The 2 of Pentacles shows the trickster God Mercury showing false visions of home to the sailors awash in the boats upon a storm-tossed sea.
It signifies false promises, deliberate miscommunication, trouble in journeys.
Pamela drew upon her admiration of the artist Edward Burne-Jones and used his design “False Mercury” within the Flower book published by Burne-Jones and circulated to his circle of friends.
The book was donated to the British Museum in 1909, the year Pamela visited the museum to view the Sola-Busca deck and the same year in which she designed her Tarot with A. E. Waite.
You may be surprised to know that this is the first time – here, on this page – this source and design has been revealed, despite a century of people guessing about the card in hundreds of books and thousands of websites.
This image is not just certainly the source because there are few other images in the world specifically of “a strange-hatted figure with a mercurial serpent-belt and infinity symbol (also on the Mercurial Magician) sporting two disks in the exact same pose in front of a boat on a wavy sea” (if there are, prior to Burne-Jones and Pamela, please let us know!) but because several of the other images in the Flower Book are also virtually identical to Pamela’s cards.
The influence on her design is absolutely unmistakable, whether it was conscious or unconscious – and we believe it conscious given the correspondence between the original flower book meanings and Pamela’s use to illustrate the ideas of each tarot card.
See if you can see all of them, some are obvious, some are subtle …
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In this card, we can now see that Waite’s text in Pictorial Key to the Tarot now makes much more sense because both the design by Pamela and his writing are focusing on the same thing – the mercurial nature of communication, travel, and change that the card embodies …
… but it is read also as news and messages in writing, as obstacles, agitation, trouble, embroilment. Reversed: Enforced gaiety, simulated enjoyment, literal sense, handwriting, composition, letters of exchange.
So now you know why the figure has a strange hat, a snake-like belt, and what he is doing! And for the first time, why a juggling figure has anything at all to do with Waite’s description of news, writing, messages, etc. all of which are attributes of Mercury.
Pamela’s version is a quick character-sketch of False Mercury – she was really working very fast; the whole deck was created by her in just five and a half months, with little or no correction or editing of the finished and delivered images!
Learn the True Intentions of the Designs of the Tarot
There are a number of typos and errors in the original Key to the Tarot by A. E. Waite. One is that in his description of the Strength card he says of the woman that “over her head there broods the same symbol of life which we have seen in the card of the Hierophant” when he means the Magician. This was corrected in later versions.
Another error is that he missed the reversed description of the 2 of Cups from the very first version of the Key to the Tarot, which has never been provided.
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Learn More about the meanings of this card in everyday readings in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot and over at our free sister-site, My Tarot Card Meanings where you can also download a free guide to card meanings and spreads, Keys to the Tarot by Andrea Green.