6 of Disks / Pentacles: Taurus II
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Moon
Hermetic Title: Success/Material Success
Corresponding majors: The High Priestess (Moon) and The Hierophant (Taurus)
Here we encounter another pair of major arcana which seem to be inevitably counterpoised: The High Priestess and the Hierophant. Just as we saw the Empress and the Emperor conjoined in Aries III, the decan of the 4 of Wands, here we find two figures whose similarities are only underscored by their differences. Indeed, in some decks we find the Hierophant going by another name: the High Priest. All of this is to say that these two guardians of the sacred are in a sense twins. But how do they differ? and what do they have to do with the 6 of Pentacles?
The Veil and the Revealer
The difference between the High Priestess and the Hierophant can be summed up in two words: esoteric and exoteric. Esoteric knowledge is hidden, inner, secret. Exoteric knowledge is public, outer, revealed. The key is literally in the name! The word "hierophant" comes from Greek 'ιεροφαντης - "revealer of the sacred."
The High Priestess, by contrast, conceals. She is a symbol and a cipher - knowledge hidden in plain sight. You have probably never seen a High Priestess card that doesn't have a veil of some kind depicted on it. In the Thoth deck, it's a veil of light. In the Rider Waite Smith, it's a veil printed with pomegranates. That's an allusion to the Eleusinian mysteries - the rites of Demeter and Persephone, where initiates learned the secrets of life, death, and renewal. She sits between Boaz and Jakin, the pillars of Solomon's temple. They are black and white, lunar and solar, force and form, throbbing with private meaning. The Hierophant's pillars, by contrast, are plain stone. They are easy on the eyes, rather than a wonder to behold.
The High Priestess veils the unknown. The Hierophant reveals it. With his keys - and there are always keys - he unlocks the doors and throws them open, delivering divinely sanctioned sacraments to the public. He is the pontifex, the bridge-maker. Where the High Priestess is silent, the Hierophant speaks (his associated zodiac sign, Taurus, corresponds to the human voice). The High Priestess governs all things that can only be known in the heart and mind, not expressed openly. The Hierophant governs all knowledge which is given and received. The High Priestess knows the unconscious mind, a world without form or boundary. The Hierophant knows every rule required to live righteously, and will make sure you follow it. The High Priestess is the secret belief which powers magic; The Hierophant is the ceremony which enshrines it.
When they come together, is she the secret which he protects? Is her spirit the honored presence in a church open to all?
The Journeying Maiden and the Guardian at the Gate
The priestess with her hidden scroll, the priest with his keys differ in another way: she, like the Moon she represents, travels across realms to know the mysteries. She corresponds to Hebrew letter gimel, the Camel or ship of the desert. The Hierophant corresponds to Hebrew letter, vav, the nail that joins two things together just as a bridge connects two things opposite each other. Thus, the High Priestess is forever in motion, like the waxing and waning moon. The Hierophant, like the earth sign Taurus, is fixed. He is Peter the Rock, and his church is an anchor, a known place where sacred and mundane can meet.
In the 6 of Pentacles, we see an act of benevolence that visually echoes the Hierophant card. Two acolytes kneel before the Hierophant; two mendicants kneel before the charitable merchant. The "stage" divider on the card gives it a theatrical feeling, like the act of Communion. Even the hands of the central figure echoes the Hierophant's posture.
What is invisible in the 6 of Pentacles, however, is the spirit that moves one to generosity. I would argue that that spirit is the High Priestess herself, the 'quality of mercy' given form by the act of charity. Maybe we see a hint of this in the inner and outer garments of the figure. Prosperity and piety go hand in hand, both in the card and in the decan.
"...potentie, nobilitatis, dignitatis, et necessitatis super populos."
All decan commentaries suggest that this is a fortunate face, which is in a way not surprising as the Moon is exalted in the sign of Taurus. (Granted, the exaltation degree is in the previous decan, but nevertheless.) When the sun and moon are in their sign of exaltation, good and 'noble' effects seem to ensue.
3 of Wands: (Sun /Aries II) "This is a face of high rank, nobility, wealth and rulership."
6 of Pentacles: (Moon /Taurus II) "This is a face of nobility, power, and rewarding the people."
As in so many decan images, the figure reaching across to us through astral space is theriomorphic. Some mention a ram, sheep, or ox; Picatrix, most notably, refers to a linen-covered camel - a fortuitous sync with the High Priestess’ gimel. All agree, however, that this decan holds the blessings of the land - sowing, plowing, building and insemination. Agrippa describes the image as "a nude man holding a key in his hand" - which is weird, a little racy, and possibly euphemistic. (Is that a key? or a "key"?! Ask the Hierophant, the Keeper of all Keys!)
Nowhere is the "sexy six" more fertile than in the 6 of Pentacles. It's not just the union of divine and human. It's the union of male and female, the rains and the earth, above and below, within and without. When these are in balance, crops thrive and people prosper. Hence this card is known as the "Lord of Success."
But more profoundly, sacred and sexual gnosis are intertwined. There is an eroticism to spiritual ecstasy, and a spark of the divine in all acts of creation and reproduction. Often we are uncomfortable with those parallels. We try to repress, control, compartmentalize, or sublimate desire. Yet even as we do, the yearning of the Universe to know itself prevails. It always does, in the end.
Perhaps T.S. Eliot said it best, in the first four lines of 'The Waste Land':
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Okay, I know, this decan typically begins April 30th, which barely counts as April. But "memory and desire"! Is the moon not the repository of memory? Is the bull not an avatar of desire?
In practice, I've experienced the 6 of Pentacles in largely mundane and pleasant ways: offers of work, enjoying excellent food, teaching, and interestingly, lunar eclipses. There always seems to be a faint air of magic, a sense of opportunity around the card. I don't know why, but in the spirit of the card, I receive it with gratitude.
When you draw the 6 of Pentacles, appreciate everything that's going smoothly (which you might not normally notice till thinks start to go wrong). Look for harmony between your inner and outer selves - between right view and right conduct, as the Theravadans might say. Accept and create material opportunities, for yourself and others. Find the sweet, cross-quarter magic of the present moment.