My daily tarot card for today is the three of cups, whose Golden Dawn title is Lord of Abundance, and abundance is also the keyword used on the Crowley Thoth tarot. Perhaps it tells you all that you could ever want to know about me that I get this card and tend to find I can't read what it means. When I say can't read it, I can see that it is three female figures (for some reason I want to call them maidens - whether I think this is because of their youth or because for some reason i think they are virgins I can't tell you - holding cups up and dancing. The picture is plainly a joyous one, and this is borne out by the usual interpretations of this card:
'Description: The Three of Cups represents groups coming together to focus on a common emotional goal. People reach out emotionally to one another. It speaks of a sense of community, and can indicate the time to get more involved by helping. An inner passion for caring may be discovered, and energy put forth toward a goal will be positive and nurturing. It can also signal that this is the time to reach out if things have been particularly rough in the past. This card stands for all forms of support including formal organizations such as counseling or other social services. It's important that when the need for support is recognized that action is taken. This is the best time to do that. Reversed, the Three of Cups suggests that isolation from others is occurring. It is the time to take charge of the situation and to get out into the community. Consider joining a group or organization, and if the need for support is present, seek out the necessary resources.' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_of_Cups)
I am indebted to http://www.tarotteachings.com/three-of-cups.html for making me realise that the cultural image which this card most draws on for Europeans would be Botticelli's Three Graces, who individually represent Spendour, Joviality and Good Cheer, a connection I hadn't made before, although aware that this card clearly referenced something deep inside the psyche. In fact the three thing is an even deeper one for Europeans, going far back into Indo-European culture, where gods and things tend to move between threes and ones. Did the Christians seriously think they'd invented their three in one thing without help? The three graces reference means that I am not inclined to criticise Pam's depiction of three female figures without a male one, since she is clearly drawing on an artistic model which would be intended to press buttons in anyone artistically educated in the European tradition. That said, I will draw on a different reference for the three cups further on in this post.
Pam also borrows the greenery and fruit of the Botticelli picture: in hers they are somewhat decoratively lying around on the ground while the three dance over them. If I wanted to be flippant about this card (and you can tell I do, can't you) I would say that what we were seeing here was the end of a wild party where the decorations have been pulled down onto the floor. The pumpkin is something which has always leapt to my notice in this card - again in European culture the pumpkin comes into season in the autumn and thus indicates the dark side of the year, giving this card a somewhat shadowy and magical implication. If you don't want this card to be witchy, you could of course see the pumpkin as referencing Cinderella riding off in her chariot made from the pumpkin. You may say that that is just as witchy, but hey, this is the Hound's blog, and you can only expect you favourite pantomimes to be deconstructed as far as they will go.
Yet I don't like this orgy of happiness and celebration which the three of cups is often depicted as. The Hound's suspicious mind is suspecting that we are not being told All, and since I don't do reversals, preferring to see the 'upright' and 'reversed' meanings as polar extremes of the spectrum of meanings of one card, I don't mean that there is a reversed meaning which will turn the party on its head.
And here is where I ditch the Three Graces and start looking at the actual three cups. For a start, three cups means something. If you literally only have one cup you are not expecting company and in fact company is unwelcome, since you obviously don't even intend to offer any visitors a cup of tea. If you have two cups, company is expected and catered for. If there are two of you and you have two cups (as in the card preceding this one) you are in the position of not welcoming company, only with two of you. This is the early days of a romantic relationship when anyone who visits feels like a spare dinner: the two figures in the two of cups are focused on each other to the exclusion of everyone else. For a couple to own three cups, they are ready for a visitor and are prepared to make the visitor welcome. I suppose I am making the sociable point in a rather laboured way, but I think I want to refer to the stage of life where people are just getting together as couples and have not yet set up home to any great extent, and their friends may or may not be in couples yet. This is not the card of the dinner party on fine china; this is the card of the Chinese takeaway eaten out of the box on the floor. It is young, there is a comparative lack of resources, but it refers to a time of life which many people look back on fondly as Sex plays its tricks on people, they have children, wonder why they ever went there, get empty nest syndrome, and so on. All of that is in the future in this card.
I think probably Crowley/Harris actually got the closest to the Golden Dawn's description of this card in Book T (which I here cut and paste from a pdf copy I downloaded from somewhere on the internet and have lost the reference to):
'A WHITE Radiating Hand, as before, holds a group of lotuses or water-lilies, from which two flowers rise on either side of, and overhanging the top cup; pouring into it the white water. Flowers in the same way pour white water into the lower cups. All the cups overflow; the topmost into the two others, and these upon the lower part of the card. Cups are arranged in an erect equilateral triangle. Mercury and Cancer above and below.'
No mention of a pumpkin, you notice, but it does seem very much as if the greenery is the point here, and it is definitely greenery rather than the sort of flowers you see on RWS-derived cards. Just the chalices really. In fact the deck I picked the card from last night is the tarot del fuego, which I reviewed recently, and which has the three chalices one above another, which reminds me of nothing more than a champagne fountain, of the sort I use to illustrate this post.
There is also a complete absence of figures in the Thoth, Golden Dawn, and Tarot del Fuego decks, and the figures are what give me my ultimate difficulty with the RWS depiction of the energy underlying this card. I spoke above about how the three of cups for me represents the couple energy moving into the hospitality energy (I have avoided the baby energy because I would personally tend to see that coming later in the Cups suit, although I wouldn't argue if anyone wanted to see 2 + 1 = 3 utlimately referring to something new being born).
The trouble for me is that the RWS card dpeicts quite a different energy. If you look at the postures of the figures and the way they are holding their cups, it seems to me that they are not united at all. In fact the other two figures seem to be confronting the figure on the left, who to my mind is turning away from the other two, although again that is not an interpretation I would be willing to go to the stake for. The way they are holding the cups implies that the other two are almost confronting the one on the left with their cups, and this is catually depicting an argument. Although, possibly not quite an argument. Perhaps it is the position of a single person going out for a meal with a couple and feeling that the three thing feels awkward... Again, I wouldn't actually go to the stake for that interpretation but it seems to me that this card is depicting an uncomfortable, confrontative, argumentative, unbalanced energy. The other two are making in-jokes which are unintelligible to the third character, who frankly can't wait to go home at the end of the evening.