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Sunday, 17 February 2013

One Deck Wonder: Ace of Cups

Thoth, Crowley & Harris
'In these cards is no real manifestation of the element in its material form. Both in their appearance and their meaning, the Aces are not the elements themselves, but the seeds of those elements.' ~Aleister Crowley

I've been thinking of sharing some of the details about the Aces that I've been reading in the DuQuette books. Today's draw, Ace of Cups, sends me the message that it's a good day to go ahead and do that.

For a while now I've considered the Ace of each suit to represent  the 'pure potential' of each suit, and that Wands are Fire, Cups Water, Swords Air, and Disks (or Pentacles, or Coins) Earth. When sorting a deck (something that I must admit I do quite frequently and that I find wonderfully soothing), I always put them in order Ace, 2-10, then Page, Knight, Queen, King. As a result of my recent reading, I'm completely rethinking this. DuQuette's books put them in this order:

Ace - Knight - Queen - Prince - Princess - 2-10

DuQuette explains that The Fool is the ultimate card of the deck, and that within the Fool exist all the other cards. If you slice the Fool  22 ways, you get the Major Arcana (which we're not talking about now), but if you slice the Fool four ways, you get the four suits of the Minor Arcana, in the order presented above. It starts to go a bit Qabalah from here, but you can ignore it if you remember that it's all basically about Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Qabalists connect these four elements to the four letters in the name of God, YHVH (Yod - Heh - Vau - Heh), which they say is not really a name but a blueprint for the process of creation. (Now this is something I figured out 'on my own' years ago, so I must say I am convinced and agree with them that the proper order of the Minor Arcana is Fire, Water, Air, Earth, because first comes the idea or impulse, then the emotion, then the thinking and planning, then the material manifestation.) So, the Ace is Wands is the Yod (Fire), Ace of Cups is the first Heh (Water), Ace of Swords is the Veh (Air), and Ace of Disks is the second Heh (Earth).

Now the interesting thing is, you can slice each Ace into 4 as well, and you get another YHVH, or division into 4 elements: Knight (Fire), Queen (Water), Prince (Air), Princess (Earth). This is why the court cards come directly after the Aces, and in descending order.

Of course, if you were to slice the Ace 10 ways, you'd get Ace-10, because of course all the small cards reside in the Ace. The Qabalists lay them out into the pattern of the Tree of Life, with Ace at the top and 10 at the bottom. Here's an illustration from Chicken Qabalah:

Chicken Qabalah, DuQuette, p. 159

If you are familiar with the Tree of Life, you will recognize the Ace-2-3 forming the First Triad, then 4-5-6 and 7-8-9 form the Second and Third Triads, with 10 at the bottom as usual. If you don't know anything about the Tree of Life, it doesn't matter (neither do I!), but remember that Hebrew reads from right to left, so that's why the numbers run 'backwards'. Notice that the King (or in case of Thoth, Knight), Queen, Prince and Princess stand at the four corners, outside the Tree of Life.

Well, I think that's about the coolest thing I've seen since the last time I read a book telling me how the cards should be ordered. ha ha

Now to turn our attention to today's card, the Ace of Cups. DuQuette considers it the most beautiful card in the entire Thoth deck. It is pretty amazing, The card seems to depict a loving cup  rising up from the sea upon a spout of water, balanced on a dripping lotus blossom. The scallop design behind the cup reminds me of the famous painting The Birth of Venus, which seems entirely appropriate, as the Cups suit is associated with love and emotion. A beam of light shoots up out of the cup, as if the water inside the cup is transformed into some sort of direct communion with the heavens, or vice versa. Decorating the cup is three overlapping rings, forming a triquetra, albeit in an upside down one. There are all sorts of trinities that this image might call to mind. I'll leave it to you to make a list of them in your own head.

'This card represents the element of Water in its most secret and original form. It is the feminine complement of the Ace of Wands, and is derived from the Yoni and the Moon exactly as that [Ace of Wands] is from the Lingham and the Sun.' ~Aleister Crowley

The Lingham and Yoni are symbols of the divine or ultimate Masculine and Feminine. The Lingham is phallic and the Yoni is womb-like. (The opposite of 'phallic' would seem to be 'yonic', which is a circular definition in this case. I thought about using the word 'vulvic' but wasn't sure because that doesn't seem very cuplike. Oh the vagaries of the language,eh! I am Google-eyed enough to have found this article and been entertained by it.)

Anyway, I've yammered on enough for one day, and hope that all that great potential for love and nurturing of relationships (which is a traditional interpretation of the Ace of Cups on the mundane level) plays out for me today.


  1. Love you're little dip into the semantics of phallic, and that's a very helpful summary of the whole divisions stuff :)

    Still, these days I'm also drawn to the ordering Emily Carding gives the suits, and which fits with the calling of the quarters: air, fire, water, earth. First you need the idea - air, then to do something about it - fire. Then, you have to nurture it as it grows - water, until finally you have created what you first imagined - earth. Whaddaya think? :D

    1. I do see where she's going with that, and I've wondered why quarters are called in a different order to the suits than their traditional tarot arrangement. Ultimately, I think that an idea is more fiery than airy. The initial idea -- that is inspiration. Where does it even come from? That is divine spark, in my opinion, and not really the result of Air type analysis.

      The quarter calling, for me, is a separate thing. It starts in the direction of the sunrise. Quarter calling is about this plane, I believe in Tree of Life it's number 10 -- as DuQuette calls it, the 'cosmic dingleberry' (LOL), Malkuth, the Kingdom of manifestation. For me, quarter calling is about the movement of the sun (or earth around the sun, if you will) and the manifestations of the elements as we experience them in this realm.

      So, I see no need to have my tarot deck in the same order of quarter calling. And anyway, Gardnerians start their quarter calling in the North, don't they? Everybody has to find their own way! :)

  2. I do like the image on this card,very vibrant lively and energetic :-) xx