Pentacles Court Cards: Gathering Chi
Updated: Aug 6
There's something interesting going on in the Waite-Smith (or Smith-Waite/Rider-Waite-Smith/Rider-Waite/RWS) court cards in the suit of Pentacles. I haven't seen this mentioned elsewhere, apart from my Book no. 2, which is a tarot workbook, currently only available in Finnish (those lucky Finnish readers!). In case you have seen this somewhere else before, please let me know?
Imagine you would describe a specific movement of hands to a person who practices Qigong (Chi Kung) or Tai Chi (or both): "Well the hands are in front of your body, ok? You start from the forehead level. You move the hands downwards, with palms first facing up, then ending in front of your belly with palms down." There's a good chance this person would say to you, "Oh you mean gathering Chi!" That's precisely what's happening in the four Pentacles court cards. Well, it's one way of looking at them, anyway.
Chi (or Qi) is a Chinese concept of universal energy or life-force. It's similar to Prana in Indian philosophy. Where Yoga people speak of Prana, Chi Kung and/or Tai Chi people speak of Chi (which, by the way, isn't the same "Chi" as in the word Tai Chi). In Daoist philosophy it is believed the entire universe and everything in it emanates Qi. Nothing would exist without it. When it comes to humans and animals, if our internal batteries are full of Qi, we feel alive and healthy. If we lack Qi or it's not circulating well, we either feel tired or have some kind of a health issue, smaller or bigger. If we haven't got any Qi left at all, we're totally dead.
The purpose of Qigong and Tai Chi is to increase the amount of Qi or vital energy in our system, and to make it circulate better. That's why you feel better after practice (in case you don't believe in the existence of Qi, no problem - there's always endorphins). I sometimes hear students say, "Well isn't it enough just to be alive and have the Chi in your body - it's there already, right?" Well, sort of. It's a bit same when it comes to food: we need to eat, otherwise we get hungry, and if the food still doesn't show up, eventually we die. The food is out there, whether in the shape of a banana or an apple, or a chicken or some other animal (in case you happen to eat meat), but it's not the same as being inside our stomach. It needs to somehow get there first. Hence, the gathering of Qi!
Wudang Five Animal Qigong starts the same way with each five animal movements: you gather or "harvest" Qi into your body. The same goes for most other types of Qigong. Tai Chi practice, regardless of the style or form, starts by moving your hands in front of the body, either vertically or in a circular manner, focusing on Qi and gathering it in your body. The forms usually end with "Closing the Gate", where you bring the hands down at the same time in front of the body, palms facing down. You finish with one hand above the other, gently pressing the hands on your lower abdomen, "sealing" the Qi in... not unlike having finished a nice, delicious and nourishing meal.
"Well what about the Pentacles court cards? Get on with it!" Right. Here we go:
The Page is holding the pentacle on eye level, keenly observing it. Although "holding" might be an exaggeration here - the pentacle is shown so delicately on the Page's fingertips, that it looks as if it might drift away like a balloon any moment.
The Knight has got a bit more solid approach: the pentacle is now actually resting on his hands (I'd say he's holding it with both - at least with the right). It looks much more secure there, no? What a happily parked pentacle that is. Also, now the pentacle is at chest or throat level.
Onwards to the Queen: she's sitting, as all the Queens in the deck are. She's holding the pentacle with both hands (this time for sure, if there were any doubts with the Knight), looking at it. That pentacle is going nowhere. Now the position is at stomach / abdomen level.
And finally, the King. "Who's a good pentacle? You are, yes you are!" That's one firmly parked pentacle there. With the left hand on top, and the mace in the right hand ready to whack over the head anyone even thinking of stealing it, it's as secure as Fort Knox. Also, the position of the pentacle is slightly lower, compared to the Queen's.
Don't believe me? See for yourself:
Did Pamela Colman Smith, the artist of the Waite-Smith Tarot, know about Qigong? I doubt it. The same goes for A. E. Waite, if you ask me. Qigong practice in the West is a fairly new phenomenon (think of Nixon's first visit to China in the early 70's here). Was Pixie aware of the downward movement of the pentacle in the court cards, did she do it on purpose? Hard to say. Given the Earth element / Pentacles correspondence via the Golden Dawn, the organisation to which both Waite and Smith belonged to (although for Pixie it was a fairly brief encounter), and the Qabalistic Tree of Life's importance within the GD, it's not too difficult to imagine the downward movement having been a conscious, deliberate choice on her part. However, this is speculation.
"Hang on, doesn't Waite start the court card order with the Kings, then Queen, Knight and lastly Page?!" Yes, indeed he does so in the PKT ("Pictorial Key to the Tarot", Waite's manual for the cards). However, life doesn't happen in that order. We are babies and children first, kings later (although some children might oppose this statement, fairly loudly).
One way of interpreting this symbolism of the pentacle moving downwards is to see it symbolise consolidation. Something becoming consolidated - whether it's an idea becoming real, manifesting itself in the earthly realm (looking at you, Magician), or Qi, universal energy and lifeforce, being gathered or "harvested" outside in.
Over the past decades I've come to realise quite a few of my clients - and some students, too, come to think of it - struggle with the King of Pentacles. I'm not sure if it's the predominant black colour in the card, the bull's heads, or something else which sets their teeth on edge. Many clients respond to the image by saying there's "just something too much" in it. Understandably for many it's not just the King of Coins, but the kings (tarot and otherwise) in general; patriarchy. Also, if one sees money as the root of all evil, small wonder then to find an allergic reaction towards the Money King. And yet, the suit of Coins isn't just about the money, especially if we're dealing with Pentacles ( = a circle with a five-pointed star or a pentagram inside it). It's about the tangible, the physical, the concrete, to do with the five senses, our work, body, food, drink, magic... and Qi. Could it be, that Qi and magic are, in fact, one and the same? Could it even be, that the food we consume is all part of this? Whatever the reason, it is interesting to see King of Pentacles being the pet peeve for so many.
One possible way of working with this idea of the four Pentacles court cards symbolising the gathering of Qi, is to see each card representing a stage:
Card 1, Page: "What am I bringing down from Heaven to Earth, what is the nature of it?"
Card 2, Knight: "What action do I need to take in order to see it through?
Card 3, Queen: "What can I do to protect it, and to use it in a balanced way?"
Card 4, King: "What can I do to make it become a permanent part of me?"
If you want, you can remove the four Pentacles court cards from your deck, and place them picture-side up in front of you. The Page is on the left, followed by the Knight and the Queen, with the King on the right. Next, shuffle the remaining deck, and then choose four cards. Place these on top of the court cards, first one goes on top of the Page, second one on top of the Knight, and so on. Interpret the cards using the questions above - or create a new question for one or several of the positions.
Edit. Alternatively, after having removed the four court cards, you can also choose an additional card, to represent something that you wish to manifest in your life. Let's say you would like to see yourself making better choices in your life. This could be represented by the Wheel (or any other card that you connect the theme or question with). Place this additional card ("Theme Card") on top of the four court cards, likewise picture-side up. Then proceed to shuffle the deck, and choose four cards to match the court cards, as explained above.
Lastly, you can check the Teacher Card (bottom of the deck) to answer the question "How does this change my life?"