10 of Pentacles or Disks: Virgo III
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Mercury
Hermetic Title: Wealth
Corresponding major arcana: The Magician [Mercury] + The Hermit [Virgo]
Dates: September 13 - September 22
With the final card of Virgo we come to the end of the story of Earth, as told through the pentacle minors. It is a story of bodies, of things, of money; it's the story of the life of matter. In the 2, 3, and 4 of Disks we fired the engines of material ambition. In the 5, 6, and 7 we sought to attain and preserve material success. And in the 8, 9, and 10, we tend to our material legacy. We built a livelihood, we sought our purpose, we fashion an inheritance for our successors. Whatever we first conceived, we have now brought to earth and made real; as above, so below. The Magician, major arcanum of Mercury, shows us it is so!
Stories of Return
We know that the Hermit corresponds to the sign of Virgo. But who is that wise old man we see in the Hermit card? and how is his archetype reflected in the 8, 9, and 10 of Pentacles? I believe that in the 8 of Pentacles we see the Hermit's focus; the search for truth that drives him to seek out the unknown. In the 9, we see the conditions and consequence of his mission: solitude. And in the 10, we see how long his journey has been and the years it has exacted; we sense his age. The 10 of Pentacles is a populous card, but it is the grandfather, the progenitor, who holds the foreground. Although his time is nearly over, he is for one last moment still the hero of this tale.
I can never see this card without thinking of Odysseus, most mercurial of heroes (it was in fact said that Hermes was his great-grandfather), and his nostos, his epic journey of return. When Odysseus returns to Ithaka after ten (10!) years of legendary hazards and wayfaring, he disguises himself as an old man, the better to discern what has become of his legend and his legacy - not to mention his wife. Only his faithful hound Argos - who is truly aged, not merely pretending to be - recognizes him for who he is. On the 10 of Pentacles, our grandfather sits enshrouded or camouflaged by the rich tapestry of his own life; his exploits are literally behind him. He has already half-passed into the realm beyond the living (signified by the stone arch), and he shares this secret truth with his dogs. Perhaps they, like Cerberus, like Hermes himself, are guides to what comes next.
In a way, you can say two stories run parallel in the sequence of 8, 9, and 10 of Pentacles. One is the story of a product, turned out in quantity for public consumption, perfected, and transformed into profit. The other is a human story, of how we make tangible our life purpose - whether that is to make works that others can consume, or leave an intellectual legacy, or help and heal others, or simply earn a lot of cold hard cash - and pass it down to the next generation.
Roads of No Return
Implicit in both these stories of creation is the death of the creator. As we explored in the 8 of Pentacles, the Hermit is a mercurial guide to the underworld, safely conducting the sun's light through darkness to rise again. Welcome to the realm of the psychopomp! But our chthonic guide is a god of interpretation and translation; a trickster and a fence. Although he may safeguard the light as it travels through its netherworld, we can't expect it to emerge unaltered. Hermes, famous friend to man, takes our ghostly hand as we leave this world, conducting us on a one-way journey. Like the sun, we may rise again, but never as we were before.
Chthonic Hermes is said to live by Cocytus, the river of lamentation, on the "road of necessity from which none may return" ('ανυποστροφρον 'οιμον 'αναγκης is the beautiful turn of phrase). The only way out is through! The decan imagery teems with death signifiers - pale figures, wrapped in shroudlike "white linens". Commentators agree the face indicates "weakness," "illness," "age," "debility," "destruction," even the "loss of members"!
In other words, as the Hermit vouchsafes the light of the soul, ablaze in his lantern, into the care of its underworld guardians, the body falls lifeless. It is no coincidence that Virgo III is the first or shadow decan of the Queen of Swords, she who is so well known for separation, divorce, and widowhood. Graceful though she is and attuned to the airy music of Venus, her sovereignty and power begin with the dance of death.
In the northern hemisphere, Virgo III sees the sunlit day diminish till it is equal with the night. The days are just long enough to bring in the harvest from the fast-fading crops and store it for the cool weather ahead, or collect its seed for the spring.
