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 Four of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Four of Cups is noteworthy in the far-greater-than-usual distance between Waite and the Golden Dawn group. And that is to say nothing as to how far away from the qualities of Chesed, the qabalistic influence; clearly it is the widest departure from the Sephirot we’ve seen so far. Waite seems to have gone rogue! He seems to focus on the Moon, which rules the decan and is the planetary association for Cancer, the Zodiac sign for the decan. The Moon’s light is reflected and illusory; it is the opposite of “real” light, direct from the Sun. Waite, in his description for this card, says things seen in this illusory light appear as a “fairy gift.” We might describe the young man’s attitude is such that anything less then “the real thing” is unsatisfactory. There is a sense of profound alienation. It appears to me that Waite is setting up a contrast between the young man and the High Priestess, the major arcanum associated with the Moon. If you do not have the secrets, mystery and sacred law, you are just an empty vessel to whom spirituality is like an illusion of an empty cup. I would suggest that a modern interpretation is that it signifies alienation from the materialistic world. But it doesn’t suggest the antidote—going out into the spiritual sunlight—but I don’t think Waite meant it to. Frankly I prefer the “enjoy it while you can” message of the Golden Dawn group for this card, for that is something that we can do in the companionship of real world friends and family.

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The Eight of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Eight of Cups is one of those cards in which Waite has only slight differences in divinatory meanings versus the Golden Dawn. The differences are in the illustration. Instead of Pisces and Jupiter, the main element is instead the full Moon eclipsing the Sun. The Romans, in their panoply of gods, assigned Diana three aspects, goddess of the Moon, the huntress, and the queen of the underworld. They nicknamed her “trivia” or “three roads.” She was the goddess of forks-in-the-road! Waite and Colman Smith use this as a metaphor to portray the action of the divinatory meaning. The character deserts the cups of an enterprise or previous concern; i.e., he came to a fork in the road, and after, no longer travels the original road. The card is full of “dualities”—harvest and planting, death and rebirth, male and female, Sun and Moon, old path and new path—which seem to mimic the dual nature of the divinatory meanings. Thus, the Eight of Cups is a collection of reflected images, none exactly the same as the original. It occurs to me that if we understand the illustration correctly, the proper reading of this card is more than “the decline of a matter” in importance, as Waite put it. It is actually advice to avoid the consequences of whatever the “decline” was. The occurrence may be infrequent but not rare (as suggested by the solar eclipse). And the advice is that the best path to be on during or after that decline is “the road less traveled.”

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The Three of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Three of Wands is not just a nice card, it’s a good, understated design. It is a marvelous representation of the divinatory meanings and has just the right touch of transparency that reveals the story and influences that Waite and Colman Smith chose as a setting. As to the divinatory meanings, focusing on the question of the differences between Waite’s and the GD’s, one can ask a further question: are Colman Smith’s ships coming or going? It seems likely that on the one hand, Waite means to convey that when the Three of Wands is upright the ships are going… outbound to Colchis, adventure, and the golden fleece, or in an alternative reading, to the east to bring back exotic cargo. On the other hand, when the card is reversed, that the ship is returning, with the fleece or exotic goods.

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The Ten of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Ten of Cups is a great card to get in a reading… but it may not be one of Waite’s best. There are three imperfectly executed themes in the RWS Ten of Cups that I believe show Waite’s desire to infuse his mystical Christianity into the card. Firstly, there is an attempt to link the second covenant, by which belief in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth washes away the original sin of Adam and Eve. Possibly related, a second theme links the water and cups to the Holy Grail and the last supper, at which that second covenant was announced. Finally, an attempt to link the alchemical symmetry between heaven and Earth as in the saying “As above, so below.” But these three themes aren’t anchored securely to the astrological, elemental and qabalistic influences, and therefore don’t affect the divinatory meanings strongly. The result is that the Christian mysticism that Waite imbued in other cards’ divinatory meanings could not be “poured” into the Ten of Cups, and upon analysis, it just doesn’t “feel” right.

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The Two of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

The Two of Pentacles presents questions. Why are there dramatic waves in the background when the elemental influence is not water but Earth? Why did Waite go out of his way not to call the figure eight of the string game the Ourobouros, as the Golden Dawn group described it? And finally, and oddly enough, most importantly—what’s with the hat? Since we’re in Capricorn, we’d better take the Goat of Fear, some aliens called the Anunnaki, and Noah’s Flood into consideration as we try to make sense of these seeming contradictions. And contradiction is what makes the Two of Pentacles a tour de force. It communicates Waite’s Christian mysticism by pulling it out from what should be its opposite: spirit from material, Christianity from pagan; first power promising its own replacement by the ultimate power.

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Three of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Three of Cups is a very simple, straightforward card. Its divinatory meanings are as brightly illuminated as mid-afternoon on the day of the summer solstice. Tracing its meanings probably won’t make you a better tarot reader in the slightest, because nothing is hidden. We can, however, provide a few interesting tidbits, such as possibly identifying the astrological/mythological source for the three dancers, and telling you a bit about Binah, which is by far the greatest force behind the meanings. Happy Alban Heruin to all!

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