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Pentacles: The Making of Paper and Poison

The Pentacles suit in tarot is well known for plenty of reasons. We’re all aware that it represents earth and tangibility, from our jobs and careers, to the things we have and buy for our needs. I’m sure when you read a Pentacles card you dawn on the material side of the card, but not forgetting the soul which can – in some of this suit – be stifled by such a consumerist approach to life. Giving, taking, receiving, donating, this suit is one which, for all intents and purposes, makes the world go round in the same way our coins do now. However, when we speak of money, value, and tangibility, there may be a lot of hidden truths of the Pentacles we’ve been sleeping on for too long.

Another name for this suit is Coins, and this shows the intrinsic link that the earth suit has to the world of money. In fact, it’s pretty hard to ignore in basically any deck. After all, the Four of Pentacles gains its security from holding the Pentacle close to the self, and weighing one down on the head, blocking off the spiritual realm. The Eight of Pentacles shows us a craftsman working hard to literally, in his hands, make his fortune. At each step along the journey, the individual earthy adventurer gains more and more, before they finally master the world around them at the point of the King. But how realistic is this journey to us in the modern day?

Now, by no means am I under the impression that the Pentacles suit ever described the life of a layman, a beggar, and a lord with equal accuracy. In fact, with the origins of tarot lying in the hands of the rich Italian families who could afford to have custom playing cards made of their own families, I think it’s safe to say that the symbolism found through tarot has never had the poor man in mind. This has to be one of my favourite suits, but over the course of the last few months, I’ve found myself feeling a sour truth brewing toward this earthy symbolism, a sour truth that truly I can’t fully describe even in this one article, though I will attempt to shed light on it. You see, Pentacles as a suit has never been for every person, that much is true. But as tarot readers of the 21st century, we, by and large, is it not time we see the Pentacles of the world around us in full colour?

In historic times, the Pentacles suit would have rarely been considered a path to university and further education, but nowadays, this is often a necessary conclusion. While the Eight of Pentacles’ craftsman would have, in times now gone, learnt his craft from a predecessor, in a workshop, without ever seeking a pen and quill, we may expect the same figure to now attend a trade school after completing their general education. This brings whole new meaning to the Eight of Pentacles, because it shows us that the passing winter of the Seven of Pentacles is, in some way, the ending of general education and the path into self study. This flows naturally then into the Nine of Pentacles as a card of graduation, before ‘ideal’ career is reached with the Ten of Pentacles. From there on in, we change from literal lessons of the numbered cards, to the higher ‘ascension’ of the court cards, such as promotion within business. The CEO is the King of Pentacles, but does he not have to journey and grind through infant schooling (Three of Pentacles, the spring of tangible life), all the way up through further study (Eight, Nine, Ten), before excelling in his field (the excelled virtue of court cards)? Perhaps for some, but if we pull our rose-tinted glasses off for just one second, we may see a more gruesome riddle within the suit of reality.

In our own individual realities, we exist somewhere on our own career/education/real world journey, no matter what our goal is. For some, this is achieving that CEO status they see within the King of Pentacles, and for others, it may be to fully anchor themselves into the security of the Four of Pentacles. Many in the spiritual world strive to emulate the charitable nature of the Six of Pentacles while working hard on their own dreams like the Eight of Pentacles. Personal tarot journeys are all well and good, but when we look at tarot as indicators of the external society, Pentacles become a bit more sinister.

In the western world, we live in societies infected with consumerism. As the pandemic continues to sweep on, the working class are mad, rightfully, at the way that capitalist gain as continued to put down the people making the world go round. Articles like this one from Teen Vogue have called out the United States President for filling the pockets of the mega rich while abandoning the needs of the working class in the time where the people need support more than ever. On the surface, it’s hard to really imagine what this means, so let’s consider it with the Pentacles suit. The top dog of the whole country – the King of Pentacles – has continued to seek benefit and gain for those already in positions of power – Ten of Pentacles – rather than those who are in need of support and security – Five of Pentacles. If you were in a position to help either the Ten or Five of Pentacles, which would you choose? Would you choose the leader who relaxes on their mountain, looking out over a savannah of wealth, or would you choose the poor, tired young person whose home has just been burnt to the ground due to a fire they had no part in creating?

