On Coins

[As part of our special four-part series on the nature of the tarot card suits, I’ve been asked to talk about the suit of coins. For the others in the series, do check out Miguel’s To a Queen of Swords, Shelley’s The Fool’s Journey Through the Tarot Suit of Cups, and Isabel’s Much at Stake: Vamps on Fire]

 

My first experiences with the suit of Coins happened way before I ever got involved with the Tarot. I was eight years old when I found my first stray card. It happened on a garden. I was sitting on a bench, waiting for my parents. When I was about to leave, I took my hand to my pants and found that an Ace of Diamonds got stuck into my pocket. At that time, it felt like an omen. I have always had a soft spot for this card. It was red, one of my favorite color and at its center, it had a big diamond, which reminded me of diamonds, money. In a way, it reminded me of the good stuff in life. I guess that was why, when I was playing cards with my family, I always wanted that particular card to show up on my parents’ hand. To give him some needed good fortune in life. I’ve held to that particular card I found in the garden for years. I carried it with me in my wallet wherever I went, until I lost my wallet and the card that was inside. At that moment, as I was reminded that what comes, will also go away sometimes, everything broke. And I learned that no matter how good a talisman is, it’s no substitute for ourselves and our ability to go after our own things by our means. You see, magic is a good thing, but never a substitute for work and diligence.

A few years later, I was in Den Haag, in the Netherlands, trying to make ends meet. I needed some money to catch a bus home, but didn’t have enough to buy the ticket. Thus, I ended up walking my way home. On the way, I stopped for a while to catch my breath. I glanced down and saw another Ace of Diamonds, right there on the floor. I picked it up and found five euros glued to the back of the card. There was the money I needed, after all. This card was indeed an amulet. Once again I took the card – and the money – and keep it in my wallet. Once again, I ended up loosing the card. Only this time, I wasn’t concerned. Twice it had appeared, bringing either news of fortune or, money to a much needed situation. And they say third time’s a charm, so I’m quite sure it will show up again.

For me, this is what the suit of Coins represent. Money, riches, quality of life. The money part is easy: the suit is called “coins” after all. In Portugal, where I’m from, we call it “Ouros”, which translates as “Gold”. In a deck of playing cards, the suit of coins corresponds to Diamonds. And oce again, we have that meaning of riches, of precious things right there in the name of the card. But riches doesn’t necessary mean just money and precious metals. It can also mean anything we find of value. It can be a good friendship, or a plentiful table. In a way, of everything good that we receive from friends, family, society and nature itself, for food and shiny things are taken from the earth to our enjoyment and fulfillment.

And yet, it is the human eye that sets the value of all that surrounds us. What is precious one day can become dull and worthless the next day. Money is a fickle and nervous thing. It doesn’t like to rest, but to travel from one hand to the other. In a way, it gets nervous if it has to stop for more than a few moments, and it ends up loosing value. As any book on finances will tell you, money is only good as long as it can be passed along, traded for another thing. Unless you’re Uncle Scrooge, that is, and take your enjoyment out of jumping into piles of money, swimming through them and toss it up and let it hit him on the head.

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From “Only A Poor Man”. Story and Art © Walt Disney

When going through the suit of pentacles, we can see how these things influence our lives. Whether you’re using a Marseille deck or a Waite-Smith deck or any other, the same ideas come forth, even if in different ways or in different cards. As I’ve mostly familiar with the Waite-Smith deck, this is the deck I’ll be using to address the suit of coins. As a first approach, the more coins we get in the spread, the better we are. If these cards are meant to remind us of the good things in life, this is easy to understand: one coin (the ace) is little; ten (the highest number in the suit) is great wealth. So the higher the number, the better we are. But then, we come to the images. Some of the images from the WS suit of coins are not as positive as one would like. They speak of loss and misery; of struggle and work; of patience and the need to resort to others. This is to be expected, as money comes, money goes and really, how many of us can tame that fierce beast under its belt?

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Money comes to us as a gift. From our parents at first, but also from friends, strangers or bosses. It is handed to us to do as we please. This then would be the ace. Money as an offering, a gift. In a way, it can also mean a letter, as gifts of money usually arrive inside a letter, as it is not polite to show everyone else what one is giving.

As soon as we get money in our hands, our struggle starts. What to do with it, or where to put it. Expenses such as food, house, water and gas are to be paid and we have only two coins to address it all. Not enough for our needs, but still, one must make ends meet.

