Crossing the Chasm

September 8, 2008 § 4 Comments

Here’s a question for you:

Who would you rather be? The grieving figure in the 5 of Cups or the defeated and swordless losers in the 5 of Swords? How about choosing between being hit with a big stick in the 5 of Wands or limping along, bloody and bandaged, in the 5 of Pentacles? What’s that you say? Don’t fancy any of them? I don’t blame you. Whichever way you look at them, the fives paint a pretty gloomy picture. It’s hard to find a single positive note in any of them.

But can they really be all that bad? It doesn’t seem fair. Which other number in the tarot dishes out such hardship across the board? The 3 of Swords is at least balanced by the 3 of Cups. The same with the tens. What’s so special about five that makes it the harbinger of such bad luck in every suit it touches?

To understand that, we have to backtrack slightly – to the fours. Fours give us security and stability – whether that’s a steady nine-to-five job or the safety and protection of living with mum and dad. Fours are great, but things are rarely stable for long. Either we get bored and start wanting something more (a more exciting job, a place of our own) or life comes along and pulls the rug out from underneath our cosily slippered feet. Either way, suddenly we find ourselves in the realm of the fives; the only difference is how we got there.

Fives break the box. With five fingers we reach outside of ourselves and touch. With five senses we experience the world around us. The number five takes us out of our comfort zone and presents us with new experiences – the trouble is, we have no idea whether those experiences will be good or bad until it’s too late to turn back.

Five is what makes us order the exotic-sounding dish on the menu, even though we’re not really sure whether it will be the taste discovery of the decade or something out of a bushtucker trial (and a waste of money too). If it’s the former, great, life has changed a little for the better. If it’s the latter, well, too bad. We’ll probably be a bit wiser next time. Either way, there’s been a shift and we’ve broadened our horizons that little bit further. We’ve grown.

Unfortunately, most of the time when we encounter five energy in our lives there’s more at stake than a bad taste. In this way, fives can be about risk, and where there’s risk, there’s potential for loss. More specifically, fives represent the chasm between where we are and where we want to be. This is no ordinary chasm. This is a Grand Canyon, Wily Coyote, Indiana Jones type chasm, complete with pointy rocks and a couple of circling vultures. We stand on one side – the side of the fours – safe and sound. On the other side is our goal, the glory, harmony, success and generally good vibrations of the sixes.

We want to be over the other side but we’re all too aware of the yawning void – the five – that separates us from what we want. So what do we do? Do we take the risk, make the leap (or cross the rickety rope bridge, either way we’re dicing with death)? Or do we decide to stay where we are – and stay the same? The truth is if we chicken out, life will probably make us cross that chasm anyway…or fall in it.

For example, let’s look at our steady nine-to-fiver. She wants out of her desk job and longs to…oh, I don’t know…hunt yetis in the Himalayas. Does she do the responsible thing and keep going into work, day after day, knowing that it provides her with a good salary and a promising retirement fund? Or does she throw it all away to pursue her crazy dream?

What if the situation were different? What if – whilst still pondering the pros and cons of a career as a yeti-tracker – our nine-to-fiver is suddenly and without notice made redundant? She still finds herself without a steady job and the cushy retirement fund. In both scenarios, the chasm is the same but the viewpoint is different. She’s either poised on the edge sizing up the risk or she’s standing at the bottom of a narrow gully looking up at two sheer rock faces, clutching her redundancy cheque and wondering what the hell just happened.

Clearly then, fives can spell trouble or – if you want to be philosophical about it – challenge. But that really isn’t the point of the fives. Life is full of troubles, we don’t need a number to show us that. Fives are important not because they show us that the troubles exist but because they show us that the troubles have to exist, because without them we cannot grow, we cannot strive to get what we want and be who we want to be. By forcing us to take risks or by putting us in difficult situations, fives give us the opportunity to show the world what we’re really made of. As one Chinese proverb says, “Heroes create circumstances; circumstances create heroes”.

Relating this back to the suits then, we can see how the energy of the fives disrupts and challenges each element. Fiery Wands love the number five. Show Wands the chasm and you’ll be lucky if they stand still long enough to don a crash helmet before taking that leap. Sure they know the risks, but what’s a few cuts and bruises – or broken bones – compared to the glory of making it to the other side? That’s why the 5 of Wands typically depicts people in the midst of a fight. Wands gladly accept the challenge presented by five.

For watery Cups, the challenge is more intimidating. Broken bones are nothing compared to the potential of a broken heart. Whether you’ve lost a loved one or you’re contemplating telling that certain someone you’d like to be more than just friends, the chasm can seem overwhelming. We rarely escape unscathed when we put our emotions on the line, but that’s exactly what we have to do if we want to find true happiness. The typical image depicts three cups that have spilled their contents while two remain upright. It may seem like the risks far outweigh the rewards; on the other hand, who wants to spend life like the 4 of Cups?

Swords present a different challenge. When the element of air breaks free of the bonds of the four, the result can be chaos. Free-thinking and the questioning of authority can lead to the breakdown of established power. The 5 of Swords can also signify a breach of the “my word is my bond” trust found in the four. Broken agreements, double-crossing, breach of contract: any way you slice it, the 5 of Swords means someone loses. But conflict is a necessary part of life. Without it, nothing changes. Vive la revolution!

Finally, we come to Pentacles. With its depiction of physical and material hardship, the 5 of Pentacles is perhaps the most depressing card of all. In the element of earth, five attacks the very things that we take for granted, the things which keep us alive – or, at the very least, warm and dry. When we talk about risk in the suit of Pentacles, we’re talking about the kind of risk that has us taking out a second mortgage to fund a business venture or betting the deeds to the family home on the spin of a wheel. Literally, putting our money where our mouth is. What’s more, when it comes to the physical realm, everything seems to be connected. It’s not hard to imagine a situation where a run of poor health could lead to no job, which could in turn lead to no money and no house. In the 5 of Pentacles, our very foundations may crumble and what then?

As with any of the fives, we get on with it. We take the risk, we accept the challenge, and we prove what we are really made of. That’s what the fives are about after all.

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§ 4 Responses to Crossing the Chasm

  • Balakirev says:

    Nice piece. (And nice redesign of your site, too.) My own take on the Vicious Fives is that they’re simply things we have to face, as Fools traveling the path towards knowledge. I’m much more leery of the Nine of Swords, since it isn’t a matter of facing reality, but succumbing to it. At least we can work through the land of the Fives, and learn from the experience. But when we get too much shoved at us in too short a time, and life reminds us that fairness is only found in fiction–then the sword hangs heavy.

  • archertarot says:

    Too true, and good point.

    Glad you like the redesign, by the way. I was starting to think it was too sparse but somehow that suits me just fine at the moment. 🙂


  • Balakirev says:

    Nah–it’s your home. You’ve a right to do it up as you wish, whenever you wish. Virtual is pretty neat, huh? 😀

  • Tallierae says:

    The Ace is the Point, nothing more or less. Two draws a line, gives perspective. Three pulls the line into a plane, a new dimension. The four solidifies the plane. Five punches the plane into the next dimension, depth. How does that not hurt or at least confuse?

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