V. The Pentad - The Sinks

Active Pentad

There are only Four Directions, but the Active Pentad moves in a Fifth Direction. Thus the Active Pentad opens the Way to a New World, a New Dimension, incommensurable with the preceding Numbers, except for the Monad, which is the source of all (i.e. 5 is divisible by 1 but not by 2, 3, or 4). Yet the Pentad is a part of the Decad (5 divides 10), and so an essential part of the Final Completion.

Passive Pentad

The Active Pentad creates the Passive Pentad by placing a Fifth Unit above the Plane of the Tetrad, and so the Pentad represents the Fifth Element, the Quintessence, the Eternal Celestial transcending the Mutable Mundane Elements. The Pythagoreans said the Pentad is Life, for it brings the Vegetative Soul, the Principle of Life, into Inanimate, Nonliving Nature. Thereby is a new realm of possibilities revealed, obeying new Laws.

The Monad is the Seed, the Dyad imparts Change to it, the Pentad gives it Life, and the Decad Completes and Contains it. These Numbers form a Geometric Progression, for as the Seed is to Change, so is Life to the Whole (1:2 :: 5:10); and as the Seed is to Life, so is Change to the Whole (1:5 :: 2:10).

The Pythagoreans name the Pentad "Alteration," for it creates a Novel Situation, for better or worse; indeed it is often initially worse, but ultimately better. For the Pentad is a Breakdown; it destabilizes the Stasis (and Complaisance) of the Tetrad, and confronts it with a Problem - or Opportunity. As the Tetrad is the Principle of Orderly Linear and Cyclic Change, so is the Pentad the Principle of Unpredictable, Creative Nonlinear Change.

The Pythagoreans also call the Pentad "Aphrodite," for this Goddess has the power to disrupt the normal Order of Things, whether among Gods or Mortals. Thus when Hera must alter Zeus's decisions for the World, She borrows Aphrodite's Girdle, and then Her Wishes cannot be denied. Likewise an agent of the Unexpected and Unintended is the Planet Mercury and the God Hermes, who is called the Trickster. He is the Psychagogos (Spirit Guide), who leads Souls out of the Mundane Realm into the Unseen Realm (A-ides = Hades), the Patron of all Boundary-Crossers.

In the Fifth Cosmological Stage the normal Order of the Universe is temporarily disrupted (with permanent effects). Thus in the Babylonian Epic of Erra, Four-square Marduk, grown old and complaisant, is temporarily driven from His throne by Erra (Nergal), a violent God, known for bringing crises, such as forest fires, fevers and plagues. So He wreaks havoc on the World for no other purpose than the Chaos it engenders.

(Frequently the Pentad manifests as a demand for Equality or Justice. Thus the Pythagoreans call the Pentad "Nemesis," "Justice," and "the Equalizer," since it takes from one and gives to another so as to establish Equivalence, which may be more or less than Equality.)

Wands: Spiritual Crisis

The fiery spirit of the Ace of Wands had settled into a warm, tame glow in the Cater. Though comfortable, this situation could not last, and the Sink of Wands represents a sudden, violent disruption, perhaps of a spirit settling into habit, perhaps of a will becoming lazy. The Sink makes new struggle unavoidable. A Bolt from the blue.

Image: Five wands arranged as an upright star arrangement; counter-clockwise from lower left, they are: blue torch, green caduceus, yellow torch, orange thursos (pinecone-tipped staff with a spike on its base), red keraunos. The bases of the wands are at the center of the star. Fiery background.

Commentary: The colors correspond to the five elements: red=earth, blue=water, green=air, yellow=fire, orange=spirit. The new, fifth element is represented by the Dionysian thursos, for its spike induces Dionysian mania, which disrupts the organized structure of the Tetrad; thus it appears to have been thrust into the center of the elemental cross. Its orange color represents the sudden outburst of emotion. The torches are pointing outward to represent breaking free from old constraints. The background represents an outwelling of spiritual ferver.

Swords: Intellectual Crisis

The peace of the Cater of Swords is shattered by the Sink. Something upon which you depended has been taken away and your unassailable position has collapsed. Perhaps your assumptions have been undermined. Or someone gave you bad information, perhaps intentionally. Or new, crucial information has been revealed. Or you thought it was a rational argument, but it is being conducted by innuendo, rumor, slander, etc. Or perhaps your thinking has undergone a conceptual revolution, and you now see that your carefully constructed intellectual edifice is - not wrong - but irrelevant. Defenses penetrated.

Image: Five swords in an upright star arrangement; the lower four with their points directed outward, the upper with its point at the center. Counter-clockwise from the lower left, the colors of the swords are blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Background of thunderheads.

Commentary: The fifth sword is thrust into the center of the elemental cross, disrupting its defensive structure. The thunderheads represent a new crisis appearing on the horizon.

Cups: Emotional Crisis

In the Cater of Cups the relationship was perfect - too perfect, for now the perfect relationship is on the rocks. The Sink of Cups represents an unexpected emotional crisis: your lover is having affair; you fall in love with someone else; the return of an "old flame"; an unanticipated divorce or breakup; the sudden recognition that a relationship is unfulfilling; a friend has betrayed you; a relative, friend, or lover dies; etc. Conversely, you might suddenly discover the worth of somebody you had long ago settled into disliking! A Cup overturned.

Image: Five cups in an upright star arrangement. Topmost cup pours its contents into the center of the star, the other four tilt to the outside and spill their contents. Counter-clockwise from the lower left, the colors of the cups are blue, green, yellow, orange, red. Background of rushing sea-green waters.

Commentary: The fifth cup, coming from none of the four directions, dumps disruptive feelings among the cups of the previously stable relationship, so that they tilt, spilling their feelings and letting them flow outside the relationship. The background represents emotional turbulence.

Pentacles: Material Crisis

In the Cater of Pentacles material well-being seemed assured, but Fortune rota volvitur - the Wheel of Fortune turns and suddenly the old material security is gone. The Sink of Pentacles may come in many forms: a new, unbeatable competitor, an illness or physical injury that hinders you, an unexpected change in the market, unanticipated material losses, major failures or expenses, unpredictable job loss, etc. A change of Fortune.

Image: Five pentacles in an upright pentagonal arrangement, each engraved with an elemental symbol. Clockwise from the lower left they are blue/water, red/earth, orange/spirit (eight-rayed double cross), yellow/fire, green/air. Brown background.

Commentary: The fifth pentacle forces a new arrangement on the stable Tetrad. The arrangement of elements is the Pythagorean Pentacle, called Hugieia (Well-being); the letters U/G/I/EI/A stand for the elements: water (hudor), earth (gaia), spirit (idea), fire (heile) and air (aer).

Return to Pythagorean Tarot homepage

Send comments about this page
Last update: Mon Jul 5 11:38:40 EDT 1999