RWS The 5s

Learn Tarot – Putting The Pieces Together

We now have an understanding of the elements plus the numerological associations.  How do we combine these to determine the meaning of a card?

RWS 5 of Wands

Let’s take the 5 of Wands (pictured right).

Q: What are the basic associations of Wands (the fire element)?
A: Passion, Adventure, Creativity, Exploration.

Q: What are the numerological associations of the number 5?
A: Conflict, Loss.

Combining the above we clearly have a conflict, people pulling in different directions, perhaps creative differences or an argument regarding what path to follow.

Congratulations, you’ve just unlocked a significant part of the tarot!

But, can the basics really be this simple?

Let’s compare the 5 of Wands with another 5 – how about the 5 of Cups?  We’d expect to see aspects of conflict or loss, right?

RWS The 5s
Whereas the 5 of Wands depicts an actual struggle, the 5 of Cups shows …. a more emotional struggle.  What do cups represent?  Emotion?  Love?  Empathy?  Who’d have thought it!

The figure stands, head lowered and 3 cups are knocked over – spilling their contents.  The figure looks troubled.  It’s that same conflict but this time internalised; an emotional conflict.

We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to compare other numbers across all four suites.

Now, we said in a previous article that learning the underlying associations was not only the quickest method but the best method.  We also said this allowed the reading of any deck – including pip decks.

Let’s imagine you have The Tarot of The Witches.  You draw the 8 of Swords.

This is a great time to talk about the suit of Swords.  It is true that the numerological associations repeat across all 4 suites.  However, those who have studied this pattern in detail may have noted that the suit of Swords turns these meanings on their head.  With this in mind, let’s continue!

Pip Card 8 of Swords

We no longer have any visual clues.  But we know that Swords (air element) are associated with thoughts, intellect and conflict.   We know that the number 8 indicates action or creation, turning ideas into reality.

Using our previous understanding we may think this relates to the querent “putting ideas into practice”.   But, we’ve just learnt that the suits of Swords turns the meanings on their head – as the Swords love conflict – they’re Swords after all!

That leaves us maybe thinking the querent is at the stage where they *could* be putting ideas into practice but feel unable to do so.  Perhaps they have internal conflict which is preventing them from seeing a way forward?

Shall we check how Patricia Coleman-Smith illustrated the 8 of Swords on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck?

RWS 8 of Swords

What do we have here?  A figure, bound and blindfolded, surrounded by a cage of swords.  Only, if she could remove the blindfold she would see that it’s not a complete cage;  she need only to walk forward to be free.  The querent may feel trapped  or unable to act when really there is a clear way forward.  It’s an inverted or ‘blocked’ 8;  the feeling of inability to create action.

We see here that even though the Swords twist the meaning of the numerical association – our understanding still holds.  We also read the meaning of the card in The Witches Tarot without artwork to prompt us – even if that artwork may provide a deeper insight or useful visual prompts for the reader.

It really does help to lay the cards out and compare each value (ace to 10) across the suits and in reference to the numerological associations.  Note both the similarities between the suits and the differences – especially with the suit of Swords.

Also, note how the numbers ace to 10 can form a story.  The 3s are an early achievement, a celebration – something to give people confidence to continue.  This leads to the 4s – where people start putting down strong foundations.  Those foundations and confidence may cause conflict with others (5s) which will ultimately take new skills to resolve – learning to work and communicate with others (6s) etc.   See how you can not only draw meaning from the card in front of you but where it fits in the story.

If you’ve come this far – well done.  In just a few articles we’ve not only learnt the meanings of the 56 minor arcana but also how to view these individual cards as part of a much bigger picture.

Next, we’ll consider reversals before moving on to an example reading: Learn Tarot – Reversals


  • Eric C. Friedman

    I think the Swords get a bad rap. Many of their old interpretations kind of “glom” together into one ball of dissuasion. But, in these days of Information technology and consumerism, the Swords can be a very nuanced suit, with far less negativity than they have had, traditionally. So, if the 8 represents Maturity &/ore Ripeness (as well as it’s association with the planet Mercury), it’s place in the Swords is actually quite positive. I often interpret it as particular brilliance in communication, especially writing or oratory.

    Nevertheless, Swords are – for me – still the suit of legal matters, contracts, etc. Qabalistically, the 3 and 10 are both cards of Decision, Finality, and – to a certain extent – Severity. Thus, these two cards can often be an unwelcome legal decision, or a final contract with restrictive conditions. But, by the same reasoning, they could mean publishing, but with editorial input &/or correction.

    It’s all relative.

    • Hi Eric,

      Thank you for your comment! I think you’ve made some great points.

      I think your right that they get a bad rap. I’ve heard of some people actually gasping out loud when they draw swords (never a helpful way to reaction when reading for someone else). For me it’s more about the way you relate the information given to the sitter. I think the swords meanings might be more on the gloomy side when taken at face value but actually they give the most useful advice on how to overcome a situation. Once you know where the problem is, you can focus on moving forward in a healthy way.

      Plus I think there’s a lot of strength in the swords. There might be difficult things going on but the swords remind you to actually get got on and deal with the issues you’re facing rather than procrastinating. They remind us that the power lies with us to change our situation.

      I love how we all draw different significance from the cards. It’s the same image but we all interpret it slightly differently so I love to hear about others interpretations. It helps me improve my own practice.

      Happy reading!


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