Sometimes a tarot card is clear to you and ‘easy’ to interpret. Those are the cards that I don’t have to think so hard about and so I spend less time delving into the origins of the symbolism and meanings. For me, one of those cards is 5 of Pentacles. I’ve assigned my own meanings and theories to this tarotcard ages ago and I’m always secure when it pops up in readings.
But recently I was – as it always happens: by coincedence – triggered again to take a look at the basic meanings of this card. And that led to a fascinating historical deepdive and some old new insights that I would like to share.
Generally, the following meanings are attributed to this tarot card:
- Difficult time
- (Financial) worries
- Illness, loneliness
- Appreciation for friends who will stand by you even when you are at your worst
- Hope: that there would always be someone around that can offer you help
- The saying: The blind leading the blind (in my native language, the saying goes: The blind leading the cripple)
I always had the idea that there also was an element of ‘choice’ in this card. You can ask for help, but maybe you don’t want to do that for some reason. You feel lonely and ‘rejected’, but perhaps you place yourself (consciously or unconsciously) outside society or group because of your behaviour or beliefs. Especially the latter interpretation sometimes evokes controversy. Of course, people don’t want to hear these kind of things because they think of themselves as being the victims. But where did I ever get that from? That’s the reason I wanted to return to the basic meanings of this tarotcard and delve some deeper into the symbolism.
I started with Waite: how exactly had he described the tarotcard 5 of Pentacles in the ‘Pictorial Key’? (‘The Pictorial Key to the Tarot is a book published by Waite for the ‘general public’ that accompanied the Rider-Waite-Smith deck). It contains the following description:
in a snow-storm pass a lighted casement.
meanings: The Card
foretells material trouble above all, whether in the form illustrated – that
is, destitution – or otherwise. For some cartmancists, it is a card of love and
lovers – wife, husband, friend, mistress; also concordance, affinities. These
alternatives cannot be harmonized.
Reversed: Disorder, chaos, ruin, discord, profligacy.
First of all, of course, it is notible that Waite mentions that some tarotists interpret the card differently than he does, namely as Love, lovers, Mistress, etc. And that he is not able harmonize those meanings. Waite refers to the meanings that Eteilla (1738 – 1791) had assigned to this card. In ‘his’ tarot deck, Pentacles 5 is card number 73.
But this wasn’t much of a surprise. I was drawn to the English word ‘Mendicants’. I’ve always translated this as “poor people” or “beggars.” I thought it was an old English word. But that’s not the case. ‘Mendicants’ are a special kind of poor. They are poor monks – also known as Friars Minor . Mendicant monks have taken the oath of poverty and are members of a Catholic (mendicant) order. The four best-known orders are: the Franciscans, the Carmelites, the Dominicans and the Augustinians.
The mendicant orders and Francis of Assisi
The mendicant orders became extremely popular in the 13th century; But it all started with one man, namely Giovanni di Pietro Bernardone better known as Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226).
Francis of Assisi was born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy. He came from a very well-to-do family (his father was a successful cloth merchant) and initially lived a prosperous and carefree life. The story goes that he was a real ‘dandy’ who spent a lot of money on nice clothes and all the good things in life. But he was also sensitive and compassionate. For example, he once gave everything he had with him to a beggar, after which he was laughed at by his friends and scolded by his father.
Francis joined the army as a young man and balanced between his belief that living a simple life was what he wanted and his “wealthy” life at home. Every time he went back to his hometown, he picked up the luxury life again – under the influence of his friends and family. But during a pilgrimage to Rome—where he was temporarily living in “poverty” and seeking spiritual enlightenment—he had a vision of Jesus asking him to “restore the church that was in danger of being destroyed.”
Francis also felt that the (Catholic) church was too much about accumulating power and wealth and decided to dedicate his life to serving the poor and also nature. His father didn’t think this was a good idea and Francis had to hide in a cave for a month. But in the end he dared to persevere and wandered around as a beggar for a while.
He restored (literally rebuilt) old churches and cared for lepers who lived in seclusion outside the city. He also began to preach, and within a short time he had gathered a number of “followers.”
in 1209 he founded the Order of Friars Minor, better known as the Franciscans. The order grew rapidly, thanks in part to Francis’ charismatic personality and his message of love for all creatures. His lifestyle of simplicity, humility, and care for nature had a profound impact on society. At first, of course, the church was not at all happy with this ‘rebel’. But because Francis and his followers were able to make it clear that they still tolerated the church as an authority, the order was soon approved by Pope Innocent III, who noted that the way of life of the Franciscans was “impractical” and “unsafe,” but was sympathetic to the devoted Francis and his followers.
Francis died on October 3, 1226. Two years after his death, he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. He is the patron saint of Italy and his legacy lives on in the many Franciscan orders and in the numerous stories and legends about his life. One of the most famous stories about Saint Francis is about how he was able to talk to animals and made peace with a wolf that terrorized the inhabitants of the town of Gubbio.
St. Clare of Assisi
The nice thing is that St. Francis has a feminine counterpart. Saint Clare of Assisi (1194–1253) was a contemporary of Saint Francis and founded the Order of the Poor Clares, a religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition. Where Francis has become the patron saint of Italy, Saint Clare has the honor of being the patron saint of television.
Clara was also born in Assisi, and also came from a very distinguished and noble family. As a young girl, she was inspired by Francis’ preaching and decided to leave her comfortable life behind to dedicate herself to God. In 1212, she fled from her parental home and went to the small chapel of the Portiuncula, where Francis and his followers lived. Francis accepted her vow of poverty and devoted her to religious life.
Unlike other nuns of her time, Clara refused any form of income for her convent, and she insisted that the sisters be entirely dependent on alms. This was very unusual and caused conflicts with the church authorities, but Clare held on to her beliefs. According to legend, Clare performed many miracles, including pushing back a hostile army by holding a golden wafer cup out of the window.
From ‘Mendicants’ to Pentakels 5
In my opinion, it is no coincidence that Waite chose the word ‘mendicant’ (instead of Beggars, the poor, leprans etc.). He really meant a Friar Minor/Sister as in the tradition of the Franciscan mendicant orders. This does shed a different light on the card. Namely, not just being poor, sick or destitute. But also that a choice may have been made for this. It’s easy to go to the brightness behind the stained window and take refuge in the warm church. But that also means that you have to submit to that church. Francis and Clare were able to live a comfortable and materially rich life. In fact, both Francis and Clare have been (sometimes with violence) forced by their friends and family to return to this life on more than one occasion. They also both suffered from their self-imposed poverty as well as the diseases to which they were more susceptible due to this. But they also both held on to their beliefs and lived as they thought was ‘right’.
I also see this ‘choice’ or perseverence in this tarotcard. Just like every other card, this has a minside and a plusside. On the one hand, the advice not to give up too easily and not to take the easy way out if you want to do something that is difficult. Sometimes you have to pay a high price if you want to go your own way and not be dependent. Living according to your own standards and values sometimes means loneliness and sacrifice. It’s (probably) worth it. On the other hand, you can sometimes push that a little too far; Then you are so stubborn and persistent that you refuse to accept any help. Or you exaggerate it to such an extent that others avoid you and don’t even tolerate you in their midst. At that moment you have to find the balance again, just like Francis and Clare – who went their own way but made sure that the church did not burn them at the stake.
It was great to dive into this tarotcard again, I’m curious what others think of this theory.