How we read the Five of Swords will depend on whether we associate ourselves with the victor or the defeated parties. If we feel it’s the former then, although this can indicate that we have triumphed and got what we thought we wanted, this win has not brought us the joy we had hoped it would. Perhaps we have begun to realize the cost to others that has been the price of our success.
In the majority of cases, in a reading, we will identify with the figures in the background that have lost their Swords: in their gait, there is a suggestion of humility as well as defeat, and this is a feeling that we all have experienced at some point in our lives.
The message of the Five of Swords is often that we are best served by picking our battles carefully and being wary that we don’t develop a ‘winning at all costs’ mentality. The card also suggests that, if we have been caught up in a conflict, we should be willing to make amends, and acknowledge and apologize for our wrongs, if we know in our hearts that we have not acted in alignment with our highest selves.
The reversed Five of Swords can be indicative of how we feel once the conflict is over: there may be sorrow, resentment, bitterness, and regret, and the card suggests that we need to work hard to overcome these feelings so that we can move on. The reversed Five invites us to look at ways to realign ourselves: this could be through forgiveness - of ourselves or others - or through figuring out how to turn a ‘win at all costs’ mindset into an ‘everyone wins’ mindset. The most important thing to realize is that, right now, there is a chance to change, and to turn the situation around, however hard this may seem.
The Five of Swords shows not the battle, but its aftermath. It tells us to remain mindful of the effects of conflict and that we should never sacrifice our essential selves and core values to come out as the victor.