ace’ and ‘Swords’ are in capitals, the word ‘of’ is in small letters. There is a full stop after the last ‘S’ in Swords.  Above the last ‘S’ in the word swords appears a signature in fine black coloured ink, presumably of the artist who illustrated the cards, namely Pamela Coleman Smith. The signature is higher than it is wide, measuring about 6mm high. The white background against which these words are printed is clearly defined with a very thin black line above it, serving as a border to divide the words from the rest of the image that appears on the card. The rest of the image is outlined in a similar thin black line, throughout the card. So too is white used throughout the card on the images to highlight and give definition to the objects depicted.

Above the words, behind the signature and to the left of it, spanning across the width of the card are mountain ranges, purple and blue in colour. What appears to be the highest mountain peak measures approximately 10mm above the words ‘Ace of, ’ peaking between the two words. This nearest range is coloured purple, with white highlights to give definition. It depicts the apparent highest and closest peak amongst the summits in this range. It falls quite steeply downward to the left, and to the right it descends somewhat more gently down making allowances for smaller mounds and peaks in its descent as it spans across the width of the card to the right, ending underneath the afore-mentioned signature. Behind this highest foremost summit, to the left is a further peak coloured blue. This one tapers gently down to the left. Behind the lower aspect of this further blue peak is the furthermost summit coloured purple. Behind the descent on the right of the foremost highest peak appears a further blue mountain range. This appears to be a continuation of the blue peak behind and to the left of the foremost highest peak. The colour changes from blue to purple above the letter R in ‘swords’, at which point it reaches up to about the same height as the foremost highest peak; in effect making this the highest summit in the rage of mountains depicted by the artist on this card if one takes into consideration the distance portrayed. This furthermost highest summit is jagged with sheer peaks as it descends gradually to the right, ending underneath and above the artists’ signature. Between this furthermost highest peak and the descent of the foremost highest summit (to its far right) and above the letters ‘RDS’ in ‘Swords’, appears a distant cluster of three mountain peaks, two in blue and the third central one in purple.

A hand holding a sword and extending from a cloud dominates this card. The cloud is a tall bulbous pillar consisting of seven large rounded billows and several smaller ones to make-up a complex and densely formed cloud. It is cloured in various shades of grey, creating quite a dramatic cloud effect. The cloud appears from behind the frame on the left of the card and measures 49mm high and 19mm wide at its highest and widest visible parts. However, because the cloud appears from behind the frame, leaving parts of it invisible, one is unable to gauge how wide this cloud actually is. A large white hand extends from within the cloud. The hand and its wrist are visible. The view of the hand that is depicted is that of a right hand, showing the knuckles of the four fingers. The fingers are wrapped inwards over the shaft of the sword that the hand is holding up. Therefore, only the first digit of each finger is visible, as the other two digits are hidden from view. A part of the thumb that is wrapped behind the shaft of the sword is visible too as it joins the other four fingers in a firm clasp.  Definition of the muscle at the base of the hand seems to indicate that the sword it is holding is of a considerable weight. The hand is surrounded by a shimmering halo of white light, depicted as faintly drawn radiant lines emanating outward from the hand.

The sword that is being held upright by the hand points upward. The only parts of the shaft that is visible is the base which has a globe affixed to it, also the opposite end of the shaft before it is met by a decorative cross-bar against which the thumb of the hand is resting. The rest of the shaft is concealed by the hand that is holding the sword. The cross-bar is shaped wider on the ends, gently tapering inwards towards a slightly narrower centre. The markings on the shaft and cross-bar, indeed on the whole sword, make them appear to be reflective, as metal would be. These markings consist of grey and blue markings with the use of shading and much white.

From the centre of the cross-bar an object that appears to be an extension of the shaft, but wider, emerges upwards; gently tapering inwards before it is bluntly ended with a narrow band across it. It is from here that the blade of the sword emerges and sharply ascends. At the point of meeting between band and blade, central to the band in position, the blade sports a triangular up-pointing shape that, at it’s point gives birth to the central edge of the sword, creating a sharpness effect. This edge continues all the way up the blade for 53mm to the tip of the blade where it ends in a sharp point. It is tapered down on either side to fall vertically down depicting the two sharp edges of the sword, until it once again meets the narrow band at the end of the shaft. The sword measures 5mm in width at its widest point nearest the shaft, and 4mm in width at its narrowest point just before the blade ends in a sharp point furthest from the shaft.

A golden crown hovers mid-air near the tip of the sword, the tip having pierced the circumference of the crown to peep out approximately 4mm from the top of the crown. The crown is embellished with red jewels, five on the headband and a further four on the peaks emerging from the headband. Nine red jewels in total. The crown broadens upward into these peaks. The two central peaks are completely visible and display floral shapes on their summit, consisting of five ‘petals’ each. The other two peaks are partially visible as they occur on the rounding of the crown, on the sides leaning toward the back. Thus only three of the ‘petals’ are visible on either. These peaks appear only on the front of the crown, the back seems to consist only of the headband itself. Light reflects from the golden-yellow of the crown in brilliant white, creating the illusion that the crown is made of precious gold metal. At its widest point the crown measures 22mm, and at its narrowest – on the headband – it measures 14mm.

From the right of the crown, hanging from its rim is a palm leaf. The thick sheath of this is visible on the inside of the crown before the stalk of the leaf is draped over the top of the crown where it limply falls downwards on the outside of the crown hosting a multitude of leaflets sprouted from the central stalk. The leaf measures 40mm down from its highest point as it folds itself over and above the crown to its lowest point at the end of its descent, about two thirds down the length of the sword’s blade. Twenty-three leaflets in total are visible on the stalk of the palm leaf.  Five of them cast in shadow.

From the left of the crown an olive branch is draped across its rim, also descending downward and slightly shorter in length than the palm leaf. The thick stem of the olive branch is visible on the inside of the crown as it folds inward over the headband. The rest of the branch extends up and over the rim of the crown as it cascades over the edge, downward. Twelve olives are visible on the branch, three of them green, nine of them red, or ripe. Twenty-seven leaves appear to be visible on the olive branch.

Six yellow yods appear, three on either side of the sword, close to the start of the blade near the shaft. Three of these yods appear beneath the palm leaf, and three beneath the olive branch. They appear to be ‘floating’ in mid air as each yod is unattached to anything.

The background against which this entire scene is set, is white. There is a slight shading of grey at the top of the card beneath the black border which intensifies somewhat as it goes toward the right top corner of the card, and extends downward slightly before fading into white once again.

The back of the card also has a white frame measuring between 4 and 5mm in width. In the frame is a dark black-blue background with scatterings of eight-pointed golden stars in three different sizes. This uniform background image is consistent throughout the deck.

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