The “Snowball Theory” of Pentacles

In The Way of Tarot, Alejandro Jodorowsky notes that the suit of Pentacles or Coins is “always referred to in the plural” (“Deniers”) while the other suits of the Tarot de Marseille are presented in the singular form — e.g. “Baton” and not “Batons” — showing that the energy of the suit is “essentially collective” from its very beginning in the Ace (to which I would add “sequentially cumulative and acquisitive” since the Pentacles gradually accrue mass as they emerge into their full flowering in the Ten). Aleister Crowley, for one, did not find this a particularly encouraging development; of the 9 of Disks (Pentacles) he said “. . . the descent into matter implies the gradual exhaustion of the original whirling energy . . . As a general remark one may say that the multiplication of a symbol of Energy always tends to degrade its essential meaning, as well as to complicate it.” My assumption has always been that this ramification is an evolutionary inevitability, much as a single cell grows into a complex biological organism; degradation does not immediately ensue but I can see Crowley’s point — from a spiritual perspective, contact with matter compromises the pure essence of an element even as it fulfills its original promise.

The scenario reminds me of rolling a snowball down a hill in what we as kids called “snowman snow” (wet, sticky and dense like cement). The small globe that started in our hands gathered layers with each downhill revolution until, at the bottom, it took two people to move it into position. If we could make “mudmen” out of the element of Earth, this is how we would do it (or perhaps candle-dipping is a better analogy). This process of agglomeration is the metaphysical principle behind the “Descent of Spirit into Matter” on the qabalistic Tree of Life. The Ace of any suit is a reservoir of potential (or numinous) energy symbolized by the mathematical Point, completely devoid of mass, momentum and direction; its power is entirely latent, needing a “nudge” of some kind to spur it into action. An irresistible urge to manifest “kicks it out of Eden” and starts the chain of transmutation that turns incipient “Force” into tangible “Form,” finally coming to rest, fully realized to the extent delimited by its element, in the Ten of the suit.

Jodorowsky observes that, in a general sense (and most particularly in the Seven), there is an increasing tendency to overvalue the material life to the detriment of spiritual sensitivity as the suit of Earth progresses toward its mundane denouement. This is entirely consistent with Crowley’s stance on the subject, and can be witnessed to a less pronounced degree in the prosaic images of the Waite-Smith deck and their narrative vignettes, although there are many misleading anecdotal detours. To delineate my approach to the Tarot de Marseille suit of Coins, here is a series of pip-card “thumbnails that I previously posted as individual blog entries, along with some comparative impressions regarding it and the Thoth and RWS versions of the same cards. At the end I have appended a few general remarks about the court cards of the suit.

Ace of Coins:

I consider the TdM Ace of Coins a “gambit” card (an action that is calculated to gain an advantage), one that entails some “grit” and requires getting one’s hands dirty. The expression “dirt under the fingernails” gives an idea of how much hands-on engagement and self-reliance are required. It has no patience with the proverb “All things come to those who wait,” although seeing it in a reading might create the temptation to sit on one’s hands, since Aces are often associated with the latent urge to take an action rather than actually taking it. This situation is least likely in the suit of Coins, which is pragmatic and results-oriented. But a little “push” is still required to get underway.

Inertia or the disinclination to act — an increasingly prevalent theme among the Coins as the series progresses — is at its lowest in the Ace. I’m going to break my TdM “esoteric avoidance” rule here and quote from the Book of Thoth: in any suit as it advances in number, there is a “gradual exhaustion of the energy” and, ultimately, “the force is completely expended.” The Aces represent the energy newly-minted and ready to step out into the world. Since the Ace of Coins follows the 10 of Swords, the implication is one of getting a fresh grip on a situation that has become complicated to the point of indecision and immobility. Another cliche I like is “A new broom sweeps clean” as the new cycle unfolds, although — to invoke the extension of this thought — it may miss some of the corners.

