I’m writing this today to compare some different versions of the 9 of Pentacles, which was my card of the week for last week. This will not be an exhaustive study of every 9 of Pentacles card in existence, or even every one of them in my collection, just a sample of some that interested me at the time I was rifling through my decks last week. I’m mostly NOT using the guidebooks, but rather letting the images and any keywords on the card spur my imagination and direct my thoughts.
The suit of Pentacles/Coins/Stones/Earth/etc. refers to the riches of our physical world, so I’m starting this post with a set of cards that portray those riches as (or as part of) actual vegetation. This is the most fundamental type of “riches” in the world, is it not? The “riches” that are food, shelter, firewood, and medicine? I’m calling this “Original Wealth,” and though the richer one becomes, in terms of money and status, the more detached one tends to be from doing the actual work of procuring Original Wealth, pure survival is of course at the “root” of everything else we ever achieve. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun.) As someone who likes to live too much in her head (but who also likes to garden), I really love this first set of cards, because they appeal to my desire to connect more deeply with the Earth, to not get lost in the metaphorical struggles of life that we create only when we have Original Wealth well secured.
A little background on my current practice
Since February I have been limiting my use of Tarot cards to a once a week “Medicine Card” (as suggested by my friend and 2018 mentor, Jessica Z, aka @thestorymedicine on Instagram) + some moon phase readings (because I missed them too much after a few months of only doing weekly cards) + whatever cards I want to pull intentionally for whatever purpose (ritual, meditation, manifestation, academic study, etc.). The point is not to keep asking questions and pulling cards, but to take more time with each card, to really dive deeply into it, and to spend more time integrating the lessons of each weekly card into my life. To avoid “spiritual bypassing” by never allowing myself time to actually make the internal and external shifts my cards were inviting me to make in my life and relationships, but instead staying in my happy place of seeking messages and playing with the card images as I turned them into stories about what the messages were. Maybe “spiritual escapism” would be another good term for this. It’s a behavior pattern I am still working to break, but drawing fewer cards in general was a big first step.
Anyway, as I am much more comfortable in my head than anywhere else, it’s been a very difficult and but also very nourishing/evolutionary sort of experience. Part of Jessica’s mentoring me this year has involved pushing me outside my comfort zone in many different directions, and as a result of her nudging, plus external circumstances I didn’t even see coming (and which I won’t detail here), it’s been a huge growth year already.
I didn’t mean to make this post about all of that, except to introduce what I am doing here with all these 9 of Pentacles cards: I am studying them! I have made time for this sort of intense study maybe only three times out of the dozens of weeks I’ve been drawing a weekly card, because my life has been quite busy this year (not all in a good way), and because spending this much time in study every week would detract from otherwise living out the lessons of the card itself, which is the whole point of this practice.
So without further ado…
…let me ramble on about this card instead of other things. Or at least include it in the conversation. 😉
This was the second weekly card in a row where I saw a picture of the card in my head before I drew it. (One earlier week I’d dreamed about the card that would be my weekly draw, and that was fun, too.) Anyway, somehow I knew this card was coming up, or would be appropriate, anyway.
I also drew this as a weekly card back in March, and it was giving similar guidance then as well. In the spring, this card came after I had drawn the Sun reversed the week before, and last week it came after I had drawn Death the week before. Both of these potentially “negative” cards — that could be another discussion but you know what I mean! — were completely related to some family issues I was having, and both asked of me that I take an active part in shifting my own energy in response to difficult life circumstances. Both times, the 9 of Pentacles appeared right after these “negative” cards, and asked me to use gratitude as my main lens for viewing my life and the world. I do indeed have what I need, materially, and even my very real health challenges can be seen as minor in the grand scheme of the suffering of this world. I do live in the “relative ease and comfort” described in the guidebook to the Tarot of Holy Light (see second pic below). I should stop and appreciate what I have and how far I have come in life to get here.
The end of a cycle: beyond gratitude to giving back
But expressing gratitude versus embodying joy and a sense of freedom are different actions, I think. I’m getting used to choosing gratitude, but joy and freedom are feelings I probably haven’t truly chosen yet. Maybe I have been letting my fears keep me in a “comfort zone” that is also a bit of a trap… Another good reason to get out of my comfort zones this year.
