In Queering the Tarot, Cassandra Snow takes the most common interpretations and manifestations of the cards and discuss ways you might read them for a LGBTQQIA* client – or for yourself. Read the whole series here!
Queering the Tarot: Five and Seven of Swords
We’ve reached two of the hardest cards to face in the tarot deck: The Five and Seven of Swords represent oppression both large scale and personal. They represent pain, theft, and the feeling of drowning or being trapped in your misery.
All Swords bear the cool, calculating motivation of justice. The Five and Seven are warning you of incoming danger or reminding you of past trauma you aren’t over yet because they want you to work through it in real time and end up on the other side. Painful things obviously hurt, though, and these cards are prime examples of painful times that we have to push past in order to move on.
I’ve chosen to queer these two cards together because I tend to think of them as two different faces of oppression or trauma.
The Five of Swords traditionally represents someone trying to hold you down and prevent you from moving forward or gaining an advantage. This card is arguments, hostility, and tension that builds to an eventual action-filled climax. Except…it doesn’t have to build to that climax. A lot of tarot card images show the presumed seeker walking away from the conflict or deciding this isn’t theirs to deal with. There’s usually a feeling of sadness in the walking away, as if the seeker at hand is sacrificing or giving up too much as they leave.
However, as a queer person this idea leaves me with rays of hope. In a queer reading of this card, we are looking at societal oppression pretty straight in the face. This is when we realize that as LGBTQ+ people there will be people, institutions, entire continents that will never embrace or accept us simply because of who we are. This card is realizing that we will always be fighting and we will still always be oppressed. Or…we could choose to walk away from the fight, developing a tight knit chosen family in a progressive city, for example, and living fully in that. You and a partner could settle down in a cabin in the woods and just not deal with that outside hatred.
The Five of Swords shows that none of those choices is wrong, at all. You could become the strongest, toughest, most cutthroat activist there is. You could also decide “Actually, a lot of this progress looks like assimilation. This isn’t for me,” or “This is too hard, and I can’t do it. Living my life is resistance enough,” and step out of that fight. On a micro scale, not every activist is meant for every fight. Backing out this time doesn’t mean you won’t pick up a sword later, it simply means you can’t justify fighting the good fight right now. That’s one hundred percent fine, and the Five of Swords wants to make us keenly aware of the full range of options ahead of us.
Collective trauma in the Swords suit
I briefly mentioned that in addition to oppression, the Five of Swords can also be about trauma. While I think the Three of Swords and the Seven of Swords hit on specific traumatic events as they happen to us as individuals, there is a real need to identify collective trauma in the tarot as well.
If a sexual assault shows up as the Three or Seven, then the Five of Swords is the rape culture where that assault goes unreported or not taken seriously. If the Three or Seven show an abusive family, a hate crime, losing one’s home/loved one/etc. for racist or queerphobic reasons, the Five is the world that those one-of actions exist in, that fosters and nurtures the “isms” and hatred that make us unsafe and unsupported.
Unfortunately, these are times when walking away may not be possible. Pull an additional few cards to see what the seeker’s options are as they move forward in this time. If it still all comes back to this Five, it might be a call for the seeker to rest before jumping in for justice again or to seek out other survivors dealing with similar types of trauma. At the end of the day, this card still may be a call to move out of that oppressive situation, and whatever your reasons for staying, they may not be enough to justify feeling so trapped for so long.
If the Five of Swords represents oppressive and traumatic outside oppressors and shows us how to deal with them, the Seven of Swords then is individual theft, deception, or betrayal. It is someone or something that steals from you, although likely metaphorically. (It is worth mentioning thought that I once got this card every day for two weeks straight, and then my house was robbed, so please do listen to your gut about these things.) In other words, it is someone stealing energy, time, or pieces of your heart from you.
This is a situation where you can’t really be yourself and are robbed of your autonomy and self-expression. In and of itself, except when super-literal, this is a pretty queer card already. Very few non-marginalized people deal with loss of autonomy or inauthentic self-expression the way that people of color, queer people, disabled folks and marginalized women do. Even so, the specific applications to the LGBTQ+ community in the Seven of Swords come down to microaggressions or specific hurtful situations. The Seven of Swords is your biphobic spouse, your homophobic grandmother, or a doctor who won’t let you start HRT without therapy. It’s an office place that donates to the Pride Festival every year but doesn’t offer health insurance for domestic partners. It’s the well-meaning Dad who says “Don’t tell your grandma though, this will kill her.” It’s all of those things that remind us of larger societal or personal traumas, that compound those messages and leave us feeling boxed in without a voice of our own.
This card is also a warning or a reminder to deal with that hurt and pain in real time, as much as you may want to suppress it. When you are being boxed in or when your voice is being silenced, you have to deal with it right then. The seeker is being called to fight their way out of that box, and to learn to move on from there.
Sometimes in the queer community we are all so hurt and dealing with fighting so many battles that we turn that pain inside out within our own spaces and community.
The Swords are also our cards of words and technology, so this is especially pertinent in online spaces. Call-out culture and infighting absolutely have their place, but that culture can also be toxic or emotionally abusive and usually hits trans people and POC the hardest. This culture can make the querent feel as if their voice doesn’t matter, their trauma is irrelevant or invisible, or that their quest for more education to better themselves is in vain.
With the Five of Swords we’re looking at a situation where it may be time to back out of the argument. Perhaps you really were in the wrong and it’s time to stop fighting and face that reality. Alternatively, perhaps no one is in the wrong, and the situation has become too heated to reach a resolution. There’s a good chance you’re even in the right with the Five of Swords but fighting will not lead to a conclusion right now. It will only lead to more fighting or ending up exhausting you. Take a breathe, decide if this fight is a good idea, and move away from it when you inevitably decide it’s time too.
The Seven of Swords however is a little trickier. This card is less about heat and tension turned inward and more about known abusers (of any kind) and how easily they seem to move through so-called safe spaces so long as they too are queer. The Seven shows the harmful effect this has on the survivor, and unfortunately, to be removed from the path of that abuser, the seeker may have to leave that space, forum, or even close group of friends. This is not a happy or easy card, and so it does not offer happy or easy solutions. If your chosen family is perpetrating emotional abuse or allowing it to go unchecked, it is time to move on. If an online forum offers nothing but silencing and fighting, it may be time to head out. If the romantic relationship that once brought you so much joy when you were young and newly out of the closet now makes you feel trapped or unable to be your full, true, self it is time to end it and move forward with as much vigor as you can muster, albeit a little worse for wear.