The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Having been on vacation for three or so years, the Six of Pentacles stops by during this week of the Full Sagittarius Moon, showing us a picture of resources given and received.
The Pentacles deal with the literal, physical, material world, and the Sixes are about reciprocity, exchange, and restoring equilibrium.
So we see a well-to-do merchant who is dropping coins into the outstretched hands of one of two beggars on their knees. In his left hand, he holds a scale, presumably, to measure his payment.
As many Tarotists know, when objects are shown to be held in the left hand, this is indicative of the involvement of the unconsciousness. On the other hand (Ha! I just couldn’t resist!), if the right hand is holding something, this shows they are consciously aware of it.
Looking closer at the two beggars, one might wonder if they are the same two afflicted souls that we see in the Five of Pentacles. This could easily be the case, since the Sixes are often the resolution of the conflicts of the Fives.
And because this is the suit of Pentacles, there may be actual money, property, or work prospects at stake.
You may notice that this is yet another of Pixie Smith’s “stage” cards. These are the cards in which, if you look closely, you’ll see parallel horizontal lines in the background, giving the appearance that the figures are standing on a theater stage.
We certainly seem to be getting a lot of the stage cards this year (I believe there to be thirteen of them, but there are varying opinions in the Tarot world).
As in the others that have appeared, the stage cards indicate some kind of drama being enacted to make a point, or for the benefit of an audience (as opposed to what the “actor” might do when not being observed).
In this instance, perhaps the theatrical element calls into question the role we play when we offer charity, as well as when we ask for help. In order to play the role of bountiful benefactor, who is required to play the part of humble supplicant?
The Golden Ladder of Virtuous Charity
And while we are discussing magnanimity and giving, it is interesting to consider Moses Maimonides’ eight-tiered “Laws of Charity.”
He was a medieval Jewish philosopher, physician, and intellectual giant of the 12th Century. He was the first to write a systematic code of all Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah.
According to his “Golden Ladder of Charity,” the second most favorable form of charity is when the giver and recipient never meet one another. And the most virtuous form is taking those steps that preempt the need for alms-giving in the first place, such as creating jobs or teaching a trade.
This is supposed to be a card about benevolence, but neither of Maimonides’ criteria for the highest virtues are met here. In fact, this scene is more similar to the bottom levels.
No doubt the merchant is certain he is being painstakingly fair and impartial.
But doling out pennies in public, while others are forced to wait on their knees betrays something important about this man’s character. How would you feel about seeing this scene played out before you?
Respect and Giving
Of this enigmatic card, Arthur Waite notes, “A person in the guise of a merchant weighs money in a pair of scales and distributes it to the needy and distressed. It is a testimony to his own success in life, as well as to his goodness of heart.”
Testimony? Or self-promoting display?
For when I look closely at the merchant’s facial expression, as well as the two men on their knees, I have a little trouble seeing the goodness. Was Waite being tongue-in-cheek? Or is this, like the Ace of Cups, another instance where Arthur Waite’s intention and Pixie’s artistry were somewhat at odds?
Because I am always struck by the way the wealthy man dribbles his coins into the hands of the kneeling beggar. He can’t even be bothered to touch those hands. And I am always painfully aware of the other kneeling figure in blue, to whom help is either postponed or denied.
In today’s parlance, this looks to me like co-dependence, the twin shadows of domination and weakness, and “power over,” particularly the darker side of how we wield and are affected by the power of money.
All of the Sixes in the suits refer back to the Major Arcana Six – The Lovers. So where is love in this picture?
Three Planets and a Full Moon
Plus, this week, Jupiter prepares to station direct, after being retrograde since February.
Astrologer Judy Joyce writes, “The ruler of the Sagittarius Full Moon, Jupiter, has been retrograde in Libra (balance and justice) since February 5. On the day of the June 9 Full Moon, Jupiter goes Direct, which makes it very strong. The urge for truth and justice will be powerful and will unfold over the next four months…”
Thus, in sync with Friday’s Full Sagittarius Moon, the jovial, generous planet comes back online, adding its kindly focus to resources and wealth. Interesting, too, that Libra’s symbol is the scales.
Giving and Taking Care
In addition to his comments about the merchant, Arthur Waite also describes this card as the need for vigilance and paying attention.
So this might be a time to consider the ways in which we give and take, without losing our footing.
For instance, I bet you know people who are constant “givers,” who refuse to ask for help. But this can become toxic over time, for charity without heartfelt generosity becomes poisonous to both giver and recipient. The sincere hand of giving is rarely paraded for all to see.
But then there are the people in our lives who are seemingly in constant need. Behind their often obsequious facade may be a greed and self-absorption that, once seen, is most unpleasant.
As with all Tarot cards showing more than one figure, we are invited to decide who we most identify with. This week, are you the one with wealth to spare, offering your help and kindness? Or do you feel more like you are on your knees, hoping for assistance?
And if the latter, what is your relationship with whoever is holding this power over you?
The Moral Covenant of Reciprocity
Reminded by the “staging” of this card, this may be a call for us to discover what is hidden behind the curtain.
Discernment is needed if we are to differentiate honest goodwill from agenda-driven role-playing. Similarly, we must beware of the cruel, popular trend that declares all in need of aid are actually lazy, greedy, or lying.
We cannot be benefactors, unless there is someone to receive. The pleasure of sharing is lost, if no one wishes to take what we offer. Conversely, let us not forget that it can be a kindness to allow others the joy of giving a hand.
There is a covenant of reciprocity throughout the natural world. The giving and taking of life energy moves in balance. Unlike the human tendency to measure things out down to the penny (or else ignore and take for granted what we are given) this natural flow is not perfectly equal at all times, but it is ultimately harmonious.
So how do we contribute to, or bring dissonance to this equilibrium? What can we do to mediate the disastrous unfairness unfolding around us?
All of life is an exchange. All fortunes rise and fall. The tables can turn at any time.
This week, be generous and genuinely grateful for what you have. Invite others to help if you need it.
And either way, let us welcome Love as the mediator of our responsibilities to one another.