Five of Pentacles

Life in survival mode

This is one of the minor arcana’s toughest cards. The image often shows a person or people who are in an apparent state of crisis. Clothes in rags, out in the cold, overwhelmed or tired out, this is not a happy sight.

It’s a card for those times when we exist on only the basics, just making it through. We may be suffering ill-health, or it may be financial poverty. We may be burned out. We may be depressed – with or without clear reason – or feeling under a great deal of pressure. And whatever’s going on – it’s getting us down.

In particular, this card can point to a feeling of being left out, or even cast out. Of a group to which you once belonged. Of society, which does not value folks such as you. Of a system that was created for the benefit of just a few. There is an ‘otherness’ in this card, an ‘outsider-ness’.

If you can understand the concept of privilege – in the many different forms it may take – then you can understand this card. This is showing us the opposite of privilege.

Some decks not only show ‘suffering people’ on this card, but also a possible ‘salvation’. In traditional decks, for example, two figures in rags pass by a brightly-lit church window. Why do they not step inside and warm up? Surely they will be offered blankets and soup? The thing is, we don’t know. Perhaps they have just that moment been cast out of that very church. Perhaps they are so caught up in their pain and struggle that they don’t see the opportunity. Perhaps they can’t turn to that particular source of support because they don’t feel safe in a church environment. Perhaps they are choosing martyrdom.

We don’t know, is the thing. In this way, the Five of Pentacles sometimes raises more questions than it offers answers.

In a reading

The meaning of this card may be very obvious to you: if you’re ill or getting over an illness, if you’re experiencing depression, if you’re going through a rough patch, the Five of Pentacles is a witness to that. It need not be anything more.

But of course, there may be more.

Maybe you’re in ‘survival mode’. You have an overwhelming sense of lack, of poverty in some or many areas of your life. Every day you’re just getting through it, just about making the basics. This could be for any number of reasons, but as is so often the case in the tarot, the Five of Pentacles asks you to consider what you might do to change your situation. Depending on circumstances, this may be as simple as adopting a more positive attitude, or it may be as challenging as asking for help.

Take an honest look at your relationship to any pain you are suffering right now. Harsh as it may sound, this card often points to a ‘victim’ mentality, in which we take on pain and suffering as part of our identities. We choose not to accept help or solutions, because we have become attached to that struggle. On some level, we may not actually want to solve (or try to solve) our problems.

The Five of Pentacles may be pointing to ways in which you are disadvantaged. An obvious example would be a society or system that privileges some people and not others. Those with privilege enjoy comfort and security. Those who are disadvantaged suffer a lack of these essential things. If this feels appropriate in your reading, let this card open up a conversation about the role of privilege in your life.