Let’s continue the theme of uncomfortable Swords cards. Last month, we talked about the Three of Swords, that card of pain and isolation and betrayal. If you haven’t read it yet, take a few moments now to do so.
In my opinion, there are two other Swords cards besides the Three of Swords that are not that much fun: the Five of Swords and the Seven of Swords. The thing about the Five and Seven of Swords is that sometimes it is not easy to differentiate between them. You know by now my method for dealing with this issue: break the cards down to their most basic ingredients.
The traditional image of the Five of Swords shows a man holding three Swords, standing next to two other Swords laying on the ground, with people walking away from him. The image on the Seven of Swords has some similarities; there are Swords being held by a man (five this time, rather than three) and there are two Swords not being held by the man, this time stuck into the ground, point down and hilt up. Both of these cards have a “me-against-the-world” attitude about them, don’t they? Both the Five and Seven of Swords represent self-interest to the point of letting the ends justify the means, and they represent dishonor and isolation; they just each come to these things from opposite directions.
Confused yet? Let’s break these cards down and see what makes them tick. This month, we will talk about the Five of Swords.
The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air, the Spades of playing cards, the direction of East and the color yellow; Swords cards usually tell of some focused intent to bring forth a manifestation, or a struggle and then an outcome. Swords cards are about purposeful and deliberate actions and the thoughts, intentions or beliefs behind them. Swords cards and the effects they describe are sourced from within us; we create our own reality from our expectations. The Swords cards give hints as to our mental state, the beliefs we have, and the actions we take in response to effects around us. A Sword has two edges, a perfect metaphor for this suit, which can represent attacking or defending, logic or aggression. The Swords cards also represent an opportunity to feel more empowered; self-empowerment happens when we successfully deal with challenges, but self-empowerment can be dangerous if it is not balanced with a bit of humility.
The element of Air corresponds with truth, clarity, and our capacity to analyze or apply logic without the distraction of emotions or feelings. Air also represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of ignorance so we can clearly see and understand, and it supports communications and sounds of all kinds; Air allows both expression (out from within us) and hearing (in from outside of us) to happen. This information applies to all the Swords cards, so we will need other ingredients in order to see what makes the Five of Swords unique.
When dealing with the Minor Arcana, perhaps the most important ingredient besides the suit of the card is the number of the card. In the Tarot, the number 5 is seen as adding motion to the depth and stability of the energy of the number 4 card, often toppling or destroying that depth and stability in order to prevent stagnation. If we look at the card right before the Five of Swords and follow it through to the Five of Swords, we can gain some insight into the effects of the number 5.
The Four of Swords is about truce, about a delicate and temporary balance between opposing forces. Truces offer a wonderful opportunity to rest and heal and refuel ourselves, but they don’t offer final answers or resolutions to conflicts, and they are not meant to be permanent. The number 5 adds that concept of Motion to that Stability, and brings the next step after the number 4. All of the Tarot Fives are uncomfortable mainly because of this added Motion. In the other Minor Fives We have the inability to keep up with changes in the physical world (Pentacles), a focus on a negative change while missing the remaining positive (Cups), and ideas moving in random and unorganized directions (Wands).
Astrology is a tool that can offer subtle effects for us to consider as we analyze this card. The Five of Swords corresponds to the planet Venus (beauty, allure, relationships, pleasure) when it is in the sign of Aquarius (“I know,” friendships, cause-oriented, the group, aloof). Venus is a feminine planet, which means its energies are inner and receptive in nature. Astrologically, Venus is associated with feelings and well-being and gentleness and an appreciation for beauty. Aquarius is a masculine sign, which means its energies are active and outer in nature. Aquarians tend to focus on connections of all kinds, and in the best of situations those connections are seen as equal and without “ego”; Aquarians are known for seeing the big picture and acting in the best interest of the group. Aquarians are attracted by “shinys,” by anything unusual. The flip side of both of these (and there is always a flip side) can offer depth to the meaning of the Five of Swords.
An unbalanced connection to the emotions and feelings associated with Venus combined with an appreciation of sensual pleasures can create an overly-sensitive, greedy, or materialistic person. Because of their embracing of sometimes socially unacceptable concepts (such as “we are all equal”), Aquarians can become isolated or marginalized, and even cold and detached. Since we are exploring the imbalance created by the effects of the number 5, these concepts are relevant to the interpretation of this card.
The Tree of Life offers us further insight. All of the Fives of the Tarot Minor Arcana correspond with the Sephira of Geburah (which means “Might”), the fifth Sephira on the Tree, the second on the Pillar of Form/Restriction. Geburah is also known as Judgment, and Fear, and its effects and manifestations can indeed be difficult. To some, an easy life is an ideal situation, but in the end the easy life offered through never experiencing any true tests lacks the opportunity for growth and evolution, and growth and evolution are the purposes of living.
Geburah is about courage and power and invincibility, and these things can bring us true fulfillment, or they can help to release our cruel side. But unless we are exposed to these temptations, we will never know if we have the will to set them aside when they become unbalanced. Believing that we have the power and authority to make decisions for others is often a recipe for disaster.
Okay, so we have Motion (which is the number 5) that brings an uncomfortable end to Stability (which is the number 4) and we have the element of Air and the use of the Intellect without compassion or mercy (which is the suit of Swords). We have a tendency to be emotional without being grounded in reality (Venus), we have a love of pretty things, and we have the potential of feeling that we know what is best for others (Aquarius). Add in the availability of “ownership” or “authority over” our ideals and the “might” necessary to impose those ideals for the good of all whether or not they want to be helped (Geburah), and we have the Five of Swords.
To me, the Five of Swords tells of action taken without mercy or consideration of others. This card can often represent a victory, but it usually ends up to be an empty victory. The victor may not know exactly what, if anything, he has won. Think once more about the traditional image of the Five of Swords: a man holding three Swords, standing next to two other Swords laying on the ground, with people walking away from him. This scenario has probably happened on every playground in the world. A spoiled or difficult child insists that we all play with the toys his way; the rest of us surrender to his rules, toss our toys at his feet, and walk away.
The lesson of this card is that winning or losing is not important. The end result is meaningless if the process is unethical. And if we insist that things must be as we want them, we will end up standing alone, unsure of whether we’ve won or we’ve lost.
Next time, we will compare this one to the Seven of Swords.