Fortunately, we can rely upon others. That is, if our social network is a strong one. Family and friends can come to our rescue and bring us that extra coin, thereby increasing our income to three.

But four coins is the minimum number that we need for security and stability. Enough coins to cover our corners. However, this is a dangerous number, as we have only enough money to meet our expenses. There is a tendency to grab on to what we have and not let it go. If you look at the picture of the four of coins, that’s exactly what you will see: the man in the picture is seated, two coins safely tucked under its feet; one around his arms and one at his head. There’s a risk here, for money doesn’t like to be held against its will. Money is like a spirit, you see, and the more you bind him, the worse it will treat you. And in the end, if you don’t pay your bills…

You will end up loosing everything. Creditors will come and take what is yours and good luck with your four coins. In the end, you will need more than that and unless you have them tucked away, you will be left on the street, cut away from the very society that you were part of. In the Five of Coins, we see two vagrants walking in the street. There’s snow everywhere and a lit window that recalls the comforts of a warm home. I tend to think of the Little Match Girl, when I see this card. However, unlike the hero in Andersen’s story, our vagrants don’t stop and go near the window. They know fully well the reality they’re on, and unless they find a shelter quickly, they will freeze to death. The Five of Coins is then, not a card to get complacent. Hard times are hard times, and need to be addressed with seriousness if one is to escape them.

So what can one do then, except go begging in the streets? To rely upon the kindness of strangers? A coin gained can be such a treasure, after all. It can put some warm food in our belly or help us get a shelter for the night. Still, to depend upon the kindness of strangers is never a good thing. Strangers will only tend to give what they won’t miss. Those few extra coins are to be scattered between all that are in need, and maybe, just maybe it won’t be our turn just now. Still, it is the first step to get on our feet, now that the importance of money has been learnt.

If we take that coin and plant it in fertile ground (7 of Coins), we might get lucky. Our small business might develop and, with time, prosper. But grooming a business takes time. And it takes money. Good things grow slowly, so make sure that you do this well and stay vigilante. Else someone else ends up taking what is yours.

This is the time to work. To work and work and work. There’s no escaping it. Money comes through work. And if nothing else is there to do, well… work some more. The more you put into things, the bigger the rewards. So says the 8 of Coins.

And someday, someday things will bloom again and you will see the fruits of your labor. You will gather enough money to have a secure life. A life without any worries, your nine coins providing all the wealth that you need.

And with luck, you will get there. To the ten of coins. Money is not a problem anymore, as you can do anything you want. Or perhaps it is. Just look at the card. A couple is meeting in a garden, oblivious to all but themselves. But, lurking in the shadows, an old man remains seated, guarding his treasure. As Uncle Scrooge would tell you, that’s the problem with having too much money: you end up having to guard it against all thieves. Once again, you’re a prisoner of money, but now, you’re tending to its needs. Money did give you everything you wanted, but in return, it demanded your total obedience. Was it worth it? If it isn’t, you can always start again, by giving someone a coin. Just enough to get them started.

For the court cards, we go through the same exercise one again.

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The page holds its coin high, dreaming of all he can do with it. He is like a child, wondering which of his dreams he will fulfill this time with what little money he has. For him, money is like a blessing and he intends to treat it as such.

The Knight knows better, and sees it not as the promise of some item to be bought, but a way to get where he needs to go. For him, money is that secret key that opens all doors. Or at least, can open the right ones. Now, he only has to figure where he is going.

For the Queen, money is to be tended and looked after. It doesn’t come easily, so she should better not let it out of her sight. With the right attention, it can increase and offer abundance. But if she takes her eyes out of it, it will disappear. Money is then something necessary to attain what she needs. And to secure her home.

For the King, money is to be shown and paraded. It is there to make a stand and to give him privilege. He is King, after all, and he has the most money of them all; the most power. It is time to do as he pleases when he pleases and how he pleases. It is time to finally rule his world.

In all, money is a means to an end. It is there to provide us with the things we need and, with luck, some of the things we might like, even though we don’t necessary need them. The suit of coins addresses a part of our life: the material part. However, as the other suits point out, it is not the only part that needs to be attended. Even if having all those coins in our pocket might feel like a good thing.

