Into the fray: the Fives in tarot

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Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article tells you how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc

By Sarah Taylor

When we looked at the Fours last month, we were met with the sense of being away from the action. The Fours describe a pause, whether obligatory or of one’s own choosing, where there is a call to take stock. In the Fives, we are thrust back into life… and into a different world from the one that we left in the Threes.

Five of Wands and Five of Cups - RWS Tarot deck.

The Five of Wands and the Five of Cups from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck. Click on the image for a larger version.

The Fives in tarot represent those moments where we find ourselves in some form of ensnarement — physical, mental or emotional. The smooth, well-worn path has given way to potholes and low-hanging branches. The environment seems unwelcoming.

This is the first time since we first looked at the Aces that conflict has made a significant appearance in each suit. Yes, we’ve had moments of conflict; but the Fives are defined by it. When we move from the realm of non-incarnate potential (the Aces) and into the world of duality (the Twos), we have bound ourselves to the experience of contrast. Perhaps conflict is inevitable. Perhaps what we do with it isn’t.

Five of Wands

Five men are gathered on open ground, engaged in some sort of confrontation with each other. There is nothing in the background to situate them in any particular landscape. It is, simply, them, and their Wands.

A few things strike me when I look at what I’ve just described. First, the men are not dressed for battle. They are brightly clothed — fashionable, even; and although one of them is wearing chainmail, there is no other sign of armour, nor are there any swords.

Second, the group seems to be split into two informal sub-groups: the two men at the back, and the three at the front. Apart from that, however, there seems to be little organisation, and there is no discernible leader.

Third, they are young. Their legs are long and lithe; there isn’t a strand of facial hair among them. The card smacks of, if not foolishness, then inexperience.

In last weekend’s tarot reading, which included the Five of Wands, there were some comments about the Wands’ configuration, and the suggestion that they were striving to form a pentacle. I would agree. The pentacle is a symbol long associated with magic. Is this an indication, then, of the potential for magic — the magic that comes from harnessing creative energy, or spirit? However, it remains just that: potential. Whether due to inexperience, a lack of organisation, an absence of, or an inability to make, a concerted effort, the pentacle remains unformed. Is there a resolution? Will anyone stand down? The outcome is unclear.

Five of Cups

A figure (I’m going to assume masculine given the short hair) stands with his back to us, cloaked in black, shoulders hunched. In front of him are three overturned Cups, their contents spilled onto the ground; behind him are two upright Cups. A black line separates man and cups from the background of grey sky, river, bridge and stone building flanked by shrubs.

Why the black line? The first thing that comes to me is that the man and the Cups are on a stage, while the background is a painted backdrop. If this is the case, then how might this be interpreted?

The Five of Cups is about disappointment. The figure looks utterly defeated, his head bowed as if he is gazing on the three Cups, the contents of which are now lost to him. The black cloak reflects the mood: it is the most dominant aspect of the card, and envelopes the man.

However, look at the contents of the spilled Cups. Two of the pools are red, suggesting either wine or blood; the one nearest us is green. It feels like putrefaction. Did blood necessarily have to be sacrificed in order to get rid of whatever it was that was rotten? (I cannot get the image of Hamlet out of my mind here: the man, the play within a play. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”)

Be that as it may, the figure doesn’t seem to have noticed what is behind him. Two Cups remain, standing like guardian angels, one on either side of him. Add to this the submission that he is on a stage, and the picture becomes clearer: the man has become caught up in the drama to the point that he fully identifies with it. There is room for little else in his consciousness. He has forgotten that resources remain that he can draw from. He has forgotten that, like a play, the pain will pass, the lights will come up, and he will be released from his anguish.

Five of Swords

Five of Swords and Five of Pentacles - RWS Tarot deck.

The Five of Swords and the Five of Pentacles from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck. Click on the image for a larger version.

A figure stands in the foreground, three Swords in hand and a smile on his face, while two unarmed figures are seen in the background, one with his face in his hands as if crying. Above, blue sky is interrupted by jagged, grey clouds, and beneath, a body of water ripples gently, both separated by a thin strip of land.

This does not feel like a harmonious card, primarily because of the figure in the distance. Is it at his expense that the man in the foreground is smiling? I think so.

