We’re back with the last part of our tarot reading about Dark Side of the Moon. We saw, last time, that the album is about stillness in that quiet center we all have. That’s opposed to our tendency to run from things, or to things, and to try to avoid our own thoughts and the touch of others.
5: The Great Gig in the Sky
Here’s one of the most memorable moments in the album: when the guy they interviewed talks about how silly it is to be afraid of dying. That’s the thing we’re all running from. There’s no way to avoid it, in the end, so all our contortions and flights and retreats don’t really stop death from happening. They just stop us from doing other things.
5 of Swords
Fives are tough in all the suits, but they’re traditionally very tough in the swords. Fives are often associated with Ares in systems that use Greco-Roman symbolism. This card is probably the tamest version of the Five of Swords I have personally. A blacksmith is forging swords. Well, if swords are ideas — and in our reading today, self-harming ideas — then the blacksmith is the person, making new ideas and holding onto the old ones. If we shouldn’t be afraid of death, why are we? It’s an idea we have in our heads, not a real thing that’s present. In fact, death is simply the absence of something, not a thing in itself.
The great gig in the sky is, of course, the afterlife. Death is hard. It’s the first hard truth a lot of people learn, if they’re not in really bad situations as children. If I ever met someone who claimed to never have had that moment where they realized they would die, and that it’s fucking unfair, I’m not sure I’d ever trust them. Either they lied there, or they lie to themselves constantly. But we learn to put these ideas away, slowly, and do something else. In this case, the blacksmith is still making the sword, the idea, but that’s because he’s amid the strife (traditionally). He can do something else, he just isn’t, not right now.
And what is it many people use to distract themselves from the existential and mortal angst we all feel? Money! Here’s the song most people probably like best. Don’t get wrong, I love it. I just like all the other stuff even better! This song is fairly simple, on its own — it makes fun of the capitalist shit-heels who think money solves every problem. It goes further, though, and depicts the plight of people caught in a capitalist system. How do we think of anything else, from inside that system? We’re trapped. It’s our own idea, our own fictional construct, but we can’t seem to escape it.
Oh yeah. This is the good shit right here. The Devil, in tarot, is traditionally about people being trapped by their own minds or beliefs. Here, we see an angel atop a dragon, with the devil below. The devil is apparently a giant winged eye thing. That makes sense here, really. This devil has no hands or arms. It has no face! It can’t talk or move things or fight or cajole or anything. It just sits there, supporting the dangers that lie at our feet. Aaaaand that would be money.
In a capitalist world, money is at the foundation of everything. It’s something we made up, to make it easier to buy some food without carrying a bunch of woven robes or chicken eggs around. Money is a token from a shitty board game, but humans built up a world where it’s also the foundation for everything else. Look closely — you can see a manacle on the two-headed person’s leg. Money is a trap, and hell is the destination, when money is the foundation of everything. When we don’t even stand on money — because it’s one layer below what we stand on — we are well and truly fucked.
“Money… it’s a crime.”
7: Us and Them
The War appears. It’s always The War. In pretty much anything British, after World War II, you can find something about the war if you look hard enough. This song is deceptive. It has a gentle, jazzy saxophone solo and comforting percussion. But there’s a weird, slightly discordant, thing happening in the background. And then the lyrics kick in and tell you a story about a war being fought between two sides that look the same, with map lines that mean nothing, shifting back and forth for no reason. It’s futile, it’s stupid, it’s meaningless. It’s just another way to fritter away time, time we could spend looking inside instead of out there, for “them.”
The good shit, it continues. The Emperor is all about societal values. He’s the fucking king, right? He is the source of rules and values, the idea of where glory will come from in this society. In the card, the Emperor stands nearly naked, bare under a cloudy sky with an imperial eagle in his hand. He’s the ruler of everything he can see — but we can’t see any of it. The Emperor isn’t necessarily a negative card. We all need some discipline sometimes. But again, in the context of this album, we see the harsh, critical underside of things appear again. The album exposes what we usually don’t see — the dark side of the moon, usually hidden from us.
“Haven’t you heard, it’s a battle of words?”
In this deck the Emperor is tied to the element of air. Sometimes, in other decks, he’s associated with other elements. But here, again, we see the fictive side of air. Our minds can make up all manner of things, and they don’t exist. But we behave as though they do. The Emperor’s rules don’t exist — they’re not made of iron, woven from steel — but we live inside them like we live in a cage. We know who’s “us,” and we’ll fight anyone who’s “them.”
