Tarot 101, My Way – Minor Arcana: The Fives

Five is a number of necessary change, usually experienced as chaotic, coming hard on the heels of the complacent Four. I like to call it a “can-opener” or “nut-cracker” that liberates the stale atmosphere of its predecessor and re-establishes momentum; however, its benefit is often recognized only in hindsight. In action it can feel thoroughly disruptive. I also use the aphorism “You can’t make omelets without breaking eggs” to describe its challenging mode of operation. It clears the way of obstacles to restoration of harmony in the Six by flattening everything in its path, taking on the semblance of a bulldozer. Qabalistically, it is associated with the aggressive, single-minded energy of Mars that tolerates no interference and no delay. The tarot cards associated with this number are generally unfortunate, with esoteric titles like Strife, Disappointment, Defeat and Worry, which the art of Frieda Harris captured perfectly in the Thoth deck. Although efforts have been made in current practice to put a good face on the Fives of the RWS deck, they echo these glum themes for the most part. Their appearance in a reading heralds a period of uncomfortable adjustment as old ways of thinking and living are abandoned and new ones take their place. In the Golden Dawn system, the Fives are broadly defined as “Opposition, strife and struggle: war; obstacle to the thing in hand. Ultimate success or failure is otherwise shown” (which I take to mean “shown by other cards in the spread”).

The Minor Arcana: Five of Wands

Titles:

The Lord of Strife

Astrological Correspondence:

Saturn in Leo 1°—10°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Violent strife and contest, boldness, rashness, cruelty, violence, lust, desire, prodigality and generosity; depending on whether the card is well or ill dignified.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Imitation, as, for example, sham fight, but also the strenuous competition and struggle of the search after riches and fortune. In this sense it connects with the battle of life. Hence some attributions say that it is a card of gold, gain, opulence. Reversed: Litigation, disputes, trickery, contradiction.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

(General) “The introduction of the number Five shows the idea of motion coming to the aid of that of matter. This is quite a revolutionary conception; the result is a complete upset of the statically stabilized system. Now appear storm and stress.”

(Specific) “A disturbance is a disturbance; the Five of Wands is called Strife. Being fiery, it is a purely active force. It is ruled also by Saturn and Leo. Leo shows the element of Fire at its strongest and most balanced. Saturn tends to weigh it down and to embitter it. There is no limit to the scope of this volcanic energy.”

Discussion:

In the quest to downplay the negative connotations of this card, modern readers tend to seize upon the mock battle aspects of the RWS version as somehow showing children at play, even though Waite goes on to talk about “strenuous competition and struggle.” It often comes up in employment situations where co-workers are vying for a position or promotion, and suggests the nasty in-fighting that can characterize such occasions. As a rule, I see it as a card of “aggravation” in most situations, especially when a number of individuals are at each other’s throats. The “irritability factor” is very high, and upset of the status quo is common. It can be a useful influence when an enterprise has stalled and needs an emphatic kick in the pants to get moving again (think “management shake-up”). In general, though, it comes across as a rude awakening just when thing seem to be going smoothly. It runs counter to all the civilized rules of human engagement: it is not cordial and it is not tolerant.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘collision of competing ambitions’ card (aka the ‘aggravation’ card),” and a brief list of additional keywords includes disturbance of settled circumstances, disruption, conflict, struggle.

The Minor Arcana: Five of Cups

Titles:

Lord of Loss in Pleasure (Mathers); Disappointment (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Mars in Scorpio, 1°—10°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Death or end of pleasures. Disappointment. Sorrow and loss in those things from which pleasure is expected. Sadness, deceit, treachery, ill-will, detraction, charity and kindness ill-requited. All kinds of anxieties and troubles from unexpected and unsuspected sources.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“It is a card of loss, but something remains over; three have been taken, but two are left; it is a card of inheritance, patrimony, transmission, but not corresponding to expectations; with some interpreters it is a card of marriage, but not without bitterness or frustration. Reversed: News, alliances, affinity, consanguinity, ancestry, return, false projects.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

The Five of Cups is called Disappointment, as is only natural, because Fire delights in superabundant energy, whereas the water of Pleasure is naturally placid, and any disturbance of ease can only be regarded as misfortune. Hence arises the idea of disturbance, just when least expected, in a time of ease. The attribution is also to Mars in Scorpio, which is his own house; Scorpio, in its worst aspect, suggests the putrefying power of Water. Yet the powerful male influences do not show actual decay, only the beginning of destruction; hence, the anticipated pleasure is frustrated.”

Discussion:

The RWS version of this card is a consummate expression of emotional angst. It speaks eloquently of remorse, regret and gloomy resignation. I often see it in the aftermath of failed relationships, where one party is left to clean up the mess. Its energy is too attenuated to show desperation, unless it is the quiet sort; its trauma is more a slow leak of tears than a torrent of pain, as the reality of loss gradually sinks in. My advice to those who have suffered this kind of upset is to “take the best and leave the rest;” they may have to abandon a significant part of their self-esteem as they make their exit but they will be better off eventually. I point them at the two upright cups and the bridge in the distance, tell them to turn around and pick up what remains of their dignity, and move on. What scant encouragement there is in this card depends upon the recognition that all is not lost. There may in fact be salvation in that distant manor once the decision is made to cross the river, not looking back.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘take the best and leave the rest’ card (aka the ‘ashes of remorse’ card)” and a few additional keywords include end of pleasure, anxiety, ill-will, loss or misfortune.