In the world of work, the Ace of Coins shows the untested initiative or the “wet-behind-the-ears” recruit; it holds great promise but no assurance of success. It’s too early to say what will come of it, since it has yet to meet any constructive push-back (the Two) or undergo any real planning (the Three). The “proof is in the pudding” (the Four) but its proponents have yet to “walk the talk” (the Five). Where the Ace of Batons can show the desire to change jobs, the Ace of Coins imparts the resolve to change careers. (And it seems the suit of Coins pushes my platitude meter into the red!)

In the RWS Ace of Pentacles, the key feature is the path leading through the open gate in the wall and on into the distance. To me it signifies “getting on the stick and heading on down the road” from the fertile field where the impulse for productive action originates. Another proverb inspired by the image of an angelic hand holding what looks like a bowling-ball is “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” The Thoth Ace of Disks incorporates Crowley’s characteristically coarse but compelling sensibilities: it is essentially a foreshortened view of the erect male sex organ, implying enormous fecundity as yet unleashed.

2 of Coins:

There is an interesting convergence of ideas between this card and the RWS 2 of Pentacles. Here we have two coins tightly wrapped in what appears to be a ribbon with a decorative floral fringe, while the RWS card shows an off-balance juggler trying to keep two balls in the air (and not a very adept juggler, I might add, since three balls is usually considered the lower threshold of journeyman competence). In Waite’s version, the printed ribbon has morphed into a cosmic lemniscate (derived from the Latin word meaning “decorated with ribbons”), a “figure 8” symbol suggesting infinity that seems to be the only thing keeping the juggler from losing control (in other words, he’s convinced he has all the time in the world to get it right). It makes me think of Scottish economic sage Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the unseen pressures on supply and demand that regulate business cycles. (“The invisible hand is part of laissez-faire, meaning ‘let do/let go,’ approach to the market. In other words, the approach holds that the market will find its equilibrium without government or other interventions forcing it into unnatural patterns.”) The man in the 2 of Pentacles can only hang on and hope that a higher power will intervene on his behalf; otherwise, he could be in trouble as the tempo of his performance escalates, requiring increasingly fancier footwork. (I should mention that the Thoth version is unremarkable since it is at least visually a TdM clone with a crowned snake biting its tail instead of a ribbon; it’s title, “Change” would, in an ideal world, be taken to mean “orderly, incremental change produced by reciprocal or compensatory action.”)

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At first I thought that the TdM 2 of Coins suggests a boleadoras (or bolas, but more properly a somai of two weights). The bizarre notion that it looks like an athlete’s jockstrap also crossed my mind (hmm, consider the RWS juggler’s conical red cap in that regard). The former is a throwing weapon used to ensnare small game. But on further research I realized that the analogy of a Chinese meteor — a juggler’s stage prop of two weights connected by a cord — is a better fit. This from Wikipedia:

“The meteor is based on the Chinese meteor hammer, a bolo-like weapon made from stones and rope. Approximately 1500 years ago, this hunting weapon began its transition into a performing art. The Chinese circus tradition has featured meteors with brightly colored balls, glass bowls filled with colored water, or pans of flaming oil in place of the stone weights.”

As I’ve said before, the number Two reminds me of the rhythmic sweep of a metronome or pendulum, which travels to opposite extremes but in a balanced system always returns “like clockwork” to dead center before it can fail by decoupling from its pivot point. The ribbon (or lemniscate) serves the purpose of keeping the two coins from flying off in opposite directions, and is thus a regulating device. In practical (that is divinatory) terms, the impression is that of striving to maintain one’s composure under destabilizing circumstances. If too much “rope” (or slack) is fed into the arc of the gyrating stones, chaos will surely ensue.

The obvious advice is to keep a firm grip on one’s mundane affairs. There is only tenuous and fleeting equilibrium here, not the stalwart foursquare solidity of the 4 of Coins. So mind your purse strings and don’t overextend; tantalizing come-ons abound, some of them even legitimate but none of them advisable at this point in time. (Them: “Of course we’ll be happy to meet you more than half-way.” Me: “Sure you will, when pigs fly.”) Now is a moment for measured steps, not one to indiscriminately pile on risk. Contemplate the proverb of “the last straw;” despite all appearances, what currently seems nicely poised for success could reverse direction in the blink of an eye unless prudence is exercised. The clumsy juggler seems to be struggling toward Aleister Crowley’s formula “Change = Stability,” but time may in fact be short.

