Knave of Cups (I)

Notes of a Hermetic Conversation on the Knave of Cups by Joel, Nette, Jim, and Phillip on January 12, 2022.

This conversation was the first one for Nette, but at the same time was a sort of homecoming for Joel, Phillip, and Jim. From the inception of the Tarot gatherings, the meetings took place at Jim’s house in Peterborough, NH. This lasted from June 2016 until October 2017, when Jim moved to Taos. Since then, Phillip and Joel have been itinerant hermits, having conversations in whatever odd place they could find, with whomever else was willing, each of them with an eroding sense of “home” (or at least one in perpetual flux). With Jim now very close to Camphill Village Copake, it felt so natural to be back in the setting where it all began, and very much set the tone for the ensuing conversation…

The first question that arises is what exactly he is holding in his left hand? Have we seen this elsewhere? Is it a bowl? A part of the scarf perhaps? At first Nette thought it was the cup, but then realised that is what the object he is holding in his right hand is meant to be, which doesn’t seem particularly cup-like. He is holding this cup from underneath, from the bottom—this is hard to do, an unusual way to carry something. It would be difficult to balance.

The cup he is holding is very different from the cups we have seen in the first ten Arcana of the Suit:

The cup seems to be interacting with his scarf. The scarf is floating up, not just resting on the cup as it would be normally.

Notice the flower crown. There has never been a crown of real flowers before. We have seen them as adornments on crowns. Most notably on the High Priestess, Pope, and Ace of Swords:

His hair is very stylised. It looks like water. But this type of hair is more or less familiar, present in other Arcana.

The way he is standing looks like he is in the midst of threefold walking (eurythmy). One foot is very grounded (“place”), the other in the midst of “lift—carry.” This leg is more sensitive. He is definitely walking, like some other Arcana we’ve seen, but it seems to be specifically threefold walking, which is unique.

Is the yellow object he holds part of the scarf? If it was a cup, or some other solid solitary object, it would fall. He clearly doesn’t have a strong grip on it. But if it is attached to the rest of the scarf, he doesn’t really need to.

Is it a hat? Or a lid for the cup?

Maybe it has a smooth underside, but a “grippy” upper portion, making it easy to keep hold of. But he’s not even gripping. Maybe it is stuck to his hand? Like he grabbed a honey pot, something sticky.

Something arises from this image that reminds Joel of the Knave of Swords. Could it be that what he is carrying is the lid of the cup and his own hat simultaneously? Because one can really have the impression that his head is floating up out of the cup. As though this headless being removed the “cap” from the cup, and out floated the head, and the “cap” was at the same time on the head. The flesh-coloured part of the scarf that is floating above the cup would be attached directly to his neck, as though the head is floating out.

This is akin to the trippy impression we had of the Knave of Swords…that he begins as this blue ball, this “bag of waters” (if we imagine that his cape was once wrapped all around him, it is blue on the outer part). In order to break out of this bag, he first pulled the sword/sheath out of his larynx, splitting himself into three parts: head, neck, and body. He then drew the sword out of the sheath, and in doing so scalped himself, “breaking the egg” of his head, where we see the golden yolk exposed, the red and blue brim as skin flaps unfolding, and the white nerves pouring out. All of this done in a semi-trance or dreamlike state, totally impulsively. There is something reminiscent of this whole action in the pulling of the Knave’s own head out of the cup in the Knave of Cups.

Joel explains to Nette their striking experience of wandering in the wilderness during the Numbered Swords, feeling an empty repetition of the same image over and over again, grasping at straws to find any meaning…and then suddenly being thrust into the Court Swords, where the imagery came in such an overpowering and almost psychedelic intensity. Very visceral imaginations of the Knave, Knight, Queen, and King of Swords…and this ability to see these visceral imaginations then carried through the rest of the the Suit of Cups (and at times also backwards into Arcana with which we had already worked, but saw now with much more life).