The Minor Arcana: Five of Swords

Titles:

The Lord of Defeat

Astrological Correspondence:

Venus in Aquarius, 1°—10°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Contest finished, and decided against the person, failure, defeat, anxiety, trouble, poverty, avarice. Grieving after gain, laborious, unresting, loss and vileness of nature. Malicious, slandering, lying, spiteful and tale-bearing. A busybody and separator of friends, hating to see peace and love between others. Cruel yet cowardly, thankless, and unreliable. Clever and quick in thought and speech. Feelings of pity easily roused but unenduring. As dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Degradation, destruction, revocation, infamy, dishonour, loss, with the variants and  analogues of these. Reversed: The same; burial and obsequies.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Five of Swords is similarly troublesome; the card is called Defeat. There has been insufficient power to maintain the armed peace of the Four. The quarrel has actually broken out. This must mean defeat, for the original idea of the Sword was a manifestation of the result of the love between the Wand and the Cup. It is because the birth had to express itself in the duality of the Sword and the Disk that the nature of each appears so imperfect. (The Five) as always, produces disruption; but as Venus here rules Aquarius, weakness rather than excess of strength seems the cause of disaster. The intellect has been enfeebled by sentiment. The defeat is due to pacifism. Treachery also may be implied.”

Discussion:

Pamela Colman Smith’s rendering of this card is ambiguous; it isn’t clear who the winner is. The smug-looking man in the foreground appears to be the victor, having routed the two foes in the distance and taken their weapons. However, the Liber T description makes it clear that the decision has gone against the subject of the reading so there is nothing to smirk about. The impression is that the battle may have been won but the war is far from over, and the apparent victory is temporary at best. I like to think that the downcast antagonists fleeing the scene are going to regroup down the road and ambush their cocky adversary even if, like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, they have to bite his legs off. Anyone looking at the card without prior knowledge of the meaning would be forgiven for assuming that it indicates conquest by the querent, not defeat. However, if it is assumed that the foreground figure is the “other” and that the subject of the inquiry has taken a beating and is in retreat, it is easier to see truth in the traditional interpretation. It suggests a “might makes right” scenario in which justice plays no part. The outlook is entirely discouraging.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘might makes right’ card (aka the ‘kick in the pants’ card); a few additional keywords include pain of loss, malice, spite, dishonor, divisiveness, treachery

The Minor Arcana: Five of Pentacles

Titles:

Lord of Material Trouble (Mathers); Worry (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Mercury in Taurus, 1°—10°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Loss of money or position. Trouble about material things. Toil, labour, land cultivation, building, knowledge and acuteness of earthly things, poverty, carefulness. Kindness, sometimes money regained after severe toil and labour. Unimaginative, harsh, stern, determined, obstinate.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“The card foretells material trouble above all, whether in the form illustrated—that is, destitution—or otherwise. For some cartomancists, it is a card of love and lovers—wife, husband, friend, mistress; also concordance, affinities. These alternatives cannot be harmonized. Reversed: Disorder, chaos, ruin, discord, profligacy.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Five of Disks is in equally evil case. The soft quiet of the Four has been completely overthrown; the card is called Worry. The idea is of strangling, as dogs worry sheep. The economic system has broken down; there is no more balance between the social orders. Disks being as they are, stolid and obstinate, as compared with the other weapons, for their revolution serves to stabilize them, there is no action, at least not in its own ambit, that can affect the issue. The Number Five in the suit of Earth shows the disruption of the Elements, just as in the other suits. This is emphasized by the rule of Mercury in Taurus, types of energy which are opposed. It needs a very powerful Mercury to upset Taurus; so the natural meaning is Intelligence applied to Labour.”

Discussion:

There is no comfort to be found in this card; all is consumed in uncertainty. It is coming from a place of power (the Four) and headed for one of material success (the Six), but the way is hard and there is no opportunity for slacking. In the RWS card, the pair of beggars has passed by the church without going in, the implication being that they can’t eat prayers and drink pious posturing, so they are advised to look elsewhere for succor. There is a wide gulf between their world and that of the wealthy clerics. Destitution dogs them, and there is no room for them at the inn. While this isn’t a card of outright failure, it is awash in doubt about the satisfaction to be had from any physical pursuit entertained by the querent. It reminds me of the proverb of the “bad penny;” what you get out of something is only as good as what you put into it, and insufficient effort now could come back to haunt you later. As an investment strategy, it suggests “throwing good money after bad.”

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “the ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ card (aka the ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ card); here are a few additional keywords: nervous strain, anxiety about material things, mental duress.

 

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