Six of Pentacles | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

6 of Pentacles

Keywords for the Six of Pentacles 

GENEROSITY INEQUALITY
MERCYIMBALANCE OF POWER
GIVING/RECEIVINGUNEQUAL RELATIONSHIP 
TO HAVE/HAVE NOTDOMINANCE/SUBMISSION
SHARING RESOURCESHIERARCHY

In the image on the card, we see a well-dressed man standing over two men who hold their hands outstretched to receive a few coins in their hands. This appears to be an act of charity, motivated by benevolence and good-will.  However, it is possible that all is not what it seems here.

Notice the position of the merchant’s right hand, from which he dispenses the few coins he is offering to the poor. It is in the same position as the hand not only of the Hierophant in Key 5, but also the Devil in Key 15. 

In both cases, this is a gesture which says: I give to you, but I retain yet another part to myself.

In the man’s left hand, he tightly grips a set of scales which are likely meant to be a symbolic allusion to his trade as a merchant, but also to an idea of which he would like for us to be convinced. With scales clenched in his hand, he seems intent on persuading us that this is, indeed, justice.

Contrast this with the way the goddess Justitia holds the scales in Key 11, Justice, of the Major Arcana. She holds her scales lightly,  balancing them gently on the tips of her fingers in an effortless, easy manner.

We may ask ourselves, “What does this say about the difference between the Justice of Man and the Justice of God?” 

The Justice of God (or cosmic justice, universal law, etc.) is effortless, in many ways simply a chain of action and reaction. It is like a karmic cycle that at its core is simply the interrelation of causes and their effects over time. 

It is enforced naturally, in much the same way the earth turns and the sun rises and we are born and must die in a natural sequence of beginnings and endings.

Human justice, however, is grasped tightly, and much effort is expended to exact retribution and maintain an order that at its best, is artificial, and in the worst cases, is highly unjust and contrary to the values of life.  

It is often maintained through the use of excessive force, with violence and suffering in order to ensure compliance to a system created by the dominant group in power. 

It is also maintained through a hegemonic system of values which idealizes the generosity of the wealthy in the form of alms and small acts of charity, which honors and preserves their right to hoard wealth, refuse to pay a living wage, and set up economic and political systems which keep the majority of the population in a state of perpetual poverty and material lack. 

However, it is not merely on a large scale, societal level in which giving to the other can be a powerful tool for control and influence. 

Often, in interpersonal relationships, we find a dynamic in which one person controls the resources (financial, emotional, physical) and dispenses them to others in order to establish a relationship of dependence. 

This manufactured state of dependence is then often used as a tool of manipulation in which the one who is seemingly the beneficiary is obligated to provide other kinds of resources (for example, emotional or domestic labor) to the more seemingly “generous” party.

Interpretation of the 6 of Pentacles in a Reading

When the 6 of Pentacles comes up in a reading, we are often being asked to look more attentively at the power dynamics in which we are engaged.

This card may point to a situation in which we are relating to others through a dynamic that is based on inequality. This is a dynamic in which one person gives and the other takes, leaving little in the way of reciprocity.

The 6 of Pentacles often asks us to question our assumptions regarding the nature of the exchange, as well as our perceptions regarding the moral value we attribute to each of the players in this game. 

Again, we usually will find that all is not as it seems. Often, the person in the role of “giver” may offer a helping hand less out of mercy than out of a desire to control and build or retain his own power in the situation. 

In the scene picture on the Six of Pentacles, the wealthy merchant controls the resources available based on an economic and political system which has been established to protect the interests of his class. 

Those lower than him on the social scale are disempowered, and often denied the opportunity to earn a living in a way that will support the fulfillment of their basic needs. 

The tokens of “mercy” are little more than an excuse, a way to ease the tension and buy the good will of those who have been marginalized by a system he has helped to create.

The bottom line here is that the Six of Pentacles often asks us to question our assumptions regarding the nature of exchange within any given relationship we may find ourselves in.

We would do well to take a step back and take a look at the relational power dynamics we are engaged in from a new vantage point. You may be surprised to find that in some ways, it may be better to give than to receive.

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