The fact that all animals and men pursue pleasure is some indication that it is in some way the highest good.
What an interesting card to carry us across the threshold of Samhain – the old Celtic New Year. This week, we welcome back this frequent visitor, the Nine of Cups.
The Cups suit is concerned with our rich tapestry of human emotions. It includes intuition, dreams, and love.
And the Nines of the Tarot are about completion, for, as I have often noted, the tens are the overflow or seeds of the suit’s renewal. And so in this time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere) that is all about endings, it seems apropos that it might come calling.
We gather from his attire this is a man of some means, yet the setting is quite simple. He sits on a small bench, smiling straight at us, his arms crossed. Behind him, we see a curved table, covered in a cloth of blue that could remind one of a waterfall. On it, as if for a banquet, there are nine cups lined up.
Although many people feel that Pixie Smith’s depiction of the gentleman in the card reveals a smug satisfaction, over the years I have come to mostly disagree.
Arthur Waite describes him as “a goodly personage [who] has feasted to his heart’s content, and abundant refreshment of wine is on the arched counter behind him, seeming to indicate that the future is also assured.”
While his crossed arms may invite an interpretation of intimidation or keeping the seeker away from his table, I prefer the idea that his posture is yet another depiction of the cosmic lemniscate — the sideways figure eight — symbol of infinity.
It’s a symbol used in The Magician, Strength, The World, and the Two of Pentacles. It is also implied in Temperance.
Here, our emotions may manifest in the physical world, and contentment arrives. After all, the yellow sky and land beneath him point to the magical truth of “as above, so below.”
If seen in the context of the suit’s “story,” the Nine shows us the successful outcome of the Eight’s quest. Here on this draped table, we are shown the Cups of emotional satisfaction and longings fulfilled.
While Waite admits this card “offers the material side … there are other aspects.” Here we are reminded that love is the truest wealth.
Wishes Made and Granted
You may know that the Nine of Cups is also traditionally known as the Wishing Card. So as we end the old year and begin the new, we are invited to make a wish. Or two. Or more!
What is your most tender desire? “Where intention goes, energy flows,” according to the old magical saying. Consider well your intentions for the days ahead.
And yet, once you have applied your wisdom to your wish, I have always liked the fact that this card is in contrast to the usual cautionary children’s tales. You know the ones — where some foolish or selfish person makes a “wrong” wish and then must use up any additional wishes to undo their dilemma.
Instead, there is an assumption here of goodness, as well as abundance. So this card offers not one, not three, but nine wishes (at least).
Thus, if this is a magical card of making wishes, let its power contradict the scarcity thinking that wishes are dangerous and that our human longings are a tricksy trap.
Let us rather learn from this affluent, smiling gatekeeper that for the Wise, wishes are sacred, our desires are welcomed, and the more the merrier — as long as they are authentic and from our truest heart of hearts.
As the quote above from Aristotle indicates, pleasure is no sin — it is instead the highest good.
The Magical Doorways of Samhain
During this time of most ancient magic, the Nine of Cups offers us a very magical number. In many traditions, of all the single digit numbers, nine is the most profound.
Composed of three trinities (3 times 3), it represents the principles of the sacred Triad taken to their utmost expression. And in the base 10 system, where all numbers are represented by ten distinct forms (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9), nine is the final number.
As such, it becomes a limit, a boundary, or the ultimate attainment. It is, in fact, a doorway number that urges us to find the balance between idealism and realism, and is a number strongly associated with creativity and fate. It is often associated with leadership, initiation, and mysteries. What might this mean for you, during this week’s observance of the Mysteries of life, death, and rebirth?
In the Southern Hemisphere our friends prepare for Beltane, while we who live above the equator are this week celebrating Samhain. For both, the veil that separates our ordinary world from the Otherworld has thinned.
Divination and seership are always augmented during this time, and the Nine of Cups is a beautiful affirmation of your power to successfully practice these, should you wish to.
What ancestral murmurings and dreams call you? If you celebrate a dumb supper this week, welcome your beloved dead, and know that the Nine of Cups offers his generous hospitality.
Come to the Table of Blessing
What wishes might you grant this week? How might you be the benevolent figure who offers this ample, sumptuous refreshment?
How might we, as a nation, be wise stewards who share our table of plenty? It is our privilege, as did the generations before us, to give shelter, respite, and welcome to good people whose needs are great, whose courage has been sorely tested, and who only want what we all want: concord, contentment, and a happy future for their children.
Be careful not to overindulge, or take for granted your good fortune. It is especially important that your enjoyment be inclusive and magnanimous. Be sure to share, and set a place at your bountiful table for the Ancestors, as well as those less fortunate.
Give thanks. Savor and appreciate the delights that are bestowed so generously this week.
And give back. This is your opportunity to share the great gift of the understanding heart, which offers kindness, making light the world for others.