The Two of Cups – A One Page Guide

The youth and maiden of the Two of Cups seem such a nice couple. Then we notice how differently they dress, and how solemnly they look at each other. Still, there seems little doubt that Colman Smith’s illustration is generally appropriate for the divinatory meanings. Love is in the air. Along with a couple of unexpected symbols: the caduceus, and a lion’s head solar disk. With our tarot wheel as starting point, we find tension between Cancer, the sign, and Venus, the ruling planet. It is love vs. death, creation vs. destruction. An uneven match, given that Venus was amongst the most powerful of the gods… but you know what they say, "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." Venus being nice, however, negotiates. The caduceus was used as a symbol of diplomatic negotiation in Rome. As for the lion’s head solar disk, it leads us to Baphomet, who had a caduceus where his reproductive organs should have been, the Demiurge, the artisan who fabricated the universe but didn’t create it, and Ariel, a fallen angel. They help us identify Waite’s strange phrase at the end of his divinatory meanings as a rather progressive statement (for 1910, at least) about homosexuality: that though homosexuality may not be "natural," in that it does not have the power of re-generation, love as represented by Venus is yet able to sanctify it. But then, I already told you Venus is powerful.

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The Eight of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

A.E. Waite expends a lot of effort to make sure we see the laborer of the Eight of Pentacles as one who is learning his craft. In the Pictorial Key, he not only mentions this fact in his divinatory meanings for the Eight, he also points it out in his description of the Three of Pentacles. Why does he draw our attention to this? I suggest that Waite’s message is that tarot, and indeed, magic, can be learned by us in the same way that the apprentice learns: by starting out with the simple tasks; then through long experience at those tasks, over time, he becomes the skilled artisan. Our laborer wields his hammer like Mercury’s caduceus (which is basically a wand). He imbues magical energy into the symbol of the classical element of Earth, the coin. The result is the trophy, a symbol of something that he has won through his effort.

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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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