The Four of Pentacles is one of those minor arcana cards with a short, though not particularly sweet meaning. The little king looks like a greedy little so-and-so, and that is pretty much the message. But there are a number of things we can note. One of them is that the illustration is, once again, in line with the astrological, elemental and qabalistic sources according to its position in the wheel, though the qabalistic source is given a bit of short shrift in this case. The other is the design parallels with some of the major arcana cards, notably the High Priestess and the Devil, that share Capricorn with it.
As usual, these introductory posts convey additional analysis, as well as a link to the PDF version at bottom, which is better to print from.
Burger King on a Throne of Stone
But first, a question. Why does it seem like every royal derrière has to sit on a stone cube in the RWS deck? Don’t they believe comfy chairs? I dare say that in the time of Celts, kings and queens didn’t exactly sit on rocks. Before you say this is a supercilious way to begin our attempt to discover the meaning of a tarot card, let me assure you that it is not. In fact, there’s a method in the madness. Let us quote Gareth Knight, a tarot writer and deck designer of some note:
…the symbolic structure of the Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation is based upon the Cube of Space. A cube is a figure with six faces, windows upon the four cardinal directions, plus the above and the below – and a point in the very centre – to which system the seven Double letters can be allocated. (A cube also happens to have twelve edges, to which can be allocated the twelve Single letters, a zodiacal framework to the planetary planes, but we will not over-complicate at this stage).(too late for that–editor’s note)
I take this as further evidence that Waite and Colman Smith endorsed wholeheartedly the system of astrological, elemental and qabalistic they “inherited” from Levi, Papus and the Golden Dawn group, but hid its complexities in symbols and narrative settings. You can begin to see by now, having done several of these minor arcana, that many of the settings and/or “story lines” of the illustrations are influenced directly by these influences.
As we see in the Venn diagram and its callouts, Capricorn and Saturn drive the emotional “tone” of the illustration. Capricorn is sometimes referred to as “the goat of fear,” and the Capricorn personality sometimes takes their natural strength of will to a rigid extreme. Saturn, of course, tended to eat his children. Earth merely provides the link to the very materialistic nature of this card. The point of interest is Chesed, which should be a force of love and charity, but in this case is so outweighed by negative aspects that all that remains of its “gift” are the divinatory meanings of legacy and inheritance. Our little king cleaving to that which one has, his coins, becomes the personification of “You want this? You’ll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.”
It must be said, of course, that the little king looks more like the Burger King than Charlton Heston. But is it possible this two bit monarch of the Four of Pentacles was designed as the evil twin of the High Priestess? Or is he a flat-footed version of Eliphas Levi’s hoofed friend, Baphomet? In fact, he has elements of both. Note that Waite points out the pentacle on his head. The failed habashery recalls the shape of the head dress of the High Priestess, who is associated with the moon, which is in the failed position for this decan. As for the Devil, the card associated with Capricorn, recall that Waite goes with Levi’s attribution of Baphomet, the goat-headed incarnation of Satan. We also must recall the two little demons chained at his feet; I believe, therefore, that one reason for the pentacular footwear of the king may be to create a visual echo of those two little demons.
On a final note, I think that Colman Smith emphasized the negative in this card. Overall, the divinatory meanings, both Waite’s and the Golden Dawn group’s, weren’t that negative. There’s a big difference between a “greedy little so-and-so” and Baphomet. But it may be that the little king’s superciliousness and comic aspect were her way of “lightening” the message. No doubt it has prompted me to be a bit supercilious in this commentary.