This person is so old, it might be the oldest looking figure we’ve seen yet. Is this a woman? There is a similarity to Temperance…only the single flower of Temperance has become an entire crown:

There is a daintiness here…a way of stepping. The somewhat homely woman in the Lover looks a bit like this Knave. A roughness to the features—not so fine as Temperance.

Does this Knave have a dagger hidden in her cloak? Or is that the handle? Maybe the hilt of a sword, in its sheath. Upside down from the way a sheath is normally oriented…and passing right by (or through?) the region of the heart.

The Hermit also has a hidden dagger (and is also walking):

The ring in the middle of this cup is red, as in the Ace. But is more pommel-like, as in the upper cup in the Ten of Cups, instead of mere ring as in most of the cups throughout the Suit. Very similar to the red sword pommel in the Ten of Swords:

It really seems as though the upper “bowl” of the cup as it has been throughout has now descended into the middle of the cup, where the ring used to be. It takes us back to the Ace. And the bottom part of the normal cup—this curvy triangle/pyramid—has become the top, where the “bowl” used to be. And the bottom is no longer a 3/6 sided pyramid—it is now 2/4 sided, a side has disappeared. It seems out of balance from this.

Some intense dynamic shows itself between the head and the right hand. The red is the inflection point, something living. Therefore out of balance, but held in balance by the scarf above and the hand below…or maybe the scarf is like the hand that protects a candle flame while one walks.

The blue on the right side is more like a convex wing, whereas the blue on the left side is like a concave, puffy sleeve.

The scarf is like a heart-tongue, lapping up from the cup. Reminiscent of the visceral picture we began to have of Justice after having passed through the Swords…that there is a spiritual being “speaking through” Justice…that her throne is like the striations of the muscles of the larynx, and a tongue is hanging out of her chest…

Maybe the cap that she holds in her hand was a kind of turban, and the yellow “scarf” is really just the turban unraveled, and still attached to the part of the turban that has not yet unraveled that is in her hand? By why the flower crown beneath then?

She is on winding, rough terrain, balancing as she is tripping along. Or perhaps she is in the act of bowing? A presentation? Or offering this cup to her own heart-tongue?

Jim recounts a tale of wearing a wig to disguise his long hair…Perhaps the turban was on her head in order to disguise the flowers and the long hair. She was pretending to be a young man, a Knave, and now she has revealed herself for who she really is.

The puffy sleeve on the left is more like the pommel shape. The cup and the “concave” sleeve…it seems more like a sieve. Perhaps the beige scarf is—or was—directly connected with the right hand—like the cup is a transformed arm, or an arm being pulled off/apart? And the blue is not a sleeve at all? It is reminiscent of the poor Knight of Swords, who we perceived as growing new beings all over himself, with only his head protected and floating on the sea of spontaneous generation occurring all over his body (e.g. his right leg and arm turning into a horse, his left shoulder growing a face, etc.):

Is there a pyramidal shape hidden in his tunic? The shading of certain areas makes it seem like it could be different “sides” of a building. If we flip it sideways, it looks oddly similar to the American flag!

What exactly is the scribble on the ground, on our left? A mouse? A signature of sorts? Again a bit reminiscent of the Knight of Swords, where we saw this reduction of the archetype of the Tower of Destruction in the saddle, or on the throne of the King of Swords, this bird/flower/clef:

But this insignia is much sloppier and more inscrutable than those. The edge of a pillow? A scowl? Looks like the Knave of Coins has a bit of a scribble—and he has a dagger as well? Hidden up his sleeve?

What exactly is this expression on her face? Sadness…yet bliss? A scowl, a frown, or a smile? Sad eyes, a grumpy nose, and a sweet small smile…which all combine to somehow give this overall expression of satisfaction. A complicated and comprehensive expression.

Are there other Arcana that have similar head coverings? Either flowers or turban-like head coverings, the entire head wrapped up so to speak?

Yes, the High Priestess on both counts, as well as the Fool (who is walking):

Knave of Cups has similar garb to the Knave of Coins, but different shoes? And no belt, so the garment spreads out more like a dress. All this action going on behind her that we can’t quite see.

