9 of Pentacles: Virgo II
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Venus
Hermetic Title: Gain
Corresponding major arcana: The Empress [Venus] + The Hermit [Virgo]
Dates: September 2 - September 12
Welcome to the beautifully curated garden of the 'Little Empress'! Who is the 'Little Empress'? Why, the 9 of Pentacles - a woman who has accomplished works of great beauty and created her own little world; at the touch of her hands, that which is useful and lovely seems to bloom and grow. The flowers on her gown mirror the glyph of Venus on the Empress' shield. Her walled paradise seems like perfection itself. But is it really?!
Covered in Beauty.
In the 8 of Pentacles, we saw an artisan deeply engrossed in the inner workings of his task. In the 9, our lady faces us, gracefully posing as if to point out first one exquisite feature and then another. We are invited to appreciate each polished surface, not least of all that of the little Empress herself. Unlike the 8 of Pentacles, the 9 is excruciatingly self-conscious. If you adopt her posture for a moment - neck lifted, chin tilted just so, three-quarter profile - you will find yourself wondering who, exactly, you are putting yourself on display for.
The sequence from 8 to 9 to 10 of Pentacles is one of progressive encasement. A throughline amongst the decan commentators is the notion of covering, which is expressed in two ways: as figures "covered in hair" and covered in distinct and separate layers of clothing: silk, leather, iron or a "red mantle". This progression from comfort to protection to display tracks the turning of the mind's eye from inward to outward, from concern for the self to awareness of the Other.
The decan commentators defined this decan as signifying increase, "accumulation of substance," frugality, even greed. The Golden Dawn called this card the Lord of Gain. How do we come by gain? By taking in faster than we expend, or taking in while not expending at all. Those successive layers of apparel protect their treasure by encasing it, rendering their subject literally impregnable. Even the Little Empress' bird has its head covered, which is as much an act of gaining control as offering protection (the falconer hoods his hawk to calm it, imposing an artificial night).
Rather like the 'gain' we add when using a microphone, we can also think of gain as that differential created by the outer appearance vs the inner reality; the image we put on in order to meet the world. The question is: does that outer glamor connect us to, or separate us from, that which we seek?
Form vs Function
When I was young, my family had a connection with Martha Stewart (this was before she became the Martha Stewart), as her then-husband was my father's business partner. Even then, Martha had the most refined of tastes. We would go to parties occasionally at her home in Connecticut; at one, my stepmother reported seeing in the reception room a beautifully upholstered chair with a rope tied across its arms, so no one would attempt to sit. (She also reported, rather gleefully, setting a deviled egg on the same chair, and later still, seeing someone sitting on it! Who knows if this is true.)
I have always thought of that chair as particularly 9 of Pentacles in flavor: here is something I have slaved with Hermetic concentration to perfect - but it is for display only. Use it for its intended purpose, and its perfection might crumble! This is function sacrificed on the altar of form.
The 9 of Pentacles has long been my sewing card - specifically, "sewing for work"; i.e., making Arcana Cases for my clients' tarot decks at the Tarotista shop. . An absurd amount of effort and attention to detail goes into the construction of each case, from the bespoke deck measurements to the painstaking ironing of each crease and pinning of each tiny seam - all so that the final product will appear streamlined and flawless. In the early days, I could hardly bear to part with them -though now I know they must be used to be appreciated (and for me to achieve any Gain!).
A woman alone.
We've spoken of the Empress as Venus and the Hermit as Virgo. And while Venus may rule over this decan of Virgo, she is in fall in the sign of Virgo. (Her exaltation is at 27° Pisces.) So what weakness does Venus show in the sign, and what compensatory gift does she show in the decan?
In our recent Fortune's Wheelhouse episode on the decans, Austin Coppock and I talked a bit about this particular decan and card, which Austin used to illustrate the concept of fall by another one of its names, 'depression,' - a kind of trap into which the mind may fall. This trap, he suggested, is the 9 of Pentacles' emphasis on "perfection of form". While the Venus in Virgo person may appear "perfectly Venusian," he suggested, they may feel profound discomfort beneath that exterior.
The Greeks also described the state of fall as φυλακα, or 'prison,' which highlights another possible weakness. The 9 of Pentacles draws on the Hermit's self-sufficiency; his independence and comfort in solitude. But solitude is not a natural state for the Empress, who above all fosters connection and growth. It can be lonely at the top!
Very often I see this card appear for women who have either attained self-sufficiency and independence, or are striving for it. Financial independence can be a hard road for women to walk, so I'm always glad to see this card appear for my clients. I see it as a marker of empowerment. Often my client says something like "I've struggled to get my life under control, but now I finally feel I've made it. I have my own place, I like my job, I'm doing well."
But also - since people rarely come to tarot readers just to talk about how great things are - there is sometimes a problem, and the problem is loneliness. Our tough cookie, who has worked so hard to achieve her own security, sometimes finds it difficult to trust someone (again). She longs to share the good things she has earned, but what if they are threatened by the newcomer?
The good news, I've found, is that the 9 of Pentacles often seems to be a kind of last stop in the land of singledom. Very often, just at the point when you stop needing anyone, that particular someone you gave up on finding just shows up. It's quite uncanny, but I've seen it happen over and over.
Thrice times Work is Gain; Thrice times Abundance is Happiness.
Perhaps this is because the 9 is the sphere of Yesod on the Tree of Life - "foundation". Yesod is the blueprint for the 'real world,' Malkuth ("kingdom"). That which you imagine in the 9 becomes reality in the 10. Yesod is the place where the light of the Tree gathers, filtered through the guidance of Netzach and Hod (the "spheres of prophecy"). In this magical place, wishes may be made and reality may be altered. Once the foundation is laid, the kingdom arises from it. For one last moment in the 9, everything reaches its peak power - astral completion - before unfolding into manifest, physical, irreversible form in the 10.
So when you draw a 9, respect its power and be careful what you wish for! Chances are that astral form will walk the path of The World into reality.
When you draw the 9 of Pentacles, reflect on what you've accomplished! with pride and satisfaction. Chances are that things are finally looking really good. The garden is beautiful, the house is clean, your investments are paying off. You alone know how much hard work went into it, but you pride yourself on what you achieved and give yourself credit for it. You see beauty all around you, and you know that you are responsible for it.
But do not try to freeze that beauty in place; change lies beneath the surface of every image of perfection. It is the nature of the 9 to be harvested and passed on in the 10; indeed, it is its joy and pleasure. Open the doors to the garden and invite others in to partake in the fruits of your labor, for by that act they shall, eventually, be multiplied.
Ode on a Grecian Urn, by John Keats
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."