Some common meanings of the 7 of Swords (some wording borrowed from learntarot.com):
Running away, shirking responsibility, dishonor (stealing, betrayal, knowing of criminal activity), feeling of not needing anyone, being a lone wolf, keeping secrets, avoiding obligations, procrastinating, letting innocent people pay the price, deceit, taking the easy way out, avoiding a shameful secret, covering your tracks.
A great blog post I read today helped me clarify the core meaning of this card. The writer was discussing the meaning of the card from the Wildwood Tarot (Mark Ryan, John Matthews, Will Worthington), which has a lot of cards with significantly different meanings compared to traditional Tarot. I don’t own this deck (though I’d like to someday) but I’ve found some of these non-traditional meanings online. Some of them do seem a little off from the traditional (2 of Swords/Arrows meaning “injustice” instead of “denial, indecision, facing a difficult choice”). But some are simply different-yet-related takes on the traditional meanings. That’s how I see the 7 of Swords/Arrows. Wildwood’s key word for this card is “Insecurity.” At face value this doesn’t seem to mesh with the traditional meanings listed above, but upon closer inspection they are really quite closely related. Insecurity is the root of almost all of the traditional meanings. It indicates actions either caused by insecurity, or actions that cause insecurity. Here are some of the ways I visualize that:
Examples: I felt insecure so I X (ran away, distanced myself from others, etc.)
X (avoiding my obligations, watching an innocent take the wrap, etc.)
caused me to feel insecure.
In many cases a single action can fall into both categories:
Examples: I felt insecure about the quality of my work, so I copied my colleague’s
presentation, and now I’m feeling insecure about what I did.
I didn’t do well in Spanish class, but I kept it from my parents because I
was afraid they’d punish me, and now I’m guilty about the secret, and
also afraid they’ll find out anyway, and it’ll be worse.
This is something of an “ah hah” moment for me, because the 7 of Swords has been really challenging for me to understand. It has a variety of meanings that change significantly depending on the question, accompanying cards, querent, etc. I feel that taking the term “insecurity” as a basis from which to begin to understand many of the meanings of this card in any reading is a breakthrough in terms of the way I will look at it in the future. Holding the idea that insecurity is the root of this card makes it easier to work with. And more dynamic – and easier to understand the dynamics!
So I had this card pop up in a spread I did for my daughter, Isabella, some time ago, where her question related to what the next school year would be like. (I won't share the entire spread, but she did agree to me sharing this much.) This card fell in the position of "conscious goals/thoughts/concerns" and I was really, really stuck. I read the meaning (at that point I was still referencing the LWB as I hadn't learned the meanings by heart yet) and was kind of horrified. It was all doom and gloom, betrayal and backstabbing. I didn't think that felt right for Isabella. I toned it down and felt it could refer to curiosity she has regarding her friend situation in the coming year. Last year she made some friends, but over the summer they all disappeared, and she was left feeling abandoned, and questioning how true the friendships really were. So I interpreted the card as her attempt to find friends that would be true. In this sense there is an element of betrayal. But with the core idea of "insecurity" it opens so many doors. I started thinking of the many aspects of her year that created anxiety for her (and at times for us), and the meaning suddenly expanded to include not only friends, but academic pursuits (which relates to Swords), honesty, and the potential for alienating some people by "following the beat of her own drum." My interpretation ended up something like this:
Isabella: determined to be herself (especially style-wise) though this may keep others at arm’s length (who might prefer easily categorized people). There may be anxiety about the ability to make friends while staying true to herself, especially since friends she thought she had made haven’t been particularly available. This may also represent some low-level anxiety about the intellectual work itself (will it be easy? too challenging? will I be able to hack it?). In addition it may touch on the need to communicate what’s going on in school with us (her parents) and not let us find out about things at the last minute, or via an email from a teacher (in other words, don’t avoid or hide things).
So I’m happy that I still feel my initial interpretation was right, but it’s so much richer and whole when I approach the 7 of Swords from a new angle. Now I’m sure this hasn’t entirely solved my own insecurities about working with this card (ha ha) but it’s given me something really promising to work with, and I'm no longer scared that I'll be stumped by this card in a spread.