7 of Disks / Pentacles: Taurus III
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Saturn
Hermetic Title: Failure/Success Unfulfilled
Corresponding majors: The World (Saturn) and The Hierophant (Taurus)
This is the first decan in our walk where we confront the mysteries of Saturn - Father Time! The Greater Malefic! The Holder of the Sickle! Saturn's reputation is twofold: god of agriculture and fertility on the one hand, god of endings and destruction on the other. Indeed, Saturn was thought to have two consorts: Ops ("wealth") and Lua ("dissolution"). Saturn is chthonic, an earth god; it is part of his nature that what is planted, grows. But also: what dies, is buried. We begin and end in earth.
When I first started reading tarot, I found the 7 of Pentacles cryptic. The farmer's affectless expression gave no clue as to whether the card's spin was negative or positive. What did his resting posture convey? Laziness? Fatigue? Distraction? Contentment? Discouragement? In the early days, I would just say that he was "waiting" for something, though I had no idea what.
Years later, when my dad was living with us, I would see him pause in the middle of clearing snow off the driveway, leaning on the shovel. He would look before him, and behind, trying to calculate how much was left. Because of Alzheimer's, his concept of time was poor, so he would stop more and more often. His posture was exactly that of the 7 of Pentacles. I found myself doing the same thing in the garden, in the middle of a big cultivating job or weeding. The feeling was: The time to do this is now, but the job is so daunting, how can I ever finish? Yet how will I ever succeed if I don't?
It's no coincidence that so many 7 of Pentacles cards are agricultural. That's something we expect to see in the suit of earth. As I mentioned in the decan post for Taurus I, the 5 and 7 are inverses of each other. In the 5 - the "Lord of Worry" - we anticipate and try to forestall disaster. In the 7 - the "Lord of Failure" - we assess and try to remediate what has gone wrong. And for one brief moment in the 6, we see the miracle that takes place when we get it exactly right: life takes root and thrives.
Making Sense of 'The World'
This is the first time that we face, in our decan walk, the major arcanum of Saturn: The World. It is a strangely buoyant card for the Greater Malefic, and it forces us to deepen our understanding of both the planet and the card. The key, I think, lies in the World's wreath, a shape that is sometimes illustrated as a vesica piscis or an ouroboros.
That rough ovoid has a dual role: to confine, and to protect. Saturn, the outermost visible planet, delimits space and time. Like our skin (which it rules), Saturn separates outer space from inner space. Like our bones (which it also rules) Saturn offers internal rules for support and strength. Lord of Time, Saturn sets a terminus on our lives, cutting the long thread of life but also offering release from the body when it can no longer serve.
Life without those limits is unprotected. Consider this: A cancer cell is a cell whose telomeres - the genetic code determining a cell's lifespan - have been incorrectly lengthened. Without the correcting influence of Saturn, cells proliferate out of control, wreaking havoc on the body.
So the World card shows a dancing figure who is protected within the safe confines of a human life; whose freedom depends on its limits. When you look at the cards of Saturn-ruled decans, consider the nature of boundaries - in what way does the card say "This far, and no further"? The 5 of Wands, 3 of Swords, 10 of Wands and 8 of Cups each express this sentiment in one way or another.
Misery! Servitude! Necessity!
The 7 of Pentacles expresses Saturn's rulership of the final decan of Taurus. Here inertia overcomes the great bull. Production has ground to a halt under the "Lord of Failure". The Hierophant's church has rigidified; the key is stuck in the lock, and the queue for salvation is causing a celestial traffic jam.
Pamela Colman Smith drew the 7 of Pentacles in 1909. According to Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin, her illustration alludes to the potato famines of the 1840's, when late blight infested the fields and caused mass starvation. The blight fungus, phytophthora infestans, causes tuber cell walls to collapse, leading to rot - a Saturn pathology if ever there was one!
In the arc of this decan, at 26° Taurus, falls the formidable fixed star Caput Algol - also known as (رأس الغول Ra's Al-ghul, the Head of the Demon. This "eye of Medusa" has an evil reputation, though its baleful influence is only half the story, for it is also serves as a potent protection talisman. When the Picatrix describes this decan as a face of "miserie, servitutis, feritatis, necessitatis, et utilitatis" (misery, servitude, wildness, necessity, usefulness) it is hard not to think of Algol.
The decan images handed down to us by astro-mages past are curious - many describe an elephant, or a "man like an elephant". With its great size and slowness, its thickened skin and pronounced tusks, the elephant is a profoundly Saturnine animal. Its gift is patience, memory, and the ability to withstand hardship. Experience leads to stamina. By facing tasks that seem insurmountable, we come to know and correctly gauge the weight of toil.
My friend and podcast co-host Mel Meleen has a long history of disliking the 7 of Disks; on her version in Tabula Mundi, she depicts the Fall from Eden - a fall which was the price of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (These days Mel prefers to call it "Failure...as yet!") That's another way of understanding this card - hard-won knowledge; a hero who is sadder, but wiser, for his ordeals.
When I've drawn the 7 of Pentacles, my experience has been a bit like a planetary retrograde. I've had traffic slowdowns and I've made many dumb mistakes I've had to fix. They are rarely dire, but always time-consuming (Saturn!). Sometimes I'm just really exhausted and have to go to bed early. Other times, much-needed repairs have finally come through, and imbalances have been rectified. In all cases, patience and a good Plan B have proved essential.
When you draw the 7 of Pentacles, take your time and scrutinize whatever you're working on intently for flaws. Remember Murphy's Law: whatever can go wrong, will. Draw on past lessons learned to remedy accidents due to oversight or negligence. Be skeptical of Fate, and make use of your contingency plans. Should everything go sideways, call it a "learning experience". Take a leaf from Samuel Beckett's book and next time, fail better.
- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho!*
[*During my Beckett phase, in the early 1990's, this quote was the screensaver on my Macintosh SE/30 (1.44MB floppy disc drive!). I also had this awesome baggy T-shirt with a portrait of a fantastically cranky, chain-smoking Beckett. The T-shirt is lost to time, but I wish I still had it.]