This is the fourth 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.
Venus and Virgo Walk Into a Bar…
The lady stands in a garden, a hooded falcon on her gloved hand. Her elegant dress is embellished with roses drawn to resemble the symbol of Venus. A snail passes near her feet.
Waite "adjusts" the Eight and Nine of Pentacles. The Book T names the Eight "Prudence," and the Nine "Material Gain." Yet Waite moves prudence to first in his list of divinatory meanings for the Nine, while maintaining the Nine’s "materiality." Prudence is the cardinal virtue of governing your passions with reason. Its root, prudentia, means "seeing ahead." Surely the hard working apprentice cranking out golden pentacles in the RWS Eight illustrates "seeing ahead" better than a falconing aristocrat. Did Colman Smith not get the memo?
We are in Venus in Virgo. Venus is the feminine: its planetary symbol and our symbol for female are one and the same. Virgo was said to be the goddess Astraea, last of the gods to leave the Earth. Waite mentions her frequently and wistfully, for she promised to return one day with a new Golden Age. Virgo is the source of the "Material Gain" theme. Yet Waite writes it’s only "possible" that the estate we see belongs to the woman; the "material well being," is not necessarily hers.
Waite notes the “bird upon her wrist.” A sharp eyed falcon symbolizes "seeing ahead." Yet this one is hooded. Waite’s reversed meanings describe a person with no ability to see ahead, i.e., no self control. Waite endows the Nine with the Eight’s "prudence," to a point.
The Kaballah emanation, Yesod, denotes a powerful force; in particular, a male force. Éliphas Lévi states the spirits of Yesod are "represented in Hebrew symbolism under the figure of bulls," and that these spirits’ "adversaries are the Gamaliel or obscene, whose queen, Lilith, is the demon of abortions." (Notice "voided project" among the reversed meanings!) Yesod is not just male, but anti-female. Colman Smith’s lady hunts, is rich, and seemingly has no need of men. The snail represents her androgynous nature, for the snail is said to be hermaphroditic. It is as if Venus and Virgo were propositioned by Yesod and they said "get lost, twerp."
Waite draws our attention to the "great abundance of grapevines." Perhaps Colman Smith’s original intention was solely "Material Gain?" We might easily imagine the lady’s wide glove and the odd hood of the falcon replacing a wine glass in an initial sketch, toasting us, no doubt. Venus has a longstanding association with Dionysus, god of wine. Wikipedia calls it "A common theme in art," citing a proverb:"without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus freezes." The decan is September 2 to 11: the start of the grape harvest in France.
If Colman Smith’s primary intention was to illustrate material gain, and secondarily, male/female conflict, how better to do so than place at center a powerful woman, owner of a chateau and vineyard, putting Dionysus himself under her control; and to top that off, ascribe to her the representations of a sexuality for which men are unnecessary. Dionysus may warm Venus, but Venus burns Dionysus.
Why did Waite move prudence? Virgo is associated with prophecies (prudentia again!) of the virgin birth. Sun in Virgo (the Eight) might apply to Jesus’ birth. But by moving prudence to the Nine, Waite reminds us Mary didn’t require a "man" for the birth of her first son.
Many readers eschew "by the book" interpretations, though I am not one of them. "Material Gain" could apply to the Eight as well, with Sun in Virgo, and Hod, which signifies success. But prudence seems to me to clash with Yesod in the Nine. The male sex drive is a powerful force, not easily subject to prudence. I prefer what I think may be Colman Smith’s original vision. I would read the male/female component as conveying a sense of someone who is successful and accomplished in the material world, but with an underlying conflict remaining, perhaps unhappy as far as romantic relationships go. Or as a situation, one that is financially lucrative, but creatively barren.
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 Wikipedia article copyright is governed by the Creative Commons share-alike license.