The Nine of Cups – A One Page Guide

Nine of Cups - IsleVue One Page Guide to Card Derivations

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.” Apart from its innate good nature, how do we make sense of a tarot card that seems to be all surface and no deep meanings?

Simple, we trust that Colman Smith has placed the deep meanings right on the surface. We just have to recognize the pattern.Trust the pixie!

Once we see the pattern, is it not too obvious that the Nine of Cups is about sex?

As usual, these introductory posts convey additional analysis, as well as a link to the PDF version below, which is better to print from than the bitmap above. This is number twenty-seven in the series. Two thirds done! The series traces the influences shown in the Zodiac Tarot Wheel, pictured below, to the divinatory meanings and storyboards of the minor arcana cards numbered 2 through 10 of the RWS deck.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Mostly Sex

Nine of Cups isolated figure

Let us list the sexual elements and innuendos:

  • Yesod, whose physical aspect is the sexual organs is the qabalistic influence. That the point-of-view of the card as a whole is masculine is accounted for by the fact that Yesod is considered masculine.
  • Our “goodly personage” has a double helping of Jupiter! The planetary influence and decan ruler, Jupiter, when not busy throwing thunderbolts seems to have spent most of his time in sexual pursuits.
  • Terms in Waite’s divinatory meanings include “physical” and “satisfaction.”
  • The counter is loaded with vessels; note that he doesn’t even hold one yet; they’re all upright, and full of liquid, unlike most of the other cards in the suit of Cups.
  • The hat, rounded shoulders and general outline of the figure appear deliberately drawn to appear phallic, ridiculously so, in fact. Perhaps we should call him little Mister Penis-Head!
  • Waite notes the “arched counter” behind him… which we see that Colman Smith has portrayed in the shape of the female pelvic region.
  • Waite notes he has feasted (had his pleasure) and what awaits is the liquid refreshment.
  • Waite’s statement that “the future is assured” could be interpreted as his forthcoming offspring, i.e., genetic continuity.
  • Waite’s description of “material side” and “other aspects” can certainly pertain to reproduction.
  • The card’s place in the cycle puts him just before the family seen in the Ten of Cups.
  • Note the relation between the Hanged Man, the card related to the elemental influence for this card and the death erection phenomenon as noted in art and literature. (I had always thought that William S. Burroughs had invented that as a type of urban myth, but it goes back at least as far as the renaissance, apparently!)
  • The reversed meaning includes “mistakes, imperfections,” which could be indicative of an unsuccessful sex act or failed offspring. We note that Venus rules the opposite decan, and have mentioned elsewhere that this appears to affect reversed divinatory meanings or the layouts in RWS.

The motif of sex seems consistent with the other Nines we’ve looked at thus far. We saw in the Nine of Swords that Waite took a “blame it on Eve” approach, and in the Nine of Pentacles, we wrote that he possibly felt threatened by strong women with no need for a man. But we should not conclude that the Nines are only about sex. There is an interesting pattern described in the Pictorial Key to the Tarot regarding the recurrence of Nines in a draw as: “4 Nines = a good friend; 3 Nines = success; 2 Nines = receipt;” that seems like the progress of physical love to me! Not only that, the little guy in this Nine is the good friend, the lady of the Nine of Pentacles, success, and the man in the Nine of Wands (which we haven’t done a one page guide to yet) the “receipt.” The latter can be seen as the character having been in “receipt” of a blow to the head!. Though we must also mention the eytmology of the word “receipt” indicates it comes from the word “received,” which may in fact be a comment upon the sex act.

IsleVue Tarot-Zodiac-Element-Sephiroth Wheel of the Golden Dawn

Just as importantly, we must recognize the importance of Yesod, and its place in the numeric cycle. Nine is the highest value before the end of the cycle. In this respect, it makes perfect sense that the Nine of Cups is about the sex act, and that the Ten is the beginning of the next cycle, showing the family and fatherhood.

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 needed to recognize a pattern in the 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.

Background for feature image by Christian_Birkholz from Pixabay


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by John Iacovelli, for islevue.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at mailto:admin@islevue.com.

John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot? 😉