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Exploring the House of Cups: Emotions, Relationships, and Water
Tarot cards have been around for centuries. There are arguments about the origin of them whether in Europe, from religions in the Middle East, or Egypt. They became popular in Europe in the mid-15th century; however, they were used simply for entertainment and play during this time.
Later in the 18th century, people began to use them for divination. The cards are said to have all the basic experiences of humans and the knowledge of the universe, so for some shuffling a deck of beautifully designed Tarot cards and coming up with answers to our biggest mysteries is therapeutic. Perhaps it's prophetic.
- Cards play off symbols which is the basis of language.
- Our minds naturally want to make patterns and systems out of the things around us.
- When we compartmentalize our experiences down into the basics it becomes clear what kind of possibilities are before us.
- Playing with Tarot cards is like sitting down in front of a piano and hitting keys to make music. At the end of the day, it is creative expression.
I didn't write this hub to make a case on whether or not Tarot cards can actually predict the future. This hub is here to help you uncover some of the meanings behind the symbols in one of the most beloved suits: the House of Cups.
Arcane Understandings of Water
The House of Cups symbolizes water and emotions. Each suit contains 14 cards. Ace through 10 and four face cards: the page, the knight, the queen, and the king. The four suits make up the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 21 numbered cards with a variety of symbols, face cards, and fortunes. The fool is an unnumbered card that can be used for the number zero or 22.
Arcane: understood by few; mysterious or secret.
Six cards from the Major Arcana also belong to the element of water: High Priestess, Chariot, Hanged Man, Death, Moon, and Judgment.
Cups: in some decks these may be referred to as goblets or chalices. Cups are a symbol to merge paths, to commune with others, rituals, and even the risk of taking poison. In common playing cards, the cups are replaced with hearts.
Western Astrology: there are three signs in the zodiac that represent water. Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Cancer represents the beginning of summer, Scorpio is the center of fall, and Pisces is the end of winter and the end of the cycle. Water is the fourth element that comes into fruition in the zodiac cycle following Aries, Taurus, and Gemini. Some see Cancer as the mother of the zodiac. She is pregnant and gives birth to Aries, the first child; Taurus, the second child; and Gemini the twins.
Chinese Zodiac: the Rat and the Pig are considered to be based in water energy. The Chinese Zodiac is based on a 12 year cycle where Western Astrology is based on one year. The Rat and Pig begin and end a 12 year cycle. Rat is considered a yang energy. The pig is considered a yin energy. The rat and pig are both associated with winter. They associate with the cold, the numbers 1 and 6, the North, salty tastes, fear, conserving energy, the planet Mercury, and the Heavenly Creature the Black Tortoise.
Water Associations in History and Science
We can look at all the things people say about the zodiac, Tarot cards, and the like, but I think the real goal of the House of Cups is to understand water. I think it's meant to be more practical than esoteric.
- I think these cards are ultimately meant to be narrative storytelling devices.
- They're meant to encourage us to learn more about what is around us.
- The cards are meant to teach us about ourselves, the people we meet, and nature.
- I think cards amplified with symbols can lend themselves to questions about the future and ourselves.
- We all wish we could have predictive powers because ultimately we want to make good decisions.
So how can we predict the future? The two best tools are through history and science. If you look to historians, they'll tell you about the patterns we repeat. They have strong data to prove themselves. Scientists look at how things operate within our naturally occurring cycles. They too have strong data about our reality. There are no better prophetic tools than these two school of thoughts. You will go far by studying history and science.
So then what does the House of Cups represent?
In history, the cards represent friendships, romances, relationships, depression, disease, and death. These would be the stories of people coming together, battles lost, kings suddenly falling ill. Many see Christianity as attached to the House of Cups, you have the 12 disciples, the holy grail, the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Not to mention all the imagery associated with fishing, turning water into wine, the calming of the storm, or the story about washing feet. The gospels are full of associations to the zodiac Pisces.
Take a moment now and think for a moment where you can think of water emotions in history -- and maybe myth making too. The black plague is full of water energy, some say it came from the energy of Scorpio. Remember it wasn't that long ago that water was seen as near impossible to cross and was associated with death. Floods were some of the most disturbing events in the past. We've accelerated our understanding of water and now know how to cross it.
