Two of Cups (I)

January 8, 2021

– Joel gets back on the WhatsApp chat group with a new idea.

He has been busy posting the archives of Hermetic Conversation onto He has also been trying to keep up with transcribing notes of the most recent conversations, including the one he, Natalia, and Phillip had over the course of a few days on the WhatsApp chat group. And he was struck with an inspiration. During the Suit of Coins, the conversations were almost entirely just Phillip and Joel, and they all happened in person. The investigation of this Suit culminated in the first public presentation of the work in Santa Fe at the Sophia Foundation’s Annual Retreat (June 2019). After this, Joel moved to a different state from Phillip, and shortly after that, Covid hit. Both of these together made it impossible for Phillip and Joel to meet in person. So the medium of the conversations had to change—in line with the “divisive” nature of the Suit of Swords, they had to have their conversations over the phone rather than in person. Again, finishing with this Suit culminated in a way with the next level of public presentation, with Joel starting the website on which he will post the notes to all the conversations for anyone to access, instead of just emailing them out to a certain group of people. Other Hermeticists will have the opportunity to send to Joel anything they might wish to contribute to this website as well, inspired by their own work with the Tarot. So it struck Joel that, now that we have moved into the Suit of Cups, maybe playing with the medium through which we have conversations was once again appropriate.

And while taking notes of the previous conversation, it felt like it would be a wonderful experiment to carry on conversations in this more open-ended form over WhatsApp. Rather than there being a definite beginning and end to the conversations, they will flow one into the other, going with the gesture of the watery Suit of Cups. The conversation will unfold more slowly, over a few days, rather than in an hour or two. Including Natalia will add a very fresh perspective—she has a wonderful combination of familiarity with the process and the Arcana, but isn’t quite as saturated as Phillip and Joel are, after working their way through over 50 Arcana. Maybe Phillip and Joel will still make sure to, at least once a month, have either a phone or in person meeting in the more formal and structured form from before, just to keep a kind of center of gravity or anchor to the process. But we’ll play with it and see what comes of it.

Really this was inspired by a question that came from Natalia to Joel, about a week after this original WhatsApp conversation, concerning his thoughts about this red sphere in the center of the Ace of Cups. And Joel realised that his answer required moving into the Two of Cups—it felt natural, therefore, to move into the next Arcanum, to carry on the format and keep moving through the Suit.

And so we will move into the Two of Cups…

– The last time Natalia brought up this idea that there is like a cap at the top of the Ace, and if it descended all the way to the bottom, it would fit snugly over this pyramid at the bottom. Almost like a candle snuffer. It made Joel think of the verses in Matthew after the Beatitudes, where Christ warns against putting a bushel over your light, let your light shine before all men, a city on a hill cannot be hidden, you are the salt of the Earth, etc. (Matthew 5:13-16)

So there are three ways you can look at this upper city as a cap uniting with and covering the lower pyramid. Maybe if that happens, then the red sphere becomes a kind of adornment at the top, the cap passes through the red sphere and the red sphere is atop the covered pyramid. Or if the lower pyramid rises into the city above, there is like this elaborate city-pyramid at the top, and the red sphere is below. Or in the third picture, the city and the pyramid unite, and the red sphere is contained inside of them, housed within the united pyramid-city. 

And this seems to be the most correct option, the third picture. Phillip and Joel have so often had the experience that, with the Arcanum as presented, you have to move it backwards in your minds eye to the way it looked originally. It didn’t start out the way it looks in the card itself, it’s a snapshot of a process. And if we take the Ace of Cups back to its starting point, we come to this picture of the city-pyramid united with the red sphere inside of them. And what we’re observing in the Ace of Cups is those two pyramids in the process of separating, and this red sphere emerging from between them, this red sphere that is adorned with blue fins and smaller red spheres, that’s emerging from these two more pyramid shaped structures.

And if we want to know what this red sphere is, we need to let that process of birthing or unfolding go all the way to its conclusion. If we allow that to happen, what do we get to?

