Five of Pentacles

Tarot Talk

March, 2015

Back to the Minors this month; let’s talk about the Five of Pentacles. This is a fitting card to consider, as its traditional image shows a woman and a child in rags, braving a cold snowstorm! I live in New Jersey, and we have had some cold and snow these past weeks, so I have just the right frame of mind to delve into this card.

The Five of Pentacles is a Minor Arcana card, so we know right away that the message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. Remember, while on the surface a Minor Arcana card can appear insignificant or mundane, it can also possibly be a symptom of a deeper or wider issue. Nothing in the Minor Arcana is in any way minor in nature.

We already know that the easiest way to get a decent understanding of a Minor Arcana card is to examine its number, or in the case of Court Cards, its rank, and to examine its suit. In this case, we are dealing with the number 5, and the suit of Pentacles. And yes, these two ingredients could actually give you enough information about this one card to offer a useful interpretation of our Five of Pentacles. But we have even more to consider, so let’s get started.

The suit of Pentacles (also called Disks or Coins) corresponds with the playing card suit of Diamonds, the cardinal direction of north, and the element of Earth. In its natural state, the element of Earth is cool and dry. Like Water, when amassed it has weight; it is able to bind together or shape the other elements. Water and Earth bind together to make mud, and a lake is shaped by the Earth that supports it. Earth energies are tangible, stable, and practical, and they are slow to change. That can be a good thing, or it can hold us back.

This suit is about the physical, earthly world, our physical bodies, and everything we need in order to maintain those physical bodies, including health and exercise. Pentacles cards talk about fertility, prosperity, and the wealth that can bring both physical shelter and mental and emotional pleasure. Pentacles cards can show a possible outcome or end result of our efforts, the product of our labors; they can give information about material manifestations of all kinds. These cards can represent discipline and diligence, and an interest in quality rather than quantity, but they can also indicate the influence of greed and avarice, and the lack of an ability to access or be aware of resources. In short, they represent this entire world that we experience through our physical senses.

The element of Earth is the foundation through which the other elements manifest and germinate. We need all the elements to survive, but the element of Earth is the most connected to our physical life. This element is attuned to form and matter, as we are. Without the element of Earth, we would have no foundation and no support. The earth takes on qualities of the other elements. It can be the dry, dusty and hot aspects of Fire and Air, as is found in deserts, or the moist and fluid aspects of Water, in swamps, marshlands and fens. In its physical manifestations, such as stones, rocks, crystals and gems, the element of Earth represents the densest of the elements. The Earth is the realm of wisdom, knowledge, strength, growth and prosperity.

Astrology is a tool that can offer subtle effects for us to consider as we analyze this card. The Five of Pentacles corresponds to the planet Mercury (reason, intelligence, education, skill, communication) when it is in the sign of Taurus (“I have,” sensual, cautious, stubborn).

Mercury is known as the messenger of the gods and is known for his ability to move fast. The planet Mercury echoes this, circling the Sun quickly, taking only 88 days to orbit the Sun, spending about 7.33 days in each sign of the zodiac. Mercury is so close to the Sun that it has no atmosphere of its own; it can only be seen in our skies with the naked eye right after the Sun has set. Astrologically, Mercury represents the principles of communication, mentality, thinking patterns, a focus on details, rationality, reasoning, adaptability and variability. Mercury is connected to schooling and education, research, moving over short distances, as well as email, telephone and snail mail. Mercury connects learning with communication by also being connected to newspapers, journalism and writing. In medicine, Mercury is associated with the nervous system, the brain, the respiratory system, the thyroid and the sense organs.

Taurus, the second sign of the zodiac, is all about reward. Physical pleasures, material goods, and soothing surroundings are all important to a Taurus. The good life in all its guises is heaven on Earth to those born under this sign. Taurus is a fixed sign, and it represents steady persistence sometimes seen as stubbornness. Taurus is symbolized by the Bull, and Bulls are among the most practical and reliable members of the zodiac, happy to plod along slowly but surely toward a goal. Taurus is ruled by Venus, the Goddess of Love, Beauty and Pleasure, which is why harmony and beauty are a huge part of this sign’s personality. Taurus is a true-blue, loyal sign as well, and slow to anger; like the element of Earth, Taurus is about strength of body as well as strength of heart.

When Mercury is in Taurus, decisions are made slowly, but they are stuck to no matter what. Information is processed through the senses, and communications can be a bit long-winded and convoluted. Learning is accomplished through demonstrations rather than in the abstract. Tastes and preferences are well-defined, probably to the point of being obstinate and opinionated. These traits are very much not like the usual and customary Mercury personality! But the Earthy Taurus keeps the expansive and active Mercury more grounded, steady, and rooted in reality.

