Much is often made of the bird of prey in the Nine of Pentacles. Some say that it is incongruous that such a refined lady would have a falcon on her fist, trained to kill on command. They then conclude that the card means 'success after the years of patient dedication it takes to get a hunting bird to do as it's told'.
Well, not really. Falconry was a standard, noble pastime for hundreds of years. The fact that Waite and Smith put a hunting bird on a card featuring a noblewoman may not have seemed as weird then as it could now.
Like many things here in the UK at least, there were explicit rules of falconry. For example, you were only permitted to fly the bird that corresponded correctly with your social rank. Kings could have the big guns, like eagles and ger falcons, priests could have sparrowhawks and servants could only have kestrels.
If you were caught flying a bird that was not rightfully yours, you would be stripped naked, tied 'spread-eagled' (this is where the expression comes from), have raw meat tied to your genitals and then have to suffer as the bird you stole ate its fill. (Who THINKS of these punishments...?)
Anyway, in light of this info, I think that, yes, the Nine of Pentacles signifies the rewards of diligent effort... but also the natural prosperity that comes from knowing your RIGHTFUL talents and embracing them consistently, instead of just aspiring to be like someone else.
P.S. the bird here is probably a Merlin, a smallish falcon that was deemed acceptable for ladies of rank. Another possibility is the Peregrine Falcon, but I prefer the magical name of the former :) The red on its head is merely its leather cap, which she would remove with her right hand and her teeth (at least, this is what I once saw a professional falconer do), before sending it off on a mission.
Hello! Welcome to my Tarot Folio. It's a discussion of the pop culture and contemporary references that can be linked to cards in a tarot deck. I hope you enjoy it and apply some of the meanings to your own life :)