So this time around with the 9 of Pentacles I not only heard the message about gratitude (the practice of which is a core component of Jessica’s mentoring program, by the way), but another idea: it was time to graduate from thinking just about myself and my comfort to thinking about how I can contribute to the greater good. Not later, when I am all healed up and ready to face everyone and everything from a place of strength and power, but right now. Right in the middle of my pain and imperfection and fear. As long as I remain in my comfort zone, where my only concern is healing and improving myself, I am comfortable with the kind of vulnerability I have chosen. I mean, even if I share my deepest thoughts and feelings on social media (and I do!), I can retain some kind of control of my “exposure” to criticism, if I stick to topics where my shadow is used to being examined.
Uncomfortable vulnerability and integration
The idea of moving from prioritizing my personal comfort to greater community involvement and service is not new to me. Last month I participated in a 28 day challenge on Instagram led by @laylafsaad called “Me and White Supremacy.” It was an intense self-examination/education about the nature of white supremacy in the USA and my internalization of it/contribution to perpetuating it. All at the same time as continuing to be the super nice white spiritual lady that I am. *insert the eyeroll one may be tempted to give younger versions of oneself, before remembering to be kind*
I had previously read Layla’s open letter/blog post from October 2017 entitled “I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy,” (<– that link is for part 1; click here for part 2) but had still managed to keep my spiritual life and online persona compartmentalized, separate from the concerns of the real world beyond the confines of my home. Maybe I didn’t feel educated enough to speak on these topics, or thought that I didn’t have a big enough “platform” to make a difference, but what if the deeper truth is that I was just too lazy to figure out how to do the work, and didn’t want to share my pretty Tarot account on Instagram with ugly, worldly stuff? This fits with my personal pattern of spiritual bypassing/escapism; it was out of my comfort zone to *become* someone who had integrated her spiritual pursuits with her worldly awareness and practices (and for that awareness/practice to be “good enough” to share).
Perfection is the enemy of progress
But wait…isn’t this sort of integration that I just said I had been called to do as part of Jessica’s mentoring program? Yes, yes it was. And so somehow, thankfully, when I saw one of my Instagram friends posting about Layla’s 28 day challenge, I knew it was time to step up. I did the whole 28 days worth of prompts, and it was truly transformative. (Click here to sign up for the workbook version of these prompts, coming soon. UPDATE: now available at the same link as a book.) And it broke down the walls I had erected between my nice, sweet (however personal) Tarot life and the rest of the world that I had been bypassing because I could, because I am comfortable and I like it that way. I had been waiting to become some perfectly educated person before bothering to speak up, to become some perfect example of activism in real life before claiming any affiliation online with social justice movements, all in the name of avoiding criticism, I believe. This is a form of “white silence” that I learned about in Layla’s challenge, and it’s just one harmful facet behavior that upholds white supremacy. When you say nothing, nothing ever changes.
Part of addressing one’s own internalization of a white supremacist culture is recognizing that the work of detoxing from your conditioning is never going to be complete. So right away you have to give up waiting for perfection before you act. You will never be perfect, and in fact, perfectionism is one more feature of a white supremacist culture. How’s THAT little nugget of truth for motivating me to step up and be imperfect about it?!
Seriously gonna talk about the cards now…
Okay, so let’s talk about the how the various 9 of Pentacles cards I looked at last week relate not only to great personal wealth but great personal responsibility. (Is anyone NOT thinking of Spiderman right now?) Even within a strictly utopian society, one would be urged to move out of one’s comfort zone, once it had been securely established, right? I love this highlighted bit of the Tarot of the Holy Light guidebook:
When I pulled out a bunch of 9 of Pentacles cards this past week, I kept only the ones that appealed to me at the moment, not knowing entirely what the common themes were going to be. The standard interpretation for the Rider Waite Smith and similar decks has to do with individual mastery/wealth, but as I looked over the cards I had chosen, I found myself creating categories that had to do with deeper questions of what wealth actually is, where it comes from, and what we are meant to do with it beside glory in it/give thanks for it.
