Every tarot reader has cards they’re afraid of.
When I first started tarot reading, I based my feelings on shallow impressions. Cards like Death and the Devil, for example, would always send a shiver down my spine when they turned up. Later, I would also read about the fearsome destruction represented by The Tower, and learned to fear it.
Within the Minor Arcana, the Five of Pentacles probably ranks as one of everyone’s least favourite cards. And understandably so.
Upon drawing it, you’re struck by the desolation of the scene. Two people, beggar-like and barefoot, are making their way around in the unforgiving cold with nothing on their backs except ragged cloaks. One is a woman hunched over, weak and aged. A boy in crutches hobbles after her, shivering as the snow drifts downwards. In the background, a bricked church looms over them, the stained glass awash with light.
Pitiful. Poverty. Abandonment. Suffering. The first words to pop up in our heads.
It doesn’t matter what the reading or question is about. We all want to see auspicious cards like the Sun, the Four of Wands, or the Three of Cups.
When it’s the Five of Pentacles that turns up instead, it feels like a strike to our ego. A slap on the face. What did I do wrong? Is something bad about to happen? We end up anxiously questioning ourselves, wondering if suffering or poverty is around the corner.
Most of us dread the Five of Pentacles because it’s the furthest type of human condition we want to find ourselves in. Human beings rarely fear spiritual bankruptcy or a lack of kindness. But they are scared to death of messing up their finances, giving up their material luxuries, and losing their status symbols. This is why we admire people with wealth and titles, and demonise our poor and homeless.
I encountered the card twice in two personal readings (one done by me for me, and a second one by another tarot reader). Admittedly, I felt those same repulsive emotions. Me, poor? Me, suffering and abandoned? No – surely I’m better than that!
After hosting those indignant (and egoistic) thoughts, I decided to eat some humble pie and study the card a little more. Maybe the tarot was trying to tell me something.
There are plenty of accepted canon around the Five of Pentacles. Popular interpretations include:
- A period of suffering.
- General sense of loss (spiritual or financial).
- Business plans have gone bust. Or your job is impoverishing you in some way – your time, money, confidence.
- Feeling left out of something, fears of abandonment coming true.
- Even with the greatest effort, there is a struggle to break free of some sort of vicious cycle – a mirror of the poverty cycle.
- For some, a lack of wealth equates a lack of self-esteem – dredging up feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and depression.
The Five of Pentacles is not a nice place to be, is it? Frankly, it’s looking rather bleak.
But the magic of tarot reading is in understanding that no card is entirely doom and gloom. Nothing in the world is black and white. We grow up thinking the good is good, and the bad is bad. But in time we also find out that life is too complex to compartmentalise in this manner. No light can truly be appreciated if it did not come through the darkness. So, likewise with the Five of Pentacles, its message isn’t necessarily one of dread.
In fact, it can serve as a rather sobering reminder to evaluate what matters to you, and whether it contributes positively to your self-worth.
A gentle interpretation
One of the positive things in the Five of Pentacles is the presence of a church. It’s the home of goodness and God. In an ideal world, the Church is a place that accepts all without prejudice. Anyone can find guidance and comfort here. In the card, the lights are on in the church; someone’s lit the candles. This can mean two things.
- No matter how impoverished you are materially, you can always find comfort when you turn on the lights spiritually.
- Whatever your situation, help is available. You know where to find it. You just need to knock on the door.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that their problems go away permanently. But finding a moment of reprieve will offer a bit of precious time to recover from the storm, and perhaps tomorrow you will see a better day. Similarly, the card asks that you reach out to people around you – friends, family, or even spiritual guides – to help you refocus on what matters.
When getting this card in a tarot reading, it is pertinent to ask yourself if you’ve placed too much emphasis on the financial or material aspect of your life. If you’re already going through a bad period in your life, now is a good time to evaluate your perception of wealth. Instead of defining wealth by your status symbols, perhaps you should think about cultivating an inner peace that no one else can touch.
Consider that your spiritual poverty – and not your lack of material possessions – is the cause of your sickness, stress, and suffering.
The real measure of your wealth is how much you’re worth after you lose all your money.
In my case, the Five of Pentacles’ constant appearance in my readings is a reminder that I tend to place my entire identity and self-worth on the successes and failures of my career – on the title on my name card, the numbers in my bank account. Whenever I didn’t feel acknowledged or important at work, it was enough for me to crumble emotionally and mentally. I allowed my ego to be slave to society’s definition of success, and it only caused chaos in my inner world.
Worst of all, I felt alone. I would cry in bed at night, thinking I was terrible at what I do, and that no one understood my anxieties.
This isn’t a good place to be in life. I had to learn that my self-worth didn’t depend external factors – not promotions or recognition. That was my ego talking. My self-worth depended on me, and me alone. And if I didn’t class myself as a failure, then I couldn’t possibly be one. This change in mindset meant I was simply going through a ‘rough patch’.
Which meant I could pick myself up if I chose to. That’s pretty empowering, isn’t it?
And that’s what the Five of Pentacles asks of you to do. To turn on the lights inside of you, and see your true worth – as someone who is stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Questions from the Five of Pentacles:
- What is your self-worth based on? Are you the same person with and without your material possessions?
- Are you too focused on your career or finances, to the point of neglecting your personal growth?
- Have you lost touch with your spiritual side? Where/who can you go to to centre yourself?
More perspectives on the Five of Pentacles:
- What Five of Pentacles mean in love and relationships
- Carrie Mallon explains the Five of Pentacles beautifully
- Angie Yingst’s fascinating Five of Pentacles analysis