A Tarot de Marseille Thumbnail: 4 of Coins

The 4 of Coins is fascinating in that it is the only one of the Coins pip cards to display a fabricated artifact (other than the coins themselves, which in fact could be seen as fruit or seeds). There is a shield with an abstract central blossom on it separating the two sets of coins and their attendant foliage, and the vines seem to be bending away in alarm from any contact with it. I get the idea of a high-stakes power play here, something akin to the lawsuits that Monsanto brought against farmers who refused to buy their genetically-modified seed corn.  They claimed that random cross-pollination in the fields gave the farmers the benefit of their GMO development without  paying the price for it, when those farmers didn’t even want it in the first place. Fueled by corporate money, the flowered tendrils are about to grow around the shield and intertwine, so it looks like a losing battle to defy the intrusion (and I believe the courts agreed, which could effectively put organic corn farmers – already a vanishing breed – out of business). The unnatural-looking flower on the shield could be an emblem of GMO technology. I also can’t shake the random notion that two of the red flowers bear what look like three-fingered hands on their stems, possibly indicative of scientific meddling in affairs best left to nature. None of this, of course, is even remotely germane to a traditional understanding of this card since it mingles bio-engineering and conspiracy theory. But I bet Niccolo Machiavelli would have found it interesting.


The idea of power is not foreign to the 4 of Coins. Aleister Crowley titled his 4 of Disks (a recognizable TdM clone) “Power;” it shows a stout fortress with a wide-open gate that appears to invite commerce, but only under strictly regulated conditions like tariffs and quotas. The number Four is associated with law-and-order due to its connection to the Emperor, and in the suit of Coins it suggests the “law of the land” at its simplest level and “corporate law” at its most convoluted. The shield on the 4 of Coins might reasonably by seen, at least in the USA, as the badge of an Interstate Commerce Commission agent, and it implies government intervention in financial matters such as trade and banking. At a more personal level, it advises taking a defensive stance and trying to keep disorder at bay. A good deal of tension is apparent in the white space between the shield and the vines where the natural and artificial meet, an uneasy face-off that the flower sigils on the shield don’t convincingly defuse (they look like a “red herring” to me). The shield is roughly the same size as the suit emblems, foreshadowing the radical introduction of the Five.

The RWS 4 of Pentacles is often interpreted as showing avarice and fear of financial loss (I think of it as the “Scrooge McDuck” card), ideas that don’t square well with what I see in the TdM and Thoth cards. Four is above all a number of stability and security that can degenerate into stagnation and xenophobia if allowed to become too entrenched; perhaps the man hoarding his coins could be making more money in the stock market. Maybe he is just trying to shelter his gains from the long arm of the taxman, an idea that is more in tune with the other versions of this card.

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