3 of Coins:

The 3 of Coins is one of the TdM cards that display a “womb-like” arrangement of foliage enclosing a suit emblem. Because the foliage appears to be encircling the emblem in a protective and nurturing way, the implication is that of gestation of the “seed” principle of the suit. Another “incubator” card in the Hadar TdM and other Conver-based decks is the 3 of Cups, although it appears to be well past the point of propagation and is clearly in the throes of parturition.

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All of the Threes convey the idea of the cooperation of the Father (1) and the Mother (2) in fostering the Child (1 + 2 = 3), and in the 3 of Coins that which is being nurtured and advanced is a production plan. The RWS 3 of Pentacles makes this abundantly clear. It shows what appears to be an architect discussing a blueprint with a craftsman while the clergyman/client looks on impassively. This scene brings to mind the business maxim “Plan the work and work the plan.” In the 3 of Coins, the “womb” is narrower and firmer than its counterpart in the squatter, more distended 3 of Cups, suggesting an earlier stage of gestation. In the former the embryo is still snugly embedded, while in the latter dilation has commenced in preparation for birth. The chromosomes are still sorting themselves out in the 3 of Coins, reinforcing the idea of a plan under development and not the harbinger of an imminent event.

The Thoth 3 of Disks (another recognizable TdM clone) cuts right to the chase, presenting itself as “Work,” but I think that’s jumping the gun a bit with its TdM ancestor. An “appetite for work” or “a strong work ethic” would probably be closer to the truth since there is a sense in the 3 of Coins of being prepared in the event the opportunity arises, but there is not yet an overwhelming internal push in that direction; the birth of that desire is still pending. Practical applications within which the constructive impulse can evolve await in the 4 of Coins.

4 of Coins:

The 4 of Coins is fascinating in that it is the only one of the Coins pip cards to display a fabricated artifact (other than the coins themselves, which in fact could be seen as fruit or seeds). In the Hadar TdM there is a shield with an abstract central blossom on it separating the two sets of coins and their attendant foliage, and the vines seem to be bending away in alarm from any contact with it. I get the idea of a high-stakes power play here, something akin to the lawsuits that Monsanto brought against farmers who refused to buy their genetically-modified seed corn. They claimed that random cross-pollination in the fields gave the farmers the benefit of their GMO development without paying the price for it, when those farmers didn’t even want it in the first place. Fueled by corporate money, the flowered tendrils are about to grow around the shield and intertwine, so it looks like a losing battle to defy the intrusion (and I believe the courts agreed, which could effectively put organic corn farmers — already a vanishing breed — out of business). The unnatural-looking flower on the shield could be an emblem of GMO technology. I also can’t shake the random notion that two of the red flowers bear what look like three-fingered hands on their stems, possibly indicative of scientific meddling in affairs best left to nature. None of this, of course, is even remotely germane to a traditional understanding of this card since it mingles bio-engineering and conspiracy theory. But I bet Niccolo Machiavelli would have found it interesting.

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The idea of power is not foreign to the 4 of Coins. Aleister Crowley titled his 4 of Disks (also a TdM clone) “Power;” it shows a stout fortress with a wide-open gate that appears to invite commerce, but only under strictly regulated conditions like tariffs and quotas. The number Four is associated with law-and-order due to its connection to the Emperor, and in the suit of Coins it suggests the “law of the land” at its simplest level and “corporate law” at its most convoluted. The shield on the 4 of Coins might reasonably by seen, at least in the USA, as the badge of an Interstate Commerce Commission agent, and it implies government intervention in financial matters such as trade and banking. At a more personal level, it advises taking a defensive stance and trying to keep disorder at bay. A good deal of tension is apparent in the white space between the shield and the vines where the natural and artificial meet, an uneasy face-off that the flower sigils on the shield don’t convincingly defuse (they look like a “red herring” to me). The shield is roughly the same size as the suit emblems, foreshadowing the radical introduction of the Five.

