Five of Pentacles – Everyday Living in the Minor Arcana

I intend for this series to help folks recognize the Minor Arcana in their day-to-day lives and the lives of the people around them. I’ll generally base my interpretations off Pamela Colman Smith’s illustrations in the Smith-Waite or Rider-Waite deck, as well as other illustrated decks.

As we progress through Ostara, Beltane, and Spring, as we roll through Taurus season, we get an opportunity to work with the 5, 6, and 7 of Pentacles. Many groups have connected Tarot and Astrology. One school of thinking connects the Minor Arcana with the decans of the signs. The Decans are 3 divisions within each astrological sign based on the degrees; Decan 1 is 1º-10º, Decan 2 is 11º-20º, and Decan 3 is 21º-30º.

In Tarot, the suit of Pentacles is the suit of Earth.

This suit is where we take a look at issues around our money, our homes, and our physical worlds. This is where we deal with what it takes to physically survive, live, prosper, and/or produce things in the real world. This is food in the fridge, gas in the car, money in the bank. It is also where we encounter issues and work around our self-worth.

As we move through the Pentacles, we will encounter Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, the three Earth signs of the zodiac. Taurus is a fixed Earth sign, and its decans correlate to 5, 6, and 7, the three cards “fixed” in the middle of the suit.

Taurus itself correlates to The Hierophant card (for more on that card check out The Hierophant and The Empress,) an archetype who represents the leader in us who wants to (and sometimes needs to) control things from above, like the Eye of God. The Minor Arcana connected to it are some of the real world elements of how we will begin to “create our dominion” in the physical world.

Hard does not always mean bad, it means hard.

Five of Pentacles, Smith-Waite Deck

Five of Pentacles

There is a short list of cards that people are almost universally not happy to see, and the Five of Pentacles is definitely one of them. In the fives, we have arrived at our first real challenge on our adventure. The cards that come before this, the fours, talk about our decision to make “the thing” real, the thing being whatever our process is; getting a job, starting a relationship, changing a mental habit, examining our beliefs. In the fives, we feel the ramifications of our decision to act on, commit to, or otherwise engage in our process. And almost immediately, we feel the friction of becoming different from before, and life becomes a little harder.

Like a Spring snowstorm, the hardship implied in the Five of Pentacles may catch you off guard, and it may do some damage, but it is often short-lived.

Consider the first time parent, dreaming of what it will be like to have their first baby. Even in the best of circumstances, having a baby is hard. They say to themselves, “This will be hard, we should read this book. Things are going to change, let’s move the couch. Maybe we should get a dog, too?”

And then, the baby comes. Friendships are lost, new families form, whole ways of life are changed, not temporarily, but permanently. People move across the country. Religious beliefs change. The shift is profound and real, and hard in ways we never could have expected. This doesn’t necessarily mean bad, however, and this is important.
Hard does not always mean bad, it means hard.
But if we refuse to understand that there will be hardship in our lives, and refuse to take responsibility for making our own way through life, including the difficult places, we will feel as if evil forces are pressing down all around us. The fives are about the changes we encounter in our existence before and after we commit to change.

In the Five of Pentacles, we see two people trudging through a snowstorm.

They are poorly dressed for such harsh weather, with just some rags around their feet and clothing with holes. One person looks injured, walking with crutches, a bandage around their head. Behind them stands a black wall with a huge, illuminated, stained glass window radiating warmth. Five glowing pentacles grow in a tree, surrounded by grapes and foliage, like a neon reminder of better, more fertile times. Let’s be honest, there are not many ways we can spin this and see something positive. This seems terrible. How did we end up here? 

The Five of Pentacles speaks directly to two states; the hardships we face as we attempt to manifest our vision, and the difficulties we face being used to help someone else produce their empire.

This card, because of the time of year it’s placed, reminds me of a random late Spring snowstorm that blows through and wipes out all the budding crops. Looking at these people’s clothing, the base layer is green. These are people of The Empress, living at the whim of the seasons and the natural order.  On top of that, is a layer of blue, connecting to emotions. One person wears a ragged shawl of pale orange, their Will and passion for their goal obviously tested. The other person wears a necklace. Perhaps it is a symbol of their faith, maybe it is a bell, like a beast of burden. There is a tradition in India of holy beggars wearing bells.

In all three cases, there may be plenty of reasons these people don’t want to walk inside. How many of us feel like we can’t “go home” ever again? How many of us have had some type of falling out or experienced betrayal at the hands of organized religion? How many of us have been the beast of burden to the powers that be?

These people placed their faith, blindly, into their simple understanding of a system, and headed out into the world to “seek their fortune.” Maybe they didn’t do their homework, or they were misled by some faulty prophecy, or perhaps they are just victims of chance, but here they are.

Even in optimal conditions, these are folks who sorely underestimated just how hard things might get in the pursuit of their goal. They believed good thoughts and good intentions would be enough to see them through. They have worked way harder at this process than they ever expected. Their commitment is waning. They’re not even halfway through the process (remember we have to go all the way to the King) and they’ve already suffered some significant losses or damages. We may also be seeing folks who are facing hardship and being really dramatic about it, but the situation does seem pretty bad.

However, what’s the deal with the window? Is there a bright, warm building right behind them? Could they just go inside and be safe? Or are these two people barred from this place? Why would they choose to not go inside?

Some people see this window attached to a busy tavern or a private home. Both of these options speak to class issues and the social alienation poor people feel, as if they are standing outside of, and simply serving, modern life lived by others. I also see it as one of the windows of the church wherein The Hierophant sits as the arbiter of patriarchal hierarchy and tradition. In all three cases, there may be plenty of reasons these people don’t want to walk inside. So many of us feel like we can’t “go home” ever again. Who among us have had some type of falling out or experienced betrayal at the hands of organized religion? And how many of us have been the beast of burden to the powers that be?

The last place we will willingly seek shelter is here. But as the card is depicted, we don’t see anything physically stopping these people from going inside. So, we see folks choosing to stay in their terrible situation, rather than going into the building and dealing with whatever is going on in there. There is a real element of choosing to belong or choosing not to belong, in this card. 

Ultimately in the Five of Pentacles, we bear the hardships delivered to us by the current circumstances. Sometimes because we feel like the alternatives are no better, and possibly even worse, sometimes because we genuinely have no choice.

When this card appears in a reading, there is almost always some kind of contraction or reduction going on with the person’s finances. Sometimes it will refer to a tumultuous housing situation. Like a Spring snow storm, it may catch you off guard and it may do some damage, but the hardship is often short-lived. Usually this card does not indicate total ruin or pandemonium, but regardless of the real-world impact on the person, they may experience the change as a profoundly troubling crisis. Either way, something does require serious adjustment or repair in the real world before going forward.

This card can also at times, be a beacon of hope in an otherwise crappy situation, and a reminder that though it is terrible now, things can get better.

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