The “heart-tongue”…perhaps a wind arises while she’s offering, a wind that wafts it back to her so she can smell, or invite to drink. If this scarf fell back down, it would fall over the front of the cup, cover it over. Like the veil of the High Priestess. Or the “tongue” of justice.

Perhaps the cup was under this scarf until now? It is only just being pulled out and revealed, and the scarf is going to fall back down over her front again. Perhaps in this moment, several things are revealed at once: the cup which was hidden below the beige scarf, as well as the crown of flowers and the hair. The turban removed at the same time that the cup is pulled out.

When looked at upside down, the “hidden sword” looks like a candle flame:

What is the marking on the shoes? They are more like slippers, with a tongue, making them able to be slipped on and off more easily. Ha, “tongue”! Movement. Flexibility. There are tongues all over this image.

The Fool didn’t get to have shoes like this. He’s all mixed up as well, e.g. the hand growing out of his shoulder…it’s a harder time for him and the Knight of Swords.

The whole scene is in motion—she’s done walking, about to kneel…the lid was between the cloth and the cup, she’s pulling both off to reveal what was inside…

What exactly is she gazing at? Compared to the other two Knaves. The Knave of Coins has this intense concentration going on. He’s looking back over the entirety of the Numbered Coins. Integrating this cosmic process into his own inner world. Hence the coin above and the coin below, there is a lemniscate movement of integration happening. The two are actually one; his activity of recognition both divides and reunites it (a la Philosophy of Freedom). That’s why he’s poking his finger on the spike of his belt: this requires a high degree of concentration (“concentration with effort”). On the other hand, the Knave of Swords is in this complete dream- or trance-like state. The new born who has impulsively struggled out of the Numbered Swords of labor into birth. His gaze is totally open, not really directed within or without, as it is not completely awake. We always imagined the Numbered Coins streaming out before the Knave of Coins (to our left), but the Numbered Swords streaming out behind the Knave of Swords, producing him in a sense (to our right). He is unaware of his origins, his gaze is directed to the future.

What about the Knave of Cups? Is she looking into the Cup? Or to the one to whom she presents it?

Why would she carry the cup that way, with the hand underneath? Perhaps it went with the act of hiding it beneath the scarf. It would require a lot of balance to make this motion of pulling the cup out from under the scarf in that way.

She has a subservient gaze. Reverent. Offering.

Her garb is somewhat akin to the monkey’s outfit in the Wheel of Fortune. Not a barrel per se, but boxy. Especially once you see the angles, as we did in seeing the “pyramid” hidden in her cloak.

Her expression says, “Voila!” An unveiling, an apocalypse. Reverently, not self-aggrandising or showing off. A stolid, reverent face, not overly joyful. Happy, serious, tired.

Yet the flower crown is so youthful. Childlike, the mood of May Day. The May Queen. And yet the overall gesture of this individual is that something or someone is dying. Some great sacrifice has been made.

It’s like she has been in disguise, on this long journey, for her entire life. When she set out, she had a crown of flowers, but now they are all faded—white. And her garb is actually a kind of cupboard. This is the shelf where the chalice was kept. Like the place where the host is kept in the church (an ambry as opposed to a tabernacle). And it was part of her being. She has come all this way to deliver it, to give it away…now she is falling apart, collapsing at the very end of the task. Some other force is pulling this out of her—this blue Isis wing…like an accordion, or a strobe effect as in old psychedelic movies. The trail of light left by a movement.

It’s like the removal of the trumpet of Judgement:

It would have been part of her being, aligning with her larynx (top), heart (pommel) and stomach (base).

How does this image and imagination emerge from the first ten Cups? With the Coins it was a whole transcendent, ideal picture of the metamorphosis of this original Coin, leading to the “review” on the part of the Knave, and subsequently these four parts of Hermetic Conversation expressed in the Court Coins as a whole. Then in the Swords we were plunged into this repetitive, semi-mechanical wilderness. Felt like an eternity to get through…and then with the Knave it transformed in hindsight into being in the process of labor, the process of dilating to ten centimetres. This extremely visceral, almost psychedelic quality of imaginative expression came through the Court Swords, as the Knave was born, evolved in an uncontrolled way as the Knight, was slain as the threefold double by the Queen, and was reborn as the King (threefold John).

