I do love this Seven: a mysterious figure conjuring seven chalices from a cloud. This, Tarotistas, is the card of fantasy, imagination, self-delusion and distraction. And the mystery man, seen only in silhouette, presents all manner of beguiling things – from a cupful of jewels and fantasy castle to a figure cloaked in a white cloth. In fact, as a friend recently commented, the Seven of Cups is a bit like Instagram – everything’s up there for all to see, but you’re not too sure if it’s real.
We see the idea of hidden things and the unknown in the other Sevens, too (after all, Seven symbolises mysteries…):
Seven of Wands: The hidden opponents. Who is brandishing the wands? We see only the upper part – no hands or faces. The male figure can’t see what or whom is challenging him.
Seven of Swords: The sneaky thief. And the tents, too, symbolise things unknown; we can’t see their occupants. Again, like the Seven of Wands, there are signs of activity – but no physical bodies appears on the cards.
Seven of Pentacles: What’s hiding in the bushes? Are there more coins to come – or a hidden adversary?
In readings, the Seven of Cups card comes up frequently, particularly during our time of covid. Those I’ve read for over the past year have often said that this Seven illustrates their bewilderment. They need to do something – anything – to get a situation moving but the information is sketchy and the picture incomplete (looking at the Rider Waite Smith card, you’ll see that some of the cup’s symbols are in outline, and not coloured in). So, there are many possibilities. Are they real? And what should you do? In short, we need to land a cup, to focus on one thing and direct our energy there, rather than be distracted by all that glisters.
To take back personal power in this situation, we make a shift from the world of the hidden magician to the true Magician, card 1, who uses his resources to manifest what he wants. The Magician has his wand: we have our tarot cards.
Take your Seven of Cups and place it face up before you. From the list below, pull out the associated major arcana cards and place them around it, so you have the Seven of Cups in the centre and seven majors (one for each cup symbol). Here are the major cards that I’ve linked with the seven symbols:
- The shrouded figure. This represents Christ consciousness, which I associate with card XIX The Sun. The sun echoes the ancient sun-gods, the forerunners of Christ. Otherwise, you might choose XII The Hanged Man – or the wounded Odin on the Tree of Life, a Nordic echo of Christ on the cross.
- The castle. A E Waite refers to this as ‘the fantastic spirit’ which I see in card VII The Chariot.
- The snake. This suggests the snake of temptation on VI The Lovers.
- The salamander. This signifies the forked tongue – or lies. For this, I’ve allocated XV The Devil. The salamander is linked with fire, which we also see in the Devil’s torch.
- The victory wreath. You’ll see a skeleton on the cup, so together the symbols suggest beginnings and endings. Here, I’ve chosen XXI The World (the wreath) and XIII Death.
- The jewels: Abundance, and therefore III The Empress.
- The face. This is a representation of Archangel Michael, so the associated card is XIV Temperance, which also features Michael.
So now you’ll have a selection of major arcana cards: The Sun (or Hanged Man), The Chariot, The Lovers, The Devil, The World, Death, The Empress and Temperance.
Shuffle them and ask:
What can I do to find direction?
How can I land this idea/job/project?
Choose one card. This is your guidance.
The main image shows cards from The Universal Waite, US Games Systems, Inc.
Do you recall the day of your birth? A neat little fortune-telling rhyme goes:
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
And the child that was born on the Sabbath day
is bonny, blithe*, good and gay.
I loved this as a child, because I was born on a Friday which made me a rather lovely person, if the rhyme was anything to go by. The rhyme probably originated in the 1500s. But where do the day meanings coming from? With my tarot-reader’s curiosity, my first thoughts drifted to those Week Ahead tarot spreads which follow the classical planets – Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun and Moon (the Sun and Moon were classified as planets then – you can find the Week Ahead spread in The Ultimate Guide to Tarot). So let’s see if the planetary and tarot-card associations match the rhyme:
Monday Moon Fair of face Planet of inner life
Tuesday Mars Full of grace Planet of war
Wednesday Mercury Full of woe Planet of communication
Thursday Jupiter Far to go Planet of expansion
Friday Venus Loving and giving Planet of love
Saturday Saturn Works hard for a living Planet of time and restriction
Sunday Sun Bonny, blithe Planet of life and self
* In some versions, ‘wise’
Some alignments work perfectly. Sunday’s happy child is favoured by the Sun, planet of optimism, which we see in XIX The Sun. Friday, Venus’ day, is just right for the child born on Friday – loving and giving, just like our tarot Empress, who bears a Venus glyph on the Rider-Waite-Smith versions of her card. Saturday’s child works hard for a living neatly chimes with Saturn – the taskmaster planet whose influence brings slow, hard work. The World card is ruled by Saturn, expressing the work and culmination of the journey through the major arcana cycle. Thursday’s child has ‘far to go’, which links to Jupiter, planet of expansion, education and development. No surprises there. And Jupiter’s tarot card, X The Wheel of Fortune, reflects Jupiter’s reputation as a bringer of luck – just as the Wheel turns, bringing good fortune (at least in the upright position in a spread). Monday’s child is ‘fair of face’. In contemporary astrology, the moon represents the interior rather than the exterior – inner life, intuition and dreams. In Greek mythology the moon relates to the Greek goddess Selene and the Roman Diana, both known for their beauty. And with a dose of enchanting moonlight, I can be bewitched enough not to glitch too much on this one.
