There’s something ugly about this card. Look at the way the merchant measures out precisely how much he should give to two people reduced to begging on their knees.
Yes, it’s a good thing to share with those in need—no question. But this man seems to have no respect for the basic human dignity of these two people. Shouldn’t he find a way to help them out without humiliating them?
There’s no indication, to me, that this man is supposed to be some sort of holy figure—and therefore I don’t see him as a fitting subject of worship. And this isn’t three consenting adults exploring ideas of dominance and submission for the fun of it. There are two people here who seem powerless, and a third who seems to accept power as his due.
Perhaps this is the dark side of the suit of Pentacles. Pentacles represent earth and everything that suggests: hard work, prosperity, craftsmanship and family. So perhaps we shouldn’t expect the sharp, bitter blades that can cut us in the suit of Swords—the suit of air and the mind. Or the angst that can drown us in the suit of Cups—the suit of water and of emotions. Or the anger that can explode in the suit of Wands, the suit of fire and ambition.
No, when Pentacles presents us with a problematic card, it usually deals with greed (as we see in the Four of Pentacles) or what we have here: a trite sort of superiority. The idea of noblesse oblige gone terribly wrong.
Is there a way to rescue this card? To give it a more profound meaning? In Tarot and the Tree of Life—still my go to book on the Minor Arcana—Isabel Radow Kliegman certainly tries! She acknowledges the ugliness of it and then offers other ways to look at it. But none of those ways satisfy me.
On the other hand, as much as I hate this card, I know it’s good for me as a writer. I sometimes write stories where a power imbalance, for one reason or another, exists between the protagonists. And sometimes not in a bad way—sometimes it’s temporary and situational; sometimes it’s consensual and healthy enough.
But that only works when the people involved do have that basic respect for each other’s inherent dignity. So this card reminds me of how ugly power imbalances are when that respect isn’t there—and it reminds me to include examples of that in my stories.
What do you make of this card? Do you see a way to redeem it? If you’re a writer, what sort of theme or characters does it suggest to you? As usual, if it happens to inspire your own meta or story, please leave a link here!
Meanwhile, we’ll need a card for next week: Strength.