Hi everyone, my first podcast interview went live today.
Because I name-drop, and because tarot is so visually intensive, I wanted to offer this post as a sort of “listener’s guide” for people who want to explore further the specifics I reference in our conversation.
These are the archetypal and original storytelling cards of the tarot.
The oldest majors have people (or humanoid) forms, even if the rest of the deck – the minors – look like the playing cards they correlate to (a repetition of the number of items listed on the card).
These 22 cards, numbered 0-21, are among the most iconic images of the tarot, including the Fool, the Magician, the Devil, the Tower and the Moon.
The Major Arcana (majors) are to the Minor Arcana (minors) as a lion is to a lynx. They both hold power, but the former are bigger and have more (cultural, story-based) associations. particularly in the Western world (starting in Europe) where they were developed.
Side note (credit to The Queer Witch Podcast where this math was first pointed out for me): Our “modern” deck did not devolve from the tarot – losing a face card and the majors along the way. A couple easilyaccessible sources point out where playing cards entered the historical record, and it was long before the tarot.
It’s one useful reason to call the majors the 5th suit, because its a reminder of the order.
Also, considering the early tarot examples are all European, and cards were imported before that could happen… It was an example of my own short-sightedness that I rolled with the first stories I heard about tarot coming first.
~ ~ ~
The majors, like the minors, are usually taught in a specific order: 0-21. Read more →
The Lovers is the sixth card in the Major Arcana. The 2 of cups is from the minors (one of the four suits I talk about here).
The main distinction many people make between the majors and the minors is how epic the event is. For example, the Lovers card represents one’s soul mate, and 2 of cups is everyday, happy-to-be-paired-with-you living.
Another way to contrast them is in intensity.
“All along it was a fever. A cold-sweat hot-headed believer.”
“Makes me feel like I can’t live without you…Round and around and around and around we go.”
[Stay, sung by Rihanna and Mikky Ekko.]
About the Lovers card, I once heard another reader say, It burns hottest, but crashes harder.
Reversed, I see it as one of those angsty stories where the audience/reader knows they like each other, knows they’ll be perfect together, but they need to talk.
[Distance, sung by Christina Perri and Jason Mraz.]
“And I will make sure to keep my distance,
Say I love you when you’re not listening,
How long, can we keep this up?”
“And I keep waiting
For you to take me
And you keep waiting
To save what we had.” Read more →
Like the Lovers card, the 2 of cups can refer to a couple, cooperation, a pair.
But there is also a constancy here that may be absent in the Lovers. This is remembering to say “I love you” before you end a call. This is holding someone’s hand when they’re nearby, or listening instead of offering advice right away when the beloved is distressed.
This card represents constancy and a balanced, mutually beneficial partnership – usually of respect, but always of contentment. That is, both parties think they have something pretty good here.
Another distinction between the 2 of Cups and the Lovers cards is how in-the-world they are.
That is, most Lovers cards (see the last post) consist of the individuals being utterly focused on each other. In many 2 of cups images the introduction of physical objects (usually the two cups) draws the viewer as well as the characters into a connection with something physical. Something beyond the “transcendent” of the lover or the interaction.
There is a mutuality in all of these images, whether in sharing an experience that is beyond the other (Fountain, Steampunk) or connecting, giving to the other something beyond the self (Mermaid, Numinous).
Moving out of the ideal/theoretical and into the world is a function of this card being one of the Minor Arcana. Minors are about daily life and where the rubber meets the road. This is another way we make a distinction between the 2 of cups and the Lovers. One is the “practical” and one is the “ideal.” There will be overlap (usually based on the reader’s personal experience), but this is one easy way to mark a difference in interpretation.
The Numinous image, in case you can’t read the tiny words, has the human holding a vial labeled FINS while the mermaid holds one labeled, LEGS. I love this representation of offering understanding and (perhaps) a willingness to change in love/service to the other.
This is one of the most precious elements of 2 of cups. Each person is in this commitment, at this level of contentment, while they see the partner as the the partner is.
Of course, the same issue of representation exists in the 2 of cups that exists in the Lovers card. Namely that the dominant interpretation is a romantic one, and so messages or assumptions are being displayed in the way this *couple* is shown.
Several decks have a hetero pair on their Lovers card, and non-hetero pairings in their 2 of cups (or the reverse, as in Numinous).
