The Eight of Cups is one of those cards in which Waite has only slight differences in divinatory meanings versus the Golden Dawn. The illustration for the card, however, uses an entirely different strategy than what is described by the GD. Instead of Pisces and Jupiter, the astrological and planetary influences, the main element is instead the full Moon eclipsing the Sun. The former is a card assigned to Pisces, and the latter is the exalted planet for this decan. Since it’s the Moon doing the eclipsing, we’ll take it that Waite and Colman Smith wish us to pay attention to the Moon, first of all.
As usual, these introductory posts convey additional analysis, as well as a link to the PDF version at bottom, which is better to print from. This is number eighteen in the series. We have reached the halfway point! Stay tuned… in the next few days I’ll do a writeup of lessons learned so far.
The Road Less Traveled
The illustration has broad hints of Diana, who is the Roman goddess of the Moon, but not just of the Moon. She encompassed the functions of three goddesses, Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. These were the huntress, the Moon and the harvest goddesses, respectively. Roman writers such as Virgil noticed her three aspects, and nicknamed her “trivia” or “three roads.” They assigned her the duty of being the goddess of forks-in-the-road! (Note, by the way, the fact that there are three empty cups in the card design). I’m not sure how much of an Olympian distinction goddess-of-forks-in-the-road might be, but it does portray the action of the divinatory meaning well, i.e., deserting the cups of an enterprise or previous concern. The man in the illustration came to a fork in the road, and is no longer on his previous path.
There may be yet another metaphor hidden in the illustration. It is rather like what we saw in the Six of Cups. It is a concept popularized in the Golden Bough, by James Frazer, which Waite was undoubtedly familiar with (and which is the setting of this post’s feature illustration). Though much less popular today, Frazer’s views on comparative mythology and religion were once extremely influential. The concept is called the rex Nemorensis (though it appears Frazer romanticized it considerably), and if Waite and Colman Smith did indeed include it, then the illustration covers Jupiter, as well. We shall let Wikipedia explain it:
The king was the incarnation of a dying and reviving god, a solar deity who underwent a mystic marriage to a goddess of the Earth. He died at the harvest and was reincarnated in the spring. Frazer claims that this legend of rebirth is central to almost all of the world’s mythologies.
The man in the Eight of Cups no longer travels his original road. In that respect he is like Aeneas, though there is nothing in the illustration to suggest that the figure represents Aeneas in any way; and I don’t think that Waite would have thought that the Fall of Troy was of less importance than Aeneas may have thought! The golden bough itself was a gift that Aeneas used to gain entrance to the underworld so that he could consult his father after the fall of Troy and before his establishment of a new city in Italy. Thus, Aeneas visited the underworld, which is associated with Diana, but he was alive at the time. It appears we have many elements that are similar, but not quite the same.
The specific reference to Jupiter has to do with another confusing part of Diana’s identity. At times she was a identified as both male and female: Janus and Jana, Diana and Dianus; and Jupiter was Janus in this identification. At some point we have to admit that the Roman pantheon is ridiculously complicated, but of course, that was because they adopted everybody’s gods, then mixed, matched and merged them.
The bottom line is that all these “dualities”—harvest and planting, death and rebirth, male and female, Sun and Moon, old path and new path—they seem to mimic the dual nature of Waite’s divinatory meanings. First Waite gives us the “Y” junction, the fork-in-the-road of the upright meaning. Then we have the contrast: negative in the upright reading, positive in the reversed reading. The Eight of Cups is a collection of reflected images, each similar but not exactly the same as the original. But then, that’s appropriate for a card so influenced by the Moon, the goddess of reflection!
Waite had a habit of rarely stopping a paragraph, section or chapter when instead he could go on and add several irrelevant thoughts. This is one of those times where if he had stopped at the very first clause, “The card speaks for itself on the surface,” everyone concerned might have relaxed and enjoyed the interesting design all the more.
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 an infrequent but not rare occurrence (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. ” Perhaps we ought to call this the “Plan B” card!
I think it appropriate to recall the famous Robert Frost poem.
I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
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The featured image at top is based upon J. M. W. Turner’s 1833 painting of the Golden Bough incident in the Aeneid.