Five of Pentacles – Mercury in Taurus
Apr 19-Apr 29
Sign: Taurus (feminine, fixed, earth) – The Hierophant
Sign ruler: Venus – The Empress
Decan: First, the cardinal decan (initiating, activating)
Decan ruler: Mercury (communication) – The Magician
Tarot card for this decan: Five of Pentacles
Card Title: Lord of Material Trouble
(For a full list of the decans and associated cards, please see the Astrological Decans Chart)
“Dip your finger in the water
Come and cool my tongue
‘Cause I’m tormented
In the flames”
When I think of Mercury in Taurus, the image arises of the deep conversations with friends that unfold after a good meal. The way these discussions meander, discover, expand and renew aligns well with the fixed nature of Taurus—it is natural for these talks not to end, but to continue, even repeat in order to prolong the pleasure of the experience.
But this is the cardinal decan, the part of Taurus that generates. We could look for what stimulates these exchanges, but perhaps it is more important to ask what these conversations kindle. An offhand comment, a subtlety explored, a nuance nuzzled initiates the moment of enlightenment that, rooted in the earth of Taurus, can transform a conversationalist, a community, or even a country. What earth-shattering revelations were first conceived in the drawing room, settled comfortably with pipe and snifter? In the final decan of inspirational Aries, Venus lovingly looks towards her home in Taurus, handing off to our mercurial Magician the divine spark to be made manifest. If Aries is the germination of the seed, Mercury in Taurus is its quickening.
The tarot card assigned to this decan seems in all ways opposed to our drawing room discursions. Blank, white snow falls against a bleak, black background, which by the brightly colored window appears to be a church. Two ragged, barefoot souls trudge through the drifts. The tall woman in front is hunched forward, looking down and slightly to her left. The short man on crutches follows behind her, head rolling back as his eyes list to the right. The bell he wears indicates that he is a leper. The card title is Material Trouble. Its common meanings of poverty, destitution, illness and injury are all too apparent. The five golden pentacles glowing in the warmth of the church window—not even the snow dims this light—are wreathed in green vines and bordered by bright red, blue and yellow jewel-toned panels. Gray castle walls are worked around the topmost single pentacle, and the circular shapes become meditative gardens on royal grounds.
Some tarot readers upon seeing this card get angry that the wealthy Church towers haughtily out of reach of these beggars suffering in the cold. Conversely, others note that the mendicants are at last arriving at their destination where they can receive shelter and food.
“Mendicants” is the word Arthur Edward Waite uses to describe this duo. The word means beggar. However, it can also refer to a member of a religious order who does not own any personal or community property. Anathema to a Taurus! Mercury is known to be a thief, and perhaps his swiftness in this sign of longevity is to indicate that material things must eventually pass away. Possessions, health, comfort, even the most basic of human needs—food, shelter, warmth—are all subject to the vicissitudes of fate. Easy come, easy go. Perhaps Taurus honors comfort so highly because only she understands how ineffable it is.
Looking deeper into the image drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, we see that the leper grasps the crutch firmly in his left hand, but his left arm is missing! Likewise, the crutch itself is apparently disconnected and clearly ends prior to the place where it should extend out of sight behind the blue of his tunic. Where have we seen a disembodied hand holding a length of wood? The Ace of Wands! (Is this the Ace of Wands reversed, as our pauper’s wand is turned downwards to serve as his prop?) The Ace of Wands is the Root of the Powers of Fire. Fire corresponds to qualities such as inspiration and germination. Kabbalistically it represents the highest and most spiritual of the four worlds. In the Five of Pentacles, the mendicant is supported not by the physical crutch, which lacks cohesion, rather, he leans on the power of spiritual fire.
The quote at the beginning of this essay is from a Gospel song based on Biblical verses from Luke, chapter 16. That parable tells the story of a rich man who feasted on fine food every day, while a leper sat at his gate, desiring even a crumb from his table. When the beggar died, he was carried to heaven, but the rich man upon death found himself tormented in hell. The rich man lifted his eyes and saw Lazarus, the beggar, in the bosom of Abraham and cried out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham answered that Lazarus had received evil things in his lifetime and now was being rewarded with comfort. This supports our standard understanding of the Five of Pentacles: that the spiritual world, symbolized by the church, will provide refuge and refreshment to those who suffer from lack on the physical plane.
Curiously, “crutch” has all the letters found in “church” plus one—the letter T. The supports used by the beggar in this tarot image are even in the shape of this letter. Its Hebrew equivalent is tav, the final letter of the alphabet, associated with the planet Saturn and the World card. The third decan of Taurus is ruled by Saturn, and so here we find a hidden hint: when we start our journey supported by spiritual fire we realize the complete attainment of the World. But what of the quickening of life?
