The Five of Swords is a very difficult card to deal with. Quite self-explanatory, its name and keyword is “Defeat.”
The image shows a peculiar man with a grin on his face collecting some swords that have been scattered on the ground. His gaze is directed toward two other figures who seem to be in distress. There is considerable distance between them, and the latter have turned their backs to the man, looking at the turbulent sea. Jagged clouds loom like shadows over them in the sky above.
For all its vibrant colours and clever arrangement of shapes, the card’s message is utterly bleak and raises a few notable questions. A battle was fought, but for what cause? Who is the real enemy here? What was lost, and who is the victor?
Maybe the case will prove simpler if we exclude sentimental interpretations. Conflict and competition are integral parts of human nature, and for almost every triumph, there is also a losing side. Let’s have a look at the Five of Swords’ oblique symbolism and meaning in a Tarot reading.
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Five of Swords Symbolism
The fifth degree is the midpoint in the Tarot cycle. The Hierophant and the Devil are bridges to virtue and vice respectively. For the Swords, this transition is an invitation to ruin, a remarkably disastrous enterprise.
The Sword’s erratic and volatile nature requires balance, discipline, courage, and foresight, but also cunning; even a master could fall for an unpredictable and clever trap…
The Five of Swords is a stage card, and as with all cards of the sort, a certain theatricality is present. The shapes, the positions of the visual elements, and the direction of each figure’s gaze altogether convey a sense of tension and disarray. That is not a warning but the result of poor decisions or flawless strategy.
Let us consider the card’s apparent meaning at face value: there was a vicious battle, and as the Gauls surrendered to Julius Caesar, the defeated have lain their weapons down at the feet of the conqueror, who is now their master. There is not really much to say here at first glance; it is all about some kind of disagreement that ended badly.
Notice how the man in the foreground looks taller and stronger than the others; how he sneers, pointing at the ground with one sword while carrying two more swords against his shoulder. The land they walk upon belongs to him, and this fight was only a calculated cost.
The others look away at the coming storm and keep their distance. One is crying as the realization of what has been lost sinks in. They have been led astray. Now they are defenseless, and their fate is in the hands of another.
The problem here is that victory is always at the expense of this “other.” A sharp mind would have foreseen this, a kind heart would not allow it. But a man who is always trying to gain an advantage in social settings is contemptuous at the very least; he likes to create complications and feuds.
Let’s look for other ways to interpret the scene: this fellow is picking up the pieces that others left in the wake of their ignorance. He is trying to help and make them see reason but gets hurt in the process. Sadly, there is no connection between them.
Swords refer to words and thoughts, so they may symbolize various statements that have been said to or about the individual, who is now trying to mend a very harmful situation without much success.
Among the traditional meanings for the Five of Swords are also infamy, disrespect, betrayal, and the shame that follows them. Nonetheless, the main character here appears to be delighted by this turn of events; perhaps he finds joy in the pain of others, or he’s got no clue whatsoever that he, too, has been defeated.
Regarding the self and the seeker’s progress on their path, the card’s symbolism is equally pessimistic and anti-social. Inner balance has been lost, disagreements may escalate, and one’s perception becomes distorted and one-sided.
As we depart from the safe space of our limited intellectual world, we see that everyone has a unique psychological interpretation of reality. Out of thin air, we create all kinds of concepts and rationalizations to make sense of life, but it’s like trying to catch water with a knife, impossible.
Because these ideas lack the sincerity and original experience of the Ace, they have no stability and no real purpose; they are bound to fail, and then we see there is no way to “win the game,” philosophically speaking, especially for someone who doesn’t know or won’t admit they have already lost, someone who will not learn their lesson.
When the illusion of safety is taken away from someone, when their mind starts to grasp that mental constructs are virtually false and all values are essentially empty, they are completely defeated and left with nowhere to stand. Their reasoning breaks down like a house of cards, and then they either lose hope or resort to nihilistic and desperate views, absurdism, cynicism, and finally betrayal.
Thus, we are all conditioned to separate and defend ourselves from those “others” whom we perceive as a threat or a nuisance at best, perhaps with good reason. One begins to learn who they are by knowing what they are not.
The strong rise and the weak fall, and in the midst of disaster it is every man for himself. Mankind’s spectacular capacity for destruction, malice, error, conspiracy and warfare is both the invisible hand of history and its protagonist; someone might argue it is in our blood. From this angle, it is futile to theorize and parley about what is right and wrong, good and evil.
Only fools march into battle uncertain of success, and without knowing their enemy. Nevertheless, even a defeat is practice for your next victory.
What does the Five of Swords Tarot Card mean?
The Five of Swords’ message is to back away from an argument or a problematic situation; you would be going up against forces that you cannot control. Any kind of controversy will certainly not resolve in your favour.
Whether this refers to a troubled relationship, a legal dispute, or your well-being, the card’s message is clear: there is no way to win this one, nothing to say that could fix the mess. You should reconsider your options before it is too late, and find some other way to handle it and minimize the damage.
The card demonstrates that empty and dangerous ideas and beliefs pave the road to failure. It may also indicate that someone’s out to get you, a rival, or perhaps a friend who has been harbouring a secret hatred and should not be trusted. Your reputation is at stake, and maybe more than that.
You may feel like just walking away from a situation; that’s OK, we have to choose our battles. It’s only reasonable to walk away from an insoluble problem that’s guaranteed to cause you pain and misery. You’ve got nothing to gain from this.
Ultimately, the Five of Swords is an invitation to ruin. It denotes disagreements, tension, arguments based on pain and loss, and plans that lead to disappointment or defeat.
Five of Swords Keywords
- Walking away
- Intellectual crisis
- Falling out
What does the Five of Swords Reversed mean?
In reverse, the Five of Swords is still a very negative card, though the emphasis may shift. It is more about pessimism, defeatism, and the grudges that follow failure and altercations. The seeker is trying to pick up the pieces and count their losses after a series of harmful incidents.
You may have lost faith in yourself, but unless more Swords appear in the reading, then the worst is over. You cannot change the past, but you can keep your eyes on the road. The energy of the Wands can help you pick yourself up and reclaim your willpower.
The card may indicate that someone from your past is about to make an appearance, perhaps an ex who has been following you mentally, thinking about something you said. They cannot let it go even though it causes them pain.
As far as grudges go, there may yet be a chance to call it even with someone you had a falling-out with. But if you have resentment and vengeance in your heart, be very careful. Some battles end in equal disaster and embarrassment for both sides…
Five of Swords Reversed Keywords
- Despair after failure
- Clinging to the past
- Anxiety about the future
- Pick up the pieces
- Lost faith
Is the Five of Swords Tarot Card a Yes or No?
The Five of Swords, both when upright and reversed, is a resounding “No.” If you follow through with your current plan, it will not end well for you, and the same applies should you trust the person whom the question was about.
The card is pretty straightforward regarding Yes or No questions, and its answer is always “No!” Whether it is a matter of luck, resources, or support, what you have in mind at the moment is clearly not your best option. You should direct your attention and energy elsewhere before matters get even more complicated.