Then the King compressed himself into the Ace of Cups…since then it has been this pulsing, this animal/intelligent plant quality. The cup(s) and the plant mutually transforming and/or multiplying each other.

With the abundance of movement in the Knave of Cups..the bird wing…the strange signature…it’s not something geometrical. Neither the geometrical harmony of the Coins nor the insistent and suffocating geometry of the Swords is here…

The Knave of Coins is mineral. Understanding an arrangement of facts, ideas.

The Knave of Swords is plant. Understanding/experiencing metamorphosis, a watery world of changing forms.

With the Knave of Cups we have the animal realm. An airy realm of formlessness.

The Ace of Coins (and the entire Suit) is of the nature of One. The Ace of Swords (and the entire Suit) is of the nature of Two. The Ace of Cups (and the entire Suit) is of the nature of Three.

But why then does the Knave of Cups seem to go back to the Two all of a sudden? Instead of three sides on the base, we have two?

Pondering the Ace of Cups as the Grail…how it can be anything you need it to be…

In the Knave of Cups what we are witnessing is non-geometry emerging from geometry. One side is removed from the base of the pyramid. This is the “shelf”, the third trapezoid that is in the torso of the Knave rather than attached to the base of the cup. The geometry remains behind in her garb, something non-formed, non-geometrical is being born out of it.

It is even in the gesture of the cup itself. There is a strong geometry still present in the base, then this bright red inflection point, and then this imprecise, curved shape, like a fountain coming out of the top. It is a cup that is no longer a cup.

How many sides are on the bottom? Is it two-sided (an impossible shape!)? Or does it have a square base?

She is all movement. The other Knaves are static. She is like a magician, it’s a magic trick, like pulling the rabbit out of the hat. The squaring (base) of the circle (top). In the middle is the seed pod, like anise or poison ivy. The seed pod center: the focal point of the cup. It is open at the top: spiritual air is pulling the scarf in—and then perhaps the whole being with it! Either has already gone through a metamorphosis, like a snake shedding its skin, or she’s about to disappear completely, to top off her magic act.

Tomberg in the Lord’s Prayer Course talks about how the Gap where something new can form is in the shape of a funnel. A funnel that reaches an inflection point, and then reverse. From the top it appears as concentric circles.

One thinks of God and of the never ending circle of Divine consciousness, the circle of consciousness of the Godhead. Let us imagine a point comes about in the middle of this circle – a point where God is not, where He renounces part of His being. This point is the absence of God. When God creates, He separates from a part of Himself and expels this part – this is the point separated out from God. This point, however, is not simply a point. We have to think of it as a point coming into being, initially faint, and then becoming deeper and deeper – a kind of funnel. We can imagine this funnel from above appears as a black point on a white surface. At the top of the funnel it is light grey, and proceeding down into the funnel it appears grey, then dark grey, then black. Thus arises the abyss. The gradual absence of God is the abyss, a gradually increasing emptiness:  empty of God. And in this funnel–shaped abyss arises being, being as far as we are concerned, but which from God’s perspective is non-being. As God is absolute activity, the dark point is the first passivity – the earth.

This reversal of the funnel as the core image of Lazarus, Come Forth!

The lemniscate of the cup. Fructification, germination. The seed in the middle. The spirit is infusing all of the structures into the cup.

Does it get capped in the end? A return to where we began—with the Ace of Cups after the King of Swords, a condensing down into a Cup form.

Like the Grail Knight’s meditation with which we just worked:

O human being, stream the light of thinking into depths of will

Raise the light of the will to the level of heart and hands

Experience it in the creativity of heart and hands

And stream what is experienced again into depths of will

Then raise creative power again to the head’s heights.

Thus you will become bearer of the circumstances of your weaknesses.

