Comparing The 5 & 7 of Swords
(image: The Rider-Waite tarot deck)
Many Tarot cards have such strong and unique meanings that we can easily tell them apart. However, there are cards that are similar enough to each other that interpreting them when they both show up in a spread can be challenging. One method for coming to know cards in-depth is to break them down to their components; we have been using this method to study each of the 78 cards of a traditional Tarot deck. Now that we have completed our study of the individual cards, it’s time to use another method: comparison.
This month, we will be comparing the components of two Minor Arcana cards: the 5 of Swords and the 7 of Swords. Let us begin this process by looking at what these two cards have in common, and then we will look at the differences. Our goal is to understand the subtle yet powerful distinction between the interpretations of these two cards. I will be using card images from the Rider Tarot Deck, mainly because these images and the symbolism they contain are generally accepted as typical to the Tarot and its interpretation.
Both the 5 of Swords and the 7 of Swords are Minor Arcana cards. Through our time together working with the Tarot, we have defined the Minor Arcana as the 56 cards that are customarily grouped into two sections: the 40 cards split into four categories or suits that represent the four elements and the cardinal directions (along with other correspondences), with numbers from Ace to 10 known as the “Numbered Cards” or “Pip Cards”; and the 16 cards that present a representation of the family unit (or any other group with a ranking or hierarchy), known as the “Court Cards.” Typically, the Minors deal with day-to-day issues. This does not diminish the effects of the Minors in any way; the Butterfly Effect of chaos theory is proof of that. Here is one definition of the Butterfly Effect: the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. That pretty much sums up the reason that the Minor Arcana is in no way minor.
Both of these cards are of the suit of Swords. The Swords cards give hints as to our mental state, the beliefs we have, and the actions we choose to take in response to effects and challenges 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 suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air, the Spades of playing cards, the direction of East and the color of yellow. The element of Air 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 perception (in from outside of us) to happen. The direction of East corresponds to the season of Spring, sunrise, and the waxing moon, all representations of beginnings, growing, and expanding. The color yellow represents the intellect, knowledge, confidence and communication.
Let’s continue with the images. Both the 5 of Swords and the 7 of Swords show a man holding swords, with other people somewhere in the background. Both images also show mountains at the horizon, which in the Tarot often represent challenges or tests. Just looking at those two components of both images while taking into account what we already know about the suit of Swords, we can already get a feeling about the message of these two cards: there is some kind of conflict or confrontation happening.
Now that we’ve thought about what the 5 of Swords and the 7 of Swords have in common, let’s look at their differences. While both cards show some kind of conflict, these two examples of conflict are different. The sky in the image for the 5 of Swords has jagged gray clouds that look like they are streaming overhead, similar to just before or just after a thunderstorm. The 7 of Swords has a golden sky with no clouds or evidence of wind or storm, kind of like the sky during a quiet afternoon.
The man in the 5 of Swords is holding three Swords with two Swords laying at his feet, just acquired. There are two people walking away from him; one appears upset. To me, it appears those two people could have dropped their swords on the ground and are walking away, refusing to interact with the person holding the three swords. In the 7 of Swords, the person in the foreground is holding 5 Swords with 2 other Swords grounded (or already owned), and he is not directly interacting with anyone. Yes, we can see a group of people just coming over the horizon, or perhaps standing in a circle in the distance, but they are not yet directly interacting with this man who appears to be sneaking away from the tents behind him. Rather than an in-your-face conflict, here we have a bit of stealth.
We have astrological differences in these two cards. The 5 of Swords corresponds with the planet Venus when it is in the sign of Aquarius. Venus is about an appreciation of beauty, which appreciation can easily slide into allure. When affected by Venus, Aquarius tells of connections of all kinds, which sometimes means understanding the big picture through a detached and unemotional mindset. We could say that the man in the 5 of Swords has an appreciation of the beauty of those Swords to the extent that he wants them all, at all costs.
The 7 of Swords corresponds with the Moon when it is in the sign of Aquarius. The Moon is about feelings, emotions, imagination and illusion; it is passive and even melancholy, and associated with a need for security. When affected by the Moon, Aquarius is about knowledge and intelligence, but not necessarily about tolerating differences of opinion, and it is about giving a lot with the highest good of all in mind, but exclusively on the Aquarian’s own terms. The man in the 7 of Swords could be sneaking away with those Swords because he did not like what the people in the background were doing with them.
We are also dealing with different numbers. In Aleister Crowley’s Naples Arrangement, the number 5 adds motion to the stability of the number 4 in order to prevent stagnation. The number 5 also brings us to a place where we can understand time, because we can understand that each number can be defined using the terms of the previous numbers. The number 7 reminds us that balance and perfection are not meant to be permanent situations, but rather they are “moments of Grace” or “Perfect Love and Trust” that are eventually subject to some kind of deterioration. Rather than adding motion to stability, the energies of the number 7 are attempting to impose stability onto the motion that has brought balance. We can see a kind of progression clearly in these two card images: in the 5 of Swords the man holds 3 of the Swords and in the 7 of Swords the man holds 5 of the Swords, an obvious escalation and an example of past/present/future.
The Tree of Life also offers us interpretations of numbers as they are used in the Tarot. 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 (the feminine side of the Tree). Geburah is also known as Judgment, and facing judgment and its effects and manifestations can indeed be uncomfortable. The 5 of Swords can be seen as using our might in order to strive to win, perhaps even when winning is not in the best interest of all parties.
All of the Sevens of the Tarot Minor Arcana correspond with the sephira of Netzach (which means “Victory”). Netzach is the seventh sephira, at the bottom of the Pillar of Force (the masculine side of the Tree). Victory tends to bring a bit of inertia into the picture. Often, when we succeed (or think that we have succeeded), we cease focusing on the reason for the conflict and focus instead on maintaining the status quo. The 7 of Swords can be seen as an attempt to maintain something we already have, even if we shouldn’t have it.
One last thought: neither of these cards need to be interpreted in a harmful way. Perhaps the two people refusing to interact with the man in the 5 of Swords image represent the stability that was sliding into stagnation, and the movement that happened when the man took possession of the Swords disrupted that stability/stagnation in a good way. Perhaps the man in the 7 of Swords image who appears to be sneaking away is actually planning to restore those Swords to their rightful owners after they were confiscated by the people in the distance, or he could be preventing some kind of attack.
About the Author:
Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher. Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.