Ever read the Kipling poem “We and They?” Go do that.
8: Any Colour You Like
More instrumentals! Fans appear to think this song means, basically, that it’s all up to us. We can have it be any color we like. What can be any color? Where do the colors come from? Well, the album has a damn rainbow on the cover, so that would likely be important. The piece itself is middle of the road — sometimes peaceful, sometimes funky. Maybe it’s about going inward? Or maybe it’s that bridge between one awful thing and another, where we have just enough time to think about what’s happening, but not enough time to do anything about it.
Knight of Coins
This card is a lot more stable than what I wrote above would have suggested. Coins are earthy. They don’t have to mean money, but sometimes they do. Some historians think the coins came, originally, from the mirror that medieval iconography tied to Prudence, one of the Four Virtues. So the coins are practical, earthy things. That could be money. It could also simply be a feeling of connectedness. It’s hard, sometimes, to feel at home in the world. Nothing is the way we think it should be. Maybe our room is too messy, or the house is too small. The Knight of Coins is satisfied anyway. The Knight is more “powerful” than the lady, but also more aggressive. He moves where she might not. Moving a mountain is difficult, though, so the Knight isn’t quite comfortable in his suit of armor. However, he’s comfortable where he is. His “coin” is actually a shield, large and strong. He defends, rather than attacks.
If the world can be any color we want it to be, then we can defend that. We don’t have to fight one another. It doesn’t have to be “us and them.” It can be you, and you, and me, and we’re all creating a little space for ourselves, where some things are purple and others are green. The knight’s surrounded by plants and there’s a nice looking home in the background. It’s a small castle, with some other buildings around. The knight of coins is safe. In our minds, we’re safe when we see things can be what we want them to be.
9: Brain Damage
The instrumental bit of this song is like a leitmotif that always gets my attention. Someone has lost their mind, lost in their memories, even as the mundane world “paper boys” keeps coming. The character here hasn’t learned these lessons quickly. They sank down into their mind and things got real bad, real fast. But things are getting better. The speaker is hopeful. We can meet together, out there in space, in the darkness that everyone else avoids. The trial is nearly over, and the character is growing in healthy ways.
Shit, was I wrong? No. This card actually supports the above reading fairly well. The Tower is always about something breaking down and blowing away. It’s traditionally the Tower of Babel. Here a flawed alchemical retort on its oven is smashed by divine lightning while the alchemists lament and try to catch the drops of liquid. Things are bad, but they won’t always be that way. The Tower is like a run down, dilapidated house: it’s been smashed down, and that can make us feel naked and alone. But the only way to build something even better is to raze the land first. The Tower is the old, entrapping, embittering edifice crumbling. It leaves us free to move into something better.
The lunar imagery just had to have an eclipse, right? We pass into darkness when we’re in our trials. Here, everything we experience — sensations, feelings, thoughts — are rational, “under the sun.” But the moon can eclipse the sun. Everything can go dark, everything can disappear. And the song leaves us with the heartbeat, returned to its primacy.
Justice is about the light and the dark. It’s not human justice, it’s metaphysical justice. The word “justice” comes from the word “just.” To be “just” is to be true to one’s coining. So a coin is “just” if it weighs what it’s supposed to weigh. That’s why Justice carries scales, you know. We’re equal measures of light and dark, sun and moon. Only when we’re balanced are we “just.” Justice’s sword doesn’t cut away darkness — it’s a balance beam, a knife that splits us in two so we can see both parts.
The cards seem to have prodded us into expanding the album’s personal journey into a universal journey. We find our own balance, justice, in going through both good and bad.
Just, you know… just look at what Roger Waters said about the album:
I don’t see it as a riddle. The album uses the sun and the moon as symbols; the light and the dark; the good and the bad; the life force as opposed to the death force. I think it’s a very simple statement saying that all the good things life can offer are there for us to grasp, but that the influence of some dark force in our natures prevents us from seizing them. The song addresses the listener and says that if you, the listener, are affected by that force, and if that force is a worry to you, well I feel exactly the same too. The line ‘I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon’ is me speaking to the listener, saying, ‘I know you have these bad feelings and impulses because I do too, and one of the ways I can make direct contact with you is to share with you the fact that I feel bad sometimes.
We’re all trapped, sometimes, by the darkness in us. That’s necessary, unfortunately, for growth. And we’re all in this together. There’s no “them.” There’s only “us” and our temporary blindness when looking at “us.”