In April 2020, Jeff Bezos became the first man to be worth $200 billion. It’s clear to see that we’d consider him to be a King of Pentacles. He doesn’t have to worry about money, security, or the real world practically ever in his life. For reference, in 2017, Bermuda had a GDP of $3.3 billion. Bezos is approximately 60 times richer than one of the richest countries average persons. How does this modern, real world example of a King of Pentacles affect our view of applying such a card to the real world? Can every Pentacles worker trust the King of Pentacles? Should we truly desire – in our modern age – being in such a place?

Well, it seems that reaching such a landmark comes at the cost of others’ safety and lives. In order to gather so many Pentacles, the rich man must first swipe the labour from under the carpet of another. Amazon workers – those who work for the company which gave Bezos his wealth – have described being given no hand sanitiser during this deadly pandemic, not closing when workers have tested positive, and not being given masks. The Guardian has written that, as of April 2020, at least 50 Amazon warehouses reported at least one worker had tested positive for coronavirus, but the facilities remained open. Without masks, without gloves, without hand sanitiser. As of October, it is thought that 20,000 of their workers have coronavirus.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Even before the outbreak of the deadly virus which continues to claim lives, the journey to complete riches was littered with the pin and damage of the small guys. In 2019, Amazon reported over 14,000 serious injuries which required workers to take time off. For every 100 workers, the company saw 7.7 injuries, which was double the industry standard. In our cynical, real world example, this is the legacy of the King of Pentacles.

Perhaps, going back to our personal journey, in our dream world, we see ourselves being the ‘good’ Bezos, the ‘good’ King, but this calls to a whole other question: are you really allowed to become the King? Well, this is where we come away from bullying Amazon for poor human rights, and into the world of the tech gap. The Harvard Business Review wrote a great article which details the way that modern AI is part to blame for economic inequality, and continues to be as we move into the digital age. It details how workers are given times to meet their jobs decided by robot algorithms with no care for their health, their breaks, their own human capabilities.

The fears my grandma expresses when she goes to the supermarket seem to be becoming true with each new step we take toward the robotic world. She won’t use self checkout because of guilt: she knows those machines are taking someone’s jobs, and for years, I brushed off her worry aside. How many jobs could that really be affecting? One statistic says that, in the US, 140,000 retail jobs were lost in January 2017 linked to the sophisticated self checkouts. Such a figure makes me think that, perhaps, in some ways, my grandmother is correct.

The burden of other’s pentacle shaped glory isn’t just a statistic in a newspaper, though. Growing up poor, and still never really leaving that label, a lot of the world around me focuses on making it. My grandfather always tells me, all the time, I’ve got the brains to go to university to be a doctor. Whether that is true or not aside, I know I’m not the only one who couldn’t dream of this even if I wanted to. I couldn’t afford to go to university, to work full time alongside that career, to live on my own, and to take care of my mental health, especially not as Brexit rocks my home country and – as a poor young person – my security. Aiming high is what I do in my dreams, while aiming for secure is what I do with my day job. That’s just me, one person, one white person with a good general education in the western world at that.

The thing about the Pentacles is, though, that those who need them the most do not make the decisions. Pew Research conducted a survey in 2016 asking the American public about the $15 minimum wage, which would ensure that those barely scraping by in 3+ jobs a week may finally be able to feel some financial security. Perhaps it is unsurprising that, when looking at the data, households making over $30,000 a year were decidedly split on such a notion, while households making less were a whole 67% in favour of this idea. You see, Pentacles are more than our aspirations for our careers. They are more than where we hope to be. They are where we are right now, as some grind and fight hard for every dollar, while the ‘higher up’ tarot cards still hold the power to decide and vote on the worth of the ‘lower’ cards: on how much ‘minimum’ the ‘minimum’ people deserve to make. Perhaps also unsurprising is the fact that this 2014 study shows that 50.4% of those minimum wage workers are young people. Six years later, that same demographic (then 16-24 years) are now facing an economic downturn during this pandemic crisis, without any cushion built up beforehand. Unprepared and unsupported, the reality for many young people in the US, as per the resources and equally applicable to others across the world, is that this world is simply not made for us to build our castles.

