An Important but Forgotten Lesson from the 5 of Pentacles
As we know, the tarot has evolved over the centuries. Some of our most beloved cards don’t look like they did in the earliest decks. The Fool is no longer a madman whose bare butt is bitten by a dog. The Magician is no longer a con artist. The High Priestess is no longer a fake pope. Strength is no longer a strong man bludgeoning a lion with a club.
Strangely, some cards that should have evolved to reflect our changing world and evolving consciousness have not. The Hierophant is a holdover from a time when the church was an important part of people’s lives. Judgement retains its “last judgment” qualities, a story from a mythology that no longer serves us (at least how it is currently interpreted).
Many of our modern decks are inspired and shaped by the Rider Waite Smith Tarot, which was designed by Victorian Christian Mystics. The Christian symbolism meant something different to those people than it does to most modern tarot readers, yet instead of evolving the symbolism we change the meanings to something more negative, reflecting our issues and wounds. I can only imagine we haven’t brought these cards up to date with our current beliefs because we are still too wounded, still haven’t done our shadow work in these areas, and still aren’t ready to move on.
Another card that has not evolved and consequently has taken on negative overtones is the 5 of Pentacles. It usually shows people in desperate physical need outside of a (usually) Christian church. One way we interpret this is to say that our religious institutions have let us down, have locked us out in the cold, and have failed in their job to take care of their people.
In the past, churches did (and for current, active members still do) provide services and help for members. Churches were (and for some, still are) communities. When someone is a member of a community, they participate. If we are no longer active members of a church, it is presumptuous to expect that community to take care of us.
A different lesson from the 5 of Pentacles might be the importance of community. If the old religions, the old communities no longer serve us, then perhaps our response should be to form new communities that do serve us. To be in community means to be involved, to accept the responsibilities of and commitment to something greater than ourselves. Some of us have shifted our idea of where responsibility for helping others comes from, namely, the government. However, besides voting (maybe), paying taxes, and perhaps protesting or posting indignant or angry comments, how involved with and committed to our government are we? Are we really part of our local governmental communities? If not, how realistic is it to expect that institution to take care of us in ways that matter to us most?
When we create and are involved in community, we give of ourselves in many ways. We are present. We help identify problems. We help create solutions. We are active. We help. If we are invested in a community, we give and in turn can expect support and help in turn if we need it.
Unfortunately, most organized religions don’t suit us (by us I mean people reading this blog, which probably means tarot readers and/or alternative thinkers). Unfortunately, most of us focus on national politics (particularly these days) where we often feel that we have little influence (and this certainly feels true, at least to me). Unfortunately, most of us are not involved in local politics because of whatever we prioritize over involvement in that form of community.
To expect assistance from a community, one must be involved with that community. It would be a like a distant family member with whom you’ve never had a relationship, who was never involved in the family in general, and indeed denigrated the family, asking for help in an entitled way. There is so much talk of entitlement these days and we all suffer from it. We feel entitled to help from institutions/communities that we’ve never been truly involved with or are even actively denigrating.
The 5 of Pentacles suggests that being involved in and committed to a community may have its price, but it also has benefits. Instead of railing against ineffective or inappropriate (for us) communities, the 5 of Pentacles invites us to form new communities that better reflect our ideals and gives us meaningful ways to serve, so that we may be served in our times of need.
May you find community.
If you cannot find it, may you make it.
I subscribe to none of those. To me, the Wheel of Fortune is a Trickster card, a card of uncertainty. We spin the wheel and takes our chances. Who knows what where the Wheel will stop? Not this tarot reader. I firmly believe that there are some things we are not meant to know and there are cards in the deck that represent this.
Peeking into the future is just one use for tarot. It’s most important function is reading the cards as a sacred text. The Wheel of Fortune is excellent as a sacred text.
Here’s the lesson. Things happen. We cannot always control things that happen. I know that is not a popular belief but it is true, isn’t it? The secret golden nugget in the Wheel is: the closer you stand to the center of the wheel, the less likely you are to lose your balance. If we think of our lives as the wheel, the closer we are to our own center, which is defined by our core values, the easier it will be to stay steady, even if the wheel spins fast or lands somewhere that is just plain not cool.
