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The Meaning of
the "Five of Swords" Tarot Card

Tarot Quick Info

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Quick Tarot Meanings:

A near term victory at the cost of a larger defeat. A competition has not gone well. Money is lost or status is injured.

What is the inverted meaning of
the "Five of Swords"?

A greater loss. Not only has the immediate battle been lost, but the war may be lost as well. Better not to fight at this time.

Advanced tarot interpretation

(Applies to the upright position)

The Symbolism in the "Five of Swords" Tarot Card:

This minor arcana card shows a fighter standing under a troubled and foreboding sky. There are three men and five swords depicted. The fighter is holding two swords in one hand, while he picks another sword off the ground. Two more swords lie at his feet.

The man in the foreground has just beaten two dejected opponents who can be seen walking away from him. Their swords lie on the ground where they were dropped. The fighter appears to have already collected swords from previous opponents. He is unmerciful in the mastery of his craft, taking all the bounty that he can.

The Meaning of the "Five of Swords" Tarot Card:

Degradation, loss, destruction are indicated here. A loss of ego or injury to pride, status, or reputation.

The fighter in the foreground appears to be gloating over his defeated opponents, taking pleasure in their loss. This superiority complex, or hubris, will be his eventual downfall. The battle is lost but the war is far from over.

Remember that the swords suit deals with issues of the mind. This is important to remember because the themes of many sword tarot cards (the 5 of Swords included) often seem to depict physical actions and not mental ones. As with other suit of swords tarot cards, the imagery here is meant to reference a state of mind, an attitude or a belief and not a simple physical action.

The 5 of Swords is an interesting and complex card. On the one hand it seems to portray a victory in some kind of conflict. On this surface-level, the fighter has been successful. He has defeated multiple opponents and has claimed his rewards. He is smirking as his opponents sulk towards the sea.

But on a deeper level, something more subtle (and much worse) has happened. When this card appears in a reading, the card meaning should not be taken to mean "victory", but defeat.

This card reminds us that it is possible to win too much. To take too much from an opponent -- or from too many different opponents -- can result in a rise in negative sentiment towards you. The fighter may have won the battle, but he has lost the war somehow.

Ultimately the Five of Swords is a warning against too much ambition. Or the excessive use of force, pride and arrogance.

In many cases, the Five of Swords deals with illicit or underhanded means of achieving victory -- which in turn leads to a greater loss of some kind:

The fighter is isolated. Perhaps he won through unethical conduct. Perhaps he achieved his victory through illegal means or (in the case of sports) unsportsmanlike behavior. This conduct has resulted in a loss of status or other intangible damage.

The fighter may have displayed too much ambition, so much so that he has brought about ill will and hostility towards himself. This hollow victory will ultimately prove to be a loss: A loss of friends, a loss of respect, or a loss of social status.

We normally think of victory in a positive sense, but the 5 of swords reminds us to consider the difference between near term victories and longer term losses. This is winning in a negative sense.

This card may call into question the very importance of victory. Is victory worth the greater cost of relationships or reputation? There are times when it is best to sidestep confrontation and consider the consequences of winning.

Simply put: If a victory comes with the "cost" of hurting or annoying others around you, there was no victory at all -- but a subtle and more devastating defeat.

You can also look at this card from the perspective of the fighters' opponents. They have lost the will to continue. They clearly aren't defeated in a physical sense. Instead they appear dejected, discouraged or frustrated. Even with their best efforts, they believe it is useless to carry on. For them, continuing to compete is a pointless exercise. They would rather drop their swords and walk away.

If you are asking the tarot about a professional situation, this may be a card representing a sense of disunity, or a need for team building. A sense of failure and futility may be present in your workplace.

If you are consulting the tarot about a relationship the Five of Swords may indicate a power imbalance which is leading to negative feelings. Winning that argument may win the day, but cause far greater damage to the relationship itself.

When this card appears in a tarot reading, you should consider the surrounding cards (particularly court cards) for insight into how this complex card affects specific people, or your social, romantic or professional landscape.

The Meaning of the "Five of Swords" Tarot Card Inverted:

There are a few different ways to view the reversed Five of Swords. In its inverted position, the card still represents defeat, but in this case the immediate battle has been lost -- and a greater loss to image, ego or reputation has also occurred.

The defeat indicated here is greater than a single loss in a single contest. The defeat indicated here will impact reputation and relationships and do damage that extends beyond this immediate conflict.

While losing any contest can be disappointing, the multiplier effect of reputation or relationship damage from this loss may be far more serious. In this case, there will be no sympathy for losing this contest. This is a crushing defeat on multiple levels.

When the Five of Swords appears inverted, it's a strong sign to stop fighting. Stop competing. Stop trying to win. Not only is an immediate loss indicated here, but a deeper and more permanent loss could result from continuing down this path. Do not lose yourself in the thrill of victory. You may need to "self check" your own ambition for a time.

The reversed Five of Swords may also reference someone with a personality disorder which leads them to keep fighting even when continuing is clearly destructive. A more rational person would see that this is a time to communicate, grant concessions and come together for the common good. This person does not pick battles carefully. And he or she fails to understand that some battles carry losses that stretch far beyond the immediate situation.

Simply put: The downside of loss far outweighs the upside of victory in this case -- and a loss is indicated.

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