As we have discovered in earlier posts, Fives in general are seen as “trouble cards” in a Tarot spread because the number Five, symbolized by the pentagram, stands for the five senses and five extremities of humankind—and all the sins and shortcomings implied therein. In the Talmud we read of a “roundtable” exchange between God and His angels in which they debated whether God should create man at all. The angels of Love and Justice favored creating man because they believed that man would love God’s Creation and practice justice and righteousness on earth. The angels of Truth and Peace, however, vigorously opposed creating man because, they believed, man would be hostile, warlike and full of lies. To show his resolve, God hurled the angel of Truth down to earth, and when his angelic colleagues protested his expulsion, God replied, the Scripture says, “Truth will spring back out of the earth.”
Of course, both angelic parties were right about us, so if we humans seem like such confusing and contradictory creatures—capable of both timeless works of beauty and ritual mass slaughters—it’s entirely possible that we have been created that way for a reason: As the Talmud implies, that we be made aware of our imperfections so that we would work to transcend them. This is one of the most fundamental principles of esoteric study, and recognition of this marks the initial signpost on the road to individuation.
Here, in the Five of Pentacles, a fallen couple—a beggar woman and a crippled child—are lost in darkness, their world a cold and inhospitable place. We create worlds such as this in our own minds whenever we think ourselves without blemish and transfer our worst neuroses onto our brothers; and conversely, when we harbor self-destructive feelings of inadequacy. We also create this world whenever we feel sorry for ourselves over some perceived slight, or when we carry grudges and fail to forgive others who may have trespassed against us. We discover eventually, to our dismay, that this self-imposed state of separation from our fellow angels-in-training is also a state of separation from The One would give us our wings! Hence the church in the Five of Pentacles has no door through which our harried couple can enter to seek shelter and warmth. In their self-absorbed emotional state, they wouldn’t even notice a door if it were flung open for them.
The traditional meaning of this card revolves around the theme of material troubles, or living in a state of poverty—but an equally fitting title to this card could be “Materialism,” and the image can just as easily serve as a caution for putting too much personal emphasis on the things of this world, of allowing our materialistic impulses to overwhelm our spiritual side. When we do this, we imprison ourselves in the cold, heartless world of mammon, and we impoverish our psyches and cripple our true Selves.
In Matthew, Jesus reminds us that :
Again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
One of Western man’s more tragic errors of perception has been his tendency to equate material wealth with moral rectitude, and to look upon the poor as morally deficient creatures. A universal spiritual principle that is common across all faiths urges us to look beyond the surface, to judge not others for their lot in life, and to provide aid and comfort to the poor. Again, Jesus reminds us,
If you would be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.
The Five of Pentacles confronts us on multiple levels: First by asking if we have built walls between ourselves and others, then by asking us to question our material priorities, and finally by asking us whether we have done enough to share the gifts of love and forgiveness with others less fortunate. The “truth” that we are summoned to “spring back” from the earth requires us not to conceal but to reveal it, and that in turn requires each of us to spend some reflective moments in honest self-examination, starting with one basic question to ourselves: Have we helped or hindered others today?
(Updated on 4/28 to correct typographical and grammatical errors.)