Tarot 101, My Way – Court Cards: The Cups Court

The members of the Cups court are the “emoters” of tarot royalty; I would have said “feelers,” but it’s too passive a word for the more assertive side of elemental Water (and it seems a little too tritely mystical in a “New-Age-y” way). They may choose to keep their feelings to themselves but are just as likely to express them plainly, even bluntly, when stimulated or provoked. (The famous line from Hamlet comes to mind: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”) They fly largely on their emotions, and can be both soft-hearted and soft-headed at the same time. They don’t have great reserves of stamina, and – like flowing water – may opt to maneuver around challenges rather than face them squarely, hoping to erode them away or simply outwait them. The term “passive/aggressive” could have been created just for them. There can be turmoil brewing beneath the placid surface but it can run deep and won’t be visible until a storm blows up; then it’s time to run for cover. The metaphors they inspire are perhaps more varied than those of the other suits, running from the benign (the quiet pond, murmuring sea or deceptively silent glacier), to the busy (the endlessly splashing stream or pattering rainstorm) to the bellicose (the angry lash of a thunderstorm, in which Water colludes with Fire and Air). One thing for certain is that they are almost always in some kind of flux, coming and going but seldom perfectly still despite giving the appearance of unflustered poise. That appearance can be an illusion founded on a desire not to incite controversy or opposition. Dealing with such a person who has decided not to engage can be an infuriating experience; they will nod absently and then do what they want anyway, unaware that they may be offending. We all know one: they hang in the background until they can no longer stand the drama and then, welcome or not, stick an oar in the water as equal parts busybody and shoulder to cry on.

The Court Cards: The King/Knight of Cups

Titles:

The Lord of the Waves and the Waters; The King of the Hosts of the Sea

Astrological Correspondence:

21° Aquarius to 21° Pisces

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Graceful, poetic, Venusian, but enthusiastic if roused. Ill-dignified, he is sensual, idle and untruthful.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

Fair man, man of business, law or divinity; responsible, disposed to oblige the Querent.; also equity, art and science, including those who profess science, law and art; creative intelligence.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“He is graceful, dilettante, with the qualities of Venus, or a weak Jupiter. He is amiable in a passive way. He is quick to respond to attraction, and easily becomes enthusiastic under such stimulus; but he is not very enduring. He is exceedingly sensitive to external influence, but with no material depth in his character.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the King of Cups represents an agreeable and sensitive older man, emotionally comfortable in his own skin but not especially stimulating to be around. He represents a sympathetic ear rather than a stout comrade-at-arms in time of need. The predominant association with the sign of Pisces yields a dreamy, intuitive and kind-hearted disposition that is all too prone to soft-hearted (and sometimes soft-headed) dithering. Although the Aquarius backdrop shows noble intentions, Pisces can be weak on follow-through. The characteristic directness of a King in the least forthright of the Water signs makes for an uneasy match. This King wrote the book on “passive/aggressive.” Like any monarch, he knows exactly what he wants but is more circuitous in his approach to it, and can be exasperating in his tendency to vacillate. He may at times seem disengaged and moody.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the King of Cups advises maintaining an even keel and not overreacting to circumstances. A pleasant demeanor and gracious manner backed by a firm resolve are keys to getting your way in the situation at hand.

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, it suggests a placid, rather benign interlude.

The Court Cards: The Queen of Cups

Titles:

Water of Water; The Queen of the Thrones of the Waters

Astrological Correspondence:

21°Gemini to 21° Cancer

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“She is imaginative, poetic, kind, yet not willing to take much trouble for another. Coquettish, good-natured underneath a dreamy appearance. Imagination stronger than feeling.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Good fair woman; honest devoted woman who will do service to the Querent; loving intelligence, and hence the gift of vision; success, happiness, pleasure; also wisdom, virtue; a perfect spouse and a good mother.” When reversed, “perverse woman; not to be trusted.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“. . . principally dreaminess, illusion and tranquility. She is the perfect agent, able to receive and transmit everything without herself being affected thereby. If ill-dignified, everything that passes through her is refracted and distorted.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the Queen of Cups is normally the epitome of superficial charm and grace, but her calculated self-interest runs deeper than that of the King of Cups, who would give the shirt off his back without a second thought (and then wonder where his favorite shirt went). This Queen paints on a vast emotional canvas crammed with every nuance of empathy and expressiveness imaginable. She can be docile to a fault and wholly impressionable, but can also have a stormy side once belatedly realizing that she has been deceived. With a primarily Cancerian nature, she excels at nurturing and mothering of the “enabling” rather than “empowering,” character-building variety; the “velvet glove” trumps the “iron fist” in most situations. Her Gemini side brings more of a “hindsight is 20/20” contrition to her typically spontaneous response to stimulus. “Look before you leap” is not her style.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the Queen of Cups encourages keeping a gentle but steady hand on the wheel and cultivating an intuitive sense of what is best for all concerned.

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, it ushers in a period of fair weather and smooth sailing; just keep one eye on the emotional barometer.

