The Zero of Pentacles

This is the second of a series of posts about my ideas on adding a ‘zero’ card to each of the minor arcana (the first article can be seen here). I’ve started with the suit of Pentacles, because at first glance, Pentacles (or coins, or earths or any of a myriad of other names) seem to be an easy concept to apply ‘zero’ to.  This assertion turns out to be both true and untrue. To start, lets make certain we’re all talking about the same thing.

Just what is a Pentacle?

At its most elementary, the word ‘pentacle’ is a combination of words for ‘five’ and ‘what is written’, meaning any written symbol with five lines or with five corners. Pentacles have often been used as occult symbols, used to identify members of an order or group, such as the Seal of Solomon, or the Pythagoreans, as well as more modern groups of pagans. In that sense, they were the equivalent of team logos, gang signs or corporate icons. (I admit it amuses me to imagine a gang of young-bearded Greek philosophy students, running the streets of Athens, tagging building corners with pentagrams to mark their territory. But I’m silly like that.)

Classically, a Pentacle was a mystic symbol, written onto paper, carved into wood or stone, or etched into metal. Since they were often put on small discs, the suit is also known as Coins and thus the common association with matters of wealth. I believe, however, that there’s a lot more to Pentacles than as an abstract medium for financial transactions and understanding this is necessary for exploring the concept of a ‘zero’ of Pentacles. It’s all about the ‘mystic symbols’ part that our metaphorical philosopher-taggers mark their territory with.

So what are these ‘mystic symbols’ all about? Well, as an engineer in my day job they remind me of circuit boards, diagrams and flowcharts. In a way, that’s what a symbol is: a diagram of esoteric knowledge, a pattern for channeling energies, a fuse to prevent excessive flux, a ward against the unwanted. Crafting them takes time, skill and the right materials; thus Pentacles as Talismans have an intrinsic value. Someone openly displaying a great many of these Talismans would have the air of someone of great wealth, influence and/or craft (if they made their metaphysical bling for themselves). They wear their personal talismans of health, their house has pentagramatic wards against the weather, they carry icons of sacred ancestors and so on. They are an embodiment of the six through ten of Pentacles.

Now imagine you don’t have any of this.

A Zero of pentacles

So what would the Zero of Pentacles mean? In one literal sense it would mean being destitute, impoverished beyond the downtrodden depicted in the RWS Five of Pentacles; those are affluent people who have fallen on hard times. The Zero is the primitive; one who has not only never had possessions, but has never known what it is to own something. Also: since Pentacles are wards, talismans and spiritual circuit breakers, the Zero is someone who is vulnerable and unprotected against the unseen an unknowable.

Now, to counter this rather depressing concept of the Zero of Pentacles thus far, consider the following: The Zero has no ties or commitments; no debts or responsibilities to or for others. They are the free radical or the noble atom; readily hungry for attachment and interaction, or aloof and uninvolved. Like the Fool, ready for a journey of awakening. This is especially appropriate when you consider that the Fool is also numbered zero. In fact, all the Zero minor arcana will have a strong correlation with the Fool.

And finally: how liberating a message would it be to ask the question: “what have I got to loose if I do this?” Then draw the Zero of Pentacles and realize: nothing!

If one considers the craftsman aspect of the suit of Pentacles, then the Zero represents the ignorant, unenlightened and unwittingly (or willingly!) agnostic. The concept of Pentacles as science gives me a new idea for the suit: That Pentacles can  represent knowledge and wisdom of a temporal nature; of how physical things work in the secular sense. A craftsman doesn’t need to understand how the world came about, or who or what made it so; they just need to understand the physical properties of the materials they are working with. The numbered minor arcana then represent orders of magnitude of understanding: from the stone tool, to the pulley and lever and wheel; hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, electromechanics, relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory… where could it end?

Depicting the Zero of Pentacles

Here’s the hard part: how do you show the lack of something? The answer really depends on the visual style of the deck in question.  If the purpose is to show who the Zero of Pentacles is, then the imagery depends on depicting who are the dispossessed, the utter bottom rung of the social ladder. If the purpose is to show what the Zero of Pentacles is, the primitivism is the key. In fact the entire question of depicting the Zero of Pentacles is almost entirely subjective. For now, I’m going to postpone this part to another article. It’s a big enough subject it needs it!

In the meantime: How would you depict a Zero of Pentacles?

2 thoughts on “The Zero of Pentacles

  1. Interesting concept there. And I’d like to return to the Pythagorean taggers if I may. It alludes to a landscape of discovery that is unclaimed. I think a zero pentacle should show something unworked (or untagged) like a wasteland, a handful of grit with gilt glinting in it, or perhaps even the a city without people, police, or traffic. It should seem serene in the positive aspect, and oppressive when reversed. Hopefully the art would capture some of this, but these things are subtle enough not the need anything too overt. I toyed with idea of having the sun be a pentacle in the image, the universal symbol of energy exchange, but out of reach from the earth initially – it seemed too obvious.

  2. Thinking about the circuit boards and other physical objects, I’d depict the zero of Pentacles as the disk, coin, etc. of the suit – but without any pattern or impression upon it – tabula rasa. The potential is there, but nothing is going to happen until someone picks it up and makes a mark, or etches, or otherwise imposes a pattern onto the blank surface.

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