Clouds shaped like daggers are scattered across the sky. In the foreground, a man with smug smile savors his victory over two others, one of whom gazes forlornly at the horizon while the second puts his head in his hands. Their swords lay at the feet of their enemy, the spoils of their dispute. Although the victor seems pleased with himself, there are no winners here. The silver lining is revealed by the mountains and their decreasing size, a sign that the worst is behind them.
Main Interpretation: Rage, Frustration, Self-Critique
If you're averse to conflict - like me - then this card makes your heart sink. It can signal an argument or dispute that has developed in your world, one in which there seems to be winners and losers. Even if you're on the victorious side, the card suggests it will not feel all that great. After all, when you've won the argument but your adversary is in tears, how good do you really feel?
That said, there are varying degrees of anger, so things may not be that bad. For this reason, this is a card best paired with at least one other. For instance, the 5 of Swords next to the Ace of Wands would signal a quick transition from anger to positive initiation. In this case, perhaps the argument was needed for something new to emerge. Another example would the be the 5 of Swords with the Hermit. This might signal an internal conflict that requires serious thought and introspection to resolve. As we'll see below, when paired next to more apocryphal cards like Death, the Moon, or the Tower, the worst aspects of the 5 of Swords come through in the most hurtful and maddening ways.
When reversed, the card tends to indicate one of three things for me: 1) the feelings are internal and probably signal self-criticism or low self-esteem; 2) the anger is amplified to suggest a full blown feud - if this card appears during a family holiday, you'd best bring the earplugs!; 3) this is only a spat and will quickly fade away. As always, the cards lying next to it and your intuition will reveal the true meaning.
Example: Why Is God Punishing Me?
A younger client once came to me asking me for a reading on her future. Not revealing anything more, I started to pull her cards - the 5 of Swords, the Moon, the 3 of Swords...I looked into her eyes and said, "My Dear Girl, what is tearing at you?" With that question, the tears started to flow. She had been locked in a frustrating cycle of disappointment and she was starting to lose all hope.
My client revealed what had been happening. She was in her last year of high school and had been going through the process of applying to different colleges. A stellar student, she expected to get into a few top-tier schools, which would be enough to give her a choice of where to go. When her first pick came back negative, she sighed but understood. That school had always been a stretch for her, so that was okay. She would get over it. When her second choice came back with a "no, thank you", she cried a little bit, feeling the sting of rejection slightly more. When the third college's letter started with "we regret to inform you," a deep fear started to rumble inside of her - was she going to get in anywhere? Then when the fourth rejection letter arrived at her door, she came unhinged.
She was experiencing a low point like she had never known. But it wasn't just a feeling of sadness (3 of Swords), she was also enraged (5 of Swords). She looked at me point blank and asked, "Why is God punishing me? What does He want from me?" and then exclaimed, "I'm so mad at HIM!"
Looking for some quick sign of reassurance in the cards that followed, I could not help but see how the 5 of Swords was latched onto the Moon card. It started to dawn on me that to break free of this darkness, my client would have to wrestle with her daemons. In short, she would need to accept the possibility that she may not get into any school. What would she do then? This was her challenge. To bring peace to her combative heart, she would need to find a new way.
Bottom Line: Anger Happens
To understand the root causes of the 5 of Swords' message, look to the cards around it since the feelings it represents are rarely isolated phenomena. Then ask Spirit for ways to move swiftly along. The quicker you and your client can leave this place, the better!