The Snail: 9 of Pentacles (c) Sesheta-mallorn 2004

At the bottom of the Nine of Pentacles, Pamela Colman Smith painted a snail. What idea was she trying to help us to see?

Sandra A. Thompson, in her book “Pictures From the Heart”, tells us that snails are a lunar symbol and represent not only feminine energy but also the cycle of death and rebirth. She goes on to say that the shell is linked to the spiral and to self sufficiency.

The number nine is often linked to the Sephirah Yesod and to the unconscious while also meaning completion and ease in that particular suit. A pentacle is a five sided star that is surrounded by a coin. Isabel Kliegman sees this symbol as representing the body and the soul. The star is what we are made of and the coin is the body that houses it.

So what do we have? Someone who feels comfortable in her body, someone who has worked hard and can now enjoy the fruits of her labour. Someone who is self sufficient and proud of the person she has become. At the same time, she knows that all things must pass. Life is a never ending cycle of birth, growth, deterioration and death. Knowing this, she can enjoy what she has made, both in the outside world and in her soul. She can enjoy but not be bound by it. She is not afraid of the loss of her power or position because she knows that what she so meticulously built up can be taken away at any moment. And this is okay. She can build again. She is not her possessions.

What more can the snail tell us? Perhaps Ms Colman Smith wanted to point out that perfection is a myth. No true garden is free of insects, dirt and debris. Each and every garden has a snail just as every human has some habit or characteristic that makes them seem less than perfect. The woman in this card is at ease in her body and in her surroundings. She sees the snail in her garden but loves and enjoys what she has made anyway. She knows that perhaps in the eyes of others she is too short or too fat or too poor, but deep inside that star in the middle of the pentacle she is perfect unto herself. She not only accepts the snail in her garden, she welcomes it.

I keep a snail on my computer monitor and another on the kitchen windowsill. They remind me that I don’t have to look “perfect” to others. In fact “what other people think of me is none of my business”. I must acknowledge the snail in my garden and give it pride of place in my being. It is that snail who makes me who I am.

The world is full of human beings who have no confidence, who feel no joy in being who they are. People can spend their entire lives trying to “fix” themselves, to remake themselves in the image of what popular culture dictates as “perfect”. There are billion dollar industries that prey on this mistaken sense of what is “right”, what is “acceptable”. For some people it does not matter how much they own or how much they accomplish. It is never enough; they can never enjoy it because they need to erase that snail. They feel an overwhelming urgency to obtain perfection.

Why do we waste our precious time and resources denying the snail in our garden? Take a close look at the face of the woman in the card. Do you see her serenity? Does she look apologetic for being successful, well dressed, and self sufficient? No. She is happy and confident and at home with herself and with her life.

One other thing comes to mind when I look at the snail on the Nine of Pentacles from the Rider Waite Smith deck. Snails move slowly. We have all heard and used the term, “He is as slow as a snail”. In this world of computers and almost instantaneous e-mail we use the term “snail mail” to symbolize the slowness of regular postal mail. This card is a snapshot of our lives. The world has slowed down to a crawl and we can now take the time to enjoy what we have created, what we have become. Ultimately time moves forward and nothing lasts forever. But in the world of the Nine of Pentacles, the snail reminds us to find peace within our being and to be proud of who we are; warts, snails and all.


This page was created May 29, 2004.