Five's in Tarot are hard. They depict loss, sadness, treachery, arguments, and difficult times. Or do they? See, that's one of the problems with scenic pips, such as seen in the Rider Waite Smith decks and their generative offspring. Fives are complex and often only a few facets of this number can be illustrated on any given tarot card. The main thing to remember about the fives is this: Change. Sometimes change is difficult, which is why, I think, so many of the fives feature challenging scenes. But five really does encompass so much more than that.
Fives signify adventure, change, freedom, exploration, and expansion. It is the number of the curious, the experienced, the knowledge seeker and the knowledge teacher, the traveler, and the one with grand imagination who is child-like and playful. Huh? Five? Yes. The Major Arcana V is the Hierophant, the knowledge teacher, the experienced one who leads initiates into new experiences and exploration. While we don't often see him as adventurous, he is the one who ushers fresh new minds and eyes into mysteries. He guides the adventures that bring change and growth. Often we see him as one too entrenched in rules and rigidity to possibly be someone who brings freedom, but he is the one who instructs and disciplines so that the mind and self can be free to explore new things. Think of it this way: if he teaches a person to read, then how much freer to explore is that person who once could not read books? See? There is a whole lot more to fives than you may have thought.
Five is the number of the human being. The human body forms a pentagon when arms and legs are out stretched. The pentagon is endless, sharing the symbolism of perfection and power of the circle. Five is a circular number as it produces itself in its last digit when raised to its own power. The number five symbolizes meditation, religion, and versatility. It represents the five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing). The five pointed star represents individuality, spiritual aspiration, and education. The planet associated in numerology with five is Mercury, the planet that rules commerce, education and communication. Leo is the natural ruler of the fifth house in astrology which has to do with one's creative self-expression, pleasure and entertainment. It includes all forms of play, gambling, pastimes, hobbies, romantic relationships, lovers as opposed to partners, and one's attitude towards having fun. This is where the playful and creative aspect of the number five comes in. This nuance of the five is seen primarily in the Five of Wands, but it can be considered when looking at the other suits as well.
The Five of Swords is, like all fives, a complex card with many possible interpretive meanings. That's the nature of five. Changes can be exciting, painful, stressful, or taken in stride. As this card is of the swords suit, the shake up occuring has to do with thinking, communication, learning, and action stemming from those things. In some ways it is easier to understand this card if not using a scenic pips deck. Moving from the mental respite of the four, the five is ready to strike out utilizing the internal realizations brought on by the three and four. There is conflict here, as illustrated in the odd numbered cards, but also a resolution. How this change of mind affects the querant is dependent upon the circumstances. However, whether one "wins" or "loses" in the conflict one thing is certain: this is the moment of decisive change, for better or worse. Here in the Five of Swords you take your stand, you put forth your truth, your arguments, your newfound as well as your established beliefs and you let the chips fall where they may. In the scenic pips, one will often find illustrated an after-battle clean up where a Page is collecting the fallen swords in victory and two other figures are retreating, reflecting on what has just happened. Changes have occurred for all of them, yet they portray varying attitudes towards the event. In the Rider Waite Smith card, the far figure appears bereft, shoulders hunched with his head in his hands. This has been a hard loss for him signifying a dramatic change that is met with grief. Coming closer to the foreground, the second figure appears less affected by the change. His head is held high and he appears relaxed and confident, possibly reflecting on what has occurred but not really negatively affected by his loss. One might say he's being a "good sport" and taking it all in stride. If this had been a debate, he possibly learned something new and is now thinking on those things and changing his own mind and position on the matter. The figure in the foreground is the clear winner. He is the one collecting the swords for his side in the conflict. In some decks he is shown gloating and smirking, but in others he is merely gazing after the others. One might wonder if this conflict meant loss for the winner, too, possibly a loss of friendship. He took his stand, he fought with integrity, but now the rift between he and the others is glaring and wide. Often this card is seen as "no-win" situation for that reason, that no matter who "wins" there are losses on both sides. Personally, I disagree slightly. I see it as there is much to be gained and lost on both sides. While it's not exactly a draw, there is a clear "winner," changes have occurred all around and it really depends on how one integrates this change into one's thinking and life that determines the ultimate outcome. Sometimes you might be the one with all the swords, the clear winner. Sometimes you will simply drop your sword and walk away, head held high. Other times you will take it hard and the loss will be great. Still other times, you may experience all three attitudes in one situation. In this five, there may be no clear winners or losers, but all involved will have experienced a significant change of mind and circumstances because of the exchange.