The RWS 4 of Pentacles is often interpreted as showing avarice and fear of financial loss (I think of it as the “Scrooge McDuck” card), ideas that don’t square well with what I see in the TdM and Thoth cards. Four is above all a number of stability and security that can degenerate into stagnation and xenophobia if allowed to become too entrenched; perhaps the man hoarding his coins could be making more money in the stock market. Maybe he is just trying to shelter his gains from the long arm of the taxman, an idea that is more in tune with the other versions of this card.

5 of Coins:

The 5 of Coins is the next stop in this series of TdM “thumbnails,” showing an interesting departure from the 4 of Coins. Here the encirclement of the central emblem (formerly a shield) has now been completed and, lo and behold, we have another coin (or fruit, or seed) at the center in place of the obstructing shield. The enclosed space articulated by the foliage reminds me of an autoclave, a sealed retort used to subject material to intense pressure and heat, effecting a chemical transmutation or change of state. It also makes me think of an oyster concealing a pearl that originated as a grain of sand. The fifth coin is thus elevated in importance, suggestive of the biblical parable of “the pearl of great price.”

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Although the Fives are often viewed as difficult cards, bringing chaotic but crucial transformation to the static realm of the Fours (I think of them as “breaking eggs to make omelets”), Joseph Maxwell, while acknowledging the connotation of “change,” had a slightly different opinion:

“The number 5 breaks the equilibrium of the square, and is favorable in a muted sense, bringing, however, new or unusual influences with it.” (Note that there is no mention of “stress” or “challenge” as is implied in all of the Thoth and RWS Fives; the closest he comes is to hint at uneasiness about the unknown.)

Under the 5 of Deniers he adds:

“The new unity” (that is, the single coin at the center) “which, added to the number four, creates the five, augurs a favorable orientation if the seed falls into well-tilled earth; if not, problems may be expected.”

In Maxwell’s analysis, this card appears to express the isomorph “4 + 1,” embodying Saint-Martin’s numerological interpretation of “saving grace” rather than “3 + 2,” which carries the antithetical meaning of “menace.” He observes:

“The latter is opposition to progress, fixation in a stagnant state, cessation of unfoldment. The former is the further development of the material condition which has reached perfection by the addition to it of the fecundating principle of unity.” (The number Four represents the fertile material state and One the impregnating unity that galvanizes it.)

As I see it, the fifth coin is still in a state of incubation that won’t culminate until the 6 of Coins, where the analogy is turned inside-out with what looks like the embryonic seed undergoing cell division to produce the double-ended issue of the Six. Maxwell’s “well-tilled earth” lies outside the secluded space and holds only the spent husks of the four “seeds” from the previous card. It’s too early to tell where the fifth seed will fall. All of the energy in this card is aimed at gestation of the sheltered zygote that carries with it the only hope for its four antecedents to evolve before they succumb to utter inertia. Renewed growth is only implied, however, since there is no opening in the womb through which the fortified unity of purpose may emerge. There is a promise here but as yet no performance. Preparation for impending change seems to be the keynote, and all that can be accomplished at present. Therefore, this is still a cautionary card rather than one of triumph over stagnation.

6 of Coins:

The Six of Coins’ conceptual leap beyond the Five is remarkable. Where the Five is detached and barren, with the two triangles formed by the suit emblems converging in a shared apex at the center of the insular “womb,” the Six is outwardly engaged and prolific, turning that configuration inside out with the apex of each triangle now resembling a ripe fruit dangling from the end of a branch. In the entry titled “Graphics” in his A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot described the upright triangle as “evolutive” and the inverse triangle as “involutive.”* In the suit of Coins it’s a question of worldly advancement versus withdrawal, or at best stasis; in the 5 of Coins, the two are on a collision course, ultimately cancelling one another out and producing a null state, while in the 6 of Coins they are drawing apart, the better to regard the opposite number and chart an advantageous course between the extremes. Foliage fills the interstitial spaces with the impetus for growth, implying that fulfillment of the promise will proceed naturally, without needing to be forced. The keynote of all the Sixes is harmony, and in the suit of Coins the implication is of a well-oiled machine.

