I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
Mary Oliver, from Lead
As we prepare for the cross-quarter holiday of Imbolc (also celebrated as Candlemas and the feast day of Brigid), we are visited this week by the Five of Cups.
This is a card that is both mysterious and sorrowful. In the R-W-S deck, we have a figure of unknown gender cloaked in black mourning. They are slightly turned away from us, face hidden in grief, gazing at three spilled cups.
While the sky is a non-committal gray, the river nearby is clear and relatively smooth. There are rolling hills and two cups remaining.
The Fives of the Tarot are concerned with strife and sometimes suffering. And of course, Cups represent our emotions, love, dreams, and intuition. One of the few Tarot cards in the R-W-S deck whose main figure seems deliberately androgynous, this is a reminder that the bitterness of hurt, regret, and grief is universal to all.
Perhaps the three spilled Cups are the celebratory Three of Cups, now dashed. Has the figure fallen from grace?
Could this mean, then, that the friendship and heart-connection of the Two of Cups is represented in the cups that are still standing?
Unbeknownst, or perhaps forgotten to the grieving one, is there support nearby from friends or a lover?
Perhaps he or she has deliberately overturned the cups. Or has it been due to carelessness that this mishap has occurred? And what about the colors of the spilled liquids? Are they the orange and red of passion, and the green, perhaps, of jealousy?
Once the Hermit-like figure turns to discover the remaining Cups and the bridge that crosses the river of tears and healing, shelter and home await.
Leaving the Dark
This week, we will be observing Imbolc, the celebration of our emergence from the darkest season of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the green world has long been dormant in Winter’s season of death, silence, and cold.
But already, the days have lengthened since Winter Solstice, and the first stirrings of Spring are becoming evident. Green shoots of early crocus and daffodils may be poking up through the snow. The first newborns on the farm, the lambs, begin to come in during this time. For our ancestors, this meant fresh milk, cheese, and therefore survival, despite more cold and ice still to come.
In our troubled world, too, it has become clear that more harsh times lie ahead. Our Five of Cups figure reminds us that before we can be effective, we must see and accept what has been lost. Allowing our hearts to break provides the catalyst for action:
Our pain for the world arises out of our interexistence with all life. When we hear the sounds of the Earth crying within us, we’re unblocking, not just feedback, but also the channels of felt connectedness that join us with our world.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, from Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy
Thus, there is a promise in this card, just as there is an assurance in this week’s Sabbat: goodness and cheer await, once we own what we feel, and then let go of what has been irretrievably lost.
Be sure to take all the time you need, to come to your own sense of acceptance. Grieving rushed or buried is just as perilous to our well-being as despair or hopelessness.
The quiet figure cloaked in black portrays the wisdom of honoring what we truly are experiencing.
Across the span of our own lives, as well as from person to person, we experience our misfortunes differently. Although there may be loved ones who “have our backs,” like the two cups behind the figure, our journey in the lands of loss is essentially a solitary one.
Even the most public tragedies may strike those of us who are sensitive and receptive on a deeply personal level. This is healthy and as it should be. Our own intimate anguish, although painful, is vital to whether we truly heal. Only then, can we make any necessary changes.
The Dawn of Hope
So with this honest acknowledgment of the loneliness of grief, possibilities may whisper to us.
The Five of Cups shows that once we’ve come to the bottom of our sorrow, we need only turn away.
Echoing the miracle of Imbolc, despite the freezing winds that still blow, rebirth is at hand. This is the great truth: all is not lost.
Goodness yet survives and a new dawn will come. And perhaps more importantly, our suffering can teach us to be more open and responsive in a suffering world, as the brilliant Parker Palmer writes.
If you are going through disappointment or heartbreak, be honest about it, but do not beat yourself up, or hold onto regret. If this is happening to someone dear to you, what kind relief can you offer, once they indicate they are ready to accept it?
What wine of love still remains, waiting to be noticed?
While you may need to grieve, there is life still to be joyfully lived, and it points the way towards a bridge you may yet cross.
If you let your broken heart open you, you will discover, as Palmer says, “a vital new capacity to hold life’s suffering and its joy.”
The Five of Cups promises that healing and hope have not deserted you. When you are ready, say your goodbyes to your tears, knowing that as you do, the seeds for tomorrow’s rebirth await you.
And fortified by the breaking open of our own hearts, may we never close ourselves away from our hurting world.