Because this year is associated with the Wheel, we can be sure it will be one of change. The 5s are also associated with change and I do think we are going to see the energy of these cards throughout the year.
The 5 of Wands will bring a lot of competitiveness and ego.
The 5 of Cups will leave us lost in grief instead of actively grieving.
The 5 of Swords will bring us Pyrrhic victory after Pyrrhic victory.
The 5 of Pentacles is perhaps the most troubling in this case as it shows the potential for a complete separation of our resources from our values (both individual and collective).
That what this year is going to teach us. We are going to be tested to see what our priorities and values really are. Unfortunately, our country feels (to me) like it sees its role as a for-profit business, which is why, apparently, so many of us voted to put a businessman at the helm. But I never thought that our country was a business. It is a representation of our values…or it should be. If it is not performing that function, then what do we do? How do we make sure our values are expressed in the world? What are our options?
This year is going to be challenging. It will also be a gift. We will finally get to find out exactly who we are. I’ve heard someone say “show me your schedule and budget, I’ll name your values.” I couldn’t agree more and this year is going to be like a final exam. Who have you been striving to become? What is that person going to do in the face of real need…human need, creature need, earth need?
May we all hold on tight to our values, not get distracted by the world spinning around us, and stay calm and centered as we help keep the world on course.
The "Fives" of tarot have been on my mind a lot lately for some reason. A recent article is HERE. That post was over a month ago and ideas are still simmering.
As some of you know, I'm working on my first non-tarot book. It's about energy clearing and cultivation. While it is not about tarot and will not include tarot, I cannot deny that tarot is the lens through which I look at life, so it shapes my ideas about almost everything. And here, with you all, I can talk about things in tarot terms and we all have this great shared vocabulary that makes communication easier. Plus, this is a great space for me to explore ideas and hopefully hear some of yours, which you can share either in the comments or via email.
So let's talk about the 5 of Pentacles, taking a slightly different point of view.
Below are images from Llewellyn's Classic Tarot and the Steampunk Tarot.
The most common approach to this card is to say that it is material need of some sort and certainly the images in many decks support this interpretation. When we think about the number 5, we think chaos and disruption. Couple that energy with Pentacles, material resources, and it is an easy step to: physical want or deprivation. We can further say that part of the need is created by the neglect or misuse of resources of the spiritual institutions that are supposed to help people. This idea works well with many people's idea that the Hierophant represents all that is worst about organized religion. I think these ideas highlight a cultural bias that I didn't fully understand.
Because so many of us who have taken up the study of tarot have, in some way or another, been disappointed by the spiritual and religious paths that came to us through childhood, we very naturally take the view that all organized religion is, at worst, evil and destructive or, at best, benign traditions that fuel a consumer economy. Not all tarot readers feel this way, but plenty that I've met definitely do.
What happens when we examine that assumption, that shared bias? I touched on it a little in that previous article I mentioned (excerpt below), but I didn't go far enough.
"The 5 of Pentacles, with its very clear depiction of spiritual life (symbolized by the church window) and human suffering asks perhaps the hardest question. What is our relationship with the Divine when life is hard, when we or our loved ones are suffering, when terrible things happen to innocent people? How do we react when things that were good, maybe even great, turn to crap?"
If you are familiar with my work, you know that I do not accept that the only or even main meaning of the Hierophant is stagnant and awful organized religion or stifling systems. Instead, I believe that the Hierophant teaches us the importance of living our faith, walking our talk...in short manifesting our spiritual beliefs in a real way in the physical world. The Hierophant is, after all, associated with Taurus, which rules the second house and is associated with values, both material and spiritual. Fives are associated with the Pentacle, which is the physical world under the guidance of spirit.
The 5 of Pentacles seems like a good companion card for the Hierophant and shows a good lesson in what happens when you are not living your faith, when you do not walk your talk. As I continue thinking about energy clearing and cultivation, I realize that many people do not pay much attention to those activities unless something is very wrong. Their house feels "weird" or "off" so they use sage or salt or crystals to clear the energy. This certainly works, but it is also like going to the dentist for a filling when your tooth hurts rather than going twice a year for cleanings and brushing and flossing in between.