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At the center is a healthy-looking blossom fed by two leaf-bearing tendrils, and the foliage has stretched dramatically to accommodate all six coins. If the central coin (or “seed”) in the 5 of Coins suggests an unfertilized ovum, the two “fruit” emerging from the top and bottom of the 6 of Coins bring to mind the cellular bifurcation that marks the first step on the road to becoming a viable embryo. The term “cell division” presents itself when the two cards are observed side-by-side. In the practical realm of divination, the simultaneous ripening of events reminds me of a “reverse stock split,” where a company divides the number of outstanding shares held by stockholders, thereby increasing the market value of each share. As I mention in my 7 of Coins essay, the Six shows a bountiful harvest, not yet past its prime and ready for gathering. As the rural idiom goes, “Time’s a-wastin’,” and the situation may be only a hair’s breadth away from decline. If you’ve been planning on doing something, do it now!

The Thoth 6 of Disks is a close cousin to the TdM card, both visually and literally. Its title, “Success,” neatly captures the essence of the Six in the world of commerce and finance: an economic engine hitting on all cylinders. The RWS 6 of Pentacles, on the other hand, confuses the issue with notions of charity and generosity. While the opportunity to exercise those virtues may be a collateral benefit of amassing wealth beyond one’s immediate needs, they have little to do with the primary urge to succeed for its own sake.

*Cirlot’s examples clearly display isosceles triangles, not equilateral as shown in these cards. His intent was apparently to convey divergence rather than static symmetry, but I think my purpose is served.

7 of Coins:

Here is a kind of “trial balloon” floating some of the ideas I’ve been talking about in the previous thumbnails. The image in the Conver 7 of Coins suggests a trellis bearing ripe fruit, some of which have fallen (or are in the act of falling) to the ground. It shows the harvest at a critical stage, where some of the wages of one’s labor are in danger of being lost to spoilage. The three coins embraced by the foliage show that the creative urge is still present, but the four outlying coins signify that it has sacrificed some of its generative power. It is obviously near the end of the growing season. There is also the reasonable assumption that we see here a post-harvest state in which the coins are seed-pods and the four detached hulls have already been broadcast to winter over in the soil. In that case the image could be showing not so much a bumper crop ready for picking (that’s more evident in the 6 of Coins) as an uncertain investment in the future. The advice could be to carefully husband the three remaining “pods” for systematic planting as a hedge against the vagaries of nature. In business terms it makes me think of the back end of the product cycle, where sales and profits are declining as demand slackens, and there is little point in spending a lot of money on R&D and marketing. Mercantile salvage houses (think TJ Maxx) loom on the horizon to scoop up the unsold surplus.

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This idea of an interrupted harvest is echoed in the RWS 7 of Pentacles, where two of the “fruits” lie on the ground while the farmer seems to be standing idly by leaning on his hoe rather than trying to finish the job and get all seven off to market. The Golden Dawn’s title “Lord of Success Unfulfilled” seems perfectly aligned with this impression, as does Aleister Crowley’s “Failure” and his mention of the barren geomantic figure of Rubeus (Saturn) and its poor fit with the agricultural ebullience of Taurus, where Saturn enfeebles everything it touches. It reminds me of the Game of Thrones maxim, “Winter is coming.”

8 of Coins:

The design of the TdM 8 of Coins makes me think of “warehousing:” neatly organized shelves of goods laid up for storage. (In an ideal world they would all be racked barrels of ale!) Well-planned productivity is indicated, with no helter-skelter rush to fill the distribution channels with output. There is a low-key professionalism to it that has carried over into later versions of this card. No one suit emblem stands out from any other; each holds its appointed place without fanfare. “Conservation of energy” comes to mind as an operative principle; even the flowers and foliage are fairly regular, wasting little effort on random differentiation. This looks like the second half of the business maxim I proposed for the 3 of Coins: “Plan the work and work the plan.” I see nothing extemporaneous in this card.