Idea Delivery Through Comics and Tarot -2

This is part 2 of a three part post about my presentation at this year’s Tarot Con – U.K.. If you’ve missed part 1, you can find it here.

In this part I will present some work I chanced upon throughout the years. Books that for one reason or another made me stop and ponder a while, and from which I took ideas that later on would coalesce and build up into my personal view of the tarot. It was not a neat journey as it would appear by reading this post, and sometimes, comics that I will present side by side have reached out to me throughout the years.

This is also the part that mostly deviates from the presentation I gave at Keswick, so if you did attend it, just follow through and you’ll see how everything ties together.

Oddly enough, this journey starts not with a comic book, but with a TV series: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller was one of those TV series that retold several European folk tales using a mixture of live actors and puppets. In one of the episodes, right at the end, the dog questions the storyteller about a detail in the story that supposedly didn’t make any sense. The storyteller’s answer was very simple:

“Ah…, you see? But that’s the thing. You should always trust the story, for the story always tells the truth. But you should never, ever, trust the storyteller”.

This little line forever changed the way I related to stories. To what I saw or read. No longer were they these little pieces of fiction without consequences, but rather strange new worlds that would somehow touch our own world. It didn’t matter that they lived in the minds of people, its only actual physical presence the inks and papers they depended on… they existed here with us and would tell us everything we ever wanted to know about life, the universe and everything. So when a story presented us something that made us stop, well then… we should really stop and hear what it has to say, for its of the upmost importance. And even today I find echoes of that distant past. One of the most rewarding ones has been Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ series The Unwritten, about a Harry Potter look-alike character who possesses an immense knowledge about literary geography and who might or might not be a fictional character that actually crossed the line between fiction and reality. It’s a really wonderful series and you can find it here.

Anyway… comic books and tarot…

When we start learning the various meanings of cards, we get a list of keywords. An immense list of keywords and some of them are contradictory. For example, for Strength, we might find “Pleasure” and “Fight”; for The Star, we might see “Hope” and “Illusion”, etc., etc. We are told that cards can have positive meanings and negative meanings and that the actual meaning will depend upon the context of the reading. Opposites coexisting side by side, from which we get to pick the correct meaning for each situation depending on factors like intuition, logic, and pure dumb luck.

For a long time, my vision was exactly like that. Until I chanced upon a comic written by Steve Englehart that depicted a fight between two characters, Galactus and the In-Betweener, where the first defined itself as “the absence of opposites” and the second as “the meeting of opposites”. The comic was The Silver Surfer #18, part of a series of stories that explored how to deal with opposite concepts.

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Silver Surfer #18. Written by Steve Englehart, with art by Ron Lim and Joe Rubinstein. Published by Marvel Comics

In the comic, Galactus (or the absence of opposites) ends up winning the fight, simply because he doesn’t have to jump from one state to the other; from positive to negative; from life to death; from pleasure to pain. He could be both of them at the same time and that enabled him to become something else… A balanced being.

Other issues would follow on this idea and try to figure out how to bridge two opposing concepts. And, at the end of the run (in Silver Surfer #31), we get these two pages that tell us that between every two concepts, every two opposing ideas there is a third one, a concept/idea that links both sides and as such is made from both sides of the coin, but is its own thing. And then, I started to look at the Tarot, and each Major Arcana was defined as the path that linked two Sephirahs… Each card was not meant to be just “Yes” or “No”; “Positive” and “Negative”, but something that contained both aspects and everything in between.

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From Silver Surfer #31. Written by Steve Englehart; Art by Ron Lim, Tom Christopher and Rob Williams. Published by Marvel Comics

 

This led me to something else I saw years before in a Hulk comic. Now, the Hulk had been this rage-fuelled monster that existed inside the body of Bruce Banner, a scientist. His dark, primitive side. And for more than 30 years, that was all that he was. Until a writer, by the name of Peter David came along and had the idea of integrating both the puny, cerebral human side of Bruce Banner and the primeval monstrous side of the Hulk into a single entity:

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The Hulk personas finally gets joins its human side, in this sequence from The Incredible Hulk #377, by Peter David, with art by Dale Keown and Bob McLeod. Published by Marvel Comics

And I remembered an Alan Moore comic published more than 10 years ago, Swamp Thing #50 (reprinted here and here)

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The climax of Swamp Thing #50, where Light and Darkness reach out and literally join hands, to give us the Tao. Art by Steve Bissette and John Totleben. Published by DC Comics.

