The Seven of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Seven of Cups is a much more negative card than one might guess from a cursory glance. After all, Scorpio is one of the most serious signs of the Zodiac, if not the most deadly serious of them all. So why does Waite prattle on about “fairy favors?” In fact, the modern day perception of fairies is very different than the “sinister” aspect they held in Britain in times past. The Seven of Cups is the abundance of Venus poisoned by Scorpio. Venus was caught in flagrante with Mars by Vulcan, Venus’ husband. Vulcan had been told about their affair, and so he made a net of bronze chains to catch them. The chains were so fine that they could not be seen, not even by the gods. He caught them and exposed them to all the other gods, who laughed heartily at Venus and Mars. There we have the illusion, the invisible chains, and the empty attainment, the act of adultery interrupted. As to interpreting this card as “self-delusion?” Well, Vulcan may have deluded himself, but the adultery was not an illusion. There may be a bigger picture to consider, i.e., the externalities, when we look at the Seven of Cups.

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The Four of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Four of Wands is pleasant but unfocused and visually empty. What is its most important part? This unusual lack of focus renders the festival distant and joyless. Fortunately, by studying Waite’s divinatory meanings (and a couple of online encyclopedias), we can discover the joy. This festival has an open bar. And what a bar! This is not just any country fête—it is one sacred to Venus. Using an odd device, Waite throws in a reference to “harvest-home,” a very English harvest festival, and by doing so, refers back to Venus. It is a festival of wine and fertility. The Romans called it “Vinalia urbana,” but we can simply enjoy it (accompanied by a glass of “sacramental” wine) as a celebration of sacred and profane love, and the fertility of the earth. It is the Primavera of Botticelli, as rendered by Colman Smith, and bottled by A.E. Waite.

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The Three of Swords – A One Page Guide

Of the Three of Swords, Waite says the divinatory meanings include “all that the design signifies naturally, being too simple and obvious to call for specific enumeration.” While that may be true, like all things tarot, there are layers beneath the surface awaiting discovery. The first thing we note about the illustration is that there is no human figure. Of the minor arcana corresponding to the 36 decans, it is one of only two such cards. What we will find beneath the thrice pierced heart is a balance, as of the scale of Libra, between the masculine Saturn, ruler of the decan, and the feminine Venus, the planetary ruler of Libra. And though Saturn and Venus may be evenly matched, Binah, the very feminine qabalistic influence, tips the scales to the feminine. We’ll also find a very interesting male/female, lover/beloved dynamic in the upright and reversed divinatory meanings. Is the illustration a representation of a detached and removed love? Yes, I think so, and in fact, I think we can even say that Waite implies a direction in that separation: the beloved left the lover. In this series on the minor arcana I have many times applauded the genius of Colman Smith and far less so Waite. In this case, though, Colman Smith has copied another design, and Waite has done something particularly original with the divinatory meanings.

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The Seven of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

The Seven of Pentacles is one of those minor arcana in which Waite adheres fairly closely to the Golden Dawn point of view, yet adds his own spin. The Golden Dawn associated the card with ”promises of success unfulfilled.” That may have much to do with the location of the associated decan at the end of Taurus. Waite’s “spin” is quite interesting; it may describe the end of the agricultural age, replaced by the industrial age. In this respect, the Seven of Pentacles is not so much a transformation card as a “marker” for an ending. We should be careful not to underestimate the power of this card.

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The Nine of Cups – A One Page Guide

A well-fed gent in front of a dais laden with wine but not food, awaits his drinking companions. As W.C. Fields once said, “I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.” Colman Smith is cooking with Yesod and a double helping of Jupiter in the Nine of Cups. It’s a surface filled with sexual shapes and below it, sexual meanings. Does this mean that when we see the Nine of Cups we should assume it means the height of sexual pleasure? Such an interpretation might make a new friend or two for the modern reader! But I don’t think so. Rather, in the same way we need to recognize the pattern of clues in the surface of the card, it could be taken as advice to then look for clues on the surface of the situation the querent describes which might then be ascribed to sexual urges when analyzed less superficially.

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The Five of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Five of Wands is a depiction of youthful competition and the battle of life. Waite’s divinatory meanings have a major difference in tone, though not of substance, versus the Golden Dawn’s; imitation fighting and strife vs. real. Saturn and the Sun in combination are the explanation for the difference in tone. There was a belief dating back to Mesopotamia that the planet Saturn was pre-cursor of the Sun. Saturn the “Sun-Star” may be a fragment of the story of the Golden Age. Saturn was the grandfather god who may have required child sacrifice; he presided over a (literally) darker planet, though the Earth provided such abundance that work was unnecessary. It is Saturn vs. the Sun, a past “imitation,” lesser Sun vs. today’s real, greater Sun. We have hopefully thrown light upon the RWS Five of Wands, but found nothing that challenges its accepted meanings in any way.

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The Eight of Swords – A One Page Guide

What do Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pamela Colman Smith, Arthur Edward Waite, Castor and Pollux have in common with that silly Internet meme about “brothers by different mothers?” How about “twins by different fathers?” Colman Smith’s illustration for the Eight of Swords is an incredibly clever play upon Waite’s divinatory meaning; or quite possibly, it was the source for it. In either case, though Waite sees the Eight of Swords as a glass half empty, there is reason to think it’s half full. It all hinges on the origin story of Gemini, the differences between Waite and the Golden Dawn group’s view of the Eight of Swords, and the dual meanings of an obscure word: “trammel!” It is the positive side of Pollux’s sacrifice which showed extraordinary generosity that makes the glass half full: the ability to free oneself from one’s bindings, the power to survive sickness and calumny, the ability to weather bad news.

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