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The better side of the Five of Swords

September 30, 2010

The Five of Swords is one of the cards that people really don’t like to see come up in a reading.  It combines the difficult aspects of the number FIVE (which I call the homework assignments of life) with the stressful suit of Swords. However, there are valuable lessons about dealing with difficult people in this card, and that can give this card a positive spin when it needs it.

First of all, sometimes this card says that it’s best just to walk away from an argument because it’s likely that the other person just wants to argue. Here’s an example of what I mean:

RWS 2.0 Five of SwordsYears ago, someone who was unavoidable in my life constantly wanted to argue about things. He would confront me with a statement like, “What do you think about such-and-such?” where the topic was one that he knew would spark disagreement between us.  An argument would ensue in which he would fire off a stream of talking points (he obviously only asked about things for which he had ample ammunition at the ready), and he would talk over any responses I tried to make. Inevitably, I ended up feeling verbally battered and abused.  (Consider the Rider-Waite-Smith version of this card — I felt like those two guys in the background.) Finally, I wised up and said, “You know, if I thought you really were interested in hearing my opinions on this subject, I’d tell you what they are.  But you don’t. You just want to argue, and I’m not interested in playing that game anymore.” And I walked away, for once not feeling bruised.  This was a Five of Swords moment in a good sense of the card.

In a similar vein, this card says that when a situation becomes hopeless, cut your losses and get out while you can. Sure it’s hard to walk away – it’s an ego thing – but when this card comes up it can tell us that sticking around to argue or fight won’t do any good and may do more than a bit of harm.

Sometimes, however, the Five of Swords indicates that you are the offending party instead of the one who has been injured. Perhaps it’s an indication of the insensitivity or hostility that sometimes contaminates our arguments, or it may be about nasty gossip or petty politics. In any case, the good news is that you can change bad habits like this once you become aware of them, and this card brings such awareness to your life. In this case, its advice is to try to understand the destructive consequences of your bad habits and then to stop yourself from engaging in them. To help you do this, you might consider this question: “Which would I rather be – happy or right?”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that when this card comes up, it’s just telling you to shut up or to surrender.  The important thing is to consider how you are arguing.  Are you arguing abusively — not listening to the other person, belittling their points, or patronizing them when they make a point?  A powerful way to keep yourself from acting like the jerk in the foreground of the RWS Five of Swords is to take to heart one of my favorite quotes from Ram Dass: “Do whatever you need to do, but never put someone out of your heart.”

Finally, I can see another source of encouraging advice when this card comes up. The Five of Swords may indicate that you have (perhaps inadvertently) hurt or wounded someone. That bit of information is valuable, but what do you do with it? To find out, it can help to consider this card’s contra-positive card: the Six of Pentacles. That card is often seen as an indication of charity, but in this context, I can also see it meaning that you need to make amends. Sometimes it’s not enough to just apologize; some sort of atonement may be needed for healing to occur. This will both indicate the depth of sincerity in your apology and it will help you learn to be a better person.


1.  For more perspectives of this card, see an article on this blog that discusses the Five of Swords using several different decks.

2.  See also my post titled Five of Swords as Card of the Day where I discussed some of the good things this card can say when I drew it for my Card of the Day once.

3.  If you want to further explore this card–or any other Tarot card–you can find links to a wealth of card meanings here.

4. For a general discussion about the good side of “bad cards” (and vice versa), see an article that I wrote for the 2007 edition of Llewellyn’s Tarot Reader titled “When Good Cards Go Bad

5. This post has proven to be one of the most popular on my blog, so I have decided to do more of this type:  the “good” side of “bad” cards and vice versa.  Keep your eye on this blog for these new posts, and you can also find them listed here:











  1. This is an interesting aspect of the argumentative side displayed by this card, yet you know I rarely see the card as this, more often than not it seems to be saying to be that one needs to learn to work within the limitations of a situation, whether you identify with the winner or the loosers – you have to ask with the winner has he won at all and with the loosers, did you not think it through first.

