The Five of Swords asks ‘what have you really won?‘
It shows the moments after a painful battle – the victor gathering their spoils, the swords of the defeated, who slump off in the background, clearly upset. Whilst this card can tell you that, if you fight hard enough, you can win your battle, it raises questions about your motivations. What kind of victory is this? The victor isn’t riding home with their army to an adoring crowd, as in the Six of Wands. They look shifty and mean – I almost suspect some foul play. Who knows – for me, this card asks ‘is this fight worth it? What are you trying to achieve?’ – and questions whether I should be entering into this battle at all. It suggests to me that it may not be a fair fight. Someone – perhaps myself, or my opponent, won’t be playing straight.
It also, for me, relates strongly to internal battles, particularly that of the ego over the conscience. It can represent a situation of cutting off your nose to spite your face, or a hollow victory that will soon feel unsatisfying, leaving you with no-one to turn to when your time comes to need support. Perhaps it’s getting one over on a friend who’s pissed you off, even if you end up looking bad, or maybe sabotaging a plan because it wasn’t your own, causing the whole team to fail…including yourself.
The defeated party are a pair – they have each other – whilst the victor stands alone. In the Morgan-Greer illustration above, they are cloaked, whilst in the Waite-Smith, they are grinning grimly. So they won the battle – now what? However they won, whatever they did to gain that win, I think the gloating, victorious feeling will wear off pretty quick and they’ll be carrying those swords and a fair amount of guilt for a long time.