As the final card in a very challenging suit, the 5 of Wands marries the volatile unpredictability of the 5 with the element of Fire. Think a towering inferno, or gasoline being poured onto a gently crackling bonfire. What results is chaos; untamed, uncontained, uncontrolled. Here, passion can morph into aggression, what starts out as a friendly game can escalate into a full-blown competition, and a playful sparring between lovers can become a bitter argument. The focus is on competition, action and rivalry – an excess of energy that is expressed through forceful, unhealthy channels.
Decks in classic Rider-Waite style show a group of five young men battling. Neither party appears to be winning, and the scene is rife with chaos and disharmony. Here are some possible scenarios:
(a) A group of friends who started out with the sole intention of having fun but once engrossed in the passion of the game, forgot the spirit of camaraderie among them. The focus for each individual was then redirected towards winning the game, no matter what the cost.
(b) A group of people who have met for the first time and and upon being instructed to work together, realise their differences are far too overwhelming to ever be reconciled in harmony. Instead of working towards the ‘greater good’ of the group, individual egos prevail, leading to a clash of values and beliefs.
(c) Two tribes with a longstanding history of mutual enmity, who battle for sovereignty/ territory/ power.
Which scenario is correct? All are applicable to the 5 of Wands, but what the reader needs to remember when interpreting this card is the underlying reason behind the chaos. It helps to remember what the suit of Wands has domain over: values, beliefs, ambition, power, courage, the ego and motivation, among others.
What is being called into question here? Your principles? Your personal sense of self and power? How much energy are you willing to invest in what going after what you want, and how sure are you that your efforts will produce the results that you desire?
Astrological Association: Saturn in Leo
The Thoth tarot recognises the 5 of Wands as Strife, a state of mind and being in which anxiety and frustrated desire hold sway. Astrologically, Saturn is in its detriment in Leo. Ruled by Sun – the cruelest of all planetary bodies – the Lion wants to roar and to shine, to be petted and feared, reviled and worshiped by all and sundry. Leo thrives on ego gratification, and will seek every opportunity to dramatise and be in perfect, utter control. Leo wants to command and be adored for his ultimate authority – the spoiled, petulant child who thrives on the knowledge that throwing a tantrum will manifest the exact results he wants from parents who both love and despise him.
Saturn, on the other hand, is the complete antithesis to the Lion’s need for validation. Leo represents creative power that demands full expression while Saturn emphasises the need for boundaries. Imagine telling a willful child that he cannot have that extra cookie before dinner, and watch the fireworks start. While Leo extols the virtues of the self, Saturn negates them…not out of a respect for the greater good, but due to a fear of the spotlight, of being thrust into the public eye, and of the countless responsibilities that power and greatness will bring. The yellow background of the card highlights intense creative potential but the jumble of staves being forced every which way in the centre represents the internal restrictions (a mind plagued by fears of failure/ lack of self confidence) and the external challenges (an unsupportive environment/ financial troubles) that stand in the way of full self expression.
This clash of two very powerful yet uncomplementary energies (Leo’s need for ego gratification vs Saturn’s fear) is birthed in the 5 of Wands where the ego clamours to be loved and respected but is held back by its own innate fear of failure. Strife results, with these frustrated desires manifesting in ruthless tyranny and undeserved aggression which the underdeveloped ego mistakenly believes will bring about the results it most craves.
In the context of a love reading, the 5 of Wands often points to a situation in which constant quarrels and conflicts are rife, and most often take place over a clash in values and beliefs. If paired with the 5 of Swords, these arguments can take place for the sole purpose of ego dominance. When paired with the 7 of Swords, it can indicate a deceptive partner who’s stepping out on you, especially if the High Priestess, Queen of Wands or the Empress (reversed) are also present. The focus is on competition, whether it is with the partner or with other people for the partner’s attention. Paired with the 2 of Pentacles, the 5 of Wands can indicate personal and career responsibilities that are competing for dominance, leaving you little time or energy for your partnership.
If the spread is focused on work, then there can be petty jealousies in the workplace, though sabotage is not indicated unless the 5 of Swords or 7 of Swords is present. If the querent is seeking a new job or a promotion in their existing workplace, they should be warned that the competition is stiff. Cards that indicate a positive outcome in their favour include the 6 or Page of Wands which suggests that despite the challenges, they will emerge victorious. From a financial perspective, the 5 of Wands can indicate a situation in which multiple debts or obligations clamour for attention, and the querent might need to resort to freelancing or a second job to ease the tension.
Always look to the surrounding cards for more information. Like the 7 of Swords, the 5 of Wands may sometimes be tricky to interpret as it can point to either internal or external influences. On the whole, it is the least unpleasant of the suit of the 5’s as its consequences are more transient in nature than its Swords, Cups and Pentacles brethren.