Taurus is a fixed sign. Its desire is to harness, cultivate and prolong the beauty and pleasure of the world. But as we take our first step into Taurus, we are given a warning. Change must be allowed. The image on the card is a set moment in time. Looking only at the immediate and present scene, we see suffering, pain, loss. If we are fully engaged in the fixed mode, we may adjudge these qualities as permanent, refuse their ability to transform, deny the seekers the door to the church. If we see a seed, we may reject its birthright of growth and development.
Mercury is quicksilver—it is alive as evidenced by its movement and changeability. The capacity for change is indication of life in tarot imagery. The fives are changeable—they represent the fourth dimension, or time. Roses have five petals and are red, the color of the lifeblood. They represent love, but also the fickle passions that rule us. Six is the number of perfection. Perfection no longer changes, it is crystalline, solidified, idealized until it becomes death. Snowflakes have six points. Lilies have six petals. Lilies are the flower displayed at funerals. Their perfect white petals represent innocence as contrasted with the experience of the passionate rose. Five, the number of our card, represents change and growth, both evolution and dissolution. The snowflakes represent the number six, harmony, perfection, crystallization, death. Lilies and roses are contrasted on Mercury’s card, the Magician.
Take the advice of the Magician, who as Mercury rules this decan of changeability in fixity: connect with spiritual power from above and direct it below into manifestation. Become the ouroboros, the symbol of eternity, yet allow yourself your quickening—grow and develop until you have realized the moment you wish to prolong. Do not arrive over hastily at the instant of acceptance and endurance. Mercury in Taurus cheers us on—don’t quit before you’ve become fully alive!
A new thought creeps in. The leper leans on two crutches. These T shapes frame him, beginning and end, first and last. The word TAROT is also framed by two Ts. Is the leper to be considered TAROT? I often hear people declare that any tool can eventually become a crutch. I don’t believe that, although perhaps I am overly influenced by the Taurean beauty and pleasure of the cards. If we read our tarot image as “crutch, beggar, crutch” then progress to “T, ARO, T” we transform the mendicant into an arrow that shoots from the World to the Divine.
But what of the broken crutch? Its ideal image is a T, but in reality it does not form that letter. The word TAROT, when placed in a circle, or cycle, overlaps the final T with the initial T, such as is illustrated on the Wheel card. The broken crutch represents the silent final consonant. The broken crutch is the ineffable, and we see our progression: “crutch, beggar, ineffable” as we, like Mercury, pass between the worlds, from the physical to the Divine. Mercury in Taurus reminds us that the fixity, comfort, and stability of the manifest world is but smoke in the wind, or snow coming to rest on a warm window, compared to the everlasting perfection of the Divine.
Our course reversed, or reading beginning from the right, the direction the leper indicates with the tilt of his head, we read, “ineffable, beggar, crutch” showing that all stems from and ultimately returns to the Divine. Read this direction, the Ts flank the Latin ora, to speak. The lame, those with traumatic injuries, the mentally ill, or simply the simple-minded were often considered to be mouthpieces of the Divine, oracles. Mercury in Taurus explained through the tarot image gains a new meaning: to speak that which is eternal, unalterable.
As I stare out the window trying to understand this, to find the ending and summation of these far-ranging thoughts, I watch a man across the street trimming the dead branches off a tree bright with pink blossoms. The quote from Hamlet comes to mind, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.” The element of Taurus, earth, likes that which is established, foundational, organized. Here in the physical world we try to embrace that, to rough-hew our lives, give them structure and meaning. But the beauty—a Taurean keyword—arises from the final shaping that smooths, polishes, and fine-tunes. The Divine, not the material, is what brings beauty to our lives. The Tauruses I know understand this—the possessions they collect each have special meanings above and beyond the limited physical appeal.
Mercury in Taurus is the quickening—the rooting of the Divine spark in the material plane. And in a profound way, we remember to choose the moment of our quickening. Or perhaps not. It seems that the quickening should be our own roots planted in the Taurean soil. But what if we’re not ready yet? What if we are lepers at the gate of the rich man? Is this what we want to continue without end? The rich man is rooted in the changeability of the physical plane. The beggar is propped up by the ineffable Divine. It is not that we choose the moment of our quickening, it is that we choose where we plant ourselves. When we find ourselves in the castle gardens, it might seem appropriate to put down roots into the material plane. But when we limp barefoot in the snow, it becomes easy to imagine eternity comforted in the bosom of Abraham. We create our reality by releasing reality.
I am reminded of another hymn:
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.”
Mercury is Taurus is this: the silence of the mortal flesh. And the voice of the eternal Spirit. Heed its call.