While my book will contain actions to take when things are in crisis, the bulk of it will focus on how to maintain a clear, calm, stable energetic foundation in ourselves and in our environments so that we can avoid crises. This allows us to be more responsive rather than simply reactive in our lives.
Along with tarot, another guiding idea in my life is the Hermetic principle "As above, so below." This ties in so nicely with the Hierophant and 5 of Pentacles. Instead of saying that we are in need and religion isn't helping us, we can flip that and say: when we forsake the small, daily practices of our spiritual beliefs, we find ourselves in need, both physically and spiritually. The more I pay attention to the energy in the world, the more I realize that everything physical is connected with spirit.
Please do not misunderstand. I do know that there are physical needs that are dire and immediate. It is really hard to care about spiritual things when you are starving or in danger (as Maslow's hierarchy teaches us). I am not talking about those situations. I am talking about our normal, daily lives.
And so, here is another way to look at the 5 of Pentacles...and a more empowering way. Instead of blaming some abstract formal religion (which we probably aren't in community with anyhow) for not helping us, we can own our responsibility for our individual spiritual practice. If we pay attention to the details in our lives and attend to things that need attending, it is a way of attending to both our spiritual and physical needs. Cleansing, healing energy flows. Stifling, sickening energy stagnates. As above, so below. Ergo, an organized and tidy place allows cleansing, healing energy to flow. That's true of our homes, our minds, our relationships, and our spirits. Something as simple as cleaning your bathroom regularly can be a metaphor for seeing yourself clearly. It's all connected. When we let things slide, we lose things, we feel more frantic, we are less efficient, and then things snowball until we are in that common quality we love to ascribe the 5s: chaos.
The Hierophant from the Steampunk Tarot
As promised in the previous entry today we are talking about change, specifically facing change with spiritual integrity and authenticity. This essay is brought to you by the number 5.
We’ll begin with the Hierophant, since he is numbered 5 in the Major Arcana.
Before we begin, I ask you to open up to the idea that the Hierophant, as other cards in the deck have, can evolve in meaning to better represent our current understanding and world view. In “Tarot, Tricksters, and Accidental Grace” in the Spring 2016 issue of the Cartomancer, I wrote at length about how card meanings change over time and how important it is for us to always look toward reflecting our evolving consciousness as we look at the cards anew. Our beloved Rider-Waite-Smith deck was created in a culture of Victorian Christian mystics and the symbols, images, and ideas represent that culture. That culture is not our culture. Some may argue that spiritual truth or wisdom is absolute and unchanging through time. I do not agree with that and see that as fundamentalism…and to be honest, fundamentalism scares me. In a Hebrew creation story, it is said that God left creation unfinished, allowing it to continue evolving and also invited humans to participate in the co-creation of the future of the universe. I say we take up that invitation and help evolve tarot to better represent what we know to be true for us in this moment, knowing that as human consciousness evolves, the cards meanings will continue to change.
Most people have issues with the Hierophant because they see him as the representation of rigid dogma and strict hierarchy. Back in the day when there weren’t many options for spiritual paths circulating in Western culture and when social order was valued very highly, it is true that ordained Church rules were created and used to control people. And sure, we can see that still in play today. However, we…by we I mean tarot readers and spiritual seekers…know now that we do have other options open to us and that maintaining order is not necessarily the main goal of spiritual wisdom. Even in Christianity today, there are some really exciting teachers who are totally pushing the bounds of what Christianity “teachers.” If you are interested, Rob Bell is one of those teachers…whose events are often protested by traditional “Christians.” That alone should be a good reason to be curious about what he is saying.
The quickest way to convey my ideas about the Hierophant, which is markedly different from most that I’ve encountered, is to share what I write about him in the companion book for the Steampunk Tarot:
5, The Hierophant
“Your every thought, every word, and every action expresses the truth of your soul.”
Core meaning: Living faith in every day life.
The name of this card comes from the word hierophany and means “the manifestation of the sacred.” Consequently, The Hierophant is one who teaches us how to live in accordance with our sacred beliefs. For those belonging to a group, community, or organized religion, there are usually teachers aplenty. For those who follow a more solitary path, they are often their own hierophant. This responsibility is often supplemented by studying sacred texts, works of art, private spiritual practices, and nature.