Like most readers, I am happy when I see the 10 of Pentacles. It seems to have an air of abundance, community, and plentiful resources. Many times I have enjoyed the company of older relatives, or harvested berries, or finished up big physical projects when getting this card. But other times, it has had a more sinister cast, accompanying deep fatigue, aches and pains, agoraphobia. For good or ill, the 10 of Pentacles comes with heaps of humanity - a reunion, an assembly, a city. Sometimes, strangers are just friends who have not met before. And sometimes, hell is other people.
Although the 10 of Pentacles does not mark the end of the zodiacal year - only one half of it - it does mark the endpoint of the Tree of Life. As we descend through the Four Worlds of the Tree, we pass from Fire (Atziluth/Wands) to Water (Briah/Cups) to Air (Yetzirah/Swords) to Earth (Assiah/Disks). We pass from the first sephira, Kether, to the tenth, Malkuth, where sleeping Princesses lie. There are a number of ways to represent this graphically, but all of them end with this moment, Malkuth in Assiah.
What's special and different about Malkuth and Assiah, or Malkuth in Assiah, is this: it is the world we know. The world all around us, perceived with our five senses, tangible and physical. What you see is what you get. That's why in the Rider Waite Smith deck, the Tree of Life is depicted in its entirety on the 10 of Pentacles, and nowhere else in the deck. It is a reminder that the cycle is complete. But it is also a reminder, in case we forget (distant as we are from the divine source), that there is much more to life than what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
Not only that - if you are thinking kabbalistically, then this alienated kingdom, this profound exile in the material world, is special in another way. There is a phrase you may have heard, tikkun olam (תיקון עולם) - the restoration of the world. Or, a little more periphrastically, לתקן עולם במלכות שדי, to repair the world for the kingdom of God. This refers to the shattering of the lower seven sephiroth, vessels which were too frail to contain the divine light. Their shards are the qlippoth, and scattered among them are the stray sparks of light. These sparks are ours to return to their source, and only from here, this fallen state of grace, is it possible to do that work.
So what does all this have to do with the 10 of Pentacles? Well, everything. The 10 of Pentacles is everything we have worked to achieve - our harvested crops! our publications! our 401(k)s! our grimoires! our works of art! our houses and cars and clothes! But, as we all know, we can't take that with us. For all these treasures to retain their essence, they must be given away so they can take root anew. Every dying plant offers up its seed - its vital portion, its immortal soul - to be replanted. Who are we not to do the same?
Without an animating intelligence, the body is just a husk. Without purpose, our accomplishments are meaningless. In tarot, that animating intelligence or purpose is symbolized by the Sun. When the Hermit encloses the Sun in his lantern for its journey through the dark, he is giving it eternal life. This is the Great Work; the alchemist knows that when you transform lead into gold, the true treasure is not the matter that has been transformed, but the spirit that has been transformed. Not the metal, but the alchemist.
That's why it is said that the virtue of Malkuth is discernment, and the vice is avarice. Midas' mistake was to take gold at its face value - if all you see is the mundane value of gold, then in the end you are left with only shards. As Crowley suggested in his essay on the 10 of Disks, "this may imply that the acquired wealth, being inert, will be dissipated unless put to further use by devoting its power to objects other than mere accumulation." [emphasis mine]
Mercury is strong in the 10 of Pentacles, ruling the only decan whose sign he also rules. We see a similar combination of blended sign and decan rulership in the case of the Moon/4 of Cups, Mars/2 of Wands, Mars/9 of Swords, and Jupiter/9 of Cups. In our recent discussion of the decans, Austin talked about decanic dignity as a kind of special skill or ability that allows you to make your way in an otherwise unsupportive environment. Therefore, we perhaps should expect planets enjoying both decanic and sign rulership to both exhibit skill and enjoy favorable conditions for that skill to shine.
What special aptitude, then, does the 10 of Pentacles confer? Given what we know about the Magician, the Hermit, and the 10 of Pentacles, I've considered a few options.
1) The solitary and scholarly practice of magic.
2) A facility for communicating with the dead. (Or maybe learning dead languages!)
3) An ability to finalize the process from raw material to usable product.
4) A thorough understanding of monetary infrastructures.
5) The judicious use of rest and silence.
When you draw the 10 of Pentacles, any or all of these gifts may be yours, and you may find yourself in position to make excellent use of them. Remember, however, that Hermes' special powers involve movement, change, and transaction. What larger purpose will your gifts serve? Who shall benefit from them when you no longer can? When your life is harvested, in what form shall it take root next?