At first glance, Tuesday looks like an anomaly. How does Tuesday’s ‘child being ‘full of grace’ relate to Mars, planet of war? Given the age of the rhyme – and its Christian theme – ‘grace’ may have been meant in the Christian context of ‘unmerited favour of God toward man’: a warrior’s prayer for God’s favour in battle. Mars’ tarot card is XVI The Tower, also known as the House of God, or the call to surrender to a higher power. I can just about countenance this. But what of Wednesday’s child of woe and its association with Mercury, planet of communication?
Mercury is the planetary ruler of I The Magician in tarot – one of the most energising and positive cards of the major arcana. Here’s the possible reason it’s literally woeful (bear with – I’m just having a sip of tea and a biscuit.) If we look at the etymology of Wednesday as ‘Woden’s Day’, we find Woden/Odin, the Norse deity of magic, wisdom, poetry and war. To me, it seems that ‘woe’ may have been short for ‘Woden’ , but we got landed with ‘woe’. Which is pretty miserable.
Working on this basis, I reckon that Wednesday’s child is not full of woe, but full of magic. And I’m also thinking of generations of children who misguidedly believed that they were destined to be, well, a bit dour, little knowing that the true meaning of their day of birth was rather more exciting. Woden/Odin spent nine days and nights suspended from Yggdrasill, the World Ash, a spiritual initiation which gave him the gift of reading the runes (and he was known as the ‘father of charms’). The Magician card shows the Greek deity Hermes (the Roman Mercury), who travelled between the realm of humans and the realm of the gods. As a messenger, Hermes was a god of communication, magic and divination. Now this diminution of Woden may have been deliberate (the Church, seeking to suppress our Pagan ways) or one of those slippages that no one thought to correct. But I’m going to begin doing that at a micro level.
My younger sister was born on a Wednesday and I remember that when she cried we’d say ‘Full of woe!’ This happened a lot as we lived near the beach and she hated sand – there’s many a picture of her making sandcastles with a pretty woeful expression. Thankfully she got over her dislike of the beach, and her woe. Maybe I should tell her now that she, and anyone born on a Wednesday was never a child of woe at all, but Woden’s child – full of abracadabra.
Main image: The Magician from Tarot of the Heart, Liz Dean/Oliver Burston
We know the drill: the Devil equals temptation, lust, affairs, addiction, abuse, debt, control issues, material entrapment; contracts with the self or with others, all of which are unfulfilling. In readings, it’s tempting to see the Devil’s enchantment as external, and we its little victims. But before I get into a lengthy diatribe on the moral aberrations of this most flagrant of cards, I’m intervening to say this: that the Devil also presents an opportunity to look closely at our conscious or unconscious choices. Unravel the god of excess, and we find unexpected gifts; a key to life-changing action. By understanding how we arrived at a Devil situation, we are better equipped to deal with him.
First, the doorways: these are the four minor arcana cards which lead toward the Devil’s Coming (I know this sounds rather hellfire, but interpret as you will). These are the Fives, which form part of the Devil’s number XV: the Five of Pentacles, Five of Cups, Five of Wands and Five of Swords. These are the tests and, given how we respond to them, they may be just the ticket to the Devil’s waiting room: trapped by ego (Wands), poverty (Pentacles), humiliation and shame (Swords) or loss (Cups). After all, the Devil plays on insecurities. In short, these Fives symbolize vulnerabilities that may lead us to give away our power.
Next, I wonder what leads us so completely into the lair, to go from a Five to a XV. Given he’s the shadow side of VI, the Lovers (the reduction of XV), I consider that the Devil may be the result of a decision delayed, a giving away of power. Poised between Temperance and the chaos of Tower, he surely represents the consequence of not fully owning ourselves or our decisions: that unsteady ground of over-compromise. If we do not act when prompted by the Lovers, a situation festers and is pushed down into the subconscious realm of fear, shame, and unrealised truths. This is the Devil’s domain, the base, material depths; yet it is also where our instinctual creative power resides, suppressed and hidden, waiting for early release.