The castles have been built, and the castles are being lived in, but the Court of Pentacles shall never pass on their wealth if the disparity between each hurdle and step on this earthen journey continues to be divided across deserts of economic struggle in a society fixated on personal financial gain. When I see the Kings of Pentacles, who make the decisions for us on what we should do, can do, and will do for our daily bread, I wonder how much further down the coin ladder we can be pushed before we are no longer pulling the same suits in the tarot reading of life. How much longer can I pull the King of Pentacles and smile before the insidious capitalist reality around me takes away any gold in the eyes of this tarot King?

When I describe the Nine of Pentacles to someone in their reading, part of me always wonders in what ways I may be presenting the hurdles of life to them over again, as though they do not even exist. When I describe a new job coming towards someone, do they groan in dismay, as they are home bound due to illness? When someone sees a promotion on the horizon with just a little extra effort, are they already working 7 days a week for less than minimum wage just to put food on the table? We are forced to see work and money as the be all and end all, to assume that we can also one day be completely secure, and perhaps this is supported by how ‘easy’ it is to get to the Four of Pentacles from the start of the journey. However, it seems that this truth just does not truly exist in our modern age. This world has been designed for so many to suffer and fail, and perhaps it is time for us to face that reality in our interpretation of the Pentacles suit.

I could write an endless list of how the real world realities of the Pentacles suit continue to make people suffer under the gain of the rich. Native American communities are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, and forced to live in food deserts. Congolese children are forced into labour for the mining of Coltan, just for our smart technology, so much so that Apple and Google have been named in a lawsuit for this very issue. Asian textile-producing countries like Bangladesh are facing water poisoning, filling the environment and poisoning the people, for the western fast fashion industry. Every corner of the globe has its own stories of how those just trying to make a living are adversely affected by the needs and wants of a richer person, able to ship their guilts and labours elsewhere to those with less choice in how they use and value their bodies and work.

This is, ultimately, the point of this article. As much as we may strive to be like the Pentacles suit, as lucky and fortunate it can be in a personal reading, the Pentacles are not our friends. The Pentacles are not the world’s friends. They are the cogs which keep us turning in a world of grabbing hands, where the hands of the tired grab for bread, and the hands of the wealthy grab for the coins with which we purchased our meals. The Pentacles more often keep us yearning than they do provide for us.

So, what can we do? What should we do? How do we repair a suit rooted in worker value when the world around us has broken us down to being buyable pieces of man power? I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes they had an answer to that. I don’t know if any single person will ever have the answer to fixing the very ideology that society thrives on. But, and this is why I write this, there is one thing we can begin to do as tarot readers: acknowledge it.

For some, Six of Pentacles is not their own charitable giving, but the miracle of a hand reading out. For some, the King of Pentacles is a position they will simply never fulfill, because society has ensured it. Some people physically are not able to just simply snap their fingers and become the Eight of Pentacles. Equally, even when just talking about ourselves, we need to give ourselves a break. We cannot keep pushing, expecting, reaching, grabbing onto the material world, because otherwise we lose sight of everything else going on, like love, memories, joy, and growth. I’m willing to bet at least a few of you reading this notice that when you focus on your Pentacle-shaped life, you pull an awful lot of Swords. I’d be a liar if I denied that about myself, too.

Show yourself, and those around you, the compassion that – in real life – the suit of Pentacles lacks. Rather than striving to be the best, to sit atop a throne made on others labour like those already in such a position, consider the unions and the communities which truly help and nourish the lower Pentacles. After all, Three of Pentacles shows us expansion when we work together with others, something that the men of the Five of Pentacles could so sorely use as they walk past the wealthy, warm church window. It’s perhaps ironic that the Four of Pentacles, sat between co-operation and isolation, shows a man guarding his wealth. Perhaps this is a lesson in never forgetting where you come from, before you turn your back on the things you originally prided yourself on.

Next time you head into a career reading, or you pull a Pentacles are, or even just look at the world around you with or without tarot, remember to ask yourself just how much good each card truly shows. Let your divining eyes be influenced by your society, not to consume and to take in, but to be angry for those disproportionately suffering thanks to such greed. Ask yourself: do I need to be like this card, or could I be happier with more compassion?

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