Defeat: Dishonor, Selfishness, and Surrender
The Five of Swords. Defeat. Loss. Fall. Discord. Dishonor. Selfishness. Disgust. Ineffectuality. Surrender. Pacifism. The Five of Swords corresponds to the Sefirot of Geburah; the destabilizing motion that upsets the stability of Chesed. The Truce is broken by Discord and Selfishness leading to some form of conflict, and inevitably one is defeated. This card represents both the conflict that leads to the “defeat” of truce and the defeat of an individual. This card is in many ways the unstable version of Truce; instead of a ceasefire on equal terms, this card represents a Surrender on unequal terms. Both cards imply an end to a conflict, but in different ways.
This defeat is brought on by Selfishness and Ineffectuality, with perhaps a lack of will to fight and a sort of Pacifism when you need to stand up and fight, which when combined with Discord, lead a most Dishonorable loss. It is not in the interest of the being who exemplifies the Suit of Swords to give up on his position of Truth and Justice easily, and when he does, he is Dishonored by his inability to do what he believes right, and also by his own Selfishness. This card also can represent the ideals of the Suit of Swords again meeting the world, but this time in the form of greed; and so the ideals of Swords are betrayed and the Swordbearer is defeated.
The Rider-Waite art shows a man in the foreground with a smug, cruelly satisfied look on his face, picking up swords from the ground, presumably dropped by his two comrades, one of whom appears to be grieving. Yet the central figure cares not for his two comrades, and continues to selfishly gather swords. He is thus dishonored and morally defeated in this way. This card also could be read as the central figure having defeated the other two. Either way, there is certainly some sort of discord between the three figures. The Thoth art shows five swords, their points all together and pushing at each other. The swords are bent, indicating great force and conflict as the swords push each other. Around the swords is an inverted pentagram; the balance has been upset. The haphazard lines behind the swords also are reminiscent of broken glass, reinforcing the air of loss and defeat in the card.
In a reading, this card asks you to examine the role of selfishness, dishonor, discord, and even defeat or a refusal to fight when you need to in your life. It asks you to examine your relationship with others; have you been getting along? Are you not standing up for yourself? Have you been selfish? Have you been bested lately? Reversed, this card’s energies are hidden somehow; selfish intentions may be disguised as good ones, or perhaps a defeat is really a victory (or vice-versa). Perhaps one has been dishonored in the face of society, but you still hold your own personal sense of honor high.