2 of Cups: Cancer I
Decan ruler (Chaldean): Venus
Hermetic Title: Love
Corresponding major arcana: The Empress [Venus] + The Chariot [Cancer]
After the restless winds of Gemini, the first sweet decan of Cancer has arrived. The summer solstice is upon us! and with it, the card known as the "Lord of Love". There is perhaps no other card that speaks so clearly of romance. I tell clients that when it comes to establishing happy relationships, I am hoping to see the 2 of Cups, the 4 of Wands, the 10 of Pentacles; maybe the Lovers, maybe the Hierophant. In the 2 of Cups, Venus rules over Cancer I. The cardinal sign of Cancer is ruled by the Moon, our nocturnal luminary; Venus is the benefic of the night sky. Any card, of course, can mean any number of things - but if there is going to be an enchanted evening, we will find it here. The 2 of Cups is no guarantee that you have found "the One," I say, but it's an excellent start.
Across a crowded room...
Often in tarot, I like to speak of the 1-2-3 sequence as "Lights! Camera! Action!" (Sometimes I also think of them as Point - Line - Plane.) Lights! is the Aces (or Kether on the Tree of Life) - the dawning spark of consciousness. Camera! (Chokmah on the Tree of life, or all Two’s) is the awareness of the Other. It is the Gaze which will result, eventually, in Action! (all Three’s) In the 2 of Cups, we see two people becoming aware of one another. It is only the beginning, but a beginning that is blessed with respect and good intentions. I think of this sometimes, in the language of affect theory, as "Interest/Excitement".
The lord, the lady, and the promise.
In the neopagan Wheel of the Year, the summer solstice is Litha. In the northern hemisphere, all growing things are reaching their full vigor. Leaves are full and deep green; blossoms have been pollinated; fruits are forming. (Some call Litha "Gathering Day".) It is the longest day of the year. The sun is at his southernmost point, and at his greatest light for us north-folk. The Oak King has reached the pinnacle of his reign - but his nemesis the Holly King is born today and shall ascend to his own pinnacle at Yule.
The solstice marks the commitment of the God to the Goddess - their marriage, in some traditions - and his dedication to the land. The solar God promises the Goddess that he will sacrifice himself, when the time is ripe, so that the earth may be reborn. So it is no surprise that we see in the 2 of Cups an image of a couple pledging themselves to each other. Are they the same two as the star-crowned, throned Empress and Charioteer? Perhaps. The lingam-yoni on the Chariot's shield certainly suggests themes of male-female union.
New decan, new year.
In ancient Egypt, the flooding of the Nile (called Akhet, or "inundation") marked the beginning of the New Year. It coincided with the heliacal rise of bright Sirius, the solstice, and the start of Cancer. The sediments deposited by the flood marked a return to fertility for the Nile Valley, and hence the beginning of the agricultural year. We can see these renewing waters in the Empress (card of Venus) and the Chariot (card of Cancer), the two major arcana associated with the 2 of Cups. The Edenic waterfall cascading in the background of the Empress card spills into a steady waterway coursing at a distance, behind the Charioteer.
Dancing with the tides.
Venus is a sea goddess as well as the goddess of love. When Kronos castrated the sky god Ouranos and (there's really no nice way to put it) tossed his genitals into the sea, Aphrodite rose from the foam and stepped ashore at Kythera. Or, if you believe Botticelli, rode in on a scallop shell. The Chariot, as we know, corresponds to Cancer the Crab - metaphorically represented by the armed warrior with his shining breastplate and gauntlets. So when I think of the 2 of Cups' natural correspondences, I have a sense of movement, shelled sea creatures, and the littoral foam. That undulating line where the sea courts the land changes constantly with the tides - yet at the same time a living population of shore creatures dwells eternally within it. This dance - approach and retreat within constant engagement - is the emotional stance of the 2 of Cups. Love (the Empress), set in motion (the Chariot).
A wall that divides and unites.
Separateness and togetherness are themes in this card and its two related majors. I often speak of Cancer/the Chariot as having a hard candy shell and a soft caramel center! Believe it or not, that's a Kabbalistic reference. The Hebrew letter associated with the Chariot/Cancer, ח chet, refers to a fence or partition - something which creates an inside and an outside. But the Hebrew letter associated with Venus/the Empress, is ד daleth - or door. In other words, the Empress creates a door in the wall. Each of us is encased and armored in the hard shell of our individual ego, but the Empress makes a hole in that armor right over our hearts. She begins to dissolve the illusion of our separate selves, and she does it by making us fall in love.
When I think of the wall between each of us as separate persons, and how we try to break out of our ego-prisons to reach other humans, I can't help thinking of Ovid's star-crossed Pyramus and Thisbe, lovers famously separated by (a) a wall and (b) their families' enmity. Shakespeare imagined Pyramus whispering to Thisbe through the wall's tiny crevice:
And thou, O wall, O sweet, O lovely wall,
That stand'st between her father's ground and mine!
Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall,
Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eyne!
(Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i)
The subtle senses.
The decan commentators vary wildly in their images of the spirit of this decan - yet there is a Venusian consistency of tone: A graceful woman holding a lotus, standing in the water. A man holding fruits and leaves standing among sandalwood trees. A handsome man with white feet in a fragrant orchard. A man covered in fig leaves with curved fingers. A prettily dressed virgin girl with a crown. Each approaches the world in a manner as delicate as the sea foam, expressing sharp senses, friendliness, cleanliness, love, and above all "subtlety". We see that term, "subtilitatis," both in this decan and another Venus-ruled decan, Aries III (4 of Wands).
Cancer I: gaiardie, sensus et eorum qui ab hominibus faciunt se amari. subtilitatis et communitatis.
Aries III: subtilitatis in opere, mansuetudinis, ludorum, gaudiorum, et limpidationum
Etymologically, "subtilis" refers to fine, underwoven textiles. Each of these descriptions emphasizes a respect and attention for others or one's surroundings. In such an atmosphere of sweetness, safety, and nurturing, tender feelings may well arise.
When you draw the 2 of Cups, it may or may not be an invitation to romance. But it is certainly an invitation to enter a delicate, receptive mindset. Observe and appreciate the beauty in others - particularly the beauty that is subtle and hard to see. Offer to another your respect and your benefit of the doubt, for you are strangers. You may come to realize that courtesy is only a mask worn by great love, for beneath the surface - beneath what you think you know - you may find yourselves to secretly be lovers, family, fast friends, or even your very own self in disguise.
FRAGMENT 2, from Sappho
Come to me from Crete to this holy dwelling,
where your lovely grove
of apple trees is, and your altars smoking
herein cold water rushes through the apple branches,
and the entire space is overshadowed by roses,
and from the shimmering leaves
sleep pours down.
Here a horse-nourishing meadow blooms
with spring flowers, and the winds
In this place, you, Kupris, taking up garlands
pour nectar gracefully
in golden cups and mix it
with our festivities
[- tr. Gregory Nagy & Casey Dué]