“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
500 years ago or thereabouts a very influential political and social commentator was born on 3rd May 1469. That person was Niccolo Machiavelli.
He became famous for his book ‘The Prince’. In this book he describes how it is not only human but appropriate to lie and cheat to get to the throne.
He advocated deceitful doing in order to get what one wanted. He asserts that there is no moral basis when judging the difference between legitimate and illegitimate use of power. In other words all is fair in love and war.
Machiavellianism is manipulation of one person or party to achieve a goal. Love does not naturally result in loyalty and authority, as a right to command, has no independent status. In a nutshell: “Early in the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli acted as chief political advisor to the ruling Medici family in Florence, Italy."
The details of his counsel are well known because Machiavelli laid them out for posterity in his 1513 book, The Prince. The gist of his advice for maintaining political control is captured in the phrase “the end justifies the means.”
According to Machiavelli, a ruler with a clear agenda should be open to any and all effective tactics, including "manipulative interpersonal strategies such as flattery and lying.”
The Prince sees the world as cold, unemotional and unresponsive to passion. Superiority is won by those that can be the most devious and manipulative. I am by no means an authority on the subject, certainly not from a political perspective, but if we interface Machiavelli’s philosophy with psychology then I can prick my ears up with interest.
So, as I was browsing through the various texts about Machiavelli, my thoughts turned to the Seven of Swords and its contemporary interpretation from a psychospiritual view.
But first a word about the origin of this seven if we are working, in particular, with the Rider Waite Smith deck. I want to shed light on a possible source of what makes this card so contentious before we proceed into its ubiquitous interpretation.
I have drawn a parallel at this point with Machiavelli, the Renaissance and the Sola Busca Tarot deck. The Sola Busca deck was created circa 1491 and it is entirely possible that Machiavelli would have known of it as it charted the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and included artistic imagery of planetary associations with politics of the day and various biblical themes. The Italian town of its origin and the artist remain elusive. The Sola Busca inspired the imagery for the Rider Waite Smith deck and we could suppose then that Pamela Colman Smith would have been acquainted with this deck and the sources of its imagery.
In the Sola Busca deck the Seven of Swords refers to keeping balance but also rationalised violence.
If we look at the image of the Rider Waite Smith Seven of Swords and compare it to the one in the Sola Busca deck we do not have to have a vivid imagination to make a possible connection.
This is all very interesting and one could write a wonderful narrative on the influence of the Renaissance on current western esoteric thinking but that is not the nature of this theme.
Back to our Seven of Swords. Why the equation with Machiavelli?
The common interpretation is sneaky behaviour, plotting and getting away with something. Carelessness that results in mistakes, being caught in the act. A gathering up of power and deception.
On a deeper level it can symbolise a powerful opposition to the realization of inner potential, blocking development through sabotage and even inner conflict which manifests externally as unreasonable challenges.
The inner kernel of this card implies negative influences which could be helped by humility when considering spiritual issues and it can denote intellectual freedom is not being used for the greater good, the end justifies the means.
This card shows that hurting the self is seen as a small sacrifice in order to gain power over another. It also draws attention to the capacity for thinking dark thoughts about oneself as something that is normal and possibly a learned behaviour.
There is something that is called a Machiavellian personality disorder.
People with Machiavellian traits tend to agree with statements like these:
“It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.”
“Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so.”
“It is safest to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.”
“It is wise to flatter important people.”
Machiavellian people’s personality tends to be disagreeable and undependable, which leads them to lie, cheat and betray, when it suits them.
Here we see the wounded ego. The person so driven they will achieve their goal at all costs.
The wound comes from the perspective that control comes by treating them mean to keep them keen.
It is like that someone with such a disorder finds it hard to name their personal emotions but are very aware of them in others. This could be as a result of not being allowed to show emotion in their formative years.
It would seem that it is important to bypass empathy and by so doing one bypasses human nature.
How do we manage a Machiavellian type in a consultation?
Set boundaries and stick to them. Do not take sides or be drawn into their view of right and wrong. Do not feel that you have to agree or enter into any emotional negotiations and absolutely avoid third party information.
Accept the reality of their character and behaviour. This personality is likely to be open to telling tales of deceit and plotting but actually may refer to this in second person dialogue; avoid the rabbit holes! Do not try to change them or point out a lack of conscience or morality. It will only feed the desire to cause suffering through control.
Be aware of your own vulnerabilities. This type of client can trigger your own stuff. If you have a tendency towards self-criticism or self-blaming, breathe and let go. If you are a natural empath, be conscious of this person playing up to your sympathies.
Be like a mountain. Be resolute. Each person we see and meet has much to teach and if our inner compass is being shaken by such an encounter then it is often a sign to grow and evolve.
Most of all trust, no experience is ever wasted.