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Alternatively, it could reflect dreary conformity of the “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” variety. There is an unrelieved sobriety in it that is as colorless as it is admirable. In the world of business it suggests the office drudge who counts the beans and keeps a low profile; before the computer age they were indispensable, but modern eyes might instead see in this image a bank of servers quietly churning away. In manufacturing terms it implies assembly-line mass production, which relies on every widget that comes off the line being exactly like the last one and identical to the one following. The concepts of “margin for error” and “fudge factor” seem to be non-existent in this finely-tooled example of near-perfect symmetry. The advice might well be “Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone.” I can imagine production managers drooling over the prospect of an 8-day work week as was the case in the old Julian calendar before the Mithraic religion changed the playing field.

There is an apparent anomaly between the RWS 3 of Pentacles and the 8 of Pentacles in modern tarot practice. Some interpreters insist on calling the former the “master craftsman” card, and they view the latter as depicting a journeyman carver. Appearances don’t really bear that out; the 3 of Pentacles shows a team effort with the craftsman taking direction from what looks like an architect and his monkish client, whereas the craftsman in the 8 of Pentacles is laboring entirely without external oversight. Whom, I ask, is the “master?” As a rule, in the numerological pecking order the Eight is decidedly more experienced than the Three. (The only way I might see it differently is if the individual offering guidance in the 3 of Pentacles but not actually getting his hands dirty is a superior in the trade rather than a contracted professional. But I don’t recall Waite making that distinction.) Other than that, the 8 of Pentacles seems like a reasonable approximation of the assumptions I’m making about the TdM 8 of Coins.

If we don’t look too closely, the Thoth 8 of Disks is another credible replica of its TdM counterpart, right down to the stylized foliage. It’s title, “Prudence” promotes the idea of sobriety that I mentioned above, while the glowing colors give the impression of fulfillment in whatever undertaking the situation demands. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” might be its motto. It is an excellent harbinger for getting things done without undue exertion (and, I might add, so is the TdM 8 of Coins).

9 of Coins:

Going strictly on visual appearance, the TdM 9 of Coins is the “squashed” version of the 5 of Coins. The doubling of external suit emblems has compressed the capsule holding the “seed” to a fraction of its former volume, intensifying the conditions for germination and ideally coaxing or “forcing” the kernel to sprout on a schedule that differs from its naturally occurring timetable. In the Hadar card, the figure now has fourteen lobes instead of ten, resembling a cell culture breeding in a petri dish. This also bolsters my “autoclave” analogy of a sealed retort in which the application of elevated pressure and temperature expedites transmutation of the target substance; the smaller the chamber, the more rapid the rate of change. While this is often viewed as a card of material success, to me it conveys success under duress: “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” A period of rigorous testing is implied.

Like hovering alchemists (or, according to another paradigm, Wall Street investors), the stakeholders are waiting patiently for the process to come to fruition. The impression of a valuable pearl inside an oyster is even more satisfying here. Other useful concepts are a flywheel or gyroscope that maintains steady-state conditions in the overall structure, or a master gear that drives the rotational speed and direction of the entire train. In military terms, I could see the design as that of an armored car, with weapons fore and aft and a helmeted driver perched on the turret. The central emblem appears to be in the “driver’s seat” and it has more horsepower at its disposal than its counterpart in the Five.

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Aleister Crowley has likened the coin emblems to “whirling disks” rather than static tokens, investing them with a more dynamic potency than they would otherwise exhibit. All of this serves to position the 9 of Coins as a motive force in the world of commerce or finance. I’m reminded of a venture capitalist or a corporate raider who has the wherewithal and vision to turn a somnolent organization around. In divinatory terms, this card speaks of opportunity writ large; it smacks of the sweeping gesture and the grandiose scheme with no patience for doing things by half.

