A king sits upon a throne that floats on the surface of the ocean. In his right hand is a goblet; in his left, a scepter. Behind him, a three-masted schooner plies the waves, and a fish playfully leaps out of the water.
The King of Cups represents the “fiery” element of water, the component of water that is most prone to transformation. Fire and water, combined, produce steam, which floats naturally upwards and returns to earth as rain. The King, therefore, represents the spiritual “hydrological cycle” of ascent and descent—”as above, so below”—that summarizes God’s relationship with man. You can see this idea represented in the King’s attire: the top half of his body is clothed in shades of (fiery) red and yellow, and the lower half in a shade of blue that matches the water on which he floats.
The King, of all the court cards in Cups, is the only one who seems capable of “walking on water,” which suggests a mastery of the unconscious mind and a parallel with another “king” who was said to have been capable of a similar feat. Perhaps that is why this card is often associated with the fields of philosophy, psychology or organized religion.
The King has traditionally been associated with the zodiacal sign of mutable water: Pisces, “the fishes.” This also suggests the religious impulse as we have discussed in previous chapters, and the blue fish in the background balances the fire-red schooner; one signifies an active cognitive principle, the other a passive intuitive principle, and it is this balancing of opposites—of fire and water, intellect and intuition—that makes the King a wise and successful sovereign.
Meanings of this card can include: Emotional stability, dreams made manifest, the power of faith, spiritual transformation, miracles in general, and conventionally, an older man born under a water sign; but also indecision, shallowness, faithlessness and idolatry. As the King who walks upon the waters reminds us of the importance of faith—of the belief in things unseen—so too should we strive every day to remember that we, too, have the power to perform miracles in our own lives, and in the lives of others.