In science, we associate water with life. We can trace back the early origins of life back to the ocean and tiny single cells. Without water, you'll die. Dehydration leads to more anxiety. Without water you age faster. You need water to survive. It has the oxygen and hydrogen that your body requires. Your body is considered to be made up of 60% water. H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158 reported:
- The brain and heart are composed of 73% water.
- The lungs: 83% water.
- Skin: 64% water.
- Muscles and kidneys: 79% water.
- Bones: 31%.
Humans are essentially water. When the cup is full, you have water and things are well. You want cups to be upright. You want your cup overflowing.
When a cup is pointed downward, that means water is escaping from you. This will lead to sadness, depression, despair, anxiety, disease, and ultimately death. At some point for all of us mortals: the chalice will eventually point down. We will all one day meet our poison. Some of us would just like to delay it as long as possible and keep the cup pointed toward the sky and the heavens.
It's hard not to see Christianity taking on some of these symbols. Christ offers himself as the eternal cup. He is the holy grail. The chalice we all wish to find: immortality. The ancients were obsessed with that quest -- and in contemporary times we too are seeking for it. We want to live. We want to beat the cycle that has death written into it.
Fire -- energy, movement, free-will, action
Earth -- physical manifestation, wealth, prosperity, career
Air -- space and time, color, spectrum, intelligence, the mind, thoughts
Water -- life, organic reality, emotions, relationships, romance, existence
It Comes in Many Different Forms
Water is diverse. It can take on many different shapes, properties, and intensities:
Water seeks to spread. It blends with the atmosphere and conditions around it. It knows how to escape, how to hide in the air, and to nourish flora. It can also be deadly. Drowning is a distinct and terrifying possibility. We use water to clean, to cook, and to quench our thirst. It's an incredible element. It is the fulcrum needed for organic life to exist. Water that isn't in balance won't be able to support living creatures. Polluted water is an upside down chalice.
Civilizations tended to start in areas with water. Settlers would look for places to irrigate. Ancient humans likely evolved in areas with waterways in Africa.
- Humans are one of two mammal species that don't know how to instinctively swim. We're in league with the giraffes.
- Scientists believe planets and moons that have water could support life and may have organisms on them.
- You think better when you have plenty of water in your system as opposed to when you're dehydrated.
The chalice is meant to capture water. We bring the cup to the faucet, the pitcher to the well. Our body is the chalice waiting to be filled. The cup is the mechanism -- the water is the element. It's also the cure, the nourishment, and the foundation.
- The planet holds the oceans.
- The cup holds the drink.
- The bathtub holds the cleanliness.
- The needle holds the vaccine.
The Minor Arcana
Ace of Cups
Description: A hand with a cup reaches out of white clouds. Water overflows out if it. The cup symbolizes the head where your mind, intuition, emotions, and senses all live or are processed. Below the cup is a sea with flower buds ready to bloom and spread their flora. The cup is about spiritual awakening. The Ace of Cups is making an offer. It encourages you to delve deeper into your creativity and dreams. The card asks: will you take this cup and come with me to a new understanding?
Upright: love, empathy, compassion, understanding, intuition, new relationships, youth, initiation, communion.
Reversed: aging, self-love, self-centered, conserving focus, repressed emotions, repressed creativity, repressed soul.
Two of Cups
Description: Two young people meet. They offer different cups to each other. They face one another. Their arms are intertwined. They share cups as if in a ritual, a wedding, or a sacrament. Snakes with wings come out of the cups. The snake tails intertwine. The couple is pledging their love for each other. This card is often considered parallel to the Lovers card. The snakes coming out of the cups represent the Caduceus of Hermes, a winged staff often used as a symbol in ancient times for commerce, trade, and exchange.
Upright: coupling, lovers, mutual attraction, intimacy, youth, new beginnings, initial contracts, pledges, tokens of love, secrecy, vows.
Reversed: breakups, falling away from each other, disagreement, unraveling, loosening grip, disconnect, divorce.
