The Two of Pentacles presents questions. Why are there dramatic waves in the background when the elemental influence is not water but Earth? Why did Waite go out of his way not to call the figure eight of the string game the Ourobouros, as the Golden Dawn group described it? And finally, and oddly enough, most importantly… what’s with the hat?
When we look at the history of the astrological influence, Capricorn, we find it is a representation of a Sumerian god-king called Enki. He was depicted with a head-dress that looked like the hat Colman Smith’s jongleur of the Two of Pentacles wears. Enki is also a key player in one of the Sumerian accounts of the great flood.
Chokmah is the qabalistic influence upon the “Two’s” of the minor arcana. It represents the first power of conscious intellect, the creation of a belief system. If we put an antediluvian god, the flood itself, and the infinity symbol that Waite elsewhere describes as the symbol of the Holy Ghost together in the context of Chokmah, what do we get? The covenant of God to Noah. And from his viewpoint based upon Christian mysticism, Waite would have seen the covenant as a metaphor for Jesus being a single path to salvation. So you thought the Two of Pentacles was about having a good time, eh?
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. This is number fifteen in the series.
Tarot of the Ancient Aliens
If you’ve been reading this series of posts and diagrams, by now you know that I like to approach these commentaries and analyses light heartedly. If I can convey a serious viewpoint, a little knowledge and provoke a smile while I’m at it, I’ve done my job. So… Tarot of the Ancient Aliens?
I happen to like the History Channel program “Ancient Aliens.” It’s goofy, to be sure, but I view it as great fun. And I think it probably has a few scattered grains of truth in it.
One of its central premises is that a group of aliens called the Anunnaki visited (and possibly established) the first civilizations. The Two of Pentacles’ astrological influence, Capricorn, is a depiction of Enki, the Sumerian god of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation. He is said to have given mankind many of the gifts of civilization (for example, Sumerian cuneiform was the first written language that we know of), and was associated with abundance (hence, the word cornucopia). Capricorn’s symbol is a horned goat because Enki is crowned with “the horned crown of divinity.” In the illustration, you can see this cone-shaped hat, with horns that look rather like an antenna, a goat, and leaping dolphins all around him.
Enki’s hat might also be an excellent choice of haberdashery for the fellow with the sticky-uppity hair who hosts Ancient Aliens (Giorgio A. Tsoukalos; even if you don’t watch Ancient Aliens, you’ve probably seen him in memes).
We must ask whether that funny hat is historically accurate for a jongleur, the wandering entertainer, who was by parts a musician, juggler, acrobat, singer and/or fool. If it isn’t, then we can conclude that Waite and Colman Smith put it there to suggest something other than juggling. In fact, though we may see that type of hat at a renaissance fair today, the jongleur/fool in medieval depictions wore either a cap-and-bells hat or a wide brimmed hat (we see the latter in the Tarot de Marseilles Fool and the former in a few scattered others). My search came up with the cone hat in a few illustrations of courtiers serenading fair maidens, but not entertainers and medieval clowns. Is it possible Colman Smith erroneously thought it would be historically accurate? It’s certainly possible. Note also that Enki traditionally wears a flouncey royal robe; the “fringey” cut-out pattern of the bottom of the tunic of the man in the Two of Pentacles could be said to be an echo of this.
Enki was said to have scales like a fish. This may indicate his association with earlier water gods (or aliens, if we continue down that road), and this, together with the horned crown, is what gives us the goat-fish symbol for Capricorn. Enki’s main shrine, at Eridu, was first excavated in 1855. This is near to the time that Gilgamesh, which is also from Sumeria, was rediscovered by the west. Its first popular translations appeared while Waite was a young man, with increasingly better translations appearing in ensuing years (see Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic by Theordore Ziolkowski for an interesting book regarding the reception and the history of translations of that story). Waite, as an educated man with an interest in spirituality would certainly have followed the news of the various archaeological digs in Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh in particular caused a great sensation in the west because it contained an account of the great flood written previous to that in Genesis. Which brings us to the extremely turbulent waves behind our jongleur.
The Sumerian flood story states that Enki helped mankind (after another god decreed the flood would take place). Enki informed mankind of the flood beforehand, and instructed them to build a boat. This then, ties into the “news”-associated divinatory meanings. Recall we mentioned “news” as in “the gospel” when we discussed the Six of Wands. We therefore have what seems to be a reasonably acceptable link to a god-king of Sumeria that explains the extraordinary wave imagery.
There is seemingly a small difference between Waite’s and the GD’s descriptions of the game that the jongleur plays with the looped string and the Pentacles. The Golden Dawn describes “Two wheels, discs or Pentacles similar to that of the Ace. They are united by a green and gold Serpent, bound about them like a figure of Eight. It holds its tail in its mouth.” You might also note that the GD’s divinatory meanings focus on change with a back-and-forth dynamic.
