The “Bowling for Dollars” RWS Storyboard

This is the fourth and last of my “storyboard” studies of the RWS minor cards. The title comes from the old TV show “Bowling for Dollars” and plays off the bizarre impression created by the central image on the Ace of Pentacles. It is tempting to think of the suit of Pentacles (Coins or Disks in other decks) as the “work” suit. In fact, in the Thoth deck the 3 of Disks is even titled “Works.” But note the subtle distinction: that’s “works” as in “projects,” not individual labor. In the Golden Dawn system, that distinction is given to Wands due to their connection with ambition, initiative and enterprise, thus “business.” Pentacles more properly relate to material resources such as money, possessions and property, and the focus in a reading is largely mundane Although the court cards are outside the scope of this essay, Aleister Crowley used terms like “dull, heavy, materialistic, practical,  steadfast, grounded, strong, persevering and non-intellectual” to describe the Disks court, and the same principles inform the minor cards as well.


Ace of Pentacles: A card of opportunity ripe for the plucking. For some strange reason. the image in this card resembles a hand holding a bowling ball, and the path leading to the gate in the distance is the lane down which it must be rolled. There is potential for success here but no incentive to pursue it until a practical goal materializes. The walled expanse is more an incubator than a tillable field and the road on the far side of the gate beckons. Until the time that portal is breached, the “wheels of progress” are greased and ready but remain idle.

2 of Pentacles: There is a sense of queasy unsteadiness about this card, aggravated by the ships being tossed about on the rolling waves that echo the precarious stance of the juggler. At the instant captured in the image, the dynamic tension represented by the Two may be either his undoing or his salvation. There is an interesting analogy hidden in the scene that very few will notice. Although Waite and Smith would not have had a clue what I’m talking about, any fly fisherman knows that a “tight loop” in the line when back-casting produces greater line speed and a more accurate forward cast, while a lazy “open loop” invites deflection by the wind. In this card the loop of the lemniscate at the juggler’s right hand is flatter and tighter than its opposite number, suggesting that the momentum of his effort is pulling him in that direction, apparently more off-balance. If the “left as past and right as future” convention is applied, the idea of “resistance to change” comes to mind, the urge to back off and let both the opportunity and the attendant risk slide by. The juggler must take his cue from the galleon moving toward the right side of the picture and wrestle that energy around before it upends him. Another sports analogy that strikes me is “the wind-up before the pitch.”

3 of Pentacles: Although a common interpretation of this card is the “master craftsman,” it is really too early in the number sequence for mastery to occur; stability has barely been restored at this point. The suggestion here is more one of teamwork, and of the old business adage “plan the work and work the plan.” The tableau appears to show an architect directing a craftsman in the conduct of the work and perhaps implementing  changes to the plan at the behest of the patron in the background. It is a card of turning creative potential into concrete reality, ultimately giving the impetus for growth inherent in the Three a practical outlet in the solid structure of the Four and bringing the nascent changes inspired by the Two to fruition.

4 of Pentacles: There is another Beatles song that fits this card to a “tee” – “I Me Mine.” George Harrison had this to say about the song (from the 1980 book, I Me Mine):

“Suddenly I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego, like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel’ or ‘give it to me’ or ‘I am’. It drove me crackers, I hated everything about my ego, it was a flash of everything false and impermanent, which I disliked. But later, I learned from it, to realise that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth. Who am ‘I’ became the order of the day. Anyway, that’s what came out of it, I Me Mine. The truth within us has to be realised. When you realise that, everything else that you see and do and touch and smell isn’t real, then you may know what reality is, and can answer the question ‘Who am I?’”

The man in the image is desperately trying to hold onto everything that must eventually be let go to make way for continued growth. It is a card of greed and vanity for sure, but perhaps more accurately one of misplaced values and short-sightedness. He is in his “comfort zone” and nothing is going to dislodge him . . . except the ravages of time and creeping stagnation. An overbuilt structure that can topple under its own weight is another useful metaphor.

5 of Pentacles: The curious thing about the image here is that the beggars seem to be disregarding the very institution that might provide them relief from the cold, walking past with downcast expressions as if oblivious to the warmth and light within. Waite was undoubtedly a Christian, but the implication here is that the majesty of the Church is too lofty to serve those who are most in need of its charity; the gulf between abject poverty and material wealth (or, for that matter, mere subsistence) is too wide to bridge with prayers and platitudes, so the pilgrims must look elsewhere for succor. There is a frosty indifference about this card that aligns well with the idea of the Five as “forced change” that brings discomfort at the same time that it  re-establishes forward momentum. The advice is to keep on trudging.

6 of Pentacles: The conventional view of this card as showing charity in action doesn’t square well with the esoteric nomenclature of “Material Success.” In that sense, the image is misleading, unless it is interpreted as an “embarrassment of riches” that creates the urge to “salve one’s guilty conscience” by giving some of it away. The man is not so much a “do-gooder” as he is a realist who knows that idle wealth must be put to work or its management can become more of a burden than it is worth. Either that or he is just trying to outfox the taxman with tax-deductible contributions to non-profit ventures. The point is that this isn’t really a card of benign goodwill but rather one of savvy investment.

7 of Pentacles: The striking thing about this image is that the farmer has only managed to harvest one “coin” and he is already taking a break from his labors. The Golden Dawn title is “Lord of Success Unfulfilled” and Aleister Crowley bluntly called it “Failure.” The RWS card simply suggests stalled progress and unfinished business; the investments tendered in the Six have yet to yield any return, and if the worker continues to rest on his hoe they won’t in the foreseeable future. The bounty may “go by” before he has a chance to bring it to market.

8 of Pentacles: This is a card of tireless diligence and consummate craftsmanship, the true earmark of the master. The rewards of productivity are ensured and the artisan is closing in on the end of his task, but he still has his “nose to the grindstone” and hasn’t slackened his efforts. The fumbling incompetence of the Seven has been forgotten in the satisfying glow of a job well done.

9 of Pentacles: This is almost universally seen as a card of bounty and comfort, but there is in fact a whiff of decadence and self-indulgence about it, an overripe aura of impending decay. Note that the hedge of grapevines behind the woman has no gate in it so what she has at hand is all she is going to get, although she seems completely indifferent to that prospect. She is complacent in her sequestered garden and intends to stay that way as long as her resources last, letting the world pass her by. These insightful  lines, paraphrased from the Eagle’s song “Hotel California,” strike a chord: she is “just a prisoner here of her own device” and “she can check out any time she likes but she can never leave.”

10 of Pentacles: There is a deadening banality about this card that echoes the sanctimonious declaration of Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss (who apparently knew his Leibniz): “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” a satirical comment on mindless positivism. It is generally interpreted as a benevolent card, but as the final card of the last suit and also of the entire deck, it is the epitome of exhaustion. It begs the question “Is this all there is?” The prospect of a “reboot” with the Ace of Wands has yet to make its appearance, so the members of the extended family in the image are rather fatuously indulging in their obvious good fortune and are heedless of the looming bankruptcy of their estate (although I think the elderly man suspects something is amiss). There is a definite “enjoy while it lasts because it won’t last long” implication to this card.

And on that note I will sign off with the observation that (except for the inevitable edits) “Yes, that’s all there is.”

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