The Nines represent the “completion” of a suit (the Tens already have one foot in the next cycle), and the Greek philosophers considered Nine the “Third Perfection” after the Three and the Six. There is a self-assured decisiveness to the 9 of Coins that the more enervated 10 of Coins can’t match; its sense of finality is that of forceful closure rather than simple exhaustion. The “art of the deal” is a handy way to think of it. The advice would be to get your ducks lined up and then march into the fray with supreme confidence in the rectitude of your cause.

The RWS 9 of Pentacles carries a less compelling bucolic metaphor (a woman standing in a secluded garden) that implies natural abundance, composure and quiet strength in reserve, but also a self-satisfied complacency bordering on smugness. There is none of the disciplined motivational vigor I see in the TdM 9 of Coins. The Thoth 9 of Disks is marginally less passive; its title “Gain” suggests an engineered accumulation of resources rather than a purely fortuitous one. Where the RWS card conveys “living off the fat of the land,” the Thoth version invokes (to steal a phrase from Smith-Barney) getting its coin the hard way, by “earning it.”

10 of Coins:

In the TdM 10 of Coins, the “seed” shown in the 9 of Coins has gone straight to flower and the sheltering husk has dissolved. The flower now takes center stage and the converging triangles of the 5 of Coins have been driven apart by a blocking square, while the four leaves that were tightly clustered have now unfurled. The grasping nature of the 9 of Coins has relaxed into an acceptance of whatever comes, not exactly fatalistic but comfortable with the status quo.

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With the elimination of the center cell, the doubling of the “Five” pattern has produced two instances of the “3 + 2” isomorph rather than the single “4 + 1” array we saw earlier. As I mentioned then, 3 + 2 according to the numerology of Saint-Martin represents “opposition to progress, fixation in a stagnant state, cessation of unfoldment, ” and in Joseph Maxwell’s words implies a kind of veiled “menace.” (Hmm, I was wondering why Pythagoras considered 3+2 to be symbolic of “marriage.”) However, the four coins of the square hold the contradictory triangles apart, imposing a form of “King’s peace” on the situation (in the Anglo-Saxon law of medieval England, it meant the general peace secured to the entire realm by the law administered in the king’s name). The design suggests an uneasy truce, but I’m thinking that neither side has the energy or resources to continue the hostilities so it may be a truce of necessity rather than diplomacy. The addition of the flower unites the opposing quinaries in harmonious accord, burying the hatchet for the time being. The design also makes me think of a “crowded house,” and the flower suggests a matriarchal presence that, with a light, joyful touch, keeps order in the household. Given that Four is the number of the Emperor, it could also hint at the “power behind the throne.”

In another sense, the flower could signify the One that is hidden in the structure of the Ten (numerologically, 1+0 = 1, a return to the original unity). It is the promise of a new cycle aspiring to its fruition. In the 10 of Coins, the suit’s (and the entire deck’s) saga has reached its final chapter, with all momentum spent; the image resembles a dormant field in which new life has just taken root. Thus, the end embodies its own fresh start but, as I see it, that start does not partake of the essence of the Coins, which has grown stale, but rather of the suit of Batons. The life-force flowing through the flower draws on the natural vigor of the Batons, about which I said in an earlier post “nature is more puissant than artifice.”

There is another interesting correlation that is worth noting. Although none of his works are known to have survived, 1st-Century Greek philosopher Aetius of Antioch is attributed by other writers with the following observation about the decad.

“Ten is the very nature of number. All Greeks and all barbarians alike count up to ten, and having reached ten revert again to the unity. And again, Pythagoras maintains, the power of the number 10 lies in the number 4, the tetrad. This is the reason: If one starts at the unit (1) and adds the successive number up to 4, one will make up the number 10 (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10). And if one exceeds the tetrad, one will exceed 10 too…. So that the number by the unit resides in the number 10, but potentially in the number 4.”

In this exalted numerological sense, the square of four coins prefigures its elaboration in the ten. One source gives the definition of elaboration as “blossoming, flourishing, flowering,” which provides another enlightening insight into the meaning of the central flower. I’m beginning to think that some of the pips (and especially this one) may have had a philosophical basis after all.

