5 of Air: Conflict (and Integrity)

28 May 2017

Part of my morning ritual is to select a tarot card for the day and today I pulled the 'Five of Air' (Swords) from The Good Tarot (TGT). TGT is not a traditional deck - the symbols, imagery, and even the names differ from the 'traditional' norm that is the Rider Waite Smith (RWS). 

The image depicted in the 5 of Air (below right) is a winged woman perfectly balanced en pointe on a delicate white wire. A dove - the symbol of peace - is perched ahead of her on the intersection with another wire. It appears relaxed and is facing another direction. Four further doves are in flight around them.  The woman has one leg stretched out behind her, with her arms out in front acting as a counter-balance. In one hand she holds a delicate white circle on a chain. To me, it looks like there are other circles within it, as on a target, and this is positioned directly behind the bird perched on the wire. 

In the top half of the image, the woman is surrounded by clear blue sky, and in the bottom half, where all birds are positioned, the sky is pink, blue and cloudy - it looks stormy and unsettled. The woman is literally rising above the storm - on her toes - with grace, and perfect balance. This is good news - her decorative wings definitely wouldn't work if she tried to fly with them! The dove and the woman are both calm and balanced while the other birds are fluttering around one another. 

After contemplating the artwork, I did what I'm sure many other (new) tarot readers do, and thought about the equivalent RWS card, in order to check my understanding and intuitive reaction to the image I'd been looking at.
Left to right: Different interpretations from the Original Rider Waite and The Good Tarot - click to enlarge
The RWS Five of Swords is illustrated very differently. In the foreground a smiling (smug / contemptuous-looking) man is holding three swords and looking over his shoulder. Behind him, two further swords are on the ground, and two figures face in the opposite direction with their backs to us. One of them appears to have his head in his hands - indicating sadness, loss or despair. The sky is filled with angry and threatening clouds. It can be assumed that there has been a battle or conflict, and it's not over yet. Fives - in any suit - are typically about challenge, struggle or unrest. 

I must admit that immediately after the mental comparison my inner critic (my automated monkey brain) went something like this: 'If you're trying to read more intuitively, rather than learning 'book meanings' by rote, why on earth are you going back to the 'norm' to check yourself?'  Then I shut that voice up and considered that this technique of differentiating the known from the unknown is natural when your study materials are mostly based on the traditional deck. It's also effective - I posted my initial comparison on Instagram: 
[W]hile the RWS suggests cheating, or taking advantage of / being taken advantage of, and humiliation, TGT offers a reflection on the nature of conflict and tension. It's not only a useful opportunity to recognise your motives and whether you have integrity, but tension is also a necessary stepping stone in your development. In the case of the wire-walker in the image, it is literally the tension of the string which enables her to find her balance and stay upright. 
For me, this represents a revolutionary way of looking at this card. It is certainly a lot more empowering than 'struggle', 'conflict' or any of the usual words associated with it. Although the controversial "good" tarot has it's critics, I love the empowering interpretations that TGT author Colette Baron-Reid and artist Jena DellaGrotaglia have made accessible. In the accompanying guidebook, Colette does give the traditional keywords, but then continues with the following 5 of Air affirmation:
Conflict is a good way to see my motives and intentions. I can use this experience to grow into a more authentic version of myself. It's not important to win. It's important to have integrity. Other people have different ways of thinking and may not always be in agreement with me. I am open to this opportunity to live and let live. 
Two cards - the same intrinsic meaning, but one is played out with humiliation and suffering, while the other is an opportunity to rise above and find balance. It's not about bending to anyone's will or manipulating them, it's not about either side being hurt, simply a way of maintaining personal integrity. This interpretation might well present a challenge to some people - there is some criticism that life isn't all 'good' and Tarot shouldn't be either - but I find this new approach to be constructive and insightful. I'll choose balance and equilibrium over conflict and drama (for as long as I can quieten the voice of my monkey brain), thank you very much. 

As a result of drawing this card, I've been thinking about the conflicts in my life and how they have impacted the way I show up for myself and other people. The resident history-buff (my husband) often talks about the technological leaps that were made as a result of wars on a global scale, and when I considered it, the biggest leaps in my own personal development have all happened as a result of conflict or struggle too. Every single one. So the next time I recognise the voice inside compelling me to 'win at all costs', I need to remember to choose to be the winged ballerina of the 5 of Air and not the smug guy from the 5 of Swords! Maybe you will too. 

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