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

The Minor Arcana: The Knight/Prince of Cups

Titles:

Air of Water; the Prince of the Chariot of the Waters

Astrological Correspondence:

21° Libra to 20° Scorpio

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“He is subtle, crafty and artistic; a fierce nature with calm exterior. Powerful for good or evil, but more attracted by the evil if allied with apparent Power and Wisdom”  (that is, if evil serves his pursuit of power, wisdom and his own aims). If ill dignified, “he is intensely evil and merciless.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“A graceful dreamer” sometimes exhibiting the “higher graces of the imagination.” “Arrival, approach – sometimes that of a messenger; advances, proposition, demeanour, invitation, incitement.” When reversed, “Trickery, artifice, subtlety, swindling, duplicity, fraud.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“The moral characteristics of . . . this card are subtlety, secret violence and craft. He is intensely secret, an artist in all his ways. On the surface, he appears calm and imperturbable, but this is a mask of the most intense passion. He is on the surface susceptible to external influences, but he accepts them only to transmute them to the advantage of his secret designs. He is thus completely without conscience in the ordinary sense of the word, and is therefore usually distrusted by his neighbors. He feels no responsibility to others, and . . . cannot be relied upon to work in harness.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the Knight of Cups is someone to keep a close eye on. Superficially, he may seem like a mild-mannered, thoroughly innocuous sort who never has a harsh word to say about anyone (at least to their face). But  he harbors powerful compulsions just beneath that agreeable facade, all the while maintaining a studied composure. He is someone to be trusted only as far as you can see him, and then only if his back isn’t turned toward you. As a Knight he is forward-looking and seldom retraces his steps, although he may second-guess himself in matters of the heart, making him a less than reliable partner. He may be prone to self-indulgence because of his egocentric nature, and more restless than steady in his manner. He always has something to offer, but it might not be what is wanted nor will it come without strings attached.

The Knight of Cups can be a conflicted character in whom a  professed desire to help can be derailed by self-absorbed apathy. He can “talk the talk,” but that may be as far as it goes. Indulgence quarrels with self-indulgence to the point that he may throw up his hands and walk away. He invariably feels in his heart that whatever he decides to do is right, even if it doesn’t square with what his head is telling him. “It will all come out in the wash” might be his motto, as he washes his hands of responsibility. He may say “I’ve got your back,” but what he really means is “Call me if you need anything.” He could be sympathetic to your plight but not fully engaged or committed. The thought “Nice guys finish last” is always lurking at the back of his mind.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the Knight of Cups encourages a canny self-restraint, cultivating a “poker face” and never tipping your hand too soon. The “fine art of the bluff” (or the believable half-truth) may be your best friend in the situation. Keep your true feelings close to the vest until the tide changes decisively in your favor.

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, this card advises staying alert for hidden agendas and “back-room” maneuvers. Something about the situation may not be what it seems. Don’t take the first offer that comes along, hold out for a more equitable one.

The Court Cards: The Page/Princess of Cups

Titles:

Earth of Water; The Princess of the Waters; the Lotus of the Palace of the Floods

Astrological Correspondence:

The southwest quadrant of the zodiac, comprising the signs of Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius.

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Sweetness, poetry, gentleness and kindness. Imaginative, dreamy at times, indolent, yet courageous if roused. When ill-dignified, she is selfish and luxurious.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“A studious youth; news, message; application, reflection, meditation; all these things directed to business. Reversed: Taste, inclination, attachment, seduction, deception, artifice.” May also represent a “fair young man, one impelled to render service and with whom the Querent will be connected.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“The character of the Princess is infinitely gracious. All sweetness, all voluptuousness, gentleness, kindness and tenderness are in her character. She lives in the world of Romance, in the perpetual dream of rapture. On a superficial examination, she might be thought selfish and indolent, but this is a quite false impression; silently and effortlessly she goes about her work.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the Page/Princess of Cups has been described as the “actor” of the tarot court; it was also pointed out that this is one of the cards where the figure appears to be posed on a stage, dressed as a player. The image in the RWS version even suggests Hamlet contemplating the skull (or in this case the “scrod”) of Yorick. This typically younger person is someone  who can wear many masks, and it may be difficult to tell which is the true face and which an appealing disguise, or where the persona ends and the person begins. The mild demeanor is usually not a ruse, although it may take on some fanciful coloration befitting the chameleon-like personality it conceals. There is a “wet behind the ears” freshness that may be too callow to support any kind of meaningful connection, but casual encounters are sure to be delightful and inspiring. Not quite as much of a grinning “Good-time Charlie” as the Page/Princess of Wands, but not far behind.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the Page/Princess of Cups encourages a “light-hearted, light on your feet” amiability that wields a “soft touch” and doesn’t take the situation too seriously. Just “go with the flow and roll with the punches;” life is too short to fight every battle “to the death.” A winning smile and an agreeable manner will take you a long way.

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, this card expresses an easy familiarity that is charitable to all and rubs nobody the wrong way. Kindness, gentleness and a sprightly bonhomie prevail; as the old saying goes, “honey will catch more flies than vinegar.” It suggest the kind of social engagement where “a good time was had by all.”

I have an earlier series of posts titled “Court Card Thumbnails” from which the text of this study material was lifted verbatim, so there is no need to link them here. There are a number of more general essays on the court cards that may be of interest; search on “Courts” in the “Select Category” drop-down menu on the home page.

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