In any situation that involves setting the stage for the next phase of growth, the 10 of Coins can show the groundwork that must be laid to ensure a successful launch. It is like compost that has aged and mellowed to the point that it can now furnish nutrients to augment the soil for replanting. In that sense, although the “old guard” will soon depart the field, preparations must be made for installment of the new administration. The aforementioned feeling of “menace” or dread may only be anxiety generated by having to face the unavoidable transition.

The RWS 10 of Pentacles echoes the “crowded house” metaphor while also showing three generations suggestive of family history. It is a good card for enjoying the fruits of ones labor in peace and quiet; the somewhat passé concept of a blissful retirement is displayed to perfection. This is one RWS card with which I have little quarrel. In divination the implication is one of restful but unexciting circumstances, something the old appreciate far more than the young (for whom it could portend only stultifying boredom). The Thoth 10 of Disks is titled “Wealth,” and the image is one of its robust accrual; there is an antique quality to it that makes me think “old money.”

General Observations on the Suit of Coins:

I’ve had people who are far more experienced with the TdM than I am tell me that they see the suit of Coins as representing money, period. They don’t bother with any other assumptions of a practical or material nature. Aleister Crowley (in an uncharacteristically mundane moment) stretched “money” to encompass “goods and such material matters.” As I see it, “goods and such material matters” include all kinds of domestic and commercial questions and situations regarding resources, as well as anything to do with worldly affairs that require a concrete, hands-on solution involving simple tools and methods rather than more subtle and sophisticated measures. Although Batons (Wands) is presented as the “work and business” suit, I treat the Coins as covering everything from the planning and execution of work to the wheeling and dealing of high finance. On the other hand, enterprise to the extent that it demands initiative and skillful maneuvering in the bruising realm of competitive give-and-take belongs under Batons; the talents of a warrior are more valuable than those of an accountant.

Coins are fungible; they can be exchanged for goods and services; in barter systems goods and services can be traded for similar considerations of equal value. “Money,” therefore, is a fluid entity that at its most basic conveys the idea of value received for value tendered, whether real or perceived. Where I don’t see a lot of relevance is in the analysis of complex motives, since that delves into the arena of psychological speculation befitting the other suits. The urgent need to buy food to keep body and soul together is a Coins concern; the need to feel appreciated at work isn’t.

The Deniers Court Cards:

The members of the Deniers court (also called Coins, Pentacles or Disks depending on the deck) are the “planners” of tarot royalty. They are for the most part orderly and regular, not prone to flights of fancy and wasted motion (or for that matter, emotion). Give them a set of rules and they will follow it doggedly, just don’t expect them to improvise when the road ahead isn’t clearly marked; they are more administrative than executive, both by choice and by temperament. They take the long view, with little tolerance for the fads and fashions of the day, and prudently extol the virtues of the “rainy day fund” over the “fast buck.” Not overly bothered by deep thoughts or feelings, they have more in common with the single-mindedness of Fire than the more tortuous ways of Water and Air. They are creatures of instinct rather than artifice, generally steadfast, reliable and unflappable but also unimaginative and patient to a fault. You would want one for your plumber or excavator, but probably not to direct your romantic comedy. Their tread is heavy and resolute; no lighthearted skipping allowed.

The suit of Earth is usually related to material pursuits that promote stability, which automatically brings up associations with work, but it is more career path than daily labor that is symbolized. Fire, with its emphasis on enterprise and initiative, is what gets the worker up and off to the salt mines every morning. Earth hoards the income and manages the investments. They are “function focused,” with a dominant bias toward money, finances, property and possessions, sustenance, security, comfort, discretion, conservatism, preservation, protection, stability, and established work habits (current job). The last thing they want is to have a day off with nothing useful to do; although deliberate in their ways, their reputation for laziness is a bad rap. Ambition can be a “slow burn” as well as a “fast track,” as the fable of the tortoise and the hare clearly illustrates.

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at

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