A Tarot de Marseille Thumbnail: 5 of Coins

The 5 of Coins is the obvious next stop in this series of TdM “thumbnails,” showing as it does an interesting departure from the 4 of Coins. Here the encirclement of the central emblem (formerly a shield) has now been completed and, lo and behold, we have another coin (or fruit, or seed) at the center in place of the obstructing shield. The enclosed space articulated by the foliage reminds me of an autoclave, a sealed retort used to subject material to intense pressure and heat, effecting a chemical transmutation or change of state. It also makes me think of an oyster concealing a pearl that originated as a grain of sand. The fifth coin is thus elevated in importance, suggestive of the biblical parable of “the pearl of great price.”


Although the Fives are often viewed as difficult cards, bringing chaotic but crucial transformation to the static realm of the Fours (I think of them as “breaking eggs to make omelets”), Joseph Maxwell, while acknowledging the connotation of “change,” had a slightly different opinion:

“The number 5 breaks the equilibrium of the square, and is favorable in a muted sense, bringing, however, new or unusual influences with it.” (Note that there is no mention of “stress” or “challenge” as is implied in all of the Thoth and RWS Fives; the closest he comes is to hint at uneasiness about the unknown.)

Under the 5 of Deniers he adds:

“The new unity” (that is, the single coin at the center) “which, added to the number four, creates the five, augurs a favorable orientation if the seed falls into well-tilled earth; if not, problems may be expected.”

In Maxwell’s analysis, this card appears to express the isomorph “4 + 1,” embodying Saint-Martin’s numerological interpretation of “saving grace” rather than “3 + 2,” which carries the antithetical meaning of “menace.” He observes:

“The latter is opposition to progress, fixation in a stagnant state, cessation of unfoldment. The former is the further development of the material condition which has reached perfection by the addition to it of the fecundating principle of unity.” (The number Four represents the fertile material state and One the impregnating unity that galvanizes it.)

As I see it, the fifth coin is still in a state of incubation that won’t culminate until the 6 of Coins, where the analogy is turned inside-out with what looks like the embryonic seed undergoing cell division to produce the double-ended issue of the Six. Maxwell’s “well-tilled earth” lies outside the secluded space and holds only the spent husks of the four “seeds” from the previous card. It’s too early to tell where the fifth seed will fall. All of the energy in this card is aimed at gestation of the sheltered zygote that carries with it the only hope for its four antecedents to evolve before they succumb to utter inertia. Renewed growth is only implied, however, since there is no opening in the womb through which the fortified unity of purpose may emerge. There is a promise here but as yet no performance. Preparation for impending change seems to be the keynote, and all that can be accomplished at present. Therefore, this is still a cautionary card rather than one of triumph over stagnation.

Wow! That’s a lot of ideas in a small space. I hope you can stay with me.

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