Four of Swords
The Four of Swords depicts a knight, or sarcophagus of one, at rest, on a tomb inside of a church. There are three vertical swords hanging above the man, and a fourth one, placed horizontally below him. The coloring of the card is very drab and muted, with the exception of the beautiful stained glass window in the upper left hand corner of the card. The Golden Dawn keyword for this card is "Incarceration". This term can have several meanings, but at the very least, it can include physical incarcerations such as prison, hospitalization, or other facilities where one has little control over the choice to be there.
In most cases however, this is not a forced incarceration, but one that is suggested to you. When this card turns up, it can suggest that you are desperately in need of time to rest, recover, or recuperate, the three R's. You may have been going full steam ahead, either physically, mentally or emotionally on something, and if you insist on pushing forward at this pace, the universe may force you to take a break (by means you don't prefer!) such as illness or forced time off.
This card may also show up when you need to withdrawal from a situation that is doing you no good. You may have a good point in the argument that you are making, but now is not the time to make it. It is a good time to pull back, and take a break. You may find that when you take a little time to calm down or relax by yourself for a bit, you and the other person can come back to the discussion with cooler heads, or a better sense of how to handle the situation.
This card could be suggesting that you need a physical break. Maybe you are in desperate need of a little time off or a vacation that you are not taking because you feel you have too much work to do. On a smaller scale, this card may be urging you to simply go take a restful bubble bath, or go to bed early and just RELAX either with a movie, a magazine or a good book! This card can be about resting the MIND just as much as the body.
This card follows the Three of Swords, a time of upset and crisis, so if you are coming off of a difficult situation, even just an upset with another person, this card is advising you to put down your weapons and relax. The time of upheaval has passed, and this is the time to recuperate. New challenges will always be coming your way and it is extremely important to take advantage of these fallow periods and use them for what they are designed for, rejuvenation. Stress can really take its toll on a person, mentally and physically, it is NOT a sign of weakness to take a break and retreat temporarily, rather the sign of intelligence.
This card could also be signaling you to consider the art of meditation to release and relax the mind. The concept and benefits of meditation have been well known in Eastern countries for hundreds of years, however in Western cultures, the practice, and its benefits are becoming more and more mainstream, and not just for the so-called "New Age" type! The benefits for mind, body and spirit are just too numerous to tout or be denied, medical professionals are suggesting a meditation practice to their patients, and mainstream everyday people are consistently boasting of the benefits. If you don't already have a practice, do some research, find a good 5 minute beginner guided meditation video on the internet and go from there.
Lastly, in the Tarot, Fours are about stability. This card is also associated with Mercury and Gemini, all things mental. This is a time for review. After the upheaval that you experienced, it is a very good time to be sure your foundations (a four focus) are in order. You will want to take this pause to review your systems, your current path, your plans, what is working, what is not, ect. ect., and make any adjustments you need now, before life brings the next challenge, the inevitable upheaval foretold in the five. This is not to be frightening. Our lives are constantly going through cycles, when we reach the end, we only cycle back to the beginning to begin again once more, in a new way. It is extremely important that you heed the warning in this card, be it a passive card, and use this time wisely.
Four of Swords Reversed
The Four of Swords reversed sees us not embodying the proper use of the rest and recuperation indicated in the upright. This usually manifests itself in one of two very distinct ways, fortunately, you should be able to identify which end of the spectrum you are occupying.
First of all, you may NOT be taking the rest or time out that you so badly need. This too can be for one of many reasons. It could be that you feel you have too much to do physically. For example, you know you are exhausted, yet before you can leave the office to relax for the night you HAVE to get that report done. On a bigger scale, it could be that you just don't feel you have the time or resources for that much needed vacation, or you just have too much work already piling up and calling out to you.
It could be that you can't let go mentally. You have too much on your to-do list. Additionally, the more you feel you need to get done, the more chaotic it can become and cause even more mental overload. One way to take care of this is with a list. Think about it, this card is ruled by Mercury in Gemini, and that bodes really well for strategic organization and planning. I have found that when you write it all down, even just in a note in your phone if necessary, you can "let go" in your mind, knowing that it's all safe and secure, and you don't have to mentally stay on top of it. Heck, you can even PENCIL YOURSELF IN a little R&R!!!
The other manifestation of this card is that you have taken time off to rest and recuperate, you have retreated to heal and rejuvenate, but now it is time to return. There is a risk of withdrawing for too long. Yes vacation is nice, but at some point we have to come home and return to life, work, and regular day to day activities! There is a risk in this card of becoming too lazy, as well as choosing to hide away so as not to have to return and face the difficulties of life. Remember, the retreat is to help you recover, take a physical and mental break, and give you a chance to review your systems and lifestyle to create more stability in your life. If you retreat away for too long, life, and new opportunities, will begin to pass you by, and you begin to become a passenger in your life, instead of being in the driver's seat. It is time to re-engage.