We get to the Two of Cups. There we see that the upper pyramid has flipped or fallen off the top and become one Cup, and the bottom pyramid has been completely released from this red sphere that was on top of it, and has become a second cup. And this thing that was the red sphere between them was apparently a seed of a crazy fish flower! Somewhere between a two-headed fish…or a fountain…or a flower…Joel hasn’t even really observed it closely yet. But basically, you finish the process that is in the midst of unfolding in the Ace of Cups, and you get to the Two of Cups. And this veiled red sphere is actually…you can kind of see it there, the main red cup of the elaborate blossom between the two fish. And the two fish were stuck inside of the red sphere, you can see their fins and tails poking out. Not sure what that implies—makes Joel think of the two fish and five loaves that become the 12 baskets of left-overs. It also makes Joel think of Pisces, like a movement from Pisces (fish) to Aquarius (cup). Which is an interesting juxtaposition, because last time we were talking about the Swords as more Gemini/Zarathustra/Ancient Persia, and the Cups more Taurus/Hermes/Ancient Egypt. And here maybe we see Pisces as having more to do with Parzival and the Age of the Consciousness Soul, and the transition to Aquarius/Slavic-Russian Cultural Epoch, the Age of Spirit Self. As a kind of reflection of that time period before Christ.

And something else Joel noticed, which is kind of funny that Phillip and Joel never noticed this before. But he’s only just noticed it now that he’s placed the Ace and Two of Cups side by side. None of the Numbered Coins have Roman numerals on them. Like the Fool, they are numberless. The numbers are only displayed through the Coins themselves.

Then the Ace of Swords is the same way, but then the Two through Ten of Swords, the Roman numerals are on the sides not at the top as with the Majors.

It’s the same with the Cups. And with the Two, it makes it look like an equals-sign on either side of the image. And so for the Cups, and probably also for the Swords and Batons, when you place the Ace and Two and Three in sequence, it makes it look like “Ace equals Two equals Three.” (See images for Swords, Cups, and Batons). Maybe there’s something there of this “1=2=3” in these latter three Suits, if you play with the Two as equals sign.

As he sends these images, it’s clear why Joel and Phillip didn’t notice this before, since there is so little space for the II in the Two of Swords, it’s very squished and doesn’t look properly like an equals sign. It looks more proper in the Cups and Batons.

– Natalia points out that other Anthroposophical groups are connecting through Zoom during Covid, and for some it has actually resulted in the groups’ connection becoming stronger, as they’ve been able to connect more often. But it has worked out so well only because they laid the groundwork in person in the years before. And so if you have built something or have really grown something, than it can be fruitful to move into this technological realm. It might not work so well to go straight from zero to phone calls. She had been thinking about this just as Joel was sending out these messages. 

Natalia considers the conversations and notes of Joel and Phillip a really excellent groundwork. And then back in the Autumn, Natalia and Joel were talking about how Tarot work always seems to interweave with one’s personal and interpersonal issues at the present moment, so she was looking forward to the most recent Ace of Cups notes (which had been stalled due to working on the new website). So in a way it seems quite natural for her to “hang around”…she’s willing to give it a try.

What was interesting about this experience with WhatsApp was that the spiritual presence was still so strong, and so alive, even though we were not in direct contact at all—over the phone, but also not a “live” conversation. And that the spiritual level only went higher as we went along.

And maybe on the blog there could be instruction about Hermetic Conversation? So that others could try it. She feels as though this Hermetic Conversation will grow on its own, the more things evolve and the more other people get involved, she feels it will have this tendency. And she always thinks “how can this spread more?”

– Joel definitely wants to include explicit stages of Hermetic Conversation, but he’s not sure exactly how. He could put it there front and center, but the fact of the matter is Joel and Phillip didn’t discover these stages, or bring them fully to consciousness, until after the Suit of Coins, after 3 years of conversation. Like the small child attaining some level of ego-consciousness around age three. That’s what Phillip and Joel presented in Santa Fe….so that will become apparent to people who are following the notes, once he gets the Suit of Coins up on the site. But it would also be nice if he could somehow make available the recordings of his talks in Santa Fe. What he still needs to figure out is whether they should be explicitly available at the beginning or embedded in the notes? Because he agrees—once people understand the process it is very simple to take it up with other willing and interested spiritual friends.