Three of Cups
Description: Three young women are dancing together. They each lift up a cup in the sky. The women are dressed for a special occasion. They have flowers in their long hair, they wear dresses, and they face each other. They're toasting in celebration. There is a sense of lifting each other up and looking forward to the future. The ground is layered with flora. The image is joyous. They're likely dancing at a wedding. They are the daughters of Jerusalem celebrating a bride and groom.
Upright: friendship, celebration, joy, togetherness, lifting each other up, dancing, movement, activity, weddings, festivity, gatherings.
Reversed: Independence, living in a bubble, solitary, third wheel, not fitting, awkwardness, socially aloof.
Four of Cups
Description: A man sits under a tree with his arms stretched over his chest. He is in meditation. He is caught off guard by a hand that reaches toward him with a cup. He looks at the cup, he begins to consider the possibilities of it. Three cups sit on the ground next to him -- he doesn't notice these. He may be so engrossed in his thoughts that he doesn't see the cup in the person's hand. He is in such deep contemplation that he has paused opportunities around him.
Upright: contemplation, pause, serenity, reevaluation, self-control, dispel action, stillness, quietness, re-frame.
Reversed: withdrawal from others, skeptical, overprotective, defensive, avoidance, critical, judgmental, harsh.
Five of Cups
Description: A man is standing and looking down at three fallen cups. The water has run out of them. Two cups stand upright behind him. The fallen cups symbolize his disappointments with failure. He is fixated on the losses, and he doesn't see the opportunities and chances behind him. In the background: a bridge crosses over a river and leads to a castle. The bridge is a message to build over troubled waters. He must keep going to eventually find prosperity. Don't let some setbacks stop you entirely. Mourn over the losses. Keep searching.
Upright: regret, failure, hopeless, despondent, disappointed, loss, rejection, mourning, grief, trauma.
Reversed: setbacks, moving on, forgiveness, healing, hope, forward thinking, forward emotions, releasing sorrow, ready for new challenges.
Six of Cups
Description: a young boy leans forward and passes a cup filled with flowers to a young girl. The girl looks at the other child with adoration, innocence, and excitement. It's considered a gentle act of friendship, a reminder of childhood, and nostalgic feelings. The two children could be siblings. In the background: an older man walks away as if symbolizing that you don't need to focus so much on your adult issues. The children are in a safe place where they can be themselves. They're at home. They're in the right place.
Upright: memory, nostalgia, innocence, joy, friendship, childhood memories, long lasting connections, in tune with your inner child, nourished, playful, siblings.
Reversed: living in the past, forgiving others, awkwardness, needing to remember how to play and not work so hard, nudge to connect with relatives and old friends.
Seven of Cups
Description: Seven cups are filled with different fortunes and misfortunes. The cups are surrounded by clouds meaning the fortunes are what you dream of or are abstract notions. Some are gifts and some are curses. The chalices hold all the things we commonly desire: health, wealth, and love. There is the face of a woman, there is a mask and hope for a new identity, a snake that could bite at your heels, a crown to be royal, a diamond for wealth, a wreath for peace, and a dragon that would bring about big changes. The Seven of Cups is about chances, opportunities, dreams, hopes, and desires. The card dares you to be careful not only with what you wish, but what you decide.
Upright: chances, hopes, dreams, illusions, goals, events, possibilities, needing to make choices, selection, array.
Reversed: overwhelmed by choices, anxiety over possible curses, instability of options, descending luck, misfortune, difficulty reading future.
Eight of Cups
Description: Three cups are stacked on top of five cups. A man with a cane or wand is traveling in the distance and going a different direction from the cups. It is night time. There are mountains to climb, paths to take, and potential lightning. The cups are arranged in a way that it looks like a trapezoid. The cups together take on a very yang like shape. The image is masculine, bold, triangular, and neatly stacked.
The man turns his back on this alignment of cups and instead decides to go out into nature. The moon illuminates his path. The man is attempting to avoid his emotions; however, his journey into the mountains will still cause him to encounter his emotions. His journey is unavoidable: it is destined.
Upright: disbelief, avoidance, seclusion, personal journey, fantasy, emotional awakening, engaging with ideas on gender.
Reversed: taking chances, trying again, not giving up, finding assurance, carrying forward, gender balance, seeking the surreal over the practical, taking the cup.
