If you are going through hell, keep going.
~ Winston Churchill
This week, we are faced with yet another challenging lesson from the Tarot.
The Five of Pentacles is one of those cards that often comes up as a least favorite in my Tarot classes’ games of “Good Card, Bad Card.” Understandably so.
The fives are usually about conflict and loss. And in the physical world of the Pentacles, this suffering is often literal. It can be about money, home, health, or work — the biggies of the material world.
Here we see two miserable looking people on a wintry night, struggling past a stained glass window.
Where is the doorway to that place? Do they seek it? Or are they so used to surviving their hardship that they simply battle on?
Perhaps they have been cast out, no longer allowed into the holy places. Or maybe they deliberately pass it by, because what it offers is not what they need.
One is in rags, and obviously depicts poverty. The other, on poorly-made crutches, wears a bell around his neck. In the Middle Ages, everyone with disfiguring diseases like leprosy was forced to wear a bell. This was, in part, to warn of contagion.
But it was also to ostracize them from society. Leprosy in particular, was viewed as a terrifying sign of divine punishment, and the poor souls with the disease were considered impure and cursed by God.
What similar attitudes do we harbor today?
The noble intentions of the War on Poverty that Lyndon Johnson declared back in 1964 have devolved into an appalling propaganda and political war on the people in poverty.
And how many times have you heard people whispering their suspicions about the victims of misfortune or life-threatening diseases? For instance, that some character flaw, or spiritual weakness has attracted their fate. There are those among us who like to declare accidents and illness the manifestation of moral ignorance, or past-life karmic payback.
Of course, blaming the victim is a fatalistic, feeble, false strategy that only works as long as we, or someone we love, are not the afflicted.
Ultimately, even the most wealthy, beloved, clever, or noblest of us cannot escape our mortality. And even the super-rich can be so tormented by the specter of poverty, it might as well be true. We all endure heartbreak, illness, and loss.
When we suffer grievous losses and setbacks that tempt us to despair, we may wish to simply give up. We, or those around us, may even begin to believe we have some moral failing, or somehow deserve our woes as a punishment.
We may even decide that our suffering is the ragged cloak that makes us special, and we use it to excuse ourselves from responsibility, or cling to it with secret pride.
The oldest question of life is why we experience suffering and death. The “why” of such events is probably futile and can be debated forever. Such times come to us all.
But the “what” of it is that in such times, we stand on the brink of transformation.
Note that with this card, we are halfway through the Pentacles suit. The design in the stained glass is only the top half of the Kabbalah Tree of Life. The Ten of Pentacles, as you may know, shows the entire Tree – the only place it appears in the Waite-Smith Tarot. This is not the time or place to give up.
Changes often come disguised as loss, and it can be painful to let go of what has been dear to us. There are times when only the breaking of our hearts makes possible the sprouting seed that longs to come forth.
And it is also true that sometimes great difficulty may come and there is just nothing for it but to keep soldiering on. All the well-meaning encouragement, affirmations, and advice don’t help, and we simply cannot see any hope or silver lining. At least not while we are in the midst of the storm.
But note that even in the bleakest moments, like in this card, you are not alone. Even here, at the bottom, there may be companionship.
Is it possible that you may be missing the opportunity to be sheltered and cared for because you are unwilling to ask for help? Or do you feel you have you exhausted all the traditional avenues of support?
This card can encourage us to redouble our efforts and increase our compassion for our interconnectedness. What are the ways that we can help one another?
May hope be restored in real, tangible ways. Even, or maybe especially, in the times when we feel we are beyond help.
And if we cannot find a welcoming door to the warmth and light, together we shall make one.