And so we go back to the state of a seed? Or perhaps now we finally have a threefold plant? A chicken vs the egg kind of dilemma.
Coin as archetype of the seed.

Sword as an invisible fructification. The process of being in the belly to birth canal. Pulsing, timeless, moving through space, progressing.

Cup is back to a higher level of germinal process. Progressive, like the Coins, but a lot more life than there was in the Coins, which were transcendent. The Cups are living and breathing, full of life. The Coins are cold, like the starry heavens. The Coin has horizontality (flat, lays flat when dropped), whereas the Sword expresses verticality. The Cup brings these two together (base vs stem). The Coin as the archetypal sprouting seed—whether it is the seed sending out roots or initial sprouts. Whereas the Sword is somehow all the other parts of the plant—the stem, the leaf, the flower and bud…but they aren’t yet connected. They’re a scattered mess. The Cup is the place where all of this is put together, the fullness of the plant.

Goethe’s description of the plant is a pulsing tension between expansion on the horizontal and expansion in the vertical. A constant sacrifice and exchange between these two.

Horizontal isn’t really adequate to capture the essence of the Coins.

We get stuck on the Swords. They’re challenging. There is a continuity in the Coins. Then this is broken in the Swords. Discontinuous. The Cups are a blend. Tomberg references Henri Bergson in The Moon, how the intellect is only adequate for understanding the discontinuous. The eclipse of the intellect. Zeno’s contradictory imagination of Achilles racing the tortoise and never being able to catch up. This is the experience of the Swords. Your intellect is telling you you didn’t get anywhere, and then magically you’ve gone the distance.

The point of the Sword and the funnel of the Coins meeting in the middle, in the pommel of the Cup.

The opening of the Cup is the Vesica Piscis. The birth canal from the Swords. Brought into connection with the plant-like forms of the Coins. Seems hard to bring the Vesica Piscis into connection with discontinuity! And yet, for the woman who is giving birth, it is absolutely this experience that no progress is being made, that she is never going to get there. The experience of the discontinuous a la Achilles racing the tortoise and unable to catch up. For the on-looker of the birth process it is a very different experience.

Going back to this image of the non-geometrical emerging out of the geometrical—this is also expressed inasmuch as she was disguised as a man, and suddenly reveals herself to be a woman. Flow emerging out of geometry. A joyful marriage of opposites permeates this image.

There is a wild energy in all the animal forms throughout the Numbered Cups. This crazed energy becomes reverence by the end. A dying.

The top of the Ten of Cups is ready to pop. So full of vitality.

It’s like she squeezed the Ten, and something popped out. Not it is torn at the bottom, red in the middle. The four petal flower cap on the Ten has become the four petal flower crown on the Knave.

The Cups as continuation of the Vesica Piscis in the Swords, development of hymen and womb. The Knave as a kind of deflowering, an insemination or maturation. “Let it be unto me.” The fructification of the Cup. Had to be opened. The expansion of the uppermost Cup in the Ten. The uppermost Ten cup is in a state in between the “normal” cup (see the bottom cups) and the Knave Cup. The bowl in the process of replacing the stem. The curves of the base moving up to the top, and leaving the base fully angular.

The canopy over both High Priestess and the Chariot. The veil that allows contact with the spiritual realm. A skin—it is at once protective yet allowing contact.

The Coin is the seed.

The Sword is the birth.

The Cup is the fructification.

Or maybe we have the Coin as fructification, and initial development of the embryo. Cell division. Which jumps forward in time all the way to the labor and the birth in the Swords. A confusing (discontinuous!) leap. Then the Cup brings us to the actual development of the child in the womb, that which bridges the gap between the first few weeks and the last few days of pregnancy. But in such a way that it moves backwards…so the Ace is the moment just before labor, when the mother is about to “pop”, and by the time we get to the Knave we’ve in a way returned to the moment of fructification, the deflowering. A strange retrograde and direct movement through time over the course of embryogenesis.

We closed with the second stanza of the Foundation Stone Meditation.