Q: If there’s one thing I should think about today, what would it be?
A: This.Among the cards of the Minor Arcana, this is the signifier of dreams and delusions, of the active imagination, and of the potential dangers posed by the unconscious mind; and when it appears in a reading, it can suggest that we turn away momentarily from the distractions of the world, to re-examine our lives and to re-assess our priorities lest we fall into mistaken and (often) destructive ways of thinking. The card can also indicate a choice to be made, quite often in romance but more generally in any kind of relationship, be it in the home or in the marketplace. It can also suggest a need to simplify our lives, that perhaps we are trying to juggle “too many cups” at once and trying to be “all things to all people”; this can be just as overwhelming to our psyches as any nightmare or hallucination, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of our time, too much “multitasking” is not a healthy way to live.
Still, the card leaves us a lot of leeway for interpretation, so as an exercise, I devised a seven-card spread to illustrate the many ways the card can be read when we contemplate the many choices we make throughout our lives. Roughly corresponding to a seven-card “planetary” spread, each card corresponds to one of the “prizes”—each of which signifies a basic human impulse—that are tempting the silhouetted seeker in the card. Starting counterclockwise, from the lower right to the upper right, and concluding with the veiled figure in the center, the cards signify the following:
1. The “monster” card: What are my worst fears?
2. The “laurel” card: What are my highest aspirations?
3. The “jewel” card: How are material matters affecting me?
4. The “castle” card: What affect is this having on my home life?
5. The “angel” card: What affect is this having on my capacity to love others?
6. The “serpent” card: What do I know that’s most helpful now?
7. The “veil” card: What do I not know that would be most helpful now?
In the spread, the Seven is used as the Significator, and the cards are laid out around it pyramid-style, right to left in this fashion:
7 of Cups
1. What are my worst fears? Nine of Swords. This is about as self-explanatory as it gets in a Tarot reading, and in conjunction with the Seven of Cups it can suggest that we feel that we have made poor choices in life and that we are having a hard time “letting go” of our frustrations and regrets, and moving on to a more productive stage of life. It can also signify a kind of paralysis—an unwillingness to “get out of bed in the morning” for fear of choosing poorly—or even for fear of life itself, which exacts its own psychic toll.
2. What is my highest aspiration? Death. No need to panic. In a reading, this card in this position tends to suggest that whatever “choice” we are considering has already been made for us, that if we would simply open our eyes, we would see that whatever our perceived dilemmas in life are, there is always a “new day dawning” within our Selves just as there is in the card of Death. It also suggests a deep-seated desire to “kill off” old and unproductive ways of living and literally “start over.” In this position within the spread, and with the proper attitude on our part, the so-called “death card” can augur well for us!
Whatever choice we make in this regard, however, we need only remind ourselves of one important detail. Take a close look at the laurel wreath pictured in the Seven of Cups. Note how the cup that holds it is distinguished from the other cups by a “death’s head” insignia that has been engraved into it. This should remind us that whatever our “highest aspirations” may be, they can have potentially destructive consequences if we do not pursue them in a spirit of meekness and humility. In our desire to conquer worlds near and far, we must take care not to cause harm unto others. Remember the pavement on the road to hell!
3. How are material matters affecting me? King of Swords. It’s interesting that this card appeared here, since (a) it is my personal SIgnificator card, and (b) as regular readers of this blog are aware, my personal finances haven’t terribly healthy of late. Governed by the sign of Gemini, the ever-alternating “yin-yang” energy force of the zodiac, the card in this position suggests that material wealth is likely to be a case of “feast or famine” in our lives, and in either event, we shouldn’t let that reality affect our decision-making to an unhealthy degree. If we are looking at the prospect of a new job, for instance, we shouldn’t place too great an emphasis on salary and compensation alone. Jobs, like swords, can “cut both ways,” and a high-paying job that makes us miserable and keeps us awake at night (like that fella in the Nine of Swords?) is rarely preferable to a lower-paying job that challenges and fulfills us. Like the kingdom of the Air over which this King reigns, material matters are spiritually ephemeral and materially impermanent.
