Five of Vessels

Element: AETHER

Upright: Separation, Changing your Patterns, Rediscovery
Reversed: Reorganized, Restructured Ego, On the Right Path


The Five of Vessels exhibits an image of a man cut in pieces, while another character holds his severed head.

At first sight, this violent picture suggests that something dramatic must be done.
The scene itself reminds us of the mythological figure of Kali, the dark mother. This fiercest form of the goddess decapitates the head of her opponent as a symbolic act of purification.

We cannot speak of this theme without mentioning the concept of “Ego Death”, many times explored in analytic psychology.

This dark process of death and rebirth is a phase of self-surrender and transition that refers to a fundamental transformation of the psyche. This humbling effort is part of the symbolic death, in which the ego must die before we can be spiritually reborn.

The severed man is, after all, the King we saw in the previous cards. The King’s golden head represents the consciousness of the self. The golden head is held by the executioner, who forces it to watch his own body from a different perspective.

The body symbolises our own structures. This act of dismemberment compromises the habitual body stability.

The executioner’s identity remains a mystery. It could be seen as Saturn, the Time, that demands adaptation and transformation. Or it could just be a projection of ourselves in an internal self-sacrifice, cutting off the limbs as if they were old patterns and self-established practices.

The swordsman will preserve the head in a secret place, like a treasure, far from external corruption. The head and its celestial condition are separated from the limbs – these represent the four elements and their symbolic attributes.

“I have killed thee, that thou mayest receive a superabundant life, but thy head I will carefully hide, that the worldly wantons may not find thee, and destroy the earth” – Splendor Solis, attributed to Salomon Trismosin, c. 1582.

His sword implies that a difficult sacrifice must be done consciously. We know we need this, we just have to find the courage to act.

In alchemy, to be made whole, one must be torn apart first.

Upright Meaning and Interpretation

Separation, Changing your Patterns, Rediscovery. 

A greater change needs to happen. Your ego and structures control you. While this happens, your essence will not be completed.

You will need to restructure yourself, changing your usual patterns, routines, cultural and social impositions. Otherwise, you are clinging to old values and are unable to move forward. This needed separation forces you to let go of the self-inflicted restraints of your true nature, so you can shine again.

How often do we see cultural conditioning opposed to your progress? We tend to antagonise it – but there is no one blocking your way, no one but yourself.

There lies a tendency to self-impose limitations. Deep down we acknowledge the fear of knowing ourselves and what we are capable of.

But that is the price of our own individuality, of what there is to discover in our inner selves.

Such is a process that allows you to truly connect to your essence. The golden head, as your most precious element, conserves great powers: mental and spiritual.

The symbolic act of cutting it off serves as a purification of the ego, which is easily inflatable.

A prideful and obstinate ego lives in spiritual blindness, so you have to teach it humility as well as honesty. 

As the swordsman hides the golden head, you too should preserve yourself from doubtful people, who could take you away from your path.

If we assume that the executioner is a projection of the dismembered King, we can state that this sacrifice must be done by ourselves. If you want the most successful outcome, you cannot let external forces do it for you.

The sword (associated with the mind) is an instrument of purification, hewing down selfishness and materialistic seduction. It demands a rational transformation that takes a lot of willpower. This execution, cruel but always crucial, forwards us to spiritual harmony.

Reversed Meaning and Interpretation

Reorganized, Restructured Ego, On the Right Path.  

You are finally hearing your inner voice. The Five of Vessels in reverse tells you that you are already on the right track. This is when you decide that your inflated ego will not be in your way and will not lead you to an illusory road anymore.

Finally, a sense of objectivity comes to you. You already know that some structures and values in your life served as an excuse to delay the process of self-knowledge.

Keep your head organised to see how the world really is.

This is a card of “You are on the right path”, so keep going.