The 9 of Pentacles is one of my favorite cards. Every time it comes up, the sweetest blend of ease and delight and groundedness nestles into my heart. Just look at her here:
Sweetly golden light. A secret garden of plenty. The walls themselves alive with growth, not entrapping but enriching - I imagine, providing safety and respite, a little queendom with everything I need. Solitude without isolation - the little bird of the soul flies freely within and without, bringing and sending news. The little snail slides over the earth, at its own pace, doing its thing, welcome too in its way. Sunset or sunrise, a time of taking stock and resting in one's own intention, settling into one's place, remembering connection with self and with world.
But a little bird says: how do we square this with the fact that 9s represent thresholds? A dear friend of mine likes to refer to the "crisis of the 9" - 9 as a gate, a challenge, a test...indeed, a crisis. There is no gate, no challenge here - is there?
Some answer to that question lies in the fact that this is card I drew on the day of my first big MFT exam last week - and immediately I felt the power of knowing I had everything I need to pass, but also the whispering challenge of this card and the secret of its test.
Another answer to that question lies in the song I played on repeat on my way to the exam, and which now seems to hold a special resonance with this card and its strange confluence of safety and crisis: My Brightest Diamond's Dreaming Awake. Take a moment to take in this wonder:
What is the slowing-down place that keeps its voice against challenge?
What is the slowing-down place that keeps its heart amidst panic?
What is the slowing-down place that dreams while awake?
Now that I sit with it, I feel like these questions have been in my life and my practice all week.
How do we keep to our principles and integrity and still participate in the awful world?
How do we hold on to ourselves in the face of unrelenting panic attacks and terror?
How do I stay in my power and the sacredness of my healing work while taking a grueling 4 hour exam that dissects and belittles me, my community, my work?
I keep thinking of the image of the cops invading the sacred space of that secret garden in the video. Suddenly, this card appears to me as a meditation, visual mantra, or energetic ally for those times when an intrusive and punishing force invades and threatens to sever connection to ourselves or our world. This could be the oppressive dynamics that hit us hard when we step out of the safety of our queer households and into the dominant overculture. This could be you, being in a dreamy and open and soft space and suddenly having to interact with someone angry and punishing, or overwhelmed with sensory input in a loud and busy place. This could be taking a walk on the beach to connect with nature and seeing all the trash, the oil wells, the giant ships packed with slave-labor goods, the polluted waters. This could be you minding your own business and suddenly having a flashback or panic attack, your mind spinning out of control.
Any of these scenarios offer the opportunity to learn to find your core...to breathe...to practice the delicate art of staying present in the face of pain...to slow down and draw strength from your secret garden, to remember the way back to yourself, to remember that you have a grounded and connected self to come back to at all.
All this is the crisis of the 9 of Pentacles, which teaches about the place where sacred and profane overlap.
I always used to think of this card as a garden, but now I see it more as an economy - a sacred or gift economy, oeconomy in the old sense of "the management of a household." Indeed, some of the traditional meanings for this card include good luck, good management, inheritance, attention to detail, loving criticism, integrity and skill producing wealth, the flow of gain - all of which you might also glean from its astrological correspondence of Venus in Virgo.
Sacred or Gift Economy to me holds a connotation of flow, of giving with the understanding that the gift is always moving, that giving and receiving are parts of the same act and hold reciprocal value. This card is wealth without hoarding, sharing without shame. There is an understanding that while we may sometimes need to retreat and build fortresses to make it through the short-term, there is ultimately no extra safety in cutting off or hoarding or silencing: we must find our flow, and participate in the flow of which we are only a part - the tidal flow of community, of life force, of love and loss, in and out.
Last night, in the novel I'm reading, a girl assassin whispers these magic words in the language of her lost homeland and, in doing so, slays an immortal tyrant whose domination has oppressed everyone it touched for centuries:
The life that is shared goes on forever. The life that is hoarded never lives at all.
I see this in the Collective Tarot's 9 of Bones too: the strong spine that connects heaven and earth. The fruits which fall between the worlds and which a clever forager collects in baskets and ride off to share with their community. How rootedness and connectedness and circulation are all part of the same phenomenon.
One of the first times these kinds of lessons started to occur to me was in 9th grade biology class, when I first heard the term semi-permeable membrane. I know, I've always been a nerd at heart. But the image and the idea collided in me with tremendous power, because deep inside I knew that this was a teaching image for me: there exists a thing whose function is to both protect its innards and allow flow between inner and outer. A boundary which protects but is also porous - which intrinsically knows what to let in and what to keep out, keeping fluid all the while. Like in a cell, or in an egg. I can breathe in and out, but you can't invade and poison me.
I see the walls in the 9 of Pentacles like this. For me, it's a powerful metaphor for how to stay safe and connected to my heart without retreating, charging, melting down or dissociating. Sometimes those things have to happen, too - and when they do, the image of the safe and secret garden gives gentle guidance back to my abundant self, helps me reground and get ready for the next round.
One last image of this card that I love:
Here, I see an image of this lesson after many revolutions and evolutions of practice. A vision of gardens within gardens, wisdom and strength to find one's place - in any place - and be in dialogue with the many worlds, the endless overlaps of body and mind, spirit and soul, wishes and fears, inner and outer, different parts of ourselves, different languages, different communities. Out of this wisdom, a system of communication and reflection. A time-tested reliance on boundaries - knowing that while boundaries are built and are relative, they nonetheless provide the safety and containment to open up and experience and learn and commune.
Kaeti is a therapist, teacher, and dreamer based in Long Beach, California. All of her work (and play!) is interested in dismantling intersections of oppression and breathing magic and radical healing into all the daily corners of her life, into all the spaces of community she helps weave.