The Six of Cups
The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.
— Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974)
This is an enigmatic card, to say the least. Many Tarot scholars interpret this card at face value, accepting its initial impression of simplicity, sweetness, childhood friendships, and fond sharing. One writer even calls it the Hallmark greeting card of the Tarot.
As I have mentioned before, a closer inspection reveals much that is unsettling and mysterious. For instance, Pamela Colman Smith, the artist of the Waite deck, was extraordinarily talented and knew perfectly well how to draw children. So why are the children in this scene so.. well… strange?
Is the figure on the left an adult, an older child, or a dwarf? And is the person receiving the cup of flowers a young girl or a tiny grey-haired little old lady? Her proportions seem much more adult. And why is she wearing a large mitten?
The card is also complicated by the out-of-proportion perspective. Why are the cups so much bigger in relation to the people than those which appear on all the other Cups cards? Why is the cup sitting behind the boy drawn in exactly the same size as the ones in the foreground? If the rules of perspective are engaged, it should look smaller.
Conventional interpretations of this card emphasize its sweetness, the joy we may receive from re-visiting fond memories, nostalgia for the past, or perhaps a visit from a childhood friend. I would not argue with that at all.
But there seems to be a deliberate strangeness in this card, hinting that perhaps some of our cherished memories may be slightly distorted, either by the passage of time, or by the human heart’s tricky way of remembering only what it wants to.
Therefore, this card’s innocence might not be completely benign. In the left background, the soldier walks away, hinting that, for better or worse, our guard is down. And Rachel Pollack writes in Tarot Wisdom, “Some people see it has having sinister undertones; one woman I know links it to incest and the way such families create false pictures of family happiness and harmony.”
Well, maybe. But the sixes of the Tarot are traditionally focused on beauty, balance and harmony, so such dark interpretations seem to me a bit exaggerated.
Instead, I would suggest that this dream-like oddness, while nothing to fear, may be something to pay attention to. In what ways does your past call out to you this week? What old friendships do you wish you could restore? Is there someone you need to give or receive forgiveness from?
In the coming days, make a point of finding time to enjoy and share the simple pleasures. There may a gift for you that comes from your past, through old friends, lovers, groups, or other heart connections that may turn up. If you need to make a peace offering, or grant forgiveness, do so. There may be more going on than first meets the eye.
But your own sincerity and honest motivations can make life sweet.