– Phillip feels like, yes it makes sense to explain Hermetic Conversation, but on the other hand if you have to explain it, maybe the person who needs it explained isn’t fully “there” for the process. Often if you explain it it falls on deaf ears. They either get it or they don’t. But it’s probably worth explaining nevertheless. For Phillip, Hermetic Conversation boils down to thinking completely with an idea that isn’t one’s own, so completely that, even to the degree that you disagree with it or don’t like it, or think that it’s wrong, you still completely think with it, so it is objectivity in the realm of thought, openness and receptivity and objectivity. 

Going back to the images…when Joel first described it, what Phillip thought of was—if you collapse the above and below, perhaps it slices up the blue stem and each of the little coins slides up a face of the pyramid, and the big red circle is also pierced somehow, and what is it? A berry, is there jelly inside, is it full of seeds, is there water inside and it bursts? Or is it full of air, like a rubbery skin with air inside? But that it kind of splits, and gets compressed, and doesn’t take up much space between those two.

But he likes the idea that it somehow just lives between those two spaces, and maybe its growth and its production is what pushes those two apart, actually.

In a way, there’s an obvious reflection of the Coins in terms of the globe, is there a reflection of the Swords? But then…well, you have this clear above and below with the red globe in the midst, and if that space closes between the pyramid and the city, are they in this unified trans-subjective space, and then they divide into the higher Coin realm of the archetype and the Sword realm of the process-dependent or time-bound realm below, as opposed to all things existing coincidentally, all phases present in one moment and in one space. Is that like the Coins and the Swords, and then there’s this thing that bring them together in the middle? Or unites them as they separate?

– Natalia can sense the frustration about needing to explain Hermetic Conversation. Or that it is not always so welcome or taken up. But maybe people need time to get interested in the notes and so on. But on the other hand, when they maybe feel inspired, then it’s the right time. Maybe the link to the explanation could be on the side, not front and center, but accessible when people are really interested. What was presented in Starlight was very adequate for explaining to people how to look at all at the picture, what you do with the card. But the steps delivered in Santa Fe are quite helpful. To find another friend to get involved with maybe doesn’t happen immediately, but learning how to see one can begin with. 

When Phillip talked about these two parts conjoining and what happens to the red—whether it’s exploding or something—it feels like if it comes in the middle, it would first probably be so that, if the upper part goes slowly down, then this dagger part, this end of the sword, could actually kind of push this red ball and make that happen. Like Phillip said, if the ball would get squeezed in there it would be too small of a space, but then the dagger could hit it, and maybe that would in a way pop it, release the gases or release the wine. The stripes which are there, it makes one think that this is not purely red, like maybe it’s a balloon that has some gases or liquid inside, but this dagger would splash it. 

And now that she looks at the Two of Cups, it actually really feels like there’s no ground, there’s a liquid red part, and then the chalices are hovering in the air. As if there would still be something gaseous in the upper part, a more levitative element in the air.

And also, Natalia feels that Joel should inform people to get the right deck. It makes the notes easier to follow, and also the images from other decks did not speak to her as well. 

– Joel will include a link to Starlight, and a link to the real recordings eventually. And he will recommend the right deck, but that is also part of why he wanted to get the notes online, because he can just include the image and it makes things clearer. Some folks probably still will want to get the actual deck though, so it would be good to include that.

But he loves this image of the two pyramids coming together, like a winepress or a guillotine. Like it’s a big grape in there and it turns it into wine or pulp or something. And you get the impression…we noticed this “doorway beneath the dagger” at the pinnacles of both the upper and lower pyramids. And if they were to come together, it would squash the grape and wine would flow out of this doorway and down the front of the pyramid. And maybe this is already getting squashed a bit, and that’s what this blue flow is. Like an initial type of liquid, a watery liquid coming out before it’s all squeezed. And then that red on the Two, it’s like a distillation or a precipitation happens, where you have this wine or this blood down at the bottom. A separation of air and fluid in a way. Some things are floating in the air above this pool of wine below.

It reminds Joel of the “winepress of God’s wrath” from the Book of Revelation. Like this thing in the middle gets completely squashed in between the two pyramids, and when they separate again, it’s like a new creation has come out of this destruction. This brand new fantastical flower fish thing floating between the two cups. So it’s both a destroyer and creator at the same time, not like the Swords where it was all destruction. Or maybe the Ace is like the transition from destruction to creation. Because if they’re coming together, it’s like a guillotine, and separating it’s like a giving birth.

