Gloom we always have with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.
This seems to be one of our most frequently pulled cards (although I no longer keep a database, so I can’t prove it). It sure does seem a reliable friend when we need one. Having just visited the end of March (does anyone even remember late March?), now in this waxing Moon week, let us say hello again to the Nine of Cups.
In the R-W-S Tarot, we have a fairly straightforward image, with little embellishment. The Nine of Cups features a rather ample man, sitting in front of a banquet table, which is lined with nine cups. His arms are crossed and he smiles straight at us.
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.”
I used to go along with one popular view that he was too smug with himself for his own good, or that there was an unpleasant whiff of entitlement here, therefore adding a cautionary undercurrent to this card.
But over the years, I have come to be rather fond of this cheerful fellow, and am glad when he comes calling. For he is not so much about material abundance, privilege, or profligacy. Instead, as a representative of Cups, he seems ready to address our truest longings, if we will but ask.
Besides, I always wonder what might be under that big, long tablecloth. For if the Nines are symbolic of life’s Mysteries (keep reading), what potential dwells there, just beyond our sight?
Magic By the Numbers
As I have pointed out in the past, nine is a very magical number in many traditions. Of all the single digit numbers, it may be 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 a threshold number that is strongly associated with creativity, completion, and fate. It is also frequently connected with leadership, initiation, and the Mysteries.
And in the Tarot, the Cups are about the dreams, love, intuitive knowing, and the heart’s wisdom that we all feel. So the Nine of Cups speaks of emotional satisfaction, perhaps a dream fulfilled.
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. I believe it is also implied in Temperance, and here in the Nine of Cups.
The seated figure suggests that our emotions may manifest in the physical world, and thus, 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 of Cups’ quest.
On the Nine’s draped table, we are shown the Cups of emotional satisfaction and longings fulfilled. The curved shape of the tabletop seems a foreshadowing of the Ten of Cups’ rainbow.
But in the Ten, the Cups arch across the sky, and in the Nine, they are sitting firmly on the table, within our human reach.
While Waite admits this card “offers the material side … there are other aspects,” we are reminded that love is the truest wealth.
Benevolence and Kindness
This card often reminds me of the process of magickal initiation.
After a period of study, practice, and preparation, the initiatory rite frequently begins with a challenger. This person will demand the name and intention of the seeker, and possibly ask other test questions.
Similarly, in the story of the Cups suit, the Nine’s gatekeeper is all that sits between you and your fulfillment. But before you may move ahead, you must declare who you are and what you seek.
What is your wish?
And what wishes might you grant this week? How might you be the benevolent figure who offers this ample, sumptuous refreshment?
Although pandemic burnout is pushing people into dangerous, selfish behaviors, the Nine of Cups offers a wholesome, happy alternative: a smiling, affable gentleman, his cups neatly stacked, waiting for the party of One to begin.
In the Northern Hemisphere’s first week of “unofficial Summer,” ensure that your activities are considerate and magnanimous. Avoid overindulgence, and if you are healthy, give thanks. Recognize it may well be because a stranger cared more about your safety than their inconvenience.
And then pay it forward.
We are now called to clear away as much gloom as we can, by sharing our understanding hearts and our truest compassion. Thus may we make light the world for innumerable others.