Sunday, October 27, 2013

10 of Cups

Pamela Colman Smith's famous interpretation of the 10 of Cups gives us an Edwardian petit bourgeois paradise. A couple stare blissfully at the rainbow which sparkles above their homestead: beside them their their children dance joyfully. It is a place where love has attained to its full fruition and their union has been blessed with progeny and prosperity. Today we know that there are many different kinds of love -- and "Married with Children" isn't the only successful culmination to a romance.  But in emotional matters, the 10 of Cups generally signifies some form of commitment.  Cohabitation; marriage or civil union; a casual fling becoming something more serious; a series of events that turns a nodding acquaintance into a close friend -- all of these are possible ways the 10 of Cups might manifest in a querent's life.

 Cups can also represent creative matters. If the 10 of Cups shows up in an artist's reading it suggests their project will be a resounding personal success.  In conjunction with cards like The High Priestess or The Chariot, it might signify an important new development in one's  art. Alongside the 10 of Disks or Wheel of Fortune we might expect the project to be both artistically significant and financially lucrative. (Working artists know all too well that one does not imply the other!)  Whatever its placement, it evokes that "click" when you find the right word, the perfect color, the chord progression that brings your work-in-progress to a glorious conclusion.

With all that, it's not surprising that the 10 of Cups is generally considered one of the most positive cards in the deck. But that's not to say that it is always a beneficial influence.  As with all Tarot cards, the 10 of Cups is a complex and nuanced symbol. While it's easy to focus on the silver lining, a reader should also pay close attention to the clouds it can portend.

In 1938, nearly 30 years after the Rider/Waite Deck's release, Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris began work on the Thoth Tarot.  The sun was setting on the British Empire: the children dancing beneath Smith's rainbow had matured amidst the horrors of trench warfare and had little reason to believe Chamberlain's promises of "peace in our time." It's not surprising, then, that Crowley's take on the 10 of Cups was considerably darker than Arthur Edward Waite's. He described the card as "satiety" -- desires fulfilled to the point of nausea.   Where Waite saw a proper English home Crowley saw a Roman wastrel stumbling off to the vomitorium.  His 10 of Cups is not contentment shading into bliss: it is a turkey coma where gluttony gives way to regret.  (Given Crowley's life story, one suspects he knew this feeling all too well).

These contrasting interpretations point to the paradox at the heart of this card.  The 10 of Cups is simultaneous satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Things are better than ever but you can't shake that nagging feeling of discontent.  You've achieved everything you ever wanted, and now you're not so sure you want it.  If it lands in a challenging position the 10 of Cups can mean complacency and a sense of entitlement: you are taking your comfortable position for granted and may be setting yourself up for an unpleasant surprise.  Near the Moon or 7 of Cups, it can suggest that you have idealized your situation and may be ignoring or making excuses for serious problems: combined with the Devil, it can point to an obsession with some past happiness that is holding you back in the present.

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