And to Phillip, yes Joel’s thinking was going along the same lines but didn’t get all the way there. Last time we talked about this red sphere being this eternal realm, this transcendent realm like the Coin, and then the three little suns like the unfolding in time, like the Swords. And when they come together, it’s like the lid of the eternal absorbs the temporal, you can’t even see the temporal anymore. But then when they separate again, there is this third term that weaves between the eternal/transcendent and the temporal, like the “One Thing.” Those two then become side by side in the Two of Cups, you have the Eternal next to the Temporal, they become equal to each other. It makes Joel think of the section in the Pope where he speaks of the pain of the Pope being the mis-match between Eternal Truth and Temporal Truth, but that someday they will be equal. Maybe that third term is what makes them the same, without one overtaking the other like it was in the beginning.

– Phillip now understands what Natalia was asking for in terms of laying out Hermetic Conversation.

January 9:

– Natalia observes in the Two of Cups that these two blue creatures, at first she felt that they were kind of dolphins, not really fish. But they also have this gesture of being more of a mammal. You don’t usually see fish with open mouth and a tongue coming out. Do fish even have tongues? Dolphins do. It seems like they are expressing anger, some strong expression—do they look at each other? Or the flower in between which is causing them something? Or is it the after-expression of something that was kept inside or tensed, and now more released. But now it seems they are connected to this flower in between. The right one is actually touching one of the blue petals with its tongue. The left one has its nose touching the yellow part. But the right one touching the petal almost makes one think of colibri (a hummingbird) pollinating the plant or the flower. Then again where the fish separate from the flower, there is this strange white stem. It almost looks like they forgot to paint it, it doesn’t make much sense. The blue barely touch each other, the white comes in between. So there is a sort of strangeness in this middle part which draws attention.

It’s a bit like, what are those two blue creatures doing? Then again, both of the chalices are below them, and it makes one wonder if there is something inside the chalice? Hard to say. Or is it waiting to be fulfilled? Do those chalices have a connection with these dolphin-fishes?

It seems like fish do have some kind of tongue when Natalia looks this up, but it’s a very specialised type, not the same that these two have. It almost seems like they would try to make a voice, like screaming or something. What makes them so tense? So full of this bursting still? Or they are like a trumpet blasting towards the flower.

Natalia thought she had seen something like this before….and it reminds her of a fountain. When you search online you can find these “angry dolphins” and they have this unclear tail the same way sometimes. And it’s hard to say if they are exactly a fish or a dolphin. In Rome she has seen them. It connects in her mind to Neptune and when she seeks out images of Neptune, he is often riding with dolphins or seahorses, where the end of the tail is just waves, indistinct. Maybe that’s a bit far fetched, but definitely something with the fountain, the fontana images, she has seen before. Maybe this is some kind of fontana, fountain?

Like Piazza della Rotonda, in Rome.

File:Roma piazza della Rotonda paricolare fontana.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

And in Aux de Provence there is a fountain with four dolphins.

File:Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins 20100508 Aix-en-Provence 2.jpg -  Wikimedia Commons

– Joel thinks that’s right in line, this idea of the fountain, with a development ever since the King of Swords. Phillip and Joel could perceive within him these swirling pillars of water, like river rapids, swirling in his breastplates. And it felt like with the Ace of Cups this was a fountain ready to burst, with a cap on it that is feeling the pressure of the water ready to burst it off. This is now the fountain turned on, activated in the Two.

But it’s an interesting observation the different way the two fish are touching the flower, one with tongue and one with nose. And the flower’s petals are lifting up in a way to meet them as well. It seems like the flower is also screaming—not just the fish are screaming at the flower, but the flower is screaming at them. When you look at the negative space on the left side, you can again see two triangles, two pyramids, in the white between the face of the fish and the flower. This doesn’t form so distinctly on the right side.

When Joel looks at the Cups, they bear a kind of resemblance to the fish. Like the red around the rim of the cup is like the mouth, this intense mouth on the dolphin/fish. But they’re yellow not blue, and they aren’t alive. But is there some relationship between the Cups and creatures? Are they two different stages of the same being? Are the fish mean to detach at some point and then become those cups? They’re alive when they’re on the plant, and then they come off and become Cups? Like this is a “Cup-Tree.”