    Just another more positive way of reading this card. I wrote an article on the suit of swords for the magazine Spheres in which I titled Suit of Sorrow or the Edge of Opportunity – you see I don’t see the Swords as negative but rather as giving us a chance to re-evaluate the situation.

    Still I do like the points you made James, and I guess for some this card does represent disagreements – it’s just that I haven’t seen it like that in a reading I have done yet.

    • Hi Helen,
      Yes, I realize that everyone has their own particular view of the cards. I enjoyed reading your perspective of this one, and I hope this article provides some food for thought for you too.
      PS: I don’t really see the suit of Swords as “negative” as much as “difficult”… but its difficulties are great opportunities to learn and grow, which is a positive thing.

  2. Davina permalink

    Interesting take for sure, and some great life experiences to call on there for you. I remember when I was taught the tarot many years ago, one thing stuck in mind, and that was the issue of maybe having to eat humble pie and accept we are the ones who need to apologise to step back. If this does apply, the 6 almost brings to mind retreating with head held low showing a humble side to someone who may initially have been a bit of an ass if that makes sense?

  3. Hi Davina,
    “Eating humble pie” is an interesting phrase to associate with this card! Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. I had this card come up recently for me and I had trouble interpreting it, so this helped me out a lot. I have a person in my life who only talks about things they have strong opinions about and isn’t open to any of my criticism or suggestions. All I want is to help this person improve their situation, but they aren’t having it. So maybe this card is saying I need to rethink how I deal with that person.

  5. Nagler permalink

    Hi James,

    In your last example (Five of Swords + Six of Pentacles) where someone may have inadvertently injured another, how can the offending party atone? Is atonement up to the ‘wounded’ party? Or is atonement an inner process….


    • Atonement (to be “at one” with another or with the Divine) can occur on both levels, inner and outer. If possible, though, I think it should occur on the “outer” level as an act of generosity to the “wounded” party, and that will lead to an inner atonement as well.
      By the way, your question reminded me of a spiritual spread in my new book, The Soul’s Journey. It is a three card spread and the positions are as follows:
      1. What should you express gratitude for in this relationship?
      2. What do you need to apologize or atone for?
      3. What should you forgive? (Or, what do you need to forgive yourself for?)
      PS: See this blog post that I just uploaded:

      • Nagler permalink

        James, thank you for your reply and for the spread. I appreciate both very much.

  6. Depending the position of this card, can have a meaning or other. I like this card

  7. What you published made a bunch of sense. However, what about this?
    suppose you were to create a killer post title? I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to
    run your website, but what if you added a headline to possibly grab people’s attention? I mean The better side of the Five of Swords | James
    Ricklef’s Tarot Blog is a little plain. You ought to look at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create news titles to get people to open the links.
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    • I think the title and look are perfect for the topic and for the serious readers who use these pages!

  8. Carol permalink

    I’m planning to move to another city where I don’t know anyone to go to school in the fall. I asked for 2 cards to tell me if things are going to work out there and I got the 5 of Swords and The Hermit. I interpreted it as I’m going to feel isolated and there will be conflicts (maybe with my family at home that doesn’t want me to move). Can you see anything positive in the association of these 2 cards or is it really telling me I’m going to have a hard time?

    • Hi Carol,
      First, let me say that I never reinterpret someone else’s reading because I was not there to be a part of the energy of the original reading. That said, my suggestion is for you to read this article about other side of the 5 of Swords and look through my pithy meanings for the Hermit (see a listing of them here: to see if something rings a bell for you. Trust your ‘gut instinct’ / intuition as you read through the possible card meanings; when a meaning suggestion feels right, go with that.
      PS: If you do want a reading from me, I can do email readings and my rates are very reasonable. See:

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Five of Swords — Spiritual Message of the Day « James Ricklef's Tarot Blog
  2. Gratitude and Forgiveness Spread | James Ricklef's Tarot Blog

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