As is the custom, I keep a tarot notebook. It may be a bit more "compartmentalized" than some others. It’s part spreadsheet, part Microsoft® OneNote™. For the year or so that I didn’t post any articles on this site, I did quite a bit of writing in my tarot "notebook."
With this article I begin a series of analyses of the inspired art with which Pamela Colman Smith illustrated the 36 cards of the decans, as a supplement to the previous charts. These posts will attempt to recount the stories—mythic or otherwise—that contributed to the concepts with which she imbued her illustrations. When we understand the stories that underlie them, we can not only better interpret but we can also better communicate a cohesive story out of several cards laid down in a spread. Indeed, these are stories that have fascinated humankind for millenia.
You’ll find the format consists of a column of text, at right, consisting of the stories and interpretation. At the left you’ll see a sort of quasi baseball card arrangement that provides reference information. The paper size is standard letter, but with space at the left margin should anyone wish to three-hole-punch the paper. Note that the Acrobat file, accessible through the download button below, will be better to print from and easier to read onscreen.
Elvis Has Left the Building
A man in a cape walks away from us amid a marshy landscape or seashore. The going is rocky and difficult. The man uses his staff. Above is an eclipse. The Moon having passed totality, sunlight should return shortly. We are in the 34th decan, Saturn in Pisces, and the qabala emanation is Hod.
Saturn’s father, Uranus, continually rapes Gaia, Saturn’s mother, and imprisons his siblings. This is a metaphor to say Uranus inhibited the fecundity of the Earth. Saturn waited for the moment of coupling, when sky touched Earth. He slashed with his scythe, castrating his father. (Saturn as Chronos, Father Time, also carries a scythe; it is a metaphor for the succession of generations). Uranus’ blood and sperm fell to land and sea, birthing Venus, i.e., love, as well as giants, wood nymphs and others. The newly released fecundity initiates the golden age, over which Saturn then ruled. This was the happy age of peace and harmony. The earth provided abundance such that men did not have to till the fields or work. But both age and ruler are gone. Our takeaway will be a theme of past but better days, parental relationships, and personal power.
Pisces is the house of troubles. It commemorates a time that Venus and Cupid transformed themselves into fishes to avoid a murderous monster (Typhon, seen on the Wheel of Fortune). We take it that the waters in the illustration are treacherous. Cups being the suit associated with emotion, we can conclude the emotional going is treacherous.
Then comes Hod. To Waite and his contemporaries, as the Book T states, Hod "Generally show(s) solitary success; i.e., success in the matter for the time being, but not leading to much result apart from the thing itself." Éliphas Lévi states that in the qabala, Saturn represents "the angel of the solitudes." Additionally, Lévi specifically tied Hod to the Nephilim, the demi-god children of the angels of the Old Testament. This may be another tie-in to the part of Saturn’s story, by which Uranus’ sperm fathers many minor deities. Hod is also said to represent one of the feet, explaining why Colman Smith showed a solitary man walking.
What does he walk away from? He’s turned his back on a father figure, namely Saturn. If we look further up the diagram, we see Jupiter, another father-god. And notice the King of Cups: the most intellectual king, exactly the type of father someone like Waite would see as most demanding. (Though I doubt Waite’s father, a captain in the merchant marine—a coincidence, perhaps, given the suit of water—who died when Waite was very young, fits in at all).
Last but not least, Waite’s reversed divination might describe a feast such as in the story of the prodigal son. (Note that Mathers provides similar divinations). This may be related to the eclipse. The parable of the prodigal son is traditionally read at services on Good Friday. Tradition states that at the moment Jesus died on the cross, the sun went dark, as if eclipsed. I suspect that for the mystic Christian Waite, the prodigal son had a great deal of significance. You can’t have the rebirth/resurrection of Easter, without having first purged sins on Good Friday. Or in today’s terms, Lennon could not have written Imagine without first having purged his parental conflicts through primal scream therapy in Mother on the Plastic Ono Band album.
Thus, the upright divinations appear to emphasize the suit, i.e. cups being of a phlegmatic or reserved nature, plus the Book T’s statement regarding temporary resolutions related to Hod. As a visual hint, you may recall the prodigal son: upright he leaves home, but with mixed emotions. Reversed, he comes back home, to great joy. We can also add that it’s not just celebration, but a re-uniting, too. (A good point when this card turns up in a question regarding relationships). In this way, the Eight of Cups can evoke (and I have bumped into this at least once) estranged relationships with parent or professorial figures.
Copyright Information:The article above is copyright ©2021 by John Iacovelli, All rights reserved. Note: I am holding off putting a Creative Commons license on this text, as I may put it to multiple uses in the future. Please don’t let that stop you from generating ideas based upon this text.
2021-05-22: improved PDF layout readability. Added external links.