A Tarot de Marseille Thumbnail: 8 of Coins

The design of the TdM 8 of Coins makes me think of “warehousing:” neatly organized shelves of goods laid up for storage. (In an ideal world they would all be racked barrels of ale!) Well-planned productivity is indicated, with no helter-skelter rush to fill the distribution channels with output. There is a low-key professionalism to it that has carried over into later versions of this card. No one suit emblem stands out from any other; each holds its appointed place without fanfare. “Conservation of energy” comes to mind as an operative principle; even the flowers and foliage are fairly regular, wasting little effort on random differentiation. This looks like the second half of the business maxim I proposed for the 3 of Coins: “Plan the work and work the plan.” I see nothing extemporaneous in this card.

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Alternatively, it could reflect dreary conformity of the “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” variety. There is an unrelieved sobriety in it that is as colorless as it is admirable. In the world of business it suggests the office drudge who counts the beans and keeps a low profile; before the computer age they were indispensable, but modern eyes might instead see in this image a bank of servers quietly churning away. In manufacturing terms it implies assembly-line mass production, which relies on every widget that comes off the line being exactly like the last one and identical to the one following. The concepts of “margin for error” and “fudge factor” seem to be non-existent in this finely-tooled example of near-perfect symmetry. The advice might well be “Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone.” I can imagine production managers drooling over the prospect of an 8-day work week as was the case in the old Julian calendar before the Mithraic religion changed the  playing field.

There is an apparent anomaly between the RWS 3 of Pentacles and the 8 of Pentacles in modern tarot practice. Some interpreters insist on calling the former the “master craftsman” card, and they view the latter as depicting a journeyman carver. Appearances don’t really bear that out; the 3 of Pentacles shows a team effort with the craftsman taking direction from what looks like an architect and his monkish client, whereas the craftsman in the 8 of Pentacles is laboring entirely without external oversight. Whom, I ask, is the “master?” As a rule, in the numerological pecking order the Eight is decidedly more experienced than the Three. (The only way I might see it differently is if the individual offering guidance in the 3 of Pentacles but not actually getting his hands dirty is a superior in the trade rather than a contracted professional. But I don’t recall Waite making that distinction.) Other than that, the 8 of Pentacles seems like a reasonable approximation of the assumptions I’m making about the TdM 8 of Coins.

If we don’t look too closely, the Thoth 8 of Disks is another credible replica of its TdM counterpart, right down to the stylized foliage. It’s title, “Prudence” promotes the idea of sobriety that I mentioned above, while the glowing colors give the impression of fulfillment in whatever undertaking the situation demands. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” might be its motto. It is an excellent harbinger for getting things done without undue exertion (and, I might add, so is the TdM 8 of Coins).

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