A gentle knight rests comfortably in the Four of Swords, with a colorful stained-glass window above him, giving us the impression that his sabbatical is taking place in a sanctified church or other sacred space. Three swords hang above him horizontally along a stone-grey wall, while one rests below him in a vertical position and his hands come together in prayer. Just gazing at this image may seem to quiet our minds, ground our fears, or bring calm to any anxious thoughts. This image was probably inspired by the Knights Templar, a medieval organization of devout Christians that existed between 1118 and 1303 A.D, whose main purpose was to protect European travelers while they visited Holy sites in Jerusalem. Members swore a sacred oath of financial frugality, chastity, and obedience and they avoided drinking, gambling, or swearing – instead, prayer was an essential practice in their daily life. Just as the Knights Templar were devoted to their religion and clean lifestyle choices, the Four of Swords also encourages fasting, meditating, or praying and perhaps most importantly, removing oneself from daily stressors and vices in order to embrace the truth and purity found in quiet solitude.
Withdrawal and reflection bring insights if we are willing to take on the discomfort that this type of seclusion often creates. Are we licking some emotional wounds, or have we lately been experiencing harsh trials or tribulations? Retreating into a quiet sanctuary allows us to regroup and recuperate so that we may rise again to whatever challenges lay before us with renewed strength and vigor. When we see the Four of Swords in a reading, we know that now is not the time to make any hasty decisions. Instead, it is better to walk away from whatever is troubling us so that we may contemplate our next steps in a safe, secluded space. Perhaps we are mourning a loss or recovering from an injury. Perhaps we are burnt out, physically depleted, or ill. No longer is it wise for us to continue with the status quo. Repose, reflection, prayer, meditation – the Four of Swords is saying that these restful activities are what we need to heal and regain our sense of purpose. This card brings the balance back – through serenity, rest, and prayer.
If repose and relaxation are difficult for us to achieve, let us turn to a popular calming plant ally – Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis) which has been used since the time of the Knights Templar for relieving nervous tension and hysteria. Native to Asia and Europe, this perennial plant now grows wild in many other areas of the world, including the United States and Canada. Its small white flowers are delicately fragrant whereas the root and rhizomes, which are the parts used medicinally, contain compounds called valepotriates which exude a strong, pungent odor reminiscent of old socks or stinky feet. Despite its offensive aroma, however, current scientific studies have uncovered constituents in Valerian Root, particularly valerenic acid and valerenol, which act favorably on neurotransmitters in the body. Valerenic acid has specifically been shown to inhibit an enzyme that destroys gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), effectively increasing the amount of GABA available throughout our central nervous system. GABA helps our brains slow down and relax, reducing feelings of anxiety or overactive thoughts. It also plays a major role in helping us sleep by regulating rapid eye movement (REM) as well as non-REM sleep, which is where the majority of our deep, restorative sleep occurs. And, the most recent research is also connecting the pungent compounds found in Valerian Root (valepotriates) with mood lifting, antidepressant effects.
With Valerian Root and the Four of Swords by our side, we can step back from our hectic schedules to find refuge in self-care. When we bring the balance back, a world of insights and renewed energy awaits us.
*Tarot reading is based on the Rider-Waite Tarot Card deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
Geer, Mary K. Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for the Inward Journey, 2nd Edition. New Jersey, The Career Press, Inc, 2002. P254
Kubala, Jillian, MS, RD. “How Valerian Root Helps You Relax and Sleep Better.” Healthline, 29 August 2023. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/valerian-root
Led Zepplin. 8 November 1971 “The Battle of Evermore.” 3rd track, Side One, Led Zeppelin IV. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_3yDImIQYU
Noriko Shinjyo, Noriko, Waddell, Guy, and Green, Julia. “Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 21 October 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7585905/
Onion, Amanda, Sullivan, Missy, Mullen, Matt, and Zapata, Christian. “Knights Templar.” HISTORY, 28 March 2023. https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/the-knights-templar