Nine of Cups
Description: A royal sits in a throne with their arms crossed over their chest. Above them in a semi-circle are nine cups. The royal is smiling. The cups represent fulfillment, goals realized, and achievement. The Nine of Cups isn't a royal, but this card is on a path to initiation to be a face card, a leader, or a bright personality. The Nine of Cups appears when there is prosperity. Water in ancient Chinese was a symbol for prosperity and abundance.
Upright: contentment, initiation, acceptance, goals achieved, completion, emotional maturity, trial overcome, leveling up.
Reversed: losing everything, dissatisfaction, hubris, indulgence, greed, gluttony, lust, ego, taking on more than you can chew.
Ten of Cups
Description: Ten cups are in the sky in a semi-circle. A man and woman link arms. They're outside arms are lifted to the sky. There is a child with them; the child is next to the woman. A house is in the distance. This card is about family, marriage, finally having a home. It's about new beginnings, promises, and emotional fulfillment. The couple has reached maturity for a stable life. The couple leans into each other and knows how to work together. They are the evolution of the couple we first saw in the Two of Cups. They have a child that they're raising. They have a home. They have a belief in paradise.
Upright: marriage, home, family, raising a child, establishment, stability, togetherness, paradise, heaven, kismet, maturity, success, hard work pays off.
Reversed: disconnection, strife, imbalance in relationships, from the Bible the character Job and his chaos, tragedy, disaster, social doom and gloom.
Page of Cups
Description: The Page of Cups wears a beautiful and lavish outfit. She has exquisite pose as she holds a cup in her right hand. A fish pops out of the cup and stares at her. The fish reminds the page of the possibilities in creativity, that there can be unexpected friends along the way, and to stay curious and hopeful. She has enough charm to summon a fish. She has power and potential that she hasn't realized or awakened just yet. She wears a circlet on her head. The young maiden is a potential princess.
Upright: creativity, luck, possibility, potential, inspiration, hope, positive outlook, unexpected encounters or friends, wisdom from the beyond.
Reversed: doubting intuition, creative blocks, emotional congestion, adolescence, not thinking things through, impatience.
Knight of Cups
Description: A knight on a white horse carries a cup in his right hand. He wears a cloak over his armor with images of fish and water. His helmet and boots are winged -- he is meant to have symbols and reminder of Hermes, the messenger god in Greek mythology. The knight is carrying a message of love, acceptance, and valor. He is about reassurance. He is the prince charming you've been wanting to find. He is on his way to declare something, perhaps a proposal.
Upright: romance, charm, proposal, valor, messages, love, acceptance, beauty, young but growing love, attraction, imagination, desire.
Reversed: jealously, moody, controlling, vindictive, bold, brazen, unhinged from reality, ugliness, stupidity, bad suitor, bad date.
Queen of Cups
Description: A woman sits on a throne with a cup in her left hand. A rainbow goes around the cup. She has a crown on her head with several stars. She has long and beautiful hair that seems to turn into water. She is surrounded by a bright blue sky and calm, gentle waters. Her feet rest on colorful stones in the water. She is connected by her emotions and knows how to make a path forward. The woman is in tune with reality, with herself, and she is embracing the beauty all around and about her.
Upright: compassion, grace, maturity, caring, intuitive, calm, stable, beauty, charm, regal, elegance, dreams, cheerful, poise.
Reversed: inner feelings, need for self-care, need for more attention to the self, somewhat disoriented, struggling to be independent.
King of Cups
Description: A king or merman sits on a throne. A cup is in his right hand, and he holds it close to him. He wears a crown, he looks to the waters and sends out a ship. The fishes come to him for answers. A fish amulet is around his neck. His throne appears to be floating on a block in the sea. Behind him a dolphin jumps out of the ocean. He is staying calm despite the action and the storms around him. He knows how to command the sea. He knows himself, and he knows his surroundings.
Upright: compassionate, diplomatic, authority, leadership, balanced, considerate, emotional maturity, excellence, governance, flowing, socially charismatic, people are drawn to you, you have wisdom.
Reversed: manipulative, under the water, dabbling with monsters rather than allies, questionable activity, poor decisions, swallowed by the sea, metamorphosis.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Andrea Lawrence