Because what is even the point of Drunk Tarot Explanation if I don’t use that title? What, indeed, is the point of anything?
With cups, we depart from the pentacular “this might be coins, or shields, or juggling balls, we don’t the hell know” into a pretty concrete symbol: indeed, the only one of the four suits where it’s reasonable for the average person to have ten of the thing depicted. (And yes, I too know guys with ten collectible swords, and when I was fifteen, I wanted to have a bunch but I didn’t have money and my school wouldn’t have allowed it, and now that I have a disposable income and my own apartment I look at the weapons section of Museum Replicas all “….naaah,” because I have realized that the chances of me defending myself against demons with a fifty-dollar unsharpened mass-produced claymore are actually not great, and it is the second most tragic encapsulation of my mortality.)
(The first is not being able to eat more than a few spoonfuls of cookie dough at a sitting. If the early poets didn’t write poignantly about this, they damn well should have.)
(But most people do not have more than one sword and/or wand, if that, is my point.)
Conversely, when we flip from Tarot to playing cards, cups and pentacles reverse their likely plurality of ownership. (Swords/wands and spades/clubs remain the same. In case you were wondering.) Like, it is totally plausible for someone, albeit a fairly wealthy someone, to own between two and ten diamonds, whereas if you own more than one heart, you are either an Aztec god* or the future subject of an Oxygen docudrama. I’m not sure if this is mystically or sociologically significant, but here we are.
So, cups! Elementally, they’re the suit of water, because duh. That tends to mean emotions and relationships and all of that hippie nonsense where people have feelings, which I suppose is nice if you like that sort of thing. Although when I think about it, I suppose my people have a tradition of various kinds of cups, or at least their contents, serving as a means of either expressing or avoiding The Feels. (In the Housewives’ Tarot, the Cups suit is eighty percent booze and one of the two exceptions is coffee. I approve.) So it’s appropriate.
More sort-of-seriously, emotions are associated with liquids–because they’re fluid and shifting and adaptable, but also by association. People cry when they’re upset, or scared, or even happy. Really mad people are “frothing at the mouth.” If you want to calm someone down or cheer them up, you might offer them a cup of tea. Older societies had drinking out of the same cup as a sign of trust or offering one as a sign of hospitality, toasting to prove your loyalty or love, and so on. And alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, a whole lot of emotions.
Because Tarot decks were largely invented in Christian societies** (again, people trying to tell you that they rilly for real come from Ancient Egypt are dealing in pure bullshit and will probably start going on about their past lives as Marie Antoinette any minute), Cups also ties in to the Holy Grail myth, and thus the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and all sorts of sacrifice imagery, which gets back to emotions, namely love. (Wands generally gets the Spear of Longinus, and Swords are…swords, man, you can’t throw a brick without hitting a magic sword. Pentacles don’t have an artifact, maybe because, again, nobody knows exactly what the fuck a pentacle is when it’s at home.) Indiana Jones is not generally involved, but if that seems pertinent to your readings, I’m all for it.
Cups cards are also, generally speaking, the happiest of the four decks, with Pentacles a close second. Even the eight and the five have their silver linings, and there’s nothing like the total and complete fucked-upitude that is the Ten of Swords. As someone who prefers to handle feelings from a safe distance and with tweezers, I find myself vaguely resenting this whenever it comes up, and have thus spent some time thinking about why.
Theory 1: The Fucking Victorians Again. Namely, the people making Tarot decks back in the day were the ones very much on the romantic side of things, all seances and artistic tea gowns and paintings of Ophelia floating around semi-underwater, and more specifically minor-league rebels against a dominant culture of Rationality and Logic and Science and Empire, Eh What? This reflected in the earliest popular decks and their interpretations, at least in the English-speaking world.
Theory 2: Mysticism And Stuff (credit to Teth, a friend of mine who discussed this with me on the way home from a party; any inaccuracy is down to me remembering his explanations badly, and being fairly wasted at the time). If you grant that there are certain levels to the universe that can only be contacted through direct experience, and if you furthermore grant that these levels are significant, then trying to understand or shape the world while guided by pure intellect and rationality (and, to a lesser extent, by pure will and passion) is going to suck for you and possibly others. Trying to do that through pure emotion isn’t great, either, but you’re likely to get into less trouble.
Theory 3: The Symbols Themselves. Unconnected from the elements, cups are, yeah, the one object class with almost exclusively positive uses, and swords are the one with almost exclusively negative/destructive ones. Air and water can both fuck you up, but if you’re actually using a sword, you’re probably either trying to hurt someone or pretending/practicing to do so; conversely, you have to be either subtle or determined as hell (or that one Crusader guy, and arguably he wasn’t trying) to kill someone with a cup. The symbols came first, then the meanings, then the elements, and now here we are with a bunch of people thinking it’s good to have feelings, I don’t even know.
Theory 4: The people who invented Tarot fortunetelling were just really fond of a drink. Or ten. Works for me.
* Which: someone should really write Snow White but with Aztec sun gods.
**And yes, many modern Tarot decks were created by my fellow pagans, but the honest among said fellow pagans would admit that we grow up in a culture which privileges the symbols and stories of Christianity, and thus absorb a fair amount, and most attempts to get completely away from this (at least by rando white people) are going to both fail and come off as pretentious.
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I’ll be back next week, though since it’s a LARP week, it might be a story rather than a Tarot post.
Meanwhile, you can buy my books at Amazon, B&N, Powell’s, the Sourcebooks website, and in many fine stores!
Also, coming up within the next year or two: a new romantic fantasy trilogy I’m working on with Sourcebooks! In a fantasy world that’s a postapocalyptic icy hellscape, and totally not at all based on New England, three women, members of an order of monster-hunters, must fight the return of the Traitor God and his armies. Each of them bears a sword with the soul of a departed Order member; each of them finds herself on a mission far more complicated than it appears at first; and each meets an extremely hot guy on the way, because, come on, this is me writing.