The RWS Seven of Cups decrypted

27 Seven of Cups [work in progress]
Pamela Colman Smith has put a lot of work into the details of the Seven of Cups. On the other hand, in addition to the interpretation of the card, based on Etteilla’s work, this is everything that Waite considered sufficient to transmit: “Strange chalices of vision, but the images are more especially those of the fantastic spirit.”

From an esoteric perspective, and following the Christian dogma, the most relevant is that the number seven symbolises the unity of the four corners of the Earth with the Holy Trinity. Practically, four is the number of material worlds, while three of the spiritual words. Not sure that Pamela Colman Smith had thought about this, the content of the cups suggest otherwise.

Most commonly, the content of the cups is associated with the seven classical planets or the seven deadly sins.

Someone suggested to look-up the meaning of each symbol from the cups. I find most of them in the Encyclopedia of comparative iconography themes depicted in works of Arts editor by Helene E. Roberts.

Hair symbolises physical strength and virility; the virtues and properties of a person are said to be concentrated in his hair and nails. The hair on different parts of the body infers different meanings as well: hair of the head symbolises spiritual powers.

Hair flowing depicts freedom and looseness; the unwilling removal of hair may be a castration symbol. Carries the context of magical power; witches had their hair shaven off, as well as in the Bible, in which Samson loses all his power when, ordered by Delilah, a servant cut off his hair.

Head may also symbolise decapitation, betrayal, death, offering, drunkenness, intoxication, ecstasy, fatal woman, the famous femme fatale, hair or haircutting, honour, judgment, justice, martyrdom, metamorphosis, nightmare, sanctuary, and virtues.

The ghost signifies mirror, reflection, nightmare, witchcraft and sorcery.

The serpent has long been a widely used symbol conveying a multiplicity of meanings depending on the context in which it appears. It can be a symbol of life, power, the underworld, death and the dead, sin, or the devil. Snakes are found as attributes of Prudence, one of the Virtues; of Athena (Minerva), the goddess of wisdom; of Asclepius, the god of healing who inspired the present-day emblem of the medical profession; of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture; of Persephone, the daughter of Ceres and goddess of the underworld; and of Apollo, the god of music, medicine, and poetry.

The castles, palaces signifies fortune, months, peasantry, sin and sinning, sublime, temptation, voyeurism, witchcraft and sorcery.

Jewels is a symbol for abundance, adultery, crucifixion, Evil Eye, female beauty and adornment, luxury, marriage, betrothal, metamorphosis, mirror, reflection, money, nakedness or nudity, toilet scenes, vanity, vices, Deadly Sins, visiting, widowhood, witchcraft and sorcery.

The laurel wreath is a symbol of triumph.

The symbol of the laurel wreath traces back to Greek mythology. Apollo is represented wearing a laurel wreath on his head, and wreaths were awarded to victors in athletic competitions.

In Rome they were symbols of martial victory, crowning a successful commander during his triumph.

In some countries, the laurel wreath is used as a symbol of the master’s degree. The wreath is given to young masters at the university graduation ceremony. The word ‘laureate’ in ‘poet laureate’ refers to the laurel wreath.

In common modern idiomatic usage, it refers to a victory. The expression ‘resting on one’s laurels’ refers to someone relying entirely on long-past successes for continued fame or recognition, where to “look to one’s laurels” means to be careful of losing rank to competition.

Dragons signify communion, honour, justice, love and death, masks, personae, metamorphosis, mirror, reflection, money, order and chaos, serpent’s bite, sin and sinning, vices, deadly sins, virtues, witchcraft and sorcery, the Zodiac.

It may also relate to the Sphinx-like blue creature sitting at the top of the Wheel of Life, which is balancing the energies of the Wheel and guards the way to the mysteries, the secrets of life and death.

As we can observe, some of these meanings transcend from one object to another, and the delimitation is blurry.

Although it can be highly appealing, identifying the Seven Deadly Sins, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, may also be somewhat problematic.

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