Contemplating the Five of Swords

24 January 2018

In the Minor Arcana, the fifth card of each suit shows us an element of challenge or conflict - the wands show disharmony amongst a group of people, the cups depict a focus on the negative ("crying over spilled milk"), and the pentacles show two people in hardship and poverty. When we look at the Five of Swords, we see yet more discord. There are some variations in the way this card is depicted, so let's take a look at five popular decks to see what insight they might offer. 
Decks: Dreaming Way Tarot,  The Fountain Tarot,  Crystal Visions Tarot,
Borderless Smith-Waite and  The Wild Unknown

In the Dreaming Way Tarot, there are two figures - one in the foreground, awkwardly holding five swords, and the other walking away with shoulders slumped in disappointment and defeat. The Little White Book (LWB) talks about being “lost in competition, passed over for promotion, sacrificing integrity” and “taking advantage of others”. 

The Fountain Tarot shows someone walking on two of the swords, while carrying the other three - his balance is precarious, and it looks a struggle. Two figures in the background appear to be walking away but they cast long shadows onto the stilt-walker. The LWB calls this the “tainted victory” card and talks about short—sightedness, profiting at the expense of others and “dishonourable behaviour”. 

Under an ominous sky in the Crystal Visions Tarot, a beautiful woman has been stabbed in the back by two swords. She is crying and bleeding as her assailant looks back over his shoulder while walking away from her. (There are also five crows which would typically refer to sickness or ill health.) From the LWB: “.. betrayal, subterfuge, or someone who cheats and uses unfair advantage to win”. Again a ‘shallow victory’ is mentioned in relation to hurting others through self-interest. 

Pamela Colman-Smith's illustration (shown here on the Borderless Smith-Waite deck) is of a smug-looking character with three swords in his hands, as two others lay on the ground. There are two other people in the background - one has his head in his hands and shoulders slumped, as the other walks away from it all. The scene reflects all that is shown in the other cards. 

Finally, the image in The Wild Unknown - a deck without people - shows a worm which has been cut in half by one of the swords. I remember from my science lessons that after being cut in two, one half of an earthworm will die while the other may be able to live on, albeit somewhat diminished. Despite the blood and tears the woman in the Crystal Visions deck is still standing and it appears that she will live on too. 

So all five cards show some sort of division, which even if not fatal, is certainly painful for someone. In the Major Arcana, five is the number of The Hierophant. He represents learning, traditions, and spiritual growth. So what can we learn and how can we grow through the lessons of the Five of Swords? What does this card invite us to consider about the way things occur for us? How can we apply this lesson to help us expand our knowledge and understanding, and so that we can grow?

When you remember that the Swords suit is concerned with the mental realm you can begin to see the metaphors more clearly, but first, consider which ‘side’ you are on. Do you relate more to the ‘victor’ or the ‘victim’? For your own interpretation of the Five of Swords will surely be influenced by that. 

- Are you willing to cheat or act dishonestly to gain the upper hand? 
- The ‘prize’ here is a set of swords and when you think of these as ideas or beliefs, then you have to consider the extent to which you are willing to defend your own viewpoint.  Would you hurt someone else for the sake of your beliefs or opinions? Is this something you already do (perhaps unwittingly)? 
- Where are you so attached to being ‘right’ (refusing to compromise) that you don’t care who else you upset? 
- Maybe you are the one being taken advantage of or upset - is someone taking what's rightfully yours?  
- Where is there a lack of integrity and who is this impacting? 

All of these are valid questions when the Five of Swords appears and worth considering when you draw this card, but for now, I'll leave you with Colette Baron-Reid's affirmation from The Good Tarot which I feel is both the perfect summary and antidote! 
Conflict is a good way to see my motives and intentions. I 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 open to this opportunity to live and let live. 

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