The Three of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

Three of Pentacles - IsleVue One Page Guide to Card Derivations

I had previously looked at the Three of Pentacles as a fairly prosaic card… just a day at work. Ho hum. But it’s actually about the nobility of creation and creativity. It is about the power of the artist, the goodness of the new, and in particular, the goodness of the Earth as it was originally created. It is a footnote to the highest of the major arcana, the World. It is also another example of Waite’s mystical Christianity gratuitously added to previously defined divinatory meanings, but we will identify what was added, and relate it to the modern day.

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-two 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.

Work Ennobled

Let us start with the obvious: work! We can easily see the basis for linking work and the Three of Pentacles is astrological. The decan is of Mars exalted in Capricorn. In traditional astrology, Mars finds its “joy” in the sixth house, which is the house of daily work. The Golden Dawn appears to have taken that as a cue to name the card The Lord of Material Works. So it is understandable that Waite and Colman Smith pick a “workplace” as the setting.

Three of Pentacles Isolated Figures with Arch

Waite, however, didn’t leave it at that. We must ask why does he state that the specific workplace is a monastery? After all, the monastery’s functions include far more than just work. What more is Waite telling us to look for?

Let us look at the other astrological influences. The Zodiac sign, Capricorn, is the goat of fear. It is also a symbol for the ancient Sumerian god Enki (whom we noted had a decided impact upon the Two of Pentacles). Enki may have had a hand in creation, and may have taught civilization to the ancient peoples of Mespotamia. The Devil is Capricorn’s associated major arcana. Saturn is the planetary influence. Why not, for example, depict agricultural work, since Saturn was the chief god of the golden age? Or perhaps some kind of military-related construction work, for Mars? For that matter, even goatherding is work!

Perhaps the answer is in the major arcana card associated with Saturn, the World. Besides being the highest trump, Waite said it represents “that day when all was declared to be good, when the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy.” His words are a reference to Genesis, when on the sixth day, God declared his creation good. I guess if you want a little peace and quiet in order to get some work done in the middle of all those Sons of God shouting, you might wish to work in a monastery! Humor aside, we note that this was before the “fall” of man. Let us also note that January 1st, the first day of the fresh new year, falls within the decan.

A literally brand new world, and the first day of the new year suggest a clean, unspoiled existence far different than the normal world. A monastery is a place of solitude where one goes to live alone, to shun all that mankind has done to Earth since it was handed to us in factory-fresh condition. Someone like Waite might consider a monastery the closest available analog to the world as it stood the sixth morning of creation, before the fall of man.

With this in mind, we can understand that the type of work Waite refers is definitely not the “daily” or “material” work the GD referred to. We must look at the card with an eye towards a higher type of vocation.

IsleVue Tarot-Zodiac-Element-Sephiroth Wheel of the Golden Dawn

As it happens, the qabalistic influence, Binah, may indirectly indicate sculpture. By one definition, as quoted by Wikipedia, The Book of the Bright, an anonymous mystical work, attributed to a 1st-century rabbinic sage states that Binah is a “treasury of wisdom, quarry of God’s spirit, hewn out by the spirit of God. This teaches that God hewed out all the letters of the Torah, engraving them with the Spirit, casting His forms within it.” Sculpture, of course, is not restricted to a monastery, though we can expect to find religious art in a monastery. (We could also note that Enki supposedly gave writing to the ancient Sumerians; perhaps we should consider whether the architect with the odd hat is a stand-in for Enki!)

Looking at Waite’s divinatory meanings again, we see he doesn’t stop at words and phrases related to normal work, such as “métier” and “trade.” Waite states that usually (which we shall take to mean frequently,) the Three of Pentacles is “a card of nobility, aristocracy, renown, glory.” He means it to refer to work that is a type of a noble calling. More specifically, some type of higher artisanship that brings renown and glory, to either oneself, or presumably, to God. Recalling that Saturn presided over the golden age, when men lived off the bounty of the land without working at all, we can understand it as a rejection of the GD’s identification of material works, indeed, of the entire modern concept of work. It is about an idealized type of work. Waite is elevating work that involves creation and spirituality, or any “inspired” work.

What does this mean for us in drawing and interpreting this card in today’s world, then? When such a card is drawn by a querent with questions about their job, for example, perhaps it suggests that one should consider whether that job is spiritually rewarding. It’s a sort of Green Acres card! Quit the stock brokership, move to Hooterville and grow vegetables! We can make fun of it, but at its core, it’s good advice. Though I often couch my conclusions in humor (and perhaps too often lately, sixties sitcoms), I hope the conclusions are not taken as jokes!

In any case, next we must ask, why does Waite explicitly point out that the worker of the Three of Pentacles is the same person who we see working at the bench in the Eight of Pentacles? Waite states that he was an “apprentice” when he worked upon the bench in the Eight. Since then, he has been promoted (“received his reward”) and “is now at work in earnest.” (Note: though this series hasn’t yet gotten to the Eight, once it’s done, I’ll be sure to put a link here!)

Waite is tying the creation of the world to the creation of art. In the case of Genesis, first there was nothing, then there was the world. In the Eight of Pentacles, first there was stone and an apprentice, chiselling some worldly thing. Then, in the Three, he is creating statuary on an arch. The statues extol God and creation. The arch is an architectural element that bears weight, allowing the monastery or cathedral to soar high, to be closer to God. It is work, ennobled. We thus see Waite once again adding a Christian “flavor” to the astrological/elemental/qabalistic charting of the meanings made by the Golden Dawn group. It is up to us to understand his intent and “translate” it for modern day querents who come to a reading with a very different type of spirituality than the public of Waite’s time. I think “work ennobled” sums up the Three of Pentacles well.

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John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot? 😉

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