Old English Tarot
5 of Swords
by Helen Howell
The image on the Old English card is totally different to that which we see on the traditional Rider Waite. The Rider Waite shows us two men walking away defeated while another stands victor holding three of the five swords, while two lay at his feet. This card with its symbolism often makes me think that it’s urging one to work within their limitations, not to take on something they really cannot achieve. But the man who holds three of the swords and has two at his feet also seems to be saying you’ve won, but have you really? After all, the other two are walking away from him. Was it worth it to be alone?
Now the Old English image shows us an image of defeat but not one where the defeated are walking away. We see soldiers with their swords pointing at a group of peasants; one soldier even has his sword raised ready to strike them. This card speaks of aggression to me. Again one asks themselves: Did the peasants mean to confront the soldiers, or did they stumble upon them by accident? Who we identify with in this image alters the way we may choose to interpret the card.
If we identify with the group of peasants, then the card speaks of defeat and talks about evaluating a situation and acknowledging the limitations of it before making a decision about whether to go ahead or not. Remember, this is the Swords suit and the energy comes from the Air element which is expressed through thoughts, mental activity and communication. It’s all about how we think and how we act on those thoughts.
If we identify with the soldiers, then the card speaks of winning, of an aggressive approach to achieve what you want. But remember: If the soldiers kill the peasants, the question that then begs answering is, at what cost was winning and was it worth it?
I think the one thing the Old English shows us, that is more subtle in the Rider Waite card, is that it could just simply represent facing one’s competitors. What both cards do ask of you, if it comes up in a reading, from what I can see, is that it is how you use your thoughts and what strategies you put in place that can, if not well thought out, isolate you from others. In short, what both cards’ message is fundamentally about appears to be facing up to your situation in a realistic way.
Conquest, defeat, degradation, facing adversaries.
Reversed: Uncertain outcome, weakness, possible misfortune.