It was great when Natalia brought up sea-horses. Already it was great to bring in dolphins, because it’s true these creatures aren’t quite fish. They don’t have tails, they have a weird stem. And they don’t really have fins, and this face is like a mammal’s face. It has way more personality in it than a fish. You feel like these fish would speak to you, there’s a personality in there. Joel was already approaching the idea of sea-horses when Natalia made it crystallise. But Joel also thinks of sea serpents. When you have these two sea serpents around the central flower, it becomes a kind of Caduceus. But somehow also interwoven with this trident of Neptune (see below, by Turner). Mercury is Quicksilver, it’s this watery element, but so is Neptune. So there’s a really strong element of flowing, watery, mobile element we’ve entered in the Cups.

Caduceus | Definition of Caduceus by Merriam-Webster
Neptune's Trident', Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1822–4 | Tate

– When you bring up dolphins, they have such a highly developed brain. And they’ve developed a kind of language, a way of communicating with each other. But it’s a very piercing, intense mode of communication because they need to communicate through the water. So maybe that’s what’s being expressed—they have a personality, but the kind that develops when you have to adapt to the watery element. Therefore a rather intense watery element. 

Makes it appropriate that it’s in Rome! I guess France also applies, but you can certainly come across these more intense personalities in the Romance countries of Southern Europe.

Now Joel perceives these equals signs as saying “Fish = Cup.”

Something from past Hermetic Conversations: when we’ve talked about Justice, years ago, the 8th Arcanum, we perceived her sword as a sort of curtain rod that opens the curtain. And then her face, the way her crown is shaped and frames her face, her face is like the ball on the sceptre that the Emperor holds, and she pulls this “Curtain rod” of the sword and it opens up the ball/sphere of her face, revealing her face within. So Joel had a similar thought with the Ace of Cups—that it’s these two inter-penetrating pyramids, and then they open up, and this sphere is inside that becomes, explodes into, these angry dolphins. It reminded Joel of this picture from Justice.

If we look at the progression through the Minor Arcana, we have the Coin which is a circle, and then with the Swords, we have two interpenetrating circles developing a Vesica Piscis as the third term in between. Then with the Cups it’s like the two circles have completely separated and what was coming to birth in the Vesica Piscis has appeared completely. We were only seeing it in its gestational form all through the Swords.

Maybe if you inscribed a triangle inside the circles created by putting together two Sword cards, you end up with these two pyramids, and in between them is this sphere that then explodes into the loud, angry dolphin-plants!

So it really does then feel like, going back to the Coins being an eternal realm of purity and peace, this transcendent spiritual realm. Then the Swords bring in this conflict, because suddenly transcendence is brought into juxtaposition with Time unfolding itself, and error and sin and vice and mistakes and all the rest, and arbitrary human will and creation. Those two are at war in a way during the whole of the Swords. Then the Cups it’s this magical third thing that can come about when those two are able to harmonise with each other. Like the Christ being in the Representative of Humanity emerging from between Lucifer and Ahriman.

Then Joel was browsing through the Suit of Swords to see where we’ve seen this flower shape from the Two of Cups before, and it’s definitely in the Six of Swords, but then leafing through saw the Ace and Two of Swords again. And Joel and Phillip never perceived it this way before, but the Two suddenly leapt out as like an attack by a squid. With the leaves like the tentacles of a squid, where they grow larger at the ends. And the “pearl” in the middle of the flower like this beaky mouth of the squid. Never noticed it before, and probably only notice it now that this creature element has come in from the Two of Cups. And then was reminded that in the Ace of Swords we had always seen this shape that the hand emerges from as like some kind of mollusk or sea creature. Later Joel will try to look back and find this particular kind of flower—the red flower at the top of the Two of Cups—in prior Arcana.

– Natalia feels this flower screaming as well, like there is this opera singer “AHHH!” And the others responding in kind. “What shall we do with each other?” And the flower is like the diva in the middle—actually almost pushing them away. But the fish are almost screaming her into being or something.

