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The better side of the Five of Wands

February 9, 2014

There are no “good” cards or “bad” cards; they all have a spectrum of meaning.  Here are some thoughts about positive aspects of a card that is typically seen as being negative. 

Five of Wands -- Tarot of the MastersThe Five of Wands is commonly considered to be a sign of conflict, strife, and chaotic energy.  It may indicate a group in which there is an unfortunate lack of leadership, or it may signify a no-holds-barred conflict, as in the saying “all is fair in love and war.”  When interpreted more introspectively, it can depict what is called monkey mind: those distracting, chattering thoughts that that agitate us as they jump around in our heads.  In a more mundane context, it may just say that someone is having a hectic day.  None of this sounds very good, of course, but there actually are better aspects to this card than this suggests.

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the strife inherent in life, we may create something wonderful out of the chaos, and this is especially true when we are able to look at conflicts and disagreements within a group of people and find common ground there.  Considering this suit’s association with elemental fire, we can see that the creative energy of each individual within a group has the potential to fuel either the chaos or the creative engine of an endeavor. The preferred goal, then, is to unify and focus everyone’s efforts in order to harness their energy creatively instead of letting it run wild and become destructive. And in that, we find a great piece of advice in this card: always look for common ground so that we may see how people can work together instead of at cross purposes.  Such a change of perspective can alter the dynamics of a situation from contention to cooperation, and that changes its energy from destructive to constructive.

RWS 2.0 Five of WandsThe RWS version of the Five of Wands exemplifies this ambiguity of interpretation.  Is it about conflict, competition, or cooperation?  Sometimes the five men depicted on this card may seem to be fighting, but at other times they may look like they are engaged in a healthy competition, perhaps playing a game.  In fact, the men on this card also may seem like they are cooperating to create or build something. It’s all in how you look at that picture.

Robert Place portrays this idea of creatively channeling disparate energies quite well in his Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. In the LWB for that deck, he says, “The Hand — touching five staffs with its fingers represents creative energy, the flow of creativity, or hand work.”  Also, in the book that accompanied his Alchemical Tarot deck, he wrote: “Five is the number of creativity … The fire is the energy and enthusiasm directed into the project.” Sevenfold Mystery Five of Staffs

But even if we do see this card as representing conflict (either internal or external), we must realize that this is not always bad.  For one thing, this can indicate an effective agent of change.  To quote an old culinary saying, “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”  (Just be sure that you aren’t merely breaking eggs.)

There are also some ways in which a conflict can be good for you.  For example, the conflict represented by this card might represent some infighting within a group that opposes you, and that could be a good thing for you.  Conflict can also have positive health implications.  For example, in her book, The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, Mary K. Greer says that this card “can indicate antibodies fighting off infection.”  Similarly, it can say that someone or some group is fighting hard for you, such as your doctor or lawyer, perhaps.  Or it might represent a case where you (and, perhaps, some allies) need to get more serious about fighting against an enemy.  Mary K. Greer also calls the Five of Wands the “committee card” meaning that you should “test your ideas through conflicts and disagreements with others.”

This card also may represent an internal struggle as you work to overcome a problem such as addiction, depression, or low self-esteem.  This is good because you can’t win such a fight unless you engage in it. Thus, this card may be offering the advice to start fighting the good fight or to fight harder and not give up.

Sometimes the conflict in this card just represents the niggling little day-to-day struggles of life.  However, even though we may not realize it while they are bothering us, even those struggles may have value; we can grow and improve for having dealt with them.  We should also remember that such irritations provide us with opportunities to practice our ability to deal with problems so that we can come out on top if or when bigger problems arise.

The Five of Wands may also represent a passionate participation in life, or a need to cultivate such an involvement.  It may say that you need to shake things up a bit in your life.  In other words, don’t sit on the sidelines; jump into the fray. Similarly, it might advise getting involved in something important and finding a cause that you care about enough to fight for it.

Finally, we may see an element of danger in this card. But danger can be exciting, so this might suggest a somewhat risky activity that brings excitement into your life, like maybe skydiving, water skiing, or fire walking.

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”  

You can find more blog posts about the other side of the cards listed here:  

And if you want to further explore this or any other Tarot card, you can find links to a wealth of card meanings here





  1. Wow! I really appreciate this concept. It helped me to see more of the imagery that is already in my specific deck. In my deck I see two forces going different directions, yet it seems they return back with the wands that they go out and find, to share amongst each other.

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