The Seven of Pentacles is one of those minor arcana in which Waite adheres fairly closely to the Golden Dawn point of view, yet adds his own spin. The Golden Dawn associated the card with ”promises of success unfulfilled… loss of apparently promising fortune… disappointment… a cultivator of land, and yet is loser thereby… slight and isolated gains with no fruits resulting therefrom.” The “success unfulfilled” may have much to do with the location of the associated decan at the end of Taurus. Waite’s “spin” is quite interesting; it may describe the end of the agricultural age, replaced by the industrial age. In this respect, the Seven of Pentacles is not so much a transformation card as a “marker” for an ending.
As usual, these introductory posts convey additional analysis, as well as a link to the PDF version below, which is better to print from than the bitmap above. This is number twenty-eight in the series. The series traces the influences shown in the Zodiac Tarot Wheel, pictured below, to the divinatory meanings and storyboards of the minor arcana cards numbered 2 through 10 of the RWS deck.
Colman Smith provides us with an unhappy farmer (probably of potatoes; given the then recent memory of the 19th century Irish famine it would not be an unlikely guess) who appears to be very worried and unhappy about his crop. Netzach, the qabbalistic influence is said to represent “long-suffering, strength, endurance unto completion or patience.” This is in harmony with the apparent long sufferance of the farmer. Netzach also is said to be associated with the right foot, and we note that Waite points out “the clump of greenery on his right.”
Waite gives the upright meanings a concentration on money and business, but with a “caveat” of altercations and quarrels. Both represent a slight divergence from the Golden Dawn. It appears then, that in the divinatory meanings, at least, Waite has transplanted the farmer to the office, though the ex-farmer-turned-clerk doesn’t appear to do much better there. The change of location might be a simple vehicle for popularization of the tarot by appealing to a wider audience.
Much of the positioning as far as “unfulfilled success” probably—pardon the expression—stems from the astrological location. Recall that when we discussed the Six of Pentacles we noted that Taurus, possibly the most ancient of the astrological signs, was the original sign for arrival of the spring planting season (the ox pulling the plow; note that the difference between ox and bull is that the ox has been castrated; possibly not irrelevant to this analysis, too). We have Taurus, the fixed sign for Earth, Venus, the planet associated with Taurus, who might usually have something to do with reproduction, and Saturn, the decan ruler and agricultural deity of old. So why, with influences like that, are this guy’s potatoes withering on the vine?
Our sad farmer appears to have planted too late. This is the final decan of Taurus. And some of us know that when you plant too late, your crop will sprout well, but then die off because the growing season is only so long, and optimal growing conditions will dissipate before the crop matures.
We could point to the Hierophant (associated with Taurus, oddly enough) and the Empress (associated with Venus) as almost a parable for poor crop planning. The Hierophant is a much older man and probably not very virile. Putting aside priestly vows of chastity (something not much of a hindrance to the popes at the time of the invention of tarot), there’s not much hope of issuance.
We should also note that Venus is the ruler of the decan opposite this one; so although she is the planet associated with Taurus, yet she is as far as is possible to be away from this decan. We have noted elsewhere that Waite appears to have sometimes taken such positions into account when composing his divinatory meanings, particularly for reversals. In this case this factor may even exacerbate the reversal (lending money with little hope of return). There may be a pattern regarding these planetary “opposites,” though I don’t expect to look more deeply at that until I’ve finished all thirty six of the decans.
The Seven of Pentacles is therefore a straightforward card to analyze. It’s mostly on the surface. We could say it is a card of “small potatoes.” 😉 We can conclude with bullet points:
- Venus is far away, and affects the fruitfulness (or rather, lack thereof) of the planting.
- As such, this is probably not a positive card as regards to a querent’s questions regarding fertility, babies or children. But that is hardly a revelation.
- With the last decan in Taurus, Saturn is at the end of his reign during this Earth sign (the fixed one, at that), to be replaced by Jupiter in Gemini, the next sign, and Mercury in the next decan.
- The last point might support a view or make a case that the illustration and divinatory meanings together portray the end of the agricultural economy and the beginning of the industrial age. Money and capitalism displace the farm, and the crops fail (with Mercury as the god of commerce, this may not be too much of a stretch). If Waite was trying to make it a card for his modern times (1910), it is even more so today.
- Waite includes a curious term: “purgation,” which means “purifying.” It appears that Waite is suggesting purification via failure! This may reinforce the theme of the industrial revolution vs. agricultural economy. Perhaps we should call the Seven of Pentacles the global climate change card! It could be a good card as far as describing our times… whether it be ourselves, our food chain or the Earth in its entirety… a society exhausted by over-production and greed.
A final impression: the three Pentacles decans of Taurus, the Five, the Six and the Seven, constitute a mini Wheel of Fortune: from material trouble, to material success to success unfulfilled. This may simply be a matter of ascending to the peak (the five), and then descending from it. The aspect of “purgation,” however, suggests a mini-transformation, in the way that Death and the Tower do. It is a sorrowful transformation. We look back with melancholy at the loss of chivalric knights riding horses to exotic lands, and potato farmers hoeing the commons. They’re gone, and won’t be coming back. Perhaps in our times it seems even more sorrowful than it was in Waite’s times. We should be careful not to underestimate the power of this card.