In writing this post I have altered these categories a bit further, based on how I had grouped the cards for photographs the day before, which was honestly “very quickly and in between family demands.” So, it’s a good thing there are no absolute “right answers” in the world of Tarot cards. 😉 Let’s see what what wants to emerge today…
Direct comparisons between cards…yay! Finally!
Here, in the pic below, I see multiple potential card pairings that interest me.
Vision, investment, movement
The left column has the figure in the Fountain Tarot walking straight ahead, in front of a series of coins, perhaps continuing the cycle of acquisition and growth as each coin has had time to grow larger through whatever this person has invested it in, or by inflation, or whatever else I don’t know about how money grows. They are continuing in the same direction as the coins have been leading them, or at least on the same path they have been walking, as they continues to methodically plant/harvest coins. There is no sign of the pattern changing any time soon. Above this card, the figure on the Sasuraibito is facing the right side of the card, which is often associated with the future, and wearing the nine coins as jewelry which reminds me of a sort of warrior’s garb, and which also feels related to the many eyes on this card, as though they are using their own accomplishments as lenses through which to view the world and plan their next moves. The companion bird is not hooded, as many are on a 9 of Pentacles card, so there is a great sense of “vision” here. There is no self-imposed restriction on what is to be seen and taken into consideration when making assessments or decisions about how to engage in the world.
Sustainability and inner wealth
Now compare the first two cards on the bottom row: both have “rings” of gold, but the one on the left, as I said, is moving towards the front of the card, and has a very purposeful, predictable forward motion to it. The one to its right looks more like a set of ripples emanating from the center, where a single, more solid looking source of gold is located, and behind which a meditative figure is seen to be sitting. There is a hint of this figure’s reflection in the gold ripples before them, and I get a real sense of “inner riches” here, and “reflecting on what is important.” I also see here the idea that one can have a “principle” amount of wealth from which interest is drawn and allowed to ripple out into the world to do good elsewhere, that one may remain personally steady and secure as one is giving, so that the giving is sustainable over a lifetime.
This idea of “inner wealth” is also echoed by the card above it, where the long haired figure holds a bunch of sunflowers to their chest. I’m no chakra expert, but this looks very “solar plexus chakra” to me here, and very much speaks to me of personal strength and will power as both a means of accumulating wealth and AS a kind of wealth. One’s strength and self-determination IS the gold here. This metaphorical approach to defining wealth is one that came to me again today when I drew my current card of the week, The Hierophant. After choosing that card, I turned over the deck and saw the 9 of Pentacles at the bottom, looking all rich and comfy, and I used those two cards together to create one of the quick “Above & Below” readings I have taken to posting occasionally in my Instagram stories. Because of the nature of the Hierophant as a translator of/channel for sacred wisdom, I asked myself how the 9 of Pentacles could be viewed as a “foundation” for my interactions with various hierophants I might come across, whether as people or textbooks or traditions of any sort. I came up with “no gurus, just guideposts” and followed it up with “owning your truth is the greatest kind of wealth.”
Well, I guess it’s ONE kind of “greatest wealth.” haha Now that I think about it, I see it’s still very SELF-oriented, and that’s what I am trying to get away from here…
Spiritual versus material “gain”
So let’s move on to comparing the last three cards. First, the person holding allllll the sunflowers + the card next to it, top right: this figure has apparently cut 4 of the 9 sunflowers that were growing below and bundled them up, ready to offer to someone else. The keyword for this Thoth-based card is “gain,” same as the card below it, and while I don’t know the Thoth system yet, I am struck by how enlightened and spiritual each of these card images feel. The keyword “gain” + the image on the top right card seems to suggest that the person’s satisfaction with material gain isn’t complete unless it can be shared with someone else. Or that the purpose of “gain” IS to share it with someone else. And the card below this has so much light (fire) and feathers (air) for an earth suit card, doesn’t it? This makes me think of “gain” as something spiritual rather than material here. There is even a hint of loss/death (feathers falling) and rising/rebirth (the bird near the sun, looking a bit like a phoenix). The figure on the card seems to be looking at the rising bird, perhaps “gaining” inspiration for the next phase of life they are about to enter.
