‘…For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’
Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’
Book of Matthew, Chapter 25, Verses 42-45, Revised Standard Version, Christian Bible
For this most holy week in much of Christendom, for the beginning of Passover, and for the Full Moon of Libra, we receive a no nonsense warning from the Tarot. The challenging Five of Pentacles has come to call.
The Five of Pentacles is one of the cards that usually comes up as a least favorite in my Tarot classes’ games of “Good Card, Bad Card.”
With good reason. As you will recall from the mournful Five of Cups last week, the fives examine how we deal with conflict and loss. And in the physical world of the Pentacles suit, this struggle is usually to do with material well-being and resources.
Therefore, this can involve money, home, health, or work — the most important issues of our embodied existence.
Here we see two miserable looking people on a wintry night, staggering 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 anyone with the disease was considered impure and cursed by God.
So it may well be that they are unwelcome in the halls of those who call themselves spiritual.
Blaming the Victims
What similar attitudes do we harbor today? How many times have you heard people pronouncing that victims of life-threatening diseases or other misfortune somehow attracted their fate to themselves.
Rather than declaring adversity as a Biblical punishment from God, so-called modern people instead whisper that there must be psychological reasons for someone’s difficulties.
Perhaps, say the observers on the sidelines, the ill-fated person is ignorant, too pessimistic, weak of character, a spiritual failure, or is enduring a past-life karmic payback.
On some level, so goes this old reasoning re-jiggered for the New Age, their suffering is justified.
You would think we would be more enlightened, but to what extent have you heard similar ignorant and arrogant attitudes applied towards the nations and individuals who are affected by, for instance, violence and war, by seeking asylum?
And how often have you heard the privileged accuse the poor of being shiftless, lazy, and even criminal? That their poverty or misfortune is their own fault?
Of course, blaming the victim is a 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. 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 pain.
When we endure 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 been cursed or somehow deserve our woes.
Houses of the Holy
I am old enough to remember a time when most houses of worship offered open sanctuaries to those in need. While the more sacred, rare, or expensive items would be secured away, the prayer halls were often left open and unlocked.
In most of the 1920s through the mid-50s in America, the notion of arson, bombings, or shooting rampages in a synagogue, mosque, or church was a nearly unthinkable abomination.
For instance, from 1822 to 1991, which includes the racism that erupted from the American Civil War and subsequent Reconstruction, as well as the turbulent years of the Civil Rights movement (1954-1968), there were sixteen African American churches bombed or burned down.
But from just 1991 to 2000, that total more than doubled, with more than 30 black churches burned in an 18-month period between 1995 and 1996, and a total of 48 churches fire-bombed, burned, or involved in shootings from 1991 to the present.
From the massive recent tragedy in the mosque of Christchurch, New Zealand; to over 50 attacks on synagogues and Jewish communal organizations since the beginning of the 21st century; to the strife between Hindu and Muslim worshippers in India and Pakistan — these faiths that claim to worship a God of compassion and forgiveness have been markedly bloody.
(Not to mention the horrific history of the 20th century Jewish Holocaust, or the ongoing warfare in the Middle East among Shiites, Jews, Palestinians, and various fringe, fundamentalist religious groups).
In this holy week that observes the betrayal, martyrdom, and resurrection that is the bedrock faith of Christianity, the words of the man/God upon whom that faith is based ring down through the centuries.
And the Tarot this week, which, after all, is rooted in a profoundly Judeo-Christian tradition, echoes His profound and mostly ignored bidding: Clothe and care for our poor; feed those who are hungry; visit and give your hand to even those judged criminals.
It is an imperative of faith to shelter and care for the lost or the homeless, and to give aid to our brothers and sisters who are in pain.
Offer the hand of tolerance, kindliness, and help to all in need as you are able, for as you do for the very least of them, you do to Him.
It is shocking that the exact opposite is now happening. Immigrants, refugees, the elderly, the poor, the uninsured, minorities, and those in need are being shunned, shamed, and even made criminals, not only under the noses of many in positions of political and religious power, but with their urging and blessing.
In a time when Christianity and others of the world’s major faiths are being warped to suit the greed and need of faceless, hate- and fear-filled agendas, this week’s card is a stern warning.
The Missing Doorway
The oldest question of life is why we experience suffering and death. Such times come to us all. The “why” of it is probably futile and can be debated forever.
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 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.
Despite the difficulties, fulfillment beckons. Keep going. Help one another as we are able.
This week, your faith may be tested. What do you really need from Spirit, and how will you ask? What actual resources and support do you yearn for, to flourish and thrive? How much will you allow yourself to open and receive?
And what can you humbly offer to others? Who are the shunned ones, the lonely, the marginalized that need our compassion?
It is true that there are those who wear their unhappiness as a ragged cloak that makes them special. They may thus excuse themselves from responsibilities, or cling to their exile with secret pride.
Still, as Pagans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, or whatever your beliefs, humans are without exception called to offer grace without prejudice to those on the edges. Let us consider carefully the cold, subtle messages that may be sent to those who are different, enduring difficulty, or who are being walled off from the door of welcome.
Be patient with yourself while enduring any obstacles before you. Be kind to those who are struggling. Consider ways to be more welcoming and inclusive to strangers.
For you, yourself, are the much needed doorway to the light.
3:07 pm, Eastern Time:
I had just this moment paused to eat a late lunch before editing my final draft and posting, when my husband told me that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is burning down. (He had no idea what I’d been writing).
I am stunned and horrified to put it mildly. I nearly fell to the floor, in fact, and am in tears. I simply don’t know what to say, except that I apologize if this is too disturbing or graphic in light of today’s tragic event. I can only faithfully report what has been given to me by the Tarot.