Cups and Pentacles: Even More Subtle Distinctions
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Completist that I am, I figured I had better finish my thoughts on the nuances of interpretation that separate the elementally “friendly” minor suits of the tarot.
The suits of Cups and Pentacles (or, in different systems, Coins or Disks) are entirely sympathetic to one another; one represents the element of Water and the other the vessel of Earth that contains it. Taking them as a pair, depending on their proportion, one can either make bricks or wind up with mud. They are both elementally feminine, passive and negative, and their customary mode of self-expression can best be described as indirect and, in extreme cases, self-effacing: when it comes to public exposure, they usually prefer the outlying shadows to the spotlight so loved by the Wands and actively exploited by the Swords.
There is little to distinguish between their characteristic behavioral norms. They both remind me of the phrase from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: they keep “the noiseless tenor of their way” until crowded into a corner and expected to take a stand; at that point, the Cups adapt by complaining and then complying and the Pentacles grumpily “hang tough.” Astrologically speaking, it is difficult to choose between Cancer and Pisces as the emblematic sign to represent the acquiescent nature of Water (sly, secretive Scorpio is emphatically not it). For me the nod goes to Pisces as the mildest and most ingratiating of the two since “cardinal” Cancer can be tempestuous. Empathetic, “mutable” Pisces much prefers tranquility and concord in all things, and can be a peerless “peace-maker.”
Earth is more obstinate and obtuse than Water. Where Water can be mercurial in its fluidity, Earth is patient to a fault and can appear unfeeling in its calm detachment. Once again, it is hard to pick a “flagship” sign to represent the placid-bordering-on-inert nature of Earth. As I see it, “fixed” Taurus stands out slightly from the pack because “cardinal” Capricorn can be relentless and “mutable” Virgo is often changeable. Taurus comes across as serenely unruffled on the surface and artlessly honest in its depths. I would want the sincerity and steadfastness of Taurus “watching my back” before either of the others.
The suit cards from Ace to Ten provide a little more in the way of contrast than the purely elemental comparison. The suit of Cups, with a couple of minor detours (specifically in the cheerless Five, Seven and Eight) is all about zeroing in on emotional comfort and satisfaction, which culminates in the Nine and lingers in The ten. As the last in the deck, the suit of Pentacles shows an inexorable decline in energy and motivation until, in the Ten, it reaches a state of torpor that is both stationary and supine. I think of the Ten as a condition of domestic disengagement; Monty Python might have called it an occasion for “lying down and avoiding.”
The court cards expand upon this study in contrasts. The Cups court is for the most part approachable and accommodating; “We aim to please” might be their motto (except perhaps for the junior member, the tepid, slightly callow Page or Princess). The Pentacles court is level-headed and steady-going but not particularly exciting or inspiring. The former may seem at least superficially enthusiastic (but don’t press them too hard on it) and the latter just plain boring in their staid self-absorption. But if one wants an agreeable and reasonably tractable partner, either one will do nicely over the pushy Wands or opinionated Swords.
Originally published at http://parsifalswheeldivination.wordpress.com on April 10, 2022.