I’m pretty sure my intuition was just waiting for me to do the Weekly FYI to deliver these babies: the four of Pentacles with the Daughter of Wands as a jump card. I won’t say these two are diametrically opposed, but it’s as close to it as “Damn it!” is to cussing. They remind me of the yin/yang symbol: vitally different but for a kernel of similarity at their very cores.
The four of Pentacles is sort of the Patrick Bateman of the tarot. In the Waite we see a king using his wealth to literally isolate himself from the world around him. The Wild Unknown paints a more harmonious picture of a closed-off, self-sustaining system. It’s interesting how the lemniscate is layered over itself in the Wild Unknown’s four of Pentacles. For all that it signifies infinity, it seems almost…trapped. There’s nothing wrong with wealth or material possessions in and of themselves unless we use them in the wrong way; in this case, as building blocks for our identity. We can’t be looking for infinity in the finite.
It’s into this hot mess that the Daughter of Wands whips. Like the four of Pentacles, hers is a journey fundamentally about self-definition, but the means are totally different. The king in the Waite four of Pentacles uses his disks to define himself. Outside of these, he thinks, I need nothing or no one! Except, of course, that material success is always about external validation. In contrast, the only yardstick the Daughter of Wands uses is herself: am I doing what I want or need to? Am I walking my path well? She curls eternally around a flowering branch. Her growth is potentially infinite and nourished by the world without being defined by it. But the four of Pentacles can never be more than what it already is because it isn’t rooted in anything.
I think the cards ask an important question: not what defines us so much as how we define ourselves. What, or whose, yardstick are we using? Do we use the external trophies of “stuff” to define ourselves, often stunting ourselves emotionally to do so, or do we pick the less straightforward but more rewarding approach of The Daughter of Wands, who follows the way of The Fool?
Back yon when I was in school, one of the favourite topics in our “life science-y” classes was peer pressure and how not to succumb to it. And what a waste it was, because as it turns out the adolescent brain is wired just so to be vulnerable to peer pressure. The “Let’s be reasonable about this” and “You could get pregnant!” and “But it’s the same t-shirt just without the brand name!” part of your brain is literally lagging behind the rest of it, doubled over and out of breath as all the other parts race ahead. Adolescents are wired to make dumbass decisions, which is probably why we’ve survived as a species.
What they never tell you, though, is that despite the reasonable part of your brain catching up eventually in your twenties (!), peer pressure never really goes away. It just becomes more sophisticated and more subtle, which is why at this very moment there are people excited to pay $1000 for a phone out there (and God bless them).
I’d judge them, I really would – as a Christian I’m really good at it, too – but then I’d have to sit right down under the same censure. For example, I have a friend who is dear to me…except that she’s super competitive. A few months ago I picked up a second-hand book at an antique store for R20 (that’s, like, a buck and a half in American, or a pound if you’re British). It’s a reference book and very expensive new. Its cover was in a bad way, and it smelled a little odd, but I jerry-rigged a new cover and the book is perfectly usable, if not all that pretty. I’m two parts Taurean so the only thing I love more than potatoes is a bargain.
A few weeks later, I noticed my friend now has a version of this same book on her shelf…brand spanking new, all glossy and gilt-edged. She never said anything, but then she didn’t really need to: in comparison to the new, shiny version of this book, my slightly smelly bargain paled significantly. And just like that, it had become a comparison: like that scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman is forced to confront a business card that’s better than his own…only, you know, with less misogynistic killing sprees.
The funny thing is if I hadn’t been competitive myself I probably wouldn’t even have noticed this tendency in Otherwise Dear Friend. But I am, and her insistence on outdoing me in the “stuff” department annoys me like only a water sign can annoy an earth sign. And so the tarot has set out these two cards and the tension between them like Nanny 911 giving pesky toddlers a choice between two outfits: the four of Pentacles and the Daughter of Wands. Which one do you want to wear?
I’m no expert, but when one of the choices is Patrick Bateman’s quintessence, you generally choose the other option.