This is a brutal card. Two impoverished people trudge through a snow storm, passing the stained glass window of a church. Neither seem to see the building as a refuge. And one, at least, is ill: apart from walking with crutches, he wears a bell around his neck, warning anyone in earshot that he has leprosy.
Some see this card as an attack on established religion—the figures seem to regard the church as judgmental and unapproachable. And there’s no obvious way to enter it, even if the figures think they’d be welcome. Others think these two are rejecting any spiritual nourishment, ignoring what’s freely offered and close at hand.
So who’s at fault here? To me, the Five of Pentacles is a card where everything seems broken. It represents a society that does nothing to protect its sick and destitute members. It represents an institutional form of religion that has sunk into a complacent status quo and fails to notice the people most in need. Perhaps it even rejects them out of prejudice or fear. And it represents individuals who seem wrapped up in their own suffering, unable to offer each other comfort.
We can see a pattern now—so far, the fives of each suit have offered us more pain and conflict than hope. (Take a look at the Five of Cups here and the Five of Swords here.) So what’s with the number five? The Tarot—especially this deck and the newer ones that are based on it—borrows symbolism from the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. And in the Kabbalah, the number five is sometimes associated with judgment and limitation.
Fitting, right? Judgment and limitation seem to sum up the Five of Pentacles.
I’ve used this card for one character—I associate it with Shocha at the beginning of Crevlock Tower. He’s a foreigner in a hostile land, tortured, imprisoned and permanently robbed of his power of speech. Without his tongue, he can’t command his magic, so he’s cut off from a part of himself. His understanding of spirituality is twisted, at best. And, until he meets Aric, he can’t expect help from any spiritual leader. They’ll reject him out of prejudice and fear.
Shoch is no innocent in this—he’s imprisoned for good reason. And he’s tempted to wrap himself up in his own suffering. But he bucks the despair of the Five of Pentacles instead by taking a chance on Aric.
Have you ever written a character or scene that meshes with the Five of Pentacles? Can you see this card inspiring you in the future? Do you have an alternative interpretation to offer? I’d love to hear about it. And, as always, if this inspires a story, poem or meta, please leave a link in the comments.
Okay, now we need a random card for next week. We’ll go with the Three of Wands.
By the way (and speaking of religion), Yom Kippur. begins this evening. I wish anyone who’s celebrating a meaningful fast!