This is the fifth article in a series of analyses of the art with which Pamela Colman Smith illustrated the 36 cards of the decans, as a supplement to the previous charts. These posts will attempt to recount the stories—mythic or otherwise—that contributed to the concepts with which she imbued her illustrations. When we understand the stories that underlie them, we can not only better interpret but we can also better communicate a cohesive story out of several cards laid down in a spread. Indeed, these are stories that have fascinated humankind for millenia.
You’ll find the format consists of a column of text, at right, consisting of the stories and interpretation. At the left you’ll see a sort of quasi baseball card arrangement that provides reference information. The paper size is standard letter, but with space at the left margin should anyone wish to three-hole-punch the paper. Note that the Acrobat file, accessible through the download button below, will be better to print from and easier to read onscreen.
Éliphas Lévi and the Time Traveling Goat
On the surface, the king seems just a run-of-the-mill miser. He holds down two coins with his feet, clutches one with both hands, and attaches one to his crown. Yet the Four of Pentacles encompasses familial and economic themes linking ancient and modern times.
It is Sun in Capricorn, with Chesed the qabala emanation. The Sun is the source of life and wealth. Capricorn is also associated with wealth, via the cornucopia. Chesed was thought by Waite and his contemporaries as signifying a completion, as in the maturation of someone or something.
Capricorn has multiple origin myths. This would have been well known to Waite. One of Éliphas Lévi‘s most important legacies was the linking of Baphomet and the Goat of Mendes to the Devil and Capricorn. This elevated the importance of Capricorn and ascribed an evil connotation to it—the goat of fear. The link with the Goat of Mendes, however, is now considered historically inaccurate.
Pricus was a sea-goat, goat above, fish below. He was a son of Chronus, sharing the same father as Zeus. Pricus was noted for being universally liked by all the other gods. But he had a problem. All his sea-goat children liked to clamber up onto the land. Once there, their fins changed to legs and feet. They lost their memory of the sea, and of their father as well. As Mel Brooks said in the 2000 Year Old Man, "I have over fifteen hundred children… and not one comes to visit me on a Sunday." So Pricus asked his father, the god of Time, to help. Time travel stories have been around a lot longer than H.G. Wells! Pricus and Chronus "set the clock back" several times so Pricus could ask, explain, exhort and order his children not to climb onto the land. But each time, they did it anyway. Finally, because he was so well liked, Zeus threw Pricus up into the heavens. From there, as the constellation we now call Capricorn, he can forever look down and see his children in the mountains and high places where goats tend to climb.
The core of the Pricus story is the heritage that parents pass onto children, and the search by the children for differentiation. Each generation modifies, adds and wields the transformed heritage as their Earthly dominion… until the next generation. The Order of the Golden Dawn called this card "Earthly Power." The repudiation of the parents fuels the metaphor’s pathos. As John Sebastian sang, "Why must every generation think its folks are square?"
"Heritage" underlies "gift, legacy, inheritance" in the upright meanings. "Surety of possessions" and "cleaving to that which one has" can be seen as the parent attempting to retain authority. Thus, the card is particularly relevant to queries concerning parenting and finances. It also provides an easy way to remember the reversed meanings. If we imagine seeing through the eyes of the next generation, "suspense, delay" and "opposition" is the impatience they feel.
Another aspect of the succession of generations is the surety of coming change. "Completion" or "realization," foretells an ending. The Book T included the phrase "completed, but leading to nothing beyond" for this card. This card may thereby carry a polite but dark reminder: "your time is almost over." Paging the boomer generation! Oh wait, that’s me.
Which leads to another aspect. Note the "stage," with the city drawn on the back drop/cyclorama. In 1910, the memory of the migration to British cities during the first industrial revolution was still fresh. It was an ending of a way of life, not just of a generation; a robbing of heritage, literally. Perhaps the king’s children are in that city, busy with lives vastly different than their parents. The 20th century’s succession of generations saw transitions from extended families to nuclear families to broken families, and perhaps soon, to no families. The archetypes and myths that form the framework of the tarot recall Lévi’s statement: "an imprisoned person with no other book than the Tarot, if he knew how to use it, could in a few years acquire universal knowledge, and would be able to speak on all subjects with unequaled learning and inexhaustible eloquence." In the Four of Pentacles, we may see tarot itself "cleaving onto" fundamental truths.
Copyright Information:The article above is copyright ©2021 by John Iacovelli, All rights reserved. Note: I am holding off putting a Creative Commons license on this text, as I may put it to multiple uses in the future. Please don’t let that stop you from generating ideas based upon this text.
The feature collage includes two pieces of art from Pixabay, Stefan Keller did the background and Here and now, unfortunately, ends my journey on Pixabay did the Capricorn representation, both from Pixabay.