Exploring Sword Symbolism
As an alchemical symbol the sword is a symbol of purification. Here we experience the metaphorical sword cleanly piercing the spiritual soul of man. This symbolic action sacrifices physical bondage to release a path to ethereal (enlightened) freedom.
In Buddhism the sword symbolism deals with discrimination of thought. In this light, swords cut away ignorance.
As a Celtic symbol, the sword is reputed to be associated with Nuada, the first king of Tuatha De Danann. In fact, Nuada's great sword is considered one of the four Celtic treasures (sword, stone, spear, cauldron). Nuada was associated with the supernatural forces of the underwater realm. Today, archeology reveals many ancient Celtic swords found under water. These may be offerings to Nuada made by ancient Celts honoring their forebear by passing their broadswords into the waters; effectively insuring the power of Nuada runs fiercely through their own tribal veins.
This is a powerful statement as we see Celtic swords were considered as an extension of their beingness. To relinquish such a intensely personal and meaningful object is indeed an honor. Nuada is said to recognize this sacrifice and live long within the hearts of men who recognize his nobility with the sacrificial gesture.
The swords of the Congo tribe in Central Africa are deeply symbolic of transition. Specifically, we see the quillons (cross guard on the hilt) of swords were designed so that one side turns heavenward, the other side turns earthwards. This is said to be symbolic of the powerful connection between sky and earth, and further solidifying the symbolism of life and death.
In Christianity the sword symbolism deals with protection, righteousness, and justice. We see archangel Michael depicted in Christian art holding a sword (also with scales) to reinforce the concept of truth, purity, equanimity, and the justness revealed in the light of Christ. Furthermore, we see the sword (often flaming) blocking the gates of Eden as a sign of protection - only the pure of heart may enter.
In Chinese symbolism dreams of swords indicate birth gender. It is believed that dreaming of a woman drawing a sword from water indicates the birth of a son. Many swords together or dancing swords in a dream indicates the dreamer is experiencing a fear of limitation and or avoiding death issues.
In the symbolic language of the Tarot, swords represent the realm of the mind, specifically the navigation of thought. Just as the sword is wielded by its master, so too may thoughts be directed by conscious training of the mind. An untrained mind (one that is inexperienced in wielding the power of thought) will face many challenges. These challenges are deftly illustrated in the sword suit of the Tarot. I've written thoughts about Tarot sword symbolism and how it dovetails beautifully with the symbolic Tarot.
As dream symbols, swords erect the following meanings from the psyche:
Freud would have us believe the sword in our dreams is a phallic symbol. If we indulge this, we can see some validity. Visually, philosophically and energetically the sword shares many similarities to the male organ as well as masculinity and all its manifestations.
Freud isn't the only one who recognized male gender issues in sword symbolism.
Arthurian studies draw gender correlations between Excalibur representing male (phallic) principles and its insertion into the stone - the stone being symbolic of the female (vaginal) principle.
As a masculine principle, the sword is the:
The sheath in which the sword is housed is considered the feminine principle representing:
Double edged swords give us symbolism of duality of nature and the dual powers of manifestation. Here we see creation as well as destruction (death and life) housed in the instrument.
I rather like the making of the sword itself - its creation - as a further source of symbolism. Sword making is an ancient and honorable craft which utilizes all the elements of the universe. Fire, Water, Air, and Earth are all involved with the birthing of the sword and as such we can incorporate symbolism of unity, balance, totality and creativity with the meaning of swords.
Seen from all angles, given time, and contemplation you will begin to see your own personal sword symbolism. For example, I utilize the sword as a meditative tool - visualizing it slicing through any haze or ambiguity I am experiencing in the moment. Quite effective.
Whether you are looking for a symbol of strength or a symbol of balance it should be clear the sword encapsulates a myriad of meanings from which to choose. Invest the time to meditate upon the philosophical depths of the sword - discover your own personal meanings of this object.
I've written more about sword symbolism on my blog here.