And something made a click: cards do not show us a positive or negative meaning, they show us a way to integrate whatever we have with whatever we might be missing.

Looking at the Hero’s Journey, and how it relates to the Major Arcana, we can establish three different sets of cards, as depicted bellow:

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Applying what was said above, we can again see the same principle: a first set of cards, between The Magician and The Chariot, which I usually call “The Path of Innocence”, in honour of the William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” and a third path, from Atu XV – The Devil to Atu XXI – The Universe, or “The Path of Experience”. And it’s easy to see how the each card in the middle row relates to the one that is directly above it and below it. How it takes elements of both end-cards and builds something else.

This all seemed nice and clear until a few years ago I stumbled upon this particular page, taken from Firestorm #96, which had this most interesting caption: “From awareness grew the knowledge of impulse and reason (…) that guide our decisions”

"Fury of Firestorm". Written by John Ostrander, with art by Tom Mandrake. Published by DC Comics
“Fury of Firestorm”. Written by John Ostrander, with art by Tom Mandrake. Published by DC Comics

Going back to the Major Arcana, one easily recognizes the “Impulse” and “Reason” as keywords to as The Wheel of Fortune and the Justice cards. And that’s all that one needs to make a decision. Placing the Major Arcanas in two rows, we get other interesting pairs:

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Pairs like The Hermit (Scientific knowledge) and “The Hanged Man (Intuitive knowledge); Strength (Life) and Death, and so on. But more interesting still, is the combination of The Hierophant with The Tower, where we see portrayed the influence of God upon Man (The Hierophant) and Man’s attempt to reach out to God’s level. Or, to put it in another way, where duality first appears, and where it is resolved. And, in this aspect, The Star assumes an added importance: it’s hope, yes, because it’s a return to Unity; A new birth where everything shines in a new light. Or, as Alan Moore stated, again, in Swamp Thing #50,

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Swamp Thing #50. Written by Alan Moore; Art by Steve Bissette and John Totleben

 

So, where does this leaves the Minor Arcana?

Well, the Minor Arcana are related to the Alchemical elements. Fire, Water, Swords and Pentacles. Or Will, Love, Reason and Material Resources. In the Rider Waite deck, these cards depict also depict journeys. Not the mythical journey, but the day-to-day struggles. If we want to turn to stories, we should not look at the concepts, at the ideas, but at the actual paths the characters make. We should look at biographies. Sure, there’s still plenty of ideas and concepts one can milk stories from, as we can see from these examples:

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Panels from Fantastic Four #322. Written by Steve Englehart. Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott. Published by Marvel Comics
Panels from Fantastic Four #322. Written by Steve Englehart. Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott. Published by Marvel Comics

 

And

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Pages from Crossing Midnight #6. Written by Mike Carey. Art by Jim Fern and Mark Pennington. Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

 

But we’re probably better served when looking at a character’s evolution. To understand Fire, we need to understand Will, determination, creative energy. How to fuel this determination and channel it to our objectives.  Mike Carey’s series Lucifer (which you can find here) tells us the story of how Lucifer pretended to escape his creator’s role by creating a new Universe that might better correspond his point of view. What it takes to bring something forward and defend it, sustain it and, ultimately, make it stand.

For swords, we could turn to the stories of the samurais. Swords are about reason, but they are also about balance, fluidity and adjustment. In order to live by the sword, one must be centered, fluid, and disciplined. Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond (available here) brings us the fictionalized account of Miyamoto Musashi, considered the greatest samurai that ever lived. How he learned his trade. How he incorporated the zen teachings he chanced upon, and how he developed his own style of fighting, a style that made impossible for any opponent to get near him, het alone cut him down.

Pentacles is an easy one. If you want to learn about resources, social networks and money, you need to look no further than Uncle Scrooge. Of particular interest is Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck (available here), where he tell us the story of how Scrooge got rich, in ten chapters that closely correspond to the suit of Pentacles. Also of interest are Carl Bark’s stories featuring Uncle Scrooge. Carl Barks was the creator of Uncle Scrooge and the one that got to define his personality and charm. And it’s interesting to see that for all the pettiness and the eye for business, he also gave Scrooge a heart that shone even more brightly than any gold coin he might find.

