The Pips of Love

The reading of the pips—the non-court minor arcana—is sometimes said to correspond between the numbers one through ten of each suit on the one hand, and the numbered major arcana one through ten. It then repeats, one through ten of the minor to eleven to twenty of the major, plus one more for the twenty first card.

Jodorowsky (The Way of Tarot, 2004) is one of the chief proponents of this point of view. He also portrays himself as a tarot purist. We can summarize his view of the pips (albeit a very severe and incomplete summary) as:

  • One/Ace: potential, corresponding to the Magician’s knowledge and skill, not yet applied.
  • Two: concept: an initial but not fully formed thought, corresponding to the High Priestess’ intuitive powers.
  • Three: first stages of implementation or growth, corresponding to the fertility and nurturing qualities of the Empress.
  • Four: order and organization, corresponding to the traits of the Emperor.
  • Five: expansion and maturing, corresponding to the riches and maturity of organized spirituality, as represented by the Hierophant.
  • Six: attraction, beauty and enjoyment, corresponding to the attraction and social commitment of the Lovers.
  • Seven: action, corresponding to the victorious and princely driver of the Chariot.
  • Eight: balance or harmony, corresponding to Justice, self-explanatory.
  • Nine: withdrawal and solitude, corresponding to the Hermit, also self-explanatory.
  • Ten: realization, actualization and completion, corresponding to a full turn of the Wheel of Fortune.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century tarot revivalists augmented these meanings, sometimes through secondary systems such as qabalah and astrology, but the general “shape” was still maintained. The Golden Dawn group and Arthur Waite (although the latter re-arranged the numbering of certain cards) described their additional meanings in the writings they left behind.

With that in mind we examine the writings of The Book T, Mathers’ Tarot, and the Waite’s Pictorial Guide, specifically seeking references to Love, then seeing how they correspond to each other and to the organized structure summarized above. We shall examine only the pips two through ten; no court cards, and no aces (as they are the roots and unformed). We will then examine the Colman Smith illustrations. If you follow this site, you know of my interest in the symbols of tarot and of how they amplify the meaning(s) of the card. We shall attempt to reconcile the structure above with the outlooks of the books just mentioned, then see if all is consistent with the symbols in the illustrations..

The outstanding impression upon searching each of the texts mentioned is that romantic “love” and its associated concepts almost exclusively belong to the suit of cups. Of course, Cups are specifically the suit of emotions which include love. Where the word “love” appears in relation to other suits, it is usually used to describe the love of things, not humans. In fact, the Book T only once relates love to a separate suit when describing these pips, namely swords, and that is in as negative aspect of love.

Let’s look at the individual cards.

The Two of Cups

Two of Cups RWS
Two of Cups RWS

Waite states that in its upright position, the Two of Cups is “Favourable in things of pleasure and business, as well as love; also wealth and honour. (In) Reversed: Passion.” Colman Smith’s illustration, of the young man and woman who pledge each other with their cups is completely in line with the established meaning of the “initial” step. In this respect, one can cover both the initial stages of friendship leading to marriage, or the initial stage of marriage itself, the honeymoon, the “uniting” ceremony itself. In the RWS illustration, besides the man and woman, we see the Caduceus, a symbol associated with Hermes, and signifying blessing of a venture. It appears that the message is that this first step will therefore be blessed. The Caduceus symbol dates at least as far back as Babylon. The double snake signifies male and female; much like Jung’s animus/anima archetype which we have previously discussed. The winged Lion was often depicted with the Caduceus. The overall symbolism is that of a god of spring, appropriate for incorporation as a symbol in a card signifying a very early growth stage. The Book T delivers an even stronger love-related message than Waite: “Marriage, love, pleasure. Warm friendship…” “Harmony of masculine and feminine united. Harmony, pleasure, mirth, subtlety, sometimes folly, dissipation, waste, and silly action, according to dignity…” “LORD OF LOVE” Note the phrase “masculine and feminine united,” an almost certain hint for the Caduceus. It is the overriding symbol of the Two of Cups. For the modern reader looking for a more up-to-date message in this card, “conception” may not be too powerful a word.

The Five of Cups

Five of Cups RWS
Five of Cups RWS

Waite says of the meaning of the Five of Cups: a card of marriage, but not without bitterness or frustration. This could certainly be in line with the guidance noted in the beginning of this article, “expansion and maturing, corresponding to the riches and maturity of organized spirituality.” Though it may sound somewhat trite: here we are at exactly half way through the series of one to ten, and Colman Smith’s illustration could be interpreted as one of the partners having a mid-life crisis. This would certainly be a modern interpretation which may be worthwhile for a reader to keep in mind. The symbolism of the card shows a river separating two landscapes, one containing a city, the other side, where stands the figure, five emptied cups. A bridge in the distance joins the two sides. It is understated but effective symbolism. Again, the Book T is stronger in its message: “Death or end of pleasures: disappointment, sorrow and loss in those things from which pleasure is expected. Sadness, deceit, treachery, ill-will, detraction, charity and kindness ill-requited. All kinds of anxieties and troubles from unexpected and unsuspected sources.” “Disappointments in love, marriage broken off, unkindness from a friend, loss of friendship.” Clearly though the illustration may not cry out “love,” the Five of Cups should be considered by the reader as a pessimistic assessment of love in middle age.