Next set of cards to compare…
Achievement, acquisition, activation
The cards in the left column suggest dark, closed up rooms where treasure is being held quietly and securely, and without any sense of movement into the outside world. The middle column cards show a figure outdoors, though still on or near a building, contemplating life and the material world. The top card (from the Navigators deck which I will admit I have done NO research into) is called “acquisition,” but the bottom card seems to focus more on “self-direction” as a means of making sure that whatever one wants to achieve is truly worthy of the effort. The cards in the right column both show someone’s insides! There are many ways to interpret this bottom card, and the first thing that comes to mind is an autopsy, to be honest. Maybe a sense of material wealth (like the body) as something temporary, as in “you can’t take it with you?” (I have no guidebook for this deck, so it’s always intuitive meanings with these cards!) The top card is more specifically a view of the area near the heart, and shows coins with eyes on them floating around in there with flames shooting out of their tops. (Gotta love this deck!! So many eyes and flames everywhere.) This suggests to me notions of what we hold dear, or “treasure,” and how we let those notions inspire our actions in the material world.
The whole set of cards here seems to be asking me whether I want to hoard my wealth or let it propel me to do what great things I can for the world while I am here. Like, the top row could be asking, as you acquire things, do you want to hide them away for safe keeping, or open your heart and let your treasure loose into the world, to fulfill your highest purpose? And the bottom row could be asking, what IS your highest self whispering to you? Perhaps it’s time to let go of fear and be more “open” to the world.
Inheritance, community, co-creation
This is a big grouping of cards, but they all spoke to me most clearly of “community,” both in the sense of who we surround ourselves with, but also in the sense of which people, throughout history, across space and time, we have inherited a wealth of ideas, inspiration, and actual material goods. I felt so strongly when looking at this grouping that the notion of “independent/personal wealth” rings a bit shallow and even false, if we are truly honest about recognizing how many resources we did not “earn” that have nevertheless supported us in the building of our lives: the very materials of the earth itself (the Original Wealth of plants + rocks, water, air, etc.), oral and written history, systems of education and training, modern science and the products of innovation and invention, common sense passed on through parenting and socialization, ancient wisdom traditions that give shape to our sense of the world’s magic and our place in it. SO MANY THINGS that we are given as we move through life, and we have only to choose what to take, what to learn, what to pursue next.
Of course, some of us have more access to these things than others, and we are therefore more likely to be successful, more likely to resemble the typical 9 of Pentacles figure. And therefore we have more to give. Let me compare the figure on the very large Next World Tarot card (sitting on a mound of human-made objects, keyword “self-sufficiency”) with the figure on the Housewives Tarot, who seems to have entirely merged with her dish-washer and is here seen proudly presenting a sparkling pentacle plate (presumably just pulled from her “belly”) to the world. These cards really highlight the benefits of other people’s work – the inventors who first made all these objects, each designed to somehow save us a bit of work, to free us up to do more creative things, perhaps; the people who figured out how to mass produce, distribute, and sell them to people all over the world; the employers who paid whomever earned the paycheck to buy these objects, etc. I mean, unless the figures on these cards made these objects from scratch, they really represent a clever use of existing resources rather than self-sufficiency, if you want to get really picky about it. (Which I sometimes do.)
Continuing on, if you didn’t magically create your success out of thin air, by sheer personal willpower and hard work, if you had help from those around you and those who came before you, maybe this “personal success” is not meant to be worn as a badge of “self-sufficiency” and touted as the natural result of your own intrinsic awesomeness. (I realize I am taking this idea of person achievement to an extreme for the sake of argument, and that there is more nuance in most Tarot cards than a one-dimensional “meaning,” but this is just part of how I think through the cards’ messages, so bear with me.) Maybe if you didn’t create your success all by yourself, you shouldn’t keep it all to yourself.