Here’s one example of a Five and XV journey. Some years back I worked with the tarotist and author Kay Stopforth (Quantum Tarot, Universe Cards). Each month we’d get together to read, using her Hero’s Journey spread. The central card position represented our greatest current challenge. For more than two years of our six-year tarot meet-up, the Devil came up as my central card. And the Five of Wands, my very own doorway to the devil realm, would also appear so often it became a joke between us (Oh, not again, Liz… at which point I’d help myself to another tea cake). At some level, I saw my situation at work as simply an ongoing test, and given time I would work out the winning formula. My ego said my manager would change her personality if I kept trying to appease her. (This wasn’t about finances. The work was better paid than others at an equivalent level in other companies.) Only when I left the company I had been working for and the all-consuming boss did the Devil entirely disappear from the spread. Looking back, I ignored my early Lover’s card so long it flipped into its shadow.
This helped me reflect upon how the Devil can be a great teacher, a lesson we encounter over and again and which persists until we get the message; we’re never too aware, evolved nor clever not to need him. In a reading for yourself, he offers a great opportunity for focus, to see where most of your energy is going and how you’re being consumed – whether this is through giving away time, creativity, love, money. This idea of consumption brings to mind the fifteenth-century Visconti Sforza Tarot and a card that shows three figures being eaten by the Devil. It’s a grotesque image, dominated by a central human face who appears bewildered rather than agonised by his predicament. He’s half-eaten, yet unaware of what is going on. If we find ourselves in a Devil situation, it is not down to stupidity or bad motivation. The Devil creeps up on us. He’s not riding a horse and holding a banner that screams, ‘Hand over your soul!’ At first, he may make you feel good with a surface enticement. He may come to you as the Magician, disguised. The Hebrew letter associated with the Devil is Ayin. Its symbol is the eye, meaning ‘clear vision’. And that’s exactly what is needed – to recognize a potential devil situation before it consumes our energy, before we have agreed to our own enslavement.
In Game of Thrones Tarot, artist Craig Coss and I chose the psychopath Ramsay Bolton as the Devil, one of the most obvious pairings for us in the deck. Ramsay entices the Ironborn prince Theon Greyjoy by offering him freedom, but then betrays him, leading him right back to the dungeons of the Dreadfort, the seat of House Bolton. He has him castrated by henchmen, tortures him and forges a perverse intimacy based on psychological as well as physical abuse. Naming him Reek, Ramsay takes away Theon’s identity to the extent that when sister Yara attempts to rescue him with a fleet of Ironborn soldiers, he refuses because he believes her intervention is a trick; at this point in the story, he has been captive too long to reclaim himself. He cannot choose freedom, to take the Fool’s leap of faith. (In my forthcoming workshops in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney this May, I’ll be talking more about the thinking behind Game of Thrones tarot and the intersection of tarot the the mythic narratives of the series).
A consideration of the Devil takes work. Yet the truth, as they say, sets us free – and that freedom, that final decision that takes away the Ten-of-Wands weight, is ours to take: without our agreement, without our energy, he’s gone. In client readings, I often interpret the Devil then turn him face down. The whole energy in the reading shifts; it’s lighter, more fluid, and suddenly there is space for what’s to come.
This article first appeared in The Magician, the official publication of the Tarot Guild of Australia, 2020.
After various travels at the weekend, I’ve received rather a lot of guidance. No, not from a guru deep in meditation, you might ask. Way more pedestrian: the repetitive advice from male and female announcers: ‘At the top of the escalator, please step forward/‘Use the litter bins provided/In the airport/Walk, don’t run/‘This is a smoke-free zone.’ There’s no way to interpret those as messages from the Universe, though I did try.
So there it is: we must be managed via public service announcements (PSAs, if you will). Without these ghost voices telling us what to do, we’d be falling off escalators, gaily throwing around empty sandwich packets and offering round a packet of B & H in the departure lounge. While some PSAs are surely for safety and insurance purposes (ie we’re not responsible if we told you not to do it) the warning against an infraction of the rules guilt-nibbles the soul like a digestive biscuit crumbling in hot tea. (I just deleted ‘just’ in that last sentence or I’d be contradicting my last post, The J Word.)
Here’s my train favourite: ‘Anyone without a valid ticket will be prosecuted.’ I’m seeing myself in handcuffs being dragged out of the toilet to a waiting police van. (Flashback to sitting on the train loo, forgetting to lock the door, which opens before a queue of people when another passenger tries to get in. No announcement saying, ‘Don’t forget to lock the toilet door,’ which would have been way more use than listing what’s on offer at the buffet car.) Of course I have a valid ticket. I always do. But that PSA, repeated a dozen times on the Mackem Express to London (translation: Sunderland, in the north east of England) trips me into a negative spiral. I could secretly have committed a crime. I might have an invalid ticket and be ejected at Hartlepool. And I don’t know anyone in Hartlepool, etc etc. It’s laughable, I know, but that ridiculous self-doubt is not only mine – on visiting a friend, I saw this note taped to the stove: ‘The gas is off. You don’t have to check again.’
