The suit of pentacles is about concrete, tangible aspects of our lives, and traditionally has also correlated with wealth and work (the suit is still called "coins" in many decks). The three and eight show chapters in the journey from apprentice to master, but how those meanings are assigned varies from reader to reader. Some read the three of pentacles as the apprentice, and the eight as master, while others reverse those meanings. Others read the three as professional collaboration at any level.
I personally learned the three as the master, while the eight is the apprentice. If we're looking at the Waite-Smith symbology (pictured below), we see in the three of pentacles that the stoneworker is interacting with two others (including a monk), presumably to update them on the project's progress. This stoneworker, then, is in charge of an important, permanent project (stone decoration on a fancy building). On the other hand, the eight of pentacles is alone in the frame, making the same simple plate over and over, like a beginner practicing a simple skill. Looking at the card, I'm reminded of the hours I spent at the piano just playing scales. Boring, y'all, but foundational.
|From the Universal Rider-Waite (Waite-Smith)|
But what about the opposite interpretation? Why read the master-apprentice dynamic in the opposite direction, since I've just given such a compelling explanation for the inverse? Well, the monk and hooded figure in the three of pentacles could just as much serve as instructors for the stoneworker as they could patrons. Maybe he needs extra monitoring as he works on his first major project. The eight of pentacles, in contrast, can be read as a master worker who has enough skill and reputation to set up his own shop, and no longer needs to take commissions. Additionally, eight is the larger number and comes later in the suit; if we are looking at the progression of numbers, we see that three is about growth and collaboration, whereas eight is about forward-moving energy.
Ultimately, you will decide which interpretation resonates most with you. Additionally, your interpretations will be altered based on the surrounding cards, the query posed, and even the deck you're working with. This post is intended to give you a foundation for working with these two cards, but ultimately to encourage you to explore your own individual interpretations.
How do you read these two cards? Are there interpretations beyond what I've presented here? How does all this translate to other non-Waite-Smith decks you've worked with? Let us know in comments!