The Zombie Tarot card gets it, here: the well-heeled patrons of this market recognize that their success is not shared by all, and they make accomodations to help meet everyone’s needs. This scene reminds me of a “Coexist” bumper sticker. It depicts quite a “charitable” approach to living with the less fortunate. But I have also learned, through my work in Layla Saad’s recent Instagram challenge, that “charity” can be part of oppression, too. Google “white savior” if you don’t know what I mean. And follow this Instagram account. In any case, I think this is a good time to talk about that middle card. It’s from the Illuminated Tarot by Caitlin Keegan, which is a deck that combines each of the majors with a minor arcana card, and this is one of those combined cards. It’s the 9 of Pentacles but also The Hermit. What an interesting choice! Caitlin’s keywords for this card are “sacrifice without regret” and “self-care.” This really does “illuminate” for me the way the energy of this card can refer only to the self OR include the relationship of the self to others. Recognizing one’s wealth, or privilege, can stop there with a celebration of self or it can lead to “charity” work towards others. But what is the next level of this card’s energy? How about a third option?
This is where “co-creation” comes in. This is a word I first heard during my nursing school days, and it has taken me many years to really understand the difference between doing things alongside others versus truly co-creating. In this country (the USA), during my lifetime (I was born in 1970), the socialization has been very strongly oriented towards independence: being self-made, having motivation, drive, goals, productivity, and achievements that are all born of self and benefitting self. And when you are successful enough, you can give donations to others in need that can be written off your income taxes. Basically capitalism with a side of charity. Very little was taught to me about organic systems, community efforts, organizing principles, and SHARED resources, goals, and efforts. And I’m quite an introvert, naturally, so I haven’t really sought out community efforts.
And yet, one of my “callings” this year is to break out of my individual shell and engage more with others. So I am very interested in the top two cards in this group, which show communal experiences. The Mythic Tarot (keyword “community”) shows a circle of people with the most amazing heads of hair, sitting around a central fire, holding hands, surrounded by animals/scenes that might represent the four elements (I really should use guidebooks more often! LOL), with a pathway coming towards the circle from below and leading out from the circle towards the area above it. It feels very much like a circle of people who are indeed each unique individuals, but who recognize that the collective contains all the power and inspiration and primal energy needed to have the fullest, richest, more highly evolved life. This card makes me want to find a women’s circle that isn’t just about wine and books (although book club is way better than no social life). It makes me want to find a group of community organizers that I can plug in to and learn from and grow with. It makes me yearn for community, and collective thinking and action and evolution. To be part of some kind of co-creation of a better world.
“Bound up with” others
Lastly, there is that Nine of Disks from the Tarot of the Crone. The nine houses here make me think that community IS wealth. My mother just came back from a trip to New Mexico, so of course I also thought of “pueblos” when I saw this card. And I thought of the way this land I live on was taken from the indigenous people who lived here before, and still live here but are rarely mentioned in the media or thought about when making public policies to this date (or if they are thought of, it’s not in a effort to honor them.) And HERE lies the most basic concept of community to me – the very question of who we include as part of the definition of “WE.” Who is “one of US” and who is “one of THEM?” Which resources belong to us, and how did we come to possess them? What is our responsibility to our fellow humans, and to the planet upon which we depend for our very survival, when it comes to the acquisition, accumulation, investment, distribution, and overall stewardship of resources?
These are exactly the kinds of big picture questions that can paralyze me and make me want to go back into my shell and do nothing. Because again, privilege and perfectionism keep me comfortably safe and small. But this 9 of Pentacles study has been a great mirror to me in so many ways, and I cannot look away from what I see – my own responsibility, as someone who has (for the present moment, anyway) “solved the survival challenge,” to do something for the greater good, and to do it in solidarity with others.
I’ll end with this series of cards from the Dark Days Tarot, the 7-10 of Pentacles (with graphics I added to help me process the cards), which I felt told a nice story about the progression from personal activity to the co-creation of a communal legacy, and a quote that describes my understanding of how I should proceed from here on out, when it comes to my own understanding of “wealth.” Much love to you, anyone who made it through this whole post! xoxo