Moments before that pernicious PSA on the London train I’d been thinking about the upcoming meeting with one of my publishers to talk about Nature’s Hidden Oracles, my next book. It’s about how to divine with natural findings such as leaves, stones, feathers and flowers when you’re out on walks. I reflected that on the beach, in the park, or your garden, there’s no interruption to the flow of ideas, of daydreams. No audio-interject telling you to walk on the path or step carefully over the stream or beware of the mud. The natural sounds of nature help us quietly connect with our intuition, or own knowing (and that’s one reason why being in nature can lower blood pressure and ease anxiety). Nature offers us a private and unique connection to the earth and with our sense of self. We’re appreciating what we see through our own filter and giving it meaning – from the pattern of rippled sand at low tide to the whisper of the leaves in wind. This is the real ghost voice, speaking; not the disembodied vocal loop played in commercial buildings and on public transport.
Freedom from this kind of sonic pollution gives us space to open up to new possibilities and to simply be with ourselves. When that’s not possible on planes and trains, let’s have some positive messaging instead: ‘Have a lovely trip.’ ‘Travel broadens the mind’ (I don’t mind clichés). Music, even. Or, ideally, silence, which as we know is golden (I’m on fire with the clichés, here) – unless you’ve forgotten to lock the toilet door on a train. In which case, give me that swift reminder, any day.
Nature’s Hidden Oracles is published in May 2020 by Godsfield Press, £10.
Image: From a trip to the isle of Arran, Scotland, December 2019. The west of the island near the standing stones of Machrie Moor.
Ever noticed how ‘just’ precedes just about everything that’s supposedly easy? ‘’Just write the book!’ (I leave the writers among you to smirk at that one.) Or, ‘Just… run a marathon. In bare feet’. (I blame Nike’s ‘Just do it’ advertising campaign, intended to galvanise us into some sporting hell). Or the favourite, ‘Just get on with it (rebuilding your house, learning Mandarin, finding enlightenment). In all, I reckon ‘just’ is the opening gambit of the self-help devil.
Then there’s ‘just’ in restaurants and shops. I call this one Just Feel Bad.
At lunch today my Dad orders his usual half a bitter (that’s beer, if you’re in the US). ‘Just a half?’ the server enquires, with a niggling look.
‘No,’ breezes my Dad. ‘I’ll have five pints to myself, if it makes you feel better. Then I’ll get in my car.’
In the real world, rather than my fantasy dialogue, he replies, ‘Yes. Just a half, please.’
Marketing subtext: You could have ordered the whole bar! Or a bottle of Bollinger! But all you want is a boring half of bitter.
Congratulations – you’ve confirmed your status as Scrooge of Drinks.
Today, ‘just’ has become interchangeable with ‘only’’, and implies lack: an alleged need unfulfilled which can only (I’m on a roll here!) be redressed by buying more. And more. (Since studying and writing about Switchwords, I’ve become more aware of language and its impact; see my book, Switchwords: Use One Word to Get What You Want.)
And yet, the word’s original meaning is ‘exactly’ (later, it came to mean ‘recently’, as in ‘I just bought another tarot deck and hid it under the bed so my husband/cat won’t know about it’). Which brings me to tarot and the Justice card, because tarot, like only/just, swims in the background of my everyday experience. As ‘just’ first denoted precision, exactness, morality and adherence to the law, the word gives the card its meaning. Strength and Temperance, the other surviving virtue cards of the major arcana* are similarly direct. You get what you see – a judge in session, a woman holding a lion’s jaws, an angel pouring water between two cups.
How to interpret Justice
In readings, I’ve found the card can be literal – a legal process, a lawyer, being judged. Yet, if this doesn’t apply, there is another way to go. I like to consider Justice as the sister of Temperance, as both cards may be interpreted in terms of balance and retribution. As justice wields the sword, she oversees the mind: a call to get practical, to put your affairs in order and make careful and right decisions. Temperance, with her cups, strives for emotional balance. These sister cards have in common the theme of precision. Not a drop of water is spilled from Temperance’s cups. Justice’s sword is perfectly upright, the scales of balance exactly level, which gives a visual right angle and a handy metaphor: the right angle, or outcome.
Rewind to the restaurant: my Dad asks for half a bitter. ‘Exactly a half,’ the server confirms. A completely different scenario, as the server confirms they have the order exactly right. Or, as I’d like to say, just so.
*The tarot’s ‘lost’ virtue cards, Prudence, Charity, Faith and Hope, became submerged into the Hermit, Temperance, High Priestess and Star respectively – see Tarot of the Heart, my majors-only deck that includes the lost virtue cards.