Five of Wands with Nine of Cups

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Tarot Illuminati by Erik C. Dunne

To the victor goes the spoils is one of those expressions that makes me cringe. Maybe because it sounds so self-congratulatory, the fact that someone bested their opponent means they are now entitled to their stuff, their land, their tv, their wives and husbands, their pet ferrets.

Doesn’t it just fill you with pride when you reflect on how apropos this expression is in reference to those moments in our past that make us giggle and smile, like the European displacement of indigenous peoples from the lands of [insert territory or continent here], or the cute and charming slap fights that replay endlessly in the Middle East over abiogenic petroleum?

The whole principle distills down to this: someone was worse at a challenge than you so you get to take whatever they previously owned. If they can’t defend it they don’t deserve it. Makes you feel all warmy and glowy inside, doesn’t it? This aggression-fueled avarice ain’t big enough for the both of us.

If we have to obtain something by way of defeating another and taking it from them, then that which we have taken is essentially hexed. I’m not talking about game or sports oriented attainments, such as trophies or belts or titles or other events that make us sit shoulder-to-shoulder with other aficionados or on our couch with a bowl of chicken rinds. I’m talking about conquests, muggings, exploitation, Manifest Destiny, Operation Freedom, congressional votes won by way of which corporations can best afford the most pliable members of Congress.

I say to gain through someone else’s loss is essentially hexed because the acquisition plays host to the viruses that are carried on the backs of the victims’ grief and misery. We may believe that which we’ve taken brings us joys and pleasures through padding our source of means, but those means have within its inherent bones and DNA and internal structure the decay which inevitably consumes itself from the inside.

With the exception of battles which involve points and mascots and fans that can disperse to their beds and homes and cars when all is done, no conflict has any winners if it has losers. There is no gain that occurs at someone else’s loss. When someone suffers a profound loss, we all do. As long as we stand on the same terra firma and breath the same nitrogen/oxygen mix, we are all interconnected. We can talk ourselves into the illusion of perceived insulation (thanks, ego) so that we can take from another with a false sense of impunity, but we are really only taking from ourselves. A gain by way of another’s loss is really a loan that is impossible to pay and encumbered with soul compressing debt.

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Five of Swords

Five of Swords
A man looks smugly toward two dejected adversaries, he holds three swords as two lay on the ground

Competition can be healthy if held in the proper perspective. It can serve as fuel to inspire us to push beyond the limits we previously imposed upon ourselves. However, there is a danger in depending on competition as the primary source of motivation in manifesting our desired outcomes.

As others merely serve as reflections of ourselves, those we compete against are serving as reflections of our limitations. They aid and assist us in seeing the limits we have created for ourselves. Once we can move beyond depending on adversaries to highlight our own limitations we become less dependent on needing competitors to provide the impetus to excel.

Defining our successes through the conquest and besting of others creates the illusion of success. As we look to our defeated competitors as an indication of our own improvement we immediately look away from the measure of our own personal growth. It may seem as the defeat of another is indicative of our success, but we can defeat another person with no measure of personal improvement. The measuring stick for success is a personal one, so once we hold our own measuring stick against another person’s endeavors we cannot be honest with ourselves in our own self-assessment.

What happens when we have no more competitors outside of ourselves? Our only means of self-improvement comes at the hands of another when we depend on them to drive us toward success. This means that we stand still and stagnate without another person to compete against. We become blind to our own personal power, we lose the capacity for self-motivation. We have not learned to recognize our limitations on our own, thus we experience defeat at our own hands without another to serve as an adversary.

In competition, in order for us to win someone has to lose. When we depend on another’s loss to define ourselves we continue to operate this way when we compete against ourselves, which means we have to ensure we lose in order to win. This in turn creates self-defeating behavior. The best way to ensure we succeed without an adversary is to help others succeed when we are improving our own circumstances. With every other person’s success or failure we can count that toward our own; with the defeat of a thousand people we suffer the death of a thousand cuts. When a thousand people succeed we excel by a thousand steps.