5 of Swords

Alt names: Defeat
Keywords: Selfishness, hostility, irrationality, self-preservation
View more versions
(password protected)

Range of meanings

Light: Acting in your own best interest. Choosing to stand up for yourself. Not backing down from disagreement and discord. Taking a stand. Refusing to go along with an unethical plan. Knowing when to bend the rules.

Shadow: Taking advantage of others. Intimidating others. Acting in an unethical manner. Picking fights. Using words to goad others into violence and irrationality. Ignoring rules you’ve agreed to abide by. Looking out for yourself while allowing harm to come to others. Gloating over victory.

Questions to ask

  1. When's the last time you came out on top? What does that say about me?
  2. When the instability of the Five combines with the thoughtfulness of the suit of Swords, logic gives way to irrationality. Rules are shattered, and the whole world turns upside down. What would happen if you broke some rules?
  3. How can I do what’s necessary without making others feel defeated?
  4. What’s the difference between selfish action and acting in my own best interest?


Personal Growth: You can’t win every fight. With this truth in mind, think in terms of how you want to win…and how you want to lose. Rather than be driven by emotion, make conscious choices in both situations. Resolve to be noble in both victory and defeat.

Work: Occasionally, one person’s success will bring about another person’s loss. When you’re the successful one, don’t gloat; be humble. When you suffer the loss, don’t despair; pick up the pieces and move on. Don’t drive yourself crazy asking “Why?” Breaking a rule may prove to be the key to innovation.

Relationships: It’s crazy to think that one person in a relationship deserves more pleasure or power than the other. Balance must be restored. You’re not thinking clearly now, so back off and rethink your approach. Take care of yourself, but try to do so without hurting those you love most.

Spirituality: Suffering is a fact of life. How does your spiritual path deal with the reality of suffering or the pain of inequality? It’s easy to be spiritual when all is well. Insulate yourself from instability by thinking—in advance—of how you’ll deal with adversity when it comes your way.

Fortune-Telling: Someone is stealing from you, financially or romantically. Be wary of friends who talk behind your back.


Astrological: Aquarius

Planet: Venus

Fool's Journey: Others are shocked or angered by the main character's apparently irrational actions. Alternatively, the Main Character must take an action that will cause pain for his or her loved ones.

The Number 5: The Catalyst: instability, resistance, confrontation, evolution. The number representing humanity (head, arms, and legs).

Swords: One of the four suits of the tarot. Also sometimes called blades, knives or athames. Represents logic, objectivity, intellect, and choice. Along with the responsibility such talents bring. Swords suggest logic, clarity, and decision-making. Remember the story of wise King Solomon, who once offered to slice a baby in half in order to resolve a dispute over motherhood? Swords cut through confusion, revealing our agendas in the process.

Stolen Swords: Many see the figure in the foreground of RWS-influenced 5 of Swords as a thief, stealing swords at the expense of his associates. Just remember: victory achieved through dishonesty robs you of your integrity, and often causes some retribution to bounce back in the future.

Smug Figure: The knight depicted on many versions of the 5 of Swords appears to be gloating over his triumph. How we act when we get our way reveals a lot about our character.

Content generously licensed from Mark McElroy via TarotTools.com.