Still other decks repeat the technique from the Lovers card and offer a few cute (or lovely) animals to interpret as is most appropriate in the moment.
The main concepts I bring to a 2 of cups interpretation are contentment, commitment, and connection.
It is one of the most reassuring cards I ever draw for myself or others. It is a reminder we are not alone, and have reliable people in our world who care for us – romantically or not.
When the 2 of cups comes up, it’s often an invitation to remind ourselves of those connections, and lean into their life-sharing power.
My first set of cards to contrast are The Lovers and the 2 of cups.
Each of these cards portrays a happy pairing, and is generally considered a fortuitous card to show up in most readings.
After seeing how long this discussion can get, I’ve decided to start with a comparison between images of each individual card before I move on to the contrasts between two or more cards. (While this will make for a long series, I think it will make the most useful reference in the long-run.)
The Lovers, like most cards in a tarot deck, has a range of interpretations.
It can mean love, union, intense attraction, finding value, making connections (interestingly, not always lasting connections).
It represents truth, value, opposites meeting (Consider, below, the gold crown and the flower crown, both removed from the lovers’ heads in the Shadowscapes image. Or the metal lamps-post opposite the flowering tree in the Steampunk image).
It can represent hope.
It can also be interpreted as a choice-card. In older decks the third figure was sometimes a second woman, presenting the implied duality of life-choices (often with racist undertones) that the man had to choose between.
Even with current imagery you can see the choice if you look at the pairings as a meeting – sometimes with attachment, but not necessarily a commitment – one of the differences I see between this card and the 2 of cups. In this context a choice – whether to stay or leave – is still on the table.
In most decks you have a very obvious couple, usually male-female, and often there is a third (or more) someone looking on. Perhaps witnessing or blessing the union.
As more relationship structures and the spectrum of gender identities are acknowledged, artists have responded in different ways. For example, slightly obscuring, or allowing a question of one party’s gender. There are also the animal depictions which leave more up to the readers’ interpretations.
Sometimes the picture of the Lovers offer a twist on the traditional imagery: An interracial couple, or an active (if formal/scripted) partnership, rather than a static portrait.
Then there are the broader interpretations of artists who emphasize the first-love, core essence of the Lovers card, as seeing/accepting the self (Mermaid Tarot) and/or making room for multiple and different combinations of partners (Numinous Tarot).
All these create visual commentary as they invite us to consider – or expand – our vision of what we consider love, or value in a relationship.
Next time I’ll lay out the images for 2 of cups and we’ll start to see the overlap in art and interpretation.
I always say that the deck a reader chooses is as much a part of the reading as the cards that are pulled.
There are many decks that have a lot in common between cards, and there are some that take a different path. This is just one example.
The two of wands can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I tend to see it as a card with a terrific energy of possibilities. I see a doorway suggested by the the two upright rods/wands/staves as they are portrayed in many decks.
All the figures – human or otherwise – invite the viewer to identify with their place in the scene, and that identification is part of the method of interpretation.
These cards’ different visuals and energy in the images suggest variations on the theme, from conflict, to questions, to a reversal of expectations and even wondering where one’s place is in the scheme of things.
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty, here, or describe a bunch of decks in detail. This isn’t a geek-out post, though naturally opinions are still my own, and I don’t expect everyone to see things just the way I do.
This post is a picture-full starting spot for parents who are interested in introducing their kids to tarot, or even learning alongside them, without feeling the need to protect them from the images on the cards.
I know parents who are perfectly comfortable with “standard” decks, or “mild nudity” so they’re not the focus of this resource but still could find some more ideas. 🙂
One more thing: These recommendations are based only on imagery. Not all decks are equally useful for learning the system of tarot. But that list is a bit more complex, and is for another time.
I’ll mark the decks I feel are easiest to learn from – in case you want a hint now. These fit the popular RWS system (**), or have other helps, like key words or phrases on the card (*).
I am throwing bottom-limit age-suggestions at a number of decks here. However, user-compatibility is the most important thing. If the user doesn’t care about the imagery, if it doesn’t draw him or her into spending time with it, it won’t work. It’s no biggie, just a reminder that this practice – both choosing a deck and using the cards – is a terrific example of “child-led.” Read more →