A man dressed in a luxurious fur coat holds four Pentacles: One under each foot, one with his hands, and another atop his gold crown. Behind him sprawls a magnificent city adorned with a majestic skyline of tall towers.
The Four of Pentacles, as with the other Fours, shows the suit of Pentacles in its most perfectly aspected form—yet, it also comes with a warning about the limitations of material life.
The man in the card has all the riches one could hope for in life—the wealth of the world and a prosperous, thriving kingdom. Clearly, he is a wise ruler. But he does not appear to be terribly happy about this; in a way, his dour expression suggests that he feels “weighed down” by the demands of the world around him, and his body language—the way he clutches the Pentacle to his chest protectively with two hands—suggests a defensive, perhaps even miserly, emotional state. Like the two sides of a coin, the Four reminds us that wealth has two natures: it can liberate us from many material worries, but it can also turn us into Ebenezer Scrooge, a prisoner to greed.
When Pamela Smith drew the city depicted here, she was almost certainly thinking about the famed Italian walled city of San Gimignano, a “Grand Tour” destination of her time that is renowned for its towering skyline:
It bears mentioning that while these towers fill us with wonder and awe when we tour them today, they had a practical purpose when they were constructed: Namely, to allow the royalty and nobility of the town to detect the advance of enemy hordes from afar, so as to prepare to defend the town from invasion—either from hostile armies or from an angry and restive peasantry banished outside the city walls. This speaks, again, to the feeling of defensiveness often felt by many people of wealth and privilege. We experience this in our own time when we see a relatively small number of billionaires increasingly monopolizing the wealth of the entire planet; they have more money than they can ever spend, yet they keep grabbing for more, and should anyone question the morality of mindless hoarding in the face of escalating poverty and inequality, they lash out in anger at the “welfare moochers” of the lesser orders. So should we guard against defensiveness in our lives, and be willing to share our good fortune with others. This is what we were sent here to do, after all!
Meanings of this card can include: Boundless prosperity, riches beyond measure, the blessings of civilization, or wealth in all its most positive aspects; but also obligations of leadership, greed and covetousness, defensiveness, or “money can’t buy you love.” Money is an important part in our waking lives, but it isn’t the only one, and it shouldn’t be allowed to take precedence over our impulses to mercy, charity, justice and love. Better to be modest of means than impoverished in spirit.