And Natalia doesn’t know the Coins so well especially, but isn’t very familiar with the Swords either. This is her first look at the Two of Coins, and it seems to have a strange connection with the flowers having this kind of swimming, watery, squeezing…some strange element…a bit in the opposite way of the dolphins. Like this water flowing between and then these flowers at the end of the watery flow, but influenced by its swirling. A bit in an animal way, their gesture. 

The more one looks to the fishes on the flower, this tension becomes more and more as if the flower doesn’t want those two to spit water into it or something, trying to keep them in distance or dissonance or something. A tension in the air. On the other hand, what are these yellow things? They start to look like wings almost in the flower kind of behind.

Then Natalia took a “novice’s” looks around the cards, and it struck her how much there is this similarity with the Ace of Coins and the Ace of Cups, like all of these triangle figures, and the small middle part with dots, like in the upper part of the Ace of Cups, and all these discs. Then on the other hand, these flowery figures in the Ace of Coins, they come very close to the upper part of the Two of Cups with the dolphins, this gesture, only that they kind of look inwards/downwards, whereas the dolphins are in the middle and facing each other.

– Phillip is so grateful for these messages…there is such a contrast between some of the anthroposophical groups that Phillip is associated with, sometimes quite painful to be part of those groups, and this is exactly the opposite of excruciating, it is an absolute joy to hear these thoughts and insights. Like breathing life, and newness, and truth, and breathing reality—what is real and authentic.

The thing about the fish that gives the mammalian quality is the forehead. It seems like a larger brain there, a larger mental capacity, like a dolphin. This idea of singing, and the flower singing in response, it’s like this future “creating out of the voice” idea. A hermaphroditic component is there. The fish are coming out the flower, yet they are the ones pollinating the flower itself. There’s a return to this ancient unification of the sexes in a way. The cups = fish—yes. 

Some other thoughts….Phillip shares a Steiner lecture from February 10, 1918 ( Tenth paragraph down. The basic idea that feels familiar with the Two of Cups is that once you die, there is no corollary to the plant or mineral kingdom in the realm of death. The first corollary is the animal kingdom. Yet it’s more like your entire “physical” environment of the spiritual world, this substantial world of the spirit, is what is animal-like. The entire environment is sensory and responsive to your activity. Your whole environment is not just alive, but sensory, animated. There is something in that idea that could be an interesting lens through which to look at this card. The thought that goes further than that for Phillip in thinking of the three realms of Coin, Sword, Cup—they are presented in this archetypal form such that they can only be understood when they are seen as embedded in life, in a living context, not merely material. The imagery in the card has to be seen in its context as united with the wholeness of life, consciousness, action, and substance, all as a whole, seamlessly integrated without any separation and/or meaningful breakdown in communication amongst those realms as we so often experience while incarnated in the physical world, during our lives.

What are the swords here? The flower thing could be turned upside down, and the white part could be the blade, the reddish-blue part is the handguard, and the upper part more or a handle. There are various ways you could see this as a sword. 

And this whole progression is really making Phillip return to the Tetragrammaton. Where the Yod is like the Coins—concentrated, whole, potent archetypes. The first He and the Swords being this reflective, gestational process, where a thing is amplified—almost inversely amplified by being dismantled or disaggregated, dissolved and broken down, yet amplified in that sense, and reflected. That’s a process, like this dark night of the soul, the dark mother that appears as destruction yet in truth it’s fertilisation, fecundisation, amplification and potentiation, but on the other hand it’s destructive. Then the Vau is this third term being produced out of that, which is a resolution, or a reintegration of this wholeness after its disaggregation into separate parts, a new wholeness that comes about through a productive or reproductive process as the Vau in the Cups.

Seeing the Swords as a process-oriented thing. It’s almost like this Trial by Air. The goal of the Trial by Air is like, you’re in the boat, the sail is torn, if there’s no wind you have to paddle with your hands, if there’s wind you try to hold the sail together to catch it. There is no hope, and yet you have to continue to make these seemingly fruitless efforts on the off chance that something could come about, even though it seems nothing could ever come about. You’re acting against all reason, in the face of the futility of the action…and yet miraculously at some point, the current has brought you some where, your efforts did bring you somewhere, and you’re in the realm of the Cups where there is water and life. Because here we are! In this incredibly fruitful and fecund domain!

…to be continued…