As a reminder, the suit of swords is driven by masculine energy and channels the power of the intellect and mind, including all the concepts, knowledge, and beliefs that it holds. Scholars and academics have connected the suit of swords to the classical element of air, and most of the cards from that suit embody the symbolic attributes of this element, one way or another.
Five of Swords card: Traditional meanings
The Five of Swords in a tarot reading is one of several cards that can hint or warn about some upcoming conflict. Contrary to the rather happy face of the main character in the illustration, this conflict is not really about who wins or who loses, but about the conflict itself and what happens as it runs. Pride can overtake reason and lead to the escalation in the conflict that will leave everyone all the worse for it.
Upright: Conflict, disagreements, losing sight of the original matter, and aggression.
Reversed: Escalation, Pyrrhic victory, and bad consequences.
Upright Five of Swords card
There are three visible characters in the Ride-Waite Smith tarot deck version of the five of swords. Two of them are in the process of leaving the scene, moving towards the background, head down in shame and defeat. In the suit of Swords, this main character in the foreground has a proud smile on his face. He seems to be collecting swords, two piled up on his shoulder, a third on his right hand, and two more on the floor.
You can easily imagine the scene that came before the one displayed on the card. There probably was a kind of friendly (or not so friendly) sword fight between the protagonists, and the one collecting swords is the one who won.
It would be more correct to say that the main five of swords meaning is not really positive, or negative, but neutral. It represents a conflict between various parties, a clash of opposing viewpoints with no real opening to find common ground.
The main element to be taken from such a meaning is that the eventual outcome of this conflict is less important to the overall message of the reading than the presence of the conflict itself (It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey…).
Another important nuance of this card from the Minor Arcana is that the subject of the reading stands on their own for this conflict. There is no notion of team or “sides” fighting together.
Reversed Five of Swords card
A reversed five of swords in a tarot spread further enhances the potential ruin and destruction brought by the sense of conflict in the card. Win or lose, the nature and consequences of that conflict will make it a loss for everyone in the end, like a kind of Pyrrhic victory.
The final negative undertone of the five of swords comes from the potential loss of honor and self-respect coming after the conflict itself once the subject realizes all the things he or she was ready and willing to do in the name of victory in this conflict. When you lose part of your identity and values during a conflict, even when you win it ends up being a loss, overall.
Five of Swords and love
When you draw the five of swords in a love-based tarot spread, it usually warns you about a serious conflict about to happen in your love life. Just like the “no winner” conflict detailed above in the more generic five of swords meaning details, in context it generally means that no one will readily admit being wrong in this conflict, and will have a hard time projecting themselves in the other person’s shoes to try and see their side of the argument.
This is an encouragement to take a step back and remember what is important in that relationship. Do not let pride and dishonor lead to the eventual ruin of the relationship, because it probably won’t be worth it overall.