The Five of Swords speaks of our decision to take more than others believe is due to us. The main protagonist already has three Swords; and it is implied that he will also take the two Swords lying at his feet. His smile could be satisfaction, or it could be smugness — it depends on how the card is interpreted in a wider reading. Regardless, this decision is one that he has made alone, and it is not without consequences. This is echoed in the landscape: the clouds are skewed and sharp, much like Swords themselves. Is there a storm in the offing? The water is calm and uniform, as if emotions are flattened. Thought and action dominate heart, and there is no sign of closure.

Five of Pentacles

A man and a woman — both poorly dressed, one barefoot, the other on crutches — make their way through the snow. Behind them stands a church, evidenced by a large, stained-glass window containing five Pentacles that seem to glow through the gloom outside.

I have read that the Five of Pentacles denotes the idea of ‘poverty consciousness’, and I’m inclined to fall in with this interpretation. Yes, the couple outside seem bereft of material resources: they are under-dressed, probably undernourished and in poor health. The man looks at us, the woman down to the ground before her feet. Yet if they were to consider the possibility that there is somewhere else worth looking, they would see the warmth emanating from the Pentacles right next to them. As with the figure in the Five of Cups, they miss the obvious.

The card suggests that the material world is inextricably tied to our spiritual lives and that we cannot feed the body if we aren’t able to feed the soul. Without the second, we are constantly in a place of need with the first. The formation of the Pentacles emphasizes this, connected as they are by something that closely resembles an anchor. And it is an anchor that is grounded in leaves and flowers: true richness encompasses nature and works within its laws.

Seen collectively, the Fives can come across as an exercise in frustration. There is much discomfort with seemingly little resolution: more than the Threes or the Fours, they tend to beg the question: “What happens next?” If we can hold the energy of the uncertainty without the need for closure, then perhaps that in itself is a way forward.

Sarah Taylor

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5 Responses to Into the fray: the Fives in tarot

  1. Sarah Taylor sarah taylor says:

    Thank you all for your comments here.

    Jere – your interpretations are so different from mine, and it is truly valuable to have these additional angles brought in. The more facets, the more the cards shine, so thank you.

    … and women in the Wands? Hmmm!

  2. Jere says:

    ..After further reflection on the 5 of cups I want to add,.. “the morning after the ‘pre’-party”. Now, with a bit of a hangover, the character must journey to the ‘big’ party. I would associate the “Oh shit! What did I do?”, more with the 7 of cups, where as the 5 is a bit less intense although quite the moving/action card.


  3. awordedgewise awordedgewise says:

    Thank you Sarah. I’m not able to catch up just yet, but wanted to know your work here is appreciated.

  4. Jere says:

    ..Cups,.. 5.. after the ideal party there’s the morning after: what did I do?..

    ..backstep, WANDS, they’re all chicks, except perhaps the dude in the lower right hand corner.. although I’d say, perhaps she’s just a stout built woman. (Our genetics, as a species, are Truly altering..)

    Swords are children, pure and simple. This cat is using his mind to advance his ‘thoughted’ cause. Swords (mentality/logic/ the abyss) always leads to Ruin.

    Pentacles, 5,.. after the idea has been solidified is there not work to be done.? And, is that work not going to take some ‘hardcore’ effort to ‘induce’? These cats know it’s a long hard row. They’ve seen the plans (the blueprint was an exhausting project), they’ve taken the hits, now, in material form, they Understand that there are physical limitations within incarnations but, these screwballs have determination,.. NO limitations will impede them from traversing the path. Their Path. Their Own Path.

    Thanks for letting me Play! :)

    I exit with some Grateful Dead, “..unable to dance, I’ll crawl..”

    Love ya all!


  5. marileedawn says:


    How apt that we have found ourselves studying the fives at this particular juncture considering the events of the last week. I am finding the smile of the young man on the 5 of Swords especially unnerving, while the rear figure weeps. What happens next indeed?

    Thank you Sarah for your excellent column on Tarot. I look forward to your insightful contributions and the thoughtful responses of readers. Tarot has been a gift in my life and this column has only made it more so.

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