This card has not always been called The Hierophant. In the oldest of decks, it was titled The Pope, also known as the pontiff. The “pontiff” means “bridge.” He is the bridge between theory and practice. He creates a connection between spiritual belief and daily lives. In this image, he sits between a pile of books, representing the culmination of human spiritual understanding, and a tree, representing many things, including a living practice and the inherent knowledge of good and evil. Both the books and the tree represent roots and tradition, wisdom gained through the ages. The apple, such a mundane symbol, brings to mind many things. Students used to give apples to their teachers. Although not technically correct, many people say that Eve gave Adam an apple, leading to their self-consciousness and banishment from paradise. If you cut an apple crosswise, the center forms a pentagram, representing the four elements of the physical world under the guidance of Spirit. Our hierophant, shown here as a humble, compassionate, and wise teacher, weaves together all these notions, and more, and gives them to us as keys to open up our own understanding. With all teachings, it is up to individuals to take them into their heart and mind and to ultimately decide whether or not to envelop them into their life.
When The Hierophant comes to your reading, the most important thing is to ask yourself is how does what you believe match with what you think, say, and do. This card can represent a teacher who will help you identify your beliefs and assist you in determining how to best express those beliefs in your life.
Here’s an interesting and key question: how does what you believe match up with what you think, say, and do? How wide is the gap between what you claim to value and your actions in this life? These are the questions the Hierophant gives us.
One of the most difficult yet most important times to live our values is when we face changes. It is pretty easy to do what you think is right when things are flowing along all easy and stress free. But what do we do when faced with a challenge brought about by a change in circumstance.
If the Major cards represent large, archetypal ideas and important wisdom, the Minors show how those ideas manifest in the physical world. The Hierophant asks “what will you do when faced with [insert any change of circumstance]?
The Minor 5s give us scenarios to consider, asking us to face change that challenges our will, shakes our emotions, twists our ideas, or threatens our physical lives.
The 5 of Wands shows a natural reaction to having our will questioned: defensiveness and fighting. This shows up often in meetings, where egos (easily associated with will) take over trying to preserve their place in the pecking order. In these cases, our wills have been distracted from their original purpose. Presumably we come to a meeting in order to accomplish a task as a group, everyone on the same team trying to do the best thing. However, when our ideas are not valued as much as we think they should be or as immediately as they should be, we change our focus from accomplishing the goal of making good decisions as a group to preserving our ego. The question we can ask ourselves is: which behavior best expresses our beliefs and values? Is it really serving our spiritual value to preserve some perceived pecking order or is it to help foster a sense of community and do great work together?
The 5 of Cups calls into question how we react when faced with the knowledge that emotions and relationships are not permanent. We all know this to be true…emotions and relationships can and do change. Change is a natural part of life. Even in nature, nothing is static. How do react when faced with such a loss, the loss of dear one or even the recognition that we no longer feel the same way about someone or something? What is our guiding spiritual principle in these cases and to what extent to our actions match that principle?
The 5 of Swords gives us the opportunity to think about how we react when our ideas about what is true are challenged. Although in the card, we usually think the story is about when others take what is ours or behave unfairly or cruelly and that is one valid way, but for this study we are looking at a different facet. Sometimes we have a beloved mindset that shapes our worldview and that we believe to be true and perhaps even True…unchangeable. Is our spiritual guiding force in these cases to hold true to those ideas no matter what evidence is produced to the contrary? Think of fundamental Christians who cling to the idea that the world is only a few thousand years old. Or of early American people who thought that African Americans should be slaves. Or of people who think that gay people have an agenda to destroy America. Insert your own deeply held idea. How do you react when faced with something that challenges that idea?
The 5 of Pentacles, with its very clear depiction of spiritual life (symbolized by the church window) and human suffering asks perhaps the hardest question. What is our relationship with the Divine when life is hard, when we or our loved ones are suffering, when terrible things happen to innocent people? How do we react when things that were good, maybe even great, turn to crap?
So for me, the Hierophant is the one who helps us learn to grapple with these important situations, who helps prepare us to understand what it means to live a life of authenticity and integrity, no matter the circumstances.
And if you made it to the end of this, thank you for reading.
A lover of tarot, magic, and mystery.