Which leaves us with Hearts. Love, feelings and relationships. The bonds that allows us to nurture ourselves and grow. The bonds that ultimately will define where we came from and who we are. David Mack’s Kabuki series (available here) is all this and more. A love letter to his mother, and then to himself it shows us how everything around us and everyone around us can fuel us, drive us forward and ultimately help us on our path.

And thus ends part two… a personal journey through comics and tarot that I hope might open some new avenues for you. But comics have more to teach us than just stories. Join us tomorrow for part 3, where we look at what else can comics bring us that’s of interest to tarot readers. In the meanwhile, do browse our archives for some other goodies

 

I Can Read Cards, But I Can’t Get Rich

The other day, I was at the cafe taking my morning coffee, when I overheard some boys talking right next to me. They were talking about money, more specifically, about the money they could win by playing the lottery. As is typical, they were talking about very high amounts, enough to become millionaires. They were talking about how they would be happy, because they then would have the means to do what they want. How they would travel, pay their debts, help their kin, buy cars, houses, party all night, the works…

I couldn’t help smiling at the naivety of these people. Did they really think that money would solve all their problems? Was this the only way they could be happy? Did they really need to help others?

I was curious. Curious enough to pick up my cards and make a reading. Armed with my trustworthy Rider-Waite deck, I then proceeded to a simple 3-card spread. The question, “would they really be able to make their wish come true?” The answer, made me chuckle:

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As you can see, we have our Emperor center stage and surrounded by two aces. The Ace of Swords and the Ace of Pentacles. Substitute the scepter our emperor has in his hand with a sword, and you’ll almost have a repetition: weapon on the side of weapon; coin on the side of coin. The answer couldn’t be simpler: these people could dream all they wanted. In the end, if they truly wanted to accomplish something, they would have to fight. And fight a lot. They would have to be determined to win.

You want to be happy, you work for it. Every single day. Fight for it. For the privilege of happiness. Otherwise, it will all be smokes and mirrors.

I must have chuckled very loud. Or maybe it was destiny. They were soon at my table asking all the usual questions. Can I truly read the tarot? (Well, if I can’t what was I doing with a pack of cards???) Can the cards truly predict the future??? (after the reading I’ve made, if they didn’t, something was truly very wrong…) and then, the fatal question: “Could I predict the numbers for the next lottery draw?”

I tried to explain that it didn’t work like that. That money was just a part of life, not more and not less important than other things. And that even the cards acknowledge that by placing money (pents) in equal footing with determination (wands), love (cups) and resourcefulness (swords). “But no!”, they would say. If the cards can indeed predict the future it should predict the lottery numbers. For they were in the future.

I confess that this is the type of situation that propels me to open the deck and start talking about their lives and the hell with it. But the logic, although flawed, was valid. Why can’t the cards predict the future? So, before trying to devise a mean to do it, I simply asked the cards, how could I use them to get rich?

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And again, I was laughing.

The straight answer, I couldn’t. Because, in the end, it was not that important. Or, going by the reading, even if I did use them and actually got rich, I would be lost in a see of indulgence: I would try to fulfill wish after wish after wish, running after every little whim, only to chase a mirage. And, not only that, but I would end up having to defend what was mine from the world. I actually thought that the Seven of Cups was an inspired card, because here they were talking about using money to party and travel and get cars and houses and here was the card that actually talked about all that. Coincidence?? I truly think not.

But these cards also had another reading in them (and how many times do you find you can do two or more readings from the same draw and all of them be correct???) That they were so involved with their dreams, they couldn’t really see anything other than that. They would not be content with a negative answer. So I gave them an answer. The third reading from these cards: If they wanted to get rich, they would have to play at least once for each dream they had. So, 7 dreams, 7 lottery cards.  And that they should play together, otherwise, someone might get an advantage and quarrels would start. Never once, should they put themselves above the rest of the group, otherwise, they wouldn’t be rich. They would just end up fighting. And, of course, never stop dreaming. Go after what you want…

Were they happy? I honestly don’t know. I do know that once again I got a lesson out of it. A lesson about always chasing our dreams, but also, always minding what we’re chasing. After all, it’s not what you get out of it, but how you get out of it…

P.S. – When searching for a cute picture to accompany this post, here’s what I found:

ScroogeMcDuck_Comic UnknownDon’t you just love it when everything comes full circle? I know I do 🙂 🙂 🙂