4. How is this affecting my home life? Five of Cups. An exclamation point to the previous card, the Five here warns us against placing too great a priority on material gain in our decision-making, symbolized here by the figure of the shrouded figure who would rather grieve over what cannot be retrieved than celebrating the bounty that remains. Blinding himself to the wider world, he has literally “lost his way home,” even though a bridge in the distance beckons him to the castle he has wisely built on rock. In our lives, when we allow vain and narcissistic impulses such as self-pity to govern our lives, we lose our way home as mature and individuated beings. Granted, sometimes a “season in the wilderness” is an important component of psychic rejuvenation, but it is easy to overdo it, and some people spend their entire lives feeling sorry for themselves, and hence never knowing the safety and security of their true “spiritual home”. Learning to let go of sorrow, to forgive others—and ourselves—of offenses and slights, real and imagined, is one of the most significant and transformative endeavors we can attempt in this world. In our reading, the Five should remind us that while “there will be poor always,” we don’t have to be poor in spirit, and should always be willing to cherish and share the blessings we’ve been given, no matter how meager they may seem to us at the moment.
5. How is this affecting my capacity to love? The Star. As with the Nine of Swords earlier, The Star in this position is self-explanatory, an “angel” card of the highest regard that reminds us that love is ever present within and without us; that our capacity to love is as limitless as the waters that pour from the water-bearer’s ewer; and in fact, that love is crucial if we are to achieve the state of spiritual equilibrium that is signified by the card. If we feel an “incapacity” to love, it is merely an error in thinking that our spiritual path-work means to correct, and appearing as it does in a spread with Death, the card suggests to us that the “choice” to love, like the “choices” of birth and death, has already been made—it is as essential to us as food and water, and as natural to us as breathing.
6. What do I know that is most helpful now? Princess of Cups. The Princess is governed by the sign of Scorpio, which is said to rule the realms of occult studies as well as of sexuality and birth. Paired opposite Death (also governed by Scorpio) in this spread, the card suggests a spiritual or psychic awakening—a “rebirth” within us that can be of help to us when important decisions need to be made, as well as of the desirability to rid ourselves of old and outmoded ways of thinking. In the Tarot court, Princesses are generally interpreted as apprentices or students, signifying a willingness to learn. Similarly, the longer we work with the cards, studying and meditating upon them in earnest, the more we gradually unlock their secrets—and with them, we gain greater psychic insights. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen eventually.
In a spread with the Seven of Cups, however, the card can also sound a cautionary note. We must take care when we engage in esoteric studies; if we do not prepare ourselves (i.e., do our homework) properly, it is possible to misuse our psychic abilities and in so doing cause great harm unto others—or equally, to ourselves. The fish in the goblet may be beckoning the Princess to “jump in the waters” of the occult, but as she is still a novice adept, she prefers for now to remain on dry land.
7. What do I not know that would be most helpful now? Ace of Wands. Paired opposite the mournful Nine of Swords in this spread, the Ace unambiguously reminds us that we have the ability to “get a grip” and take control of our lives at virtually any time; misery and sorrow have very little power over us beyond what we give them—they are not acts of God, after all! Wands govern the intuitive powers of the universal mind, and the Ace of Wands—which, as the “first card” in the counting order of the Minor Arcana, represents the “first thought” that brought all existence into being. Similarly, it reminds us that the same Divine “spark” of “creation energy” that brought about the cosmos exists like a expanding sea of light in each of us, and that we have the power to accomplish whatever we can imagine should we choose to exercise it. In a reading such as this, with the Seven of Cups, it tells us that whatever decision we find ourselves needing to make, we seldom go wrong if, after due deliberation, we follow our truest intuition. More often than not, we err if we discount our abilities and “sell ourselves short” in any given pursuit. Your humble blogger can speak from experience to the truth of this—more times than he cares to recall!