In the Five of Cups, the sadness and grief is palpable. We often cringe when this card appears for its pain is almost suffocating. However, when looking at just the suit and the number, the card doesn't have to always mean that the emotional change is grief-producing, though it often is. Our deepest emotional growth is often a result of those dark emotional times. In this five, the querant has descended from the withdrawal of the four to reflect more deeply on what he truly feels about what he has done and experienced. With this reflection in the waters of his emotional life and relationships with others, he regrets much. He feels the loss of opportunities and connection with those he loved and loves. However, a deep emotional change isn't only the result of grief and loss, but of life events that mature one's emotions in other ways. I experienced a profound change in my feelings upon becoming a mother for the first time. In some ways you might say it was a loss. I would never not be a mother again. I was moved to the heights and depths of emotion with this experience and it brought deep and permanent changes to the way I feel about myself and others. So, emotional change, expansion and growth doesn't necessarily have to be accompanied by deep loss, depression, or grief, though it often is. The result of this change is indicated in the RWS card by the cups that remain upright and the bridge in the background that takes the figure over the emotional waters and to a further destination. In the fives one is never stuck but in flux. These are truly snapshots in time, a moment in the middle of what may seem at the time to be very unstable and chaotic, but which lead to significant resolution, growth and change.
The Five of Wands is the only five in the pictoral decks that doesn't cause gut-clenching. The scene depicted is often playful, competitive, somewhat confusing and chaotic, but there are no high stakes here. The youths are engaging in a mock battle with sticks, attempting to best one another. This card brings out the fun aspect of the fives and with it the varying attitudes people have towards games of chance, competition, and play. Wands represent the active, creative force behind our actions, and so can represent our inner attitudes as well. Some people take games unduly seriously, as if their lives depended on winning. For some, a game is not just a game and the end result can seriously impact how they feel, think and act. Egos can get wrapped up in even a sport or supposedly "fun" competition, so the outcome of this game and how it affects each person may be different depending on one's attitude, drive, and personality. We've all seen how angry someone may become in the midst of heated competition and we've heard the stories of the sometimes lethal and dangerous outbursts over what most view as "just a game." So while this five may appear to be nothing more than, at most, petty bickering or squabbling, it can at times have profound impact depending on the attitudes of one or more of the players. Again, this card is a snapshot in time taken in the middle of the skirmish. The change is occuring and what happens ultimately depends on how you play the game.
The Five of Pentacles should also be viewed through the lens of suit and number in order to prevent being restricted by the sometimes limiting scene of deprivation and poverty on the card. This five represents change in material circumstances. I think the reason so many decks depict a scene of loss is because it is a natural consequence of the four's withholding, sometimes greedy stance. However, that's only one possible consequence of the four. The four is stable and from that stability could, possibly, come change of an opposite, beneficial nature, depending on the circumstances. To be fair, the scene in the RWS does suggest that things could turn around for the impoverished subjects. The stained glass window behind them hints that relief and help is in their reach. Because, again, this is a snapshot in time between the four and the six, the figures must come to their own solution, their own recognition of need and accept the help offered, which can be seen in the Six of Pentacles. Yet again, often our greatest times of change and growth come from loss and the hardship it brings. Many lessons are learned and both internal and external changes occur. The limitation of the pictoral representation of the RWS-based Five of Pentacles is that it doesn't appear to allow for a "reversal of fortune" in a positive direction. Imagine someone already scraping the bottom of the barrel when this card is revealed. Rather than suggesting their material circumstances will become even more dire, this card is pointing to a material change in those circumstances and if you're at the bottom, the only direction to go is up. Subtly, this message can be seen in the card image whereas if the figures would simply literally look up, they would see the church window and its refuge. Yet naturally we tend to focus on the stark scene of want and misery, the outcast, the rejected ones left out in the cold. Focusing on the symbolic meaning of the number five allows the reader to understand that this card doesn't have to be taken so literally, though it certainly can and is often accurately read that way. Still, remembering that fives show a period in process, in the middle of the mixed up, shifting change allows us to understand that anything can happen, both positive and negative. Most likely, it will be a combination of both. When it all shakes out and the dust settles, much will have happened that has brought about a significant change and growth in your life. The Five of Pentacles focuses more on the external, material changes of the event, but these material changes often have a huge impact on internal, spiritual changes as well.
Complex, dynamic, confusing, and often chaotic, fives represent the very human life experiences that produce growth and change on many levels in our lives. They are a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. Good or bad, they get our adrenaline pumping and give us a heightened sense of attention to the microcosm of our own lives. Now you might see why the necessity of the fours. If you're in a five time, you may be really appreciating that you had that brief respite before all hell broke loose.
Morgan Greer Tarot copyright US Games.
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