The Six of Pentacles, a card of giving and receiving charity. And of thinking about what ‘charity’ really is.
The Six of Pentacles, from the Waite-Smith Tarot, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith
In the Waite-Smith image, we see a richly dressed figure dropping coins into the hands of two kneeling beggars. A hierarchy clearly exists here, where one person has the power to give, or not to give, to those seen as ‘below’ him, who are apparently in need of his gift.
How often do we experience this situation, where one person has power over the welfare of another? It sure sounds familiar to me. And when we do experience this, are we the beggar, the rich man, or the observer? Firstly, I think ‘observer’. But then I realise that in my observing role, I am often the ‘rich man’. Countless times I’ve walked down a busy shopping street, passing someone who might be homeless, might be anything, but whatever they are they’re in a situation where they’re asking people for spare change. The ‘rich-man beggar-man’ illustration is a very literal example of a dynamic that can exist in any area of our life, and at different times we can all find ourselves being the observer, the giver, and yes, the receiver too. As the Wheel of Fortune turns, we occupy different periods in the dynamic of needing and being needed – and do we always understand the thread that connects
The Wheel of Fortune, from the Morgan Greer Tarot
There is an irony in the Six of Pentacles in that the standing, rich figure holds a set of balanced scales in one hand, whilst the circumstances of both himself and the beggars are so clearly unbalanced. But these scales also remind us of the dynamic that can exist in this type of situation. Whilst on the surface it may look as though one person holds all the power, underneath, it could be the case that the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver’ are co-dependent, each needing the other.
I’ve been in a relationship that was co-dependent. Whilst there were lots of wonderful things about that relationship, I think that the co-dependent dynamic between myself and my partner played a large part in ending it. My partner had a disability that required daily physiotherapy. And early in our relationship, I made myself the person who provided that physio, quickly creating a situation where my partner depended on me. Slowly, and without either of us realising at first, we both came to resent this dependency. I was cross that it was me that had to help my partner with her physio each day, and she was frustrated that it interrupted her relationship, and if I wasn’t doing something right, it was difficult for her to say so.
In this image, from the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Law, a piper sits on a stone fountainhead. From the fountain, as if generated by his music, life-giving pentacles fall to the earth, nourishing a sapling that grows beneath. So at first glance, the piper feeds the plant, he allows it to live and grow through his gift. but when you look a little closer, you realise that this small plant is an off-shoot from a thorny vine that was probably growing here long before mister piper-man came along with his pentacle-music. The vine grows up the fountain wall, supporting it, and perhaps without the vine’s strength, the precarious fountain-head would fall to the ground. So whilst the piper feeds the plant, the plant supports the piper. As ‘givers’, we are also recipients.