Cancer 1: first decan of Cancer, Two of Cups

The Two of Cups is also called the Lord of Love. At first, I found the decan image listed in 777 (which appears to be loosely based on the Picatrix images) a bit perplexing for a card of Love. 777 lists it as “A man with distorted face and hands, a horse’s body, white feet, and a girdle of leaves“. Picatrix lists it as “A man having twisted and crooked fingers and head, and his body is like the body of a horse, and having white feet and upon his body fig leaves. And this is a face of teaching, knowledge, of love, subtlety, and of skills.” Thinking about this made me see him as a Chiron-like figure. Chiron the Centaur was very learned, and a loving teacher and father-figure to many great heroes whose rearing was entrusted to him in their childhood. You can see the illustrious list of his students in the link, and he formed many loving relationships as he reared and cared for them.

Agrippa’s decan description is different, and fits with the idea of Venus as the decan ruler: “In the first face of Cancer ascendeth the form of a young Virgin, adorned with fine cloathes [clothes], and having a Crown on her head; it giveth acuteness of senses, subtilty of wit, and the love of men.” Likewise Bruno’s description is very Venusian: “In the first face of Cancer is a crowned woman who is luxuriously dressed. She is holding an olive branch in her right hand and a drinking cup in her left hand.

36 Airs of the Zodiac gives an association with Nike, the goddess of Victory who was Zeus’ charioteer. At least the charioteer reference fits for the introduction of the sign of Cancer, whose trump card is the Chariot. Nike however had no consort, and no children. While she could indeed be a crowned virgin, it’s a curious association for the Lord of Love except that she was often paired with Eros, the god of love and child of Aphrodite/Venus, who flew along behind her chariot in the celebrations that followed Victory.

I’ve also included the dolphins “argent and or” (silver and gold in heraldic terms) that are in the traditional Golden Dawn description of the card, and as seen in the Thoth deck, in my Rosetta, and as the lower half of the hippocampi (horse-dolphin hybrids which in consideration of the horse references of the decan image is interesting) of Tabula Mundi. Dolphins are associated with the womb and with the womb’s alchemy. The idea of them as silver and gold are likely a lunar-solar thing, a fertile combination of female and male. Makes some sense with the idea of Cancer and Venus (both feminine and lunar) in the sephira for Twos, Chokmah considered masculine and associated with the Zodiac itself, composed of stars that are after all suns, so solar.

One thing you will notice if you look at the Two of Cups in almost any classic tarot deck is that every one contains some curving twisting sinuous shapes. You can see it in the card from Rider Waite Smith, Thoth, Golden Dawn decks, my own Rosetta and Tabula Mundi, and even many Marseilles deck. Looking at them all together one thing pops out at me – in every one these entwining shapes form a vesica piscis by their intersection. This is very symbolic and intentional, for it not only references the “bladder of a fish” – an indirect reference to the dolphins and the womb – but also form a quite feminine shape, that of a portal through which things are born. Quite appropriate for the maternal sign of Cancer paired with decan ruler Venus, the Empress and mother figure.

So I’ve put both the male centaur-like figure in, as well as the young female figure. Perhaps the bundle she so lovingly holds will someday be entrusted to the wise centaur for rearing. Perhaps she is the vision of love that arises from the alchemical mixing of the fluid in silver and gold cups he holds. I’ve seen this card predict a future pregnancy, before it even happened and was just as they say, a “twinkle in the eye” (which sounds very zodiacal and vesical!) In any event, this card can signify the start of love – and that love can take many forms. It can be romantic love, or the love of a mother for a child, or a mentor for a student, or that higher love where 0 = 2. One becomes Two, or two become one and none.

black and white line art Two of Cups
copyright 2021 M.M. Meleen

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