The traditional image of this card, as I stated in the first paragraph, is a woman and a child, usually both dressed in rags with bare feet, wandering in a cold and windy snowstorm at night. Sometimes the child is crippled, or wounded with bloody bandages, or walking with crutches, and sometimes the woman has a burden slung over her shoulder, as if the pair was homeless. Behind the pair is a stained glass window, lit from within; sometimes the pair are walking away from a stairway that leads up to a brightly-lit doorway. The image is filled with a sense of deprivation, loneliness and hopelessness, yet right behind the pair is light and help, not physical or tangible help but help all the same.

This card image may seem to conflict with what we have learned about the suit of Pentacles, the element of Earth, and the Astrological tendencies of our Five of Pentacles. But a Major Arcana card is not just composed of its suit alone.

When dealing with the Minor Arcana, perhaps the most important ingredient besides the suit of the card is the number of the card. In the Tarot, the number 5 is seen as adding motion to the depth and stability of the energy of the number 4 card, often toppling or destroying that depth and stability in order to prevent stagnation. If we look at the card right before the Five of Pentacles and follow it through to our card, we can gain some insight into the effects of the number 5.

The Four of Pentacles is about an awareness of the value of our things, and the possessiveness and the need to control those things that comes with this awareness of value. This focus on the resources and pleasures of the physical world brings the danger of spinning out of control if we happen to lose those valued possessions, all those eggs we have placed in one basket. The number 5 adds that kind of Motion to the ownership of the Four of Pentacles, and the need to keep hold of our stuff. All of the Tarot Fives are uncomfortable mainly because of this added Motion. In the other Minor Fives we have the need to control others (Swords), a focus on a negative change while missing the remaining positive (Cups), and ideas moving in random and unorganized directions (Wands). If we view ourselves as only a physical body, and if we measure our own self-worth only by the things we own, and if those physical world possessions are taken from us, we will feel isolated and without the resources we need to survive. This is the exact scenario of the Five of Pentacles.

The Tree of Life offers us further insight into this uncomfortable Motion that is causing our troubles. All of the Fives of the Tarot Minor Arcana correspond with the Sephira of Geburah (which means “Might”), the fifth Sephira on the Tree, the second on the Pillar of Form/Restriction. Geburah is also known as Judgment, and Fear, and its effects and manifestations can indeed be difficult. To some, an easy life is an ideal situation, but in the end the easy life offered through never experiencing any true tests lacks the opportunity for growth and evolution, and growth and evolution are the purposes of living.

Geburah is about courage and power and invincibility, and these things can bring us true fulfillment, or they can help to release our cruel side. But unless we are exposed to these temptations, we will never know if we have the will to set them aside when they become unbalanced. Believing that we have the power and authority to make decisions for others is often a recipe for disaster.

That is a lot of information to consider!! We are dealing with a Five card, so we know that it will present some discomfort. This is a Pentacles card, so we know the discomfort will be connected to our resources, needs, and pleasures of the physical world, or more likely a lack of them. Judgment, fear and karma are all connected to this card in some way, and perhaps the lack of resources is coming from some action of ours that has precipitated this situation. Or perhaps our job is to learn to live without those resources, to not only survive without them, but to thrive with a smile on our face.

When the Five of Pentacles shows up in a reading, we are being told that this is not the time to take a gamble. We should expect a loss of some kind in the physical world, maybe related to money or health or home, but we should remember that the challenge or discomfort will also present a lesson of some kind, and an opportunity to evolve. Perhaps the lesson will be that there is more to life than physical resources, and we don’t need money or a nice home in order to feel spiritually rich and well-fed. The loss or restriction could be Karmic in nature, appearing in response to some ill-advised action.

Perhaps the loss will not be ours, but rather it will happen to those around us. This might be our chance to help others by donating time, money or possessions to those who are out in the cold, with no home to call their own. Sharing our own belongings may bring us spiritual fulfillment, which in the end cannot be purchased with any coin.

Return to the traditional image on the Five of Pentacles and you will see the solution, and the lesson to be offered through this uncomfortable experience. There, behind the destitute pair struggling to make their way through a cold Winter’s night, is a sanctuary of light and warmth. They have only to look at things in a new way, from a new direction, to see that while they may be hungry and cold, love can warm their hearts and support might be closer than they realize.