The serpent with its tail in its mouth is the Ourobouros, though in the GD’s case, they have modified it to be the figure eight. That figure is called a “Devil’s Curve” after the juggler’s game, diabolo, which involves two sticks, a string, and a spinning prop. Note that though the game’s name is similar to the Devil, a card associated with the influences, it does not actually refer to the devil; it’s just a visual reminder. Though both the figure eight curve that the GD describes and the curve depicted on the RWS Two of Pentacles are the same, we know that Waite calls it by another name: lemniscate. To Waite, the lemniscate is “the mysterious sign of the Holy Spirit, the sign of life, like an endless cord,” which is how he describes it when he places it above the head of the Magician. The Magician also has an Ourobouros around his waist, so Waite knew the difference and gives them different uses.
The symbolic difference is that the Ourobouros specifically refers to the “beginning meeting the end;” it has a beginning and an end. The lemniscate is infinity, which has no end, or no beginning, or neither, depending on your vantage point. For a mystical Christian like Waite, it’s clear which one he would use to symbolize the Christian god.
We have now catalogued the symbols, but need to look at another aspect of the flood. There is no record of the reason why the Sumerian gods decided to flood the Earth; that part of the cuneiform tablets was lost.
First, a little background. The Sumerians were also connected with the Garden of Eden myths. Some believe the great flood is a memory of a rapid rise in sea level of the Persian Gulf 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. A corollary to this theory is that the Garden of Eden was situated in a location now underwater in the Persian Gulf, and the early Mespotamian civilizations, just north of there, including Eridu, were populated by the peoples who migrated north from the flood zone. There is no reason to think that Waite knew of these particular theories; he would have known, however, that the archaeological digs in that area were close to where the Garden of Eden was thought to have been.
The Noah story states that God was angry because people worshipped idols and false gods; so he decided to send the flood to wipe all humankind except Noah and his family off the face of the Earth. After the flood subsided, he made a covenant with Noah “that man would be allowed to eat every living thing but not its blood, and that God would never again destroy all life by a flood”. This, I think, is a key to understanding the Two of Pentacles. We note that many Christian scholars regard the flood story as a parallel “salvation” story to that of Jesus, the evidence of this view being the flood story is also mentioned in the New Testament. The view is that the ark contained a single path of salvation (the door of the ark); this parallels a single path of salvation through Jesus.
Waite, given a Sumerian god-king via the astrological assignment of Capricorn, throws in the deluge, associated with the very same god-king, as a similar kind of parallel. The gay, dancing jongleur carries not just the Ourobouros of the GD, but the lemniscate, the Holy Ghost. The covenant is both spiritual and material: recall that it also encompassed what man could eat, giving him the “abundance” of the Earth. Thus, the Two of Pentacles is a reminder of the covenant following the flood, which promises, first, the material things that we would expect from the rest of the suit of Pentacles. And secondly, it is a reminder of the path to salvation, the “good news” of the gospel.
It is this second “overloading” of the content of the Two of Pentacles, being completely unexpected in the suit related to Earth and materialism that provides drama and the realization of Waite’s accomplishment.
This may be one of those rare occasions that Waite’s Christian mysticism actually illuminates rather than clutters a card needlessly. Waite turns the beginning of the “Earthy” Pentacles suit, the suit of the material world, into a visual parable of (what to him would have been) the creation of mankind’s spiritual world. It is the Chokmah, illustrated.
Waite and Colman Smith’s visual parable starts with antediluvian times, i.e., the first civilization and their early gods; their superceding by the great flood and finally, the entry into modern times as represented by the Holy Ghost of Christianity. It is a progression from flood to covenant to the promise of abundance both material and spiritual. We might even note that Abraham was a Sumerian priest, who left Sumeria at the time of its fall, for the land of Canaan. To Waite, Sumeria would certainly have brought to mind the establishment of the Abrahamic religions.
There is no doubt that Waite and Colman Smith’s tarot deck is a work of genius. More than a century of popularity proves that. In my opinion, the RWS Two of Pentacles is a showcase for what Waite added to tarot. He enhances the previous meaning with his most heartfelt belief. And he does this in a tour de force, communicating his beloved Christian mysticism by embodying it in what should be its opposite: spirit from material, Christianity from pagan; first power promising its own replacement by the ultimate power.
And the serious but not stentorian narrative voice says…
Are ancient aliens sending us a message through the tarot? Is Enki, one of the highest of the Anunnaki depicted as a dancing juggler on the card known as the Two of Pentacles? Is the great flood the link between an antediluvian civilization ruled by a being who lived in a space suit filled with water and the covenant of Noah? Ancient alien theorists say yes!
Though I’m not quite so sure about the alien, I can say that for a modern tarot reader, the good times, the news, the messages and the business agreements that are commonly ascribed to the Two of Pentacles may need to be given an additional context of taking place after all has been “reset” to zero, but with a promise that no future “reset” shall occur.