The Eight of Cups

Eight of Cups RWS
Eight of Cups RWS

We stated above that the general guidance for the pips indicates that the eight should convey “balance or harmony.” Waite said the message was “Marriage with a fair woman. Reversed: Perfect satisfaction.” The illustration, a solitary man walking along the sea coast or through a marsh at night, is hardly a romantic image. Mathers may provide a clue: “A fair Girl, Friendship, Attachment, Tenderness; Reversed Meaning: Gaiety, Feasting, Joy, Pleasure.” (Let us note as an aside that Mathers is sometimes at odds with Waite in giving a more positive meaning to a reversal than to the same card in the upright position. We will no doubt return to that in a future article). I think the Moon, the greatest symbol of feminine mystery, is that fair woman. For Waite, whom we’ve documented in other articles as having had problems accepting the physical side of femininity, perhaps balance or harmony between the sexes can only be achieved by distance. I rather think that a reader would do well to recall the advice of Alexandre Dumas (père) here: Cherchez la femme! A more full explanation was given by him in a play “There is a woman in every case; as soon as someone brings me a report, I say, “Look for the woman!” When found, we will no doubt have found our balance. For a modern reader, then, the takeaway for the Eight of Cups might be… are you missing a partner?

Ten of Cups

Ten of Cups RWS
Ten of Cups RWS
Ten of Cups (Lo Scarabeo)
Ten of Cups (Lo Scarabeo)

Waite states the meaning of the Ten of Cups is: “For a male Querent, a good marriage and one beyond his expectations. Reversed: Sorrow; also a serious quarrel.” The symbols in Colman Smith’s card—rainbow full of abundance, prosperous farm, happy family, and dancing children, certainly correspond to the “realization, actualization and completion, corresponding to a full turn of the Wheel of Fortune,” as laid out in the introduction to this article. I would point to the Lo Scarebeo deck illustration to clarify the Waite illustration for this card. Sometimes the Lo Scarebeo, by Mark McElroy and Anna Lazzarini, cuts through Waite’s stiffness, though it largely keeps the same symbols. In this card, the entire family raises their glasses to the rainbow, celebrating their good fortune. It certainly is the realization of individual, familial and societal love all in one. A beautiful card in a beautiful deck! (Forgive me if I am overenthused; I just received my copy of it today!)

Other Cups and Love

The Book T, which can never be said to be over-optimisic (a fact I like; sometimes the over-positive interpretations of modern books on Tarot can be too PollyAnna-ish), states of the Seven of Cups: “Drunkenness, wrath, vanity, lust, fornication, violence against women. Selfish dissipation. Deception in love and friendship.” Thus a message about love can be quite negative. The descriptions here could easily correspond to the “action” meaning in number seven of the points mentioned for the traditional reading of the pips, though negatively. And they are hardly victorious, but action nonetheless. Somewhat similarly, of the Three of Cups, the Book T states “Abundance, plenty, success, pleasure, sensuality, passive success, good luck and fortune. Love, gladness, kindness and bounty. According to dignity.” This brings to mind the top-of-the-world feeling of one’s first adult love affair. It is certainly in line with the traditional description of the third pip, “first stages of implementation or growth.” The Colman Smith illustration is of the three female friends dancing and drinking. I think a more up-to-date interpretation for today’s readers should emphasize the “first stages of implementation or growth.” Whether it be clubbing or partying, or pizza and Netflix binges with the significant other, the Three of Cups should be about the first bloom of adulthood, and the exploration of physical love, in my opinion.

Love and Pips in the Other Suits

As this article has grown significantly longer than my original expectation (but then, as with Raymond Carver’s book title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, that’s what happens with love stories) we will cover references to romantic love, or lack thereof, in the other suits as short bullets.

  • the Eight of Wands: Waite: “Domestic disputes for a married person.” Mathers Reversed Meaning: “Quarrels, Intestine disputes, Discord.” I can only imagine that the “balance” and “justice” here stems from a rather old fashioned masculine point of view that when the wife is as strong as the husband, fighting shall ensue.
  • the Six of Wands: Mathers: “Reversed Meaning: Infidelity, Treachery, Disloyalty, Perfidy.” Sounds like a decided lack of attraction and beauty to me; so the traditional interpretation of the numbered pips holds here, in the reverse.
  • the Five of Wands: The Book T: “Quarreling. Fighting.” “Violent strife and contest, boldness, rashness, cruelty, violence, lust and desire, prodigality and generosity, depending on well or ill dignified.” Though less about love than about its absence, it reminds of the “mid-life crisis” of the Five of Cups.
  • the Five of Pentacles: Waite:Reversed: “Troubles in love.” Another mid-life crisis. We could probably write a whole article on Tarot and the mid-life crisis, I suspect. Mathers is a bit more specific: “Lover or Mistress, Love, Sweetness, Affection, Pure and Chaste Love; Reversed Meaning: Disgraceful Love, Imprudence, License, Profligacy.” Somehow, I think Mathers was a much more fun-to-be-with kind of guy than Waite was.
  • the Seven of Pentacles: Mathers: “Improved position for a lady’s future husband.” Perhaps a modern reader may wish to ask the querent if their significant other just got a raise and is shopping for a fancy car!

In conclusion, since questions about love can commonly occupy the reader’s slate, a good understanding of those pips that have been said to have a specific message related to love may be a worthwhile understanding to have.


Besides being an amazing film-maker, Jodorowsky has made contributions to Tarot, particularly to the re-popularization of the Marseille deck. His YouTube readings (if you understand Spanish) are nothing short of amazing.

Having bought a book or two from them, and now this deck, I am fairly convinced that Lo Scarabeo is incapable of publishing anything less than beautiful.

If the Amazon ads bother anyone, my apologies. If anyone buys one, I probably get about 75 cents, but the point is to make the books and other media available. Excuse me while I go into pontificate mode, but the fact is that with Amazon having put the neighborhood book stores out of business, it’s pretty difficult to find a full rack of Tarot books to browse to see what suits one. So book reviews and recommendations are important, in my opinion!

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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?