The Sword Of Clear Thinking
Once the weapon of choice for the warrior, the sword has acquired special symbolic meaning. From the Palace of Justice in Rome to the Tehran courthouse in Iran, justice has been depicted as a young woman (“Lady Justice”) holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in the other.
It’s easy to understand that the scales signify weighing up counter arguments. The sword is generally said to indicate that justice can be “swift” and “final” but that does not tell us much.
In Western esotericism, too, the sword is associated with the intellect. There — in a world that often emphasizes feelings — the sword often has negative connotations. In the Tarot, for example, most sword cards indicate difficult circumstances.
But why is the sword associated with justice and the intellect, or, we could say, with truth?
There is more to this archaic weapon than we generally recognize. We’re going to look at how the sword is a metaphor for the mind and for living.
Parts of the sword — and its symbolism
In Europe, the sword was typically double-edged. And a double-edged sword poses a risk to the individual who wields it. Bashed with a shield and thrust against the swordsman, he could be cut by his own blade.
If we associate the sword with the intellect, the double-edge signifies the risk our own cleverness poses to us. It is common for people to delude themselves and to create intricate and convincing arguments to continue making the same mistakes. Addicts, in particular, find it easy to explain why they should not quit their self-destructive habit.
A sword’s “guard” protects the hand from the opponent’s sword. It is wise not to expose our deepest desires or aims to everyone. While some people will support us, others may be envious and might seek to dissuade us from working towards our goals. Others might actively try to sabotage our attempts.
Another element of the sword is the handle or “grip.” In England, the expression “get a grip” if often used to tell them to calm down and think rationally about the situation. We also talk about having a thorough “grasp” of a subject, meaning that we’re knowledgeable in it.
Except for some martial arts schools who continue the archaic practice, we rarely use swords today. But, when a student picks up a sword, he usually holds it in the wrong way, grabbing the grip in the middle, when it should be held close to the blade, just behind the guard.
This is to do with balance. We mentioned the set of scales held by “Lady Justice” at the beginning, and we mentioned the weighing — or, we could say, the balancing — of competing claims. But in the sword itself we have the element of balance. Holding the sword close to the blade, balances it, makes it feel lighter, and makes it easier to wield.
So, thinking requires balance. And it requires us to have a “grip” on different and competing ideas.
A mind cannot be made sharp by hearing only one side, dismissing other ideas, or only having one source of knowledge (or different sources that all say the same thing). Yet, as we all know, in our own age, consuming “truth,” beliefs, or interpretations of data from only one side is the norm. Even our search engine results are unique to us and, generally, reflect rather than challenge our biases.
Then there is the point of the sword. In an argument, we are aiming to “make our point.” To thrust with the sword, or to make a “winning point” in an argument is to focus on a weak spot, either in the body or in the beliefs of the opponent.
In contrast, the sword can be moved in more curved and circular ways. A defensive parry is often circular. A slash with a sword is slightly curved. Such maneuvers fall into a rhythm. The sword fighter might even experience a state of “flow.”
Life lessons from the sword:
Double-edge: Rational thought is easily turned into rationalizing. Be aware of when you are using your own thinking against yourself, developing sophisticated arguments to keep making the same mistakes or to make news ones.
Guard: Guard yourself against jealousy and sabotage. Do not tell everyone, indiscriminately, about your desires or goals. Discuss these only with those you can trust and, better still, with those who will be able to support or advise you in some way.
Grip: You must have a grasp of basic knowledge. And you must have a grip on your emotions (or you’ll make the mistakes just mentioned).
Balance: Hearing different, and even opposite, opinions is how we develop our intellect, cultivate our own ideas, and grow as a person. It will also lead us to discover interesting new things in life. Get a grasp of different perspectives.
Point: In debating or in friendly conversation, make your words have a point. The things we say should be meaningful. Moreover, discover the “point” or purpose of your life. Aim at a goal — at some way of improving yourself or your life.