By Sarah Taylor
This is an archetypal tale of a beautiful but shallow existence yet to be tested; an ensuing time of trial and the plunge within; and the re-emergence of the light that shines on a landscape that offers greater potential than before, where the protagonist — that’s you — has the chance to create something new, knowing more now than you did before.
I know that some tarot readers see the Nine of Pentacles as an entirely positive card. I tend not to approach it in this way. The reason for this is down to two creatures that inhabit the picture with the lady of the manor: the falcon, and the snail.
The woman we see is richly dressed, and her hand rests on the upper-most of nine pentacles gathered around her skirts. She seemingly wants for nothing. She has material wealth, and the world around her is fecund, offering its bounty in the form of grapes, a source of food and drink. It’s all very shiny. But it is laid on thickly: the yellow feels oppressive; so much richness has created a sense of jaundice.
The woman looks to her left at a falcon. Both mistress and bird wear red headdresses. The falcon, a raptor who in its untamed state can fly free, has become a bird in a gilded cage. As has its owner. She is weighed down by her material possessions, which have defined who she is. She can no longer fly free either. Woman and bird; one and the same.
The snail tells a different story. It is a small but indescribably precious blight on an otherwise perfect landscape. The snail is a speck of chaos, something that doesn’t fit in and is not held to the same rules. It is what we tend to want to discard from our gardens because it lays waste to what we hold dear: those things we have grown and cultivated. The snail has no interest in the figures that tower above it. It has no need of the kind of high-maintenance possessions to which they have become accustomed. It carries its home wherever it goes, and it asks for little in the way of food and shelter. It is unfettered.
The movement of the snail, the angle of the woman’s head and the position of her body lead the eye naturally into the next card, The Moon. Quite a contrast. Gone is the security of a vine-covered wall. Gone is the ease of sustenance on tap. In their place are three creatures who are anything but tame, and the presence of Luna, her head lowered in contemplation.
The jackal and the dog are sentinels of the night, and represent our instinctive natures. The word “lunatic” comes from “luna”, and, just as they are transfixed by the heavenly body above them, so there is an implied fear that we will be taken over by our own uncivilised impulses — that we will lose ourselves in them. The crustacean crawling out of the waters behind the dogs is primordial, cold-blooded — a creature that is about as different from us as we can understand. It is the surfacing unconscious, and it can make us and our surroundings feel out of kilter.
If we can let go of our fear, however, and accept a period where not everything is clear, where it is best to travel light and remain flexible, where details are obscured, and where there is an ‘edge’ to our experience that is jagged and chaotic, then what these three creatures bring to us is contact with something that has a particular kind of wisdom.
Yes, it isn’t rational, and it is impervious to our need to analyse, categorise and understand. It is nevertheless an integral part of us and one that we often disown or ignore because it plays by different rules. It is the part of us that helps us to navigate the inner world, just as the stars — suns — have traditionally helped us to navigate the outer. We can either dread it or use it productively, baying our songs of devotion to a presence that rains the divine — reflected light, more subtle — down on us.
Thus the Moon becomes a gift — the potential for something to become manifest. The Ace holds the potential of its entire suit, and in this case it is what you choose to manifest in the physical world. If you are willing to become a stranger in a strange land, you can fly from your gilded cage into this new territory, take what you discover there and strike out with greater freedom to create something of real value.
Astrology/Elemental correspondences: Nine of Pentacles (Venus in Virgo), The Moon (Pisces), Ace of Pentacles (the sum total of its suit and the potential of experience within that)
If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.