This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Tarot, Magic, Alchemy, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism, which I am working on right now and hopefully will have available by the end of year. The book is an updated and expanded version of my book, Alchemy and the Tarot (covering more than twice as much information). The new book will contain updated information on alchemy and the history of the Tarot, and it will cover The Alchemical Tarot cards, but it will also cover The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, the Waite Smith Tarot, and The Tarot of the Marseilles. And It will have several chapters on ancient magic and mysticism
The Two of Cups
The Two of Cups in the Tarot of Marseilles is a unique card Depicting
a stylized two-headed staff between two cups, resting on a rectangle that in
most decks contains the name of the publisher (sometimes it is blank or
contains a decorative design). The staff has a flame-like flowering top and
the serpent-like creatures that emerge from each side have dragon heads
turning to face the top. (In the Nicolas Conver Tarot they look like dolphin
heads, and on the bottom, there is a heraldic design with angels flanking a
phoenix or an eagle in the rectangle.)
In the Grand Etteilla this card is used to correlate the Cups suit with the
element Water (figure 216). Two cups are depicted floating in the air against
the sea in the background. Etteilla has turned the Marseilles staff into a long
necked vessel containing the red elixir, with flames emerging from the top.
The two creatures have become the intertwined serpents of a caduceus. Etteilla
was an alchemist, and he would have known that the caduceus and the red
liquid were alchemical symbols for the elixir, a magical substance that was
created by combining opposites, like fire and water. This combining of the
opposites also illustrates the card’s meaning, which is “love.” The Golden
Dawn agrees with Etteilla that the meaning of the card is “love,” and they
visualize the card as depicting a flowering lotus with two dolphins crossing
in front of its stem.
For the Two of Cups, Smith borrowed Etteilla’s caduceus placed between
two cups, but she depicts a man and a woman holding the cups and facing
each other, as if they are pledging their love. Authors Katz and Goodwin tell
us that these figures represent Romeo and Juliet, and in support of this theory,
we can see that this is another one of Smith’s cards that seems to be set on
a stage with a backdrop. A caduceus is often depicted topped with wings, but
Smith’s has a winged lion’s head. I think that the lion was her interpretation
of the Marseilles flames, but it is also influenced by the Mithraic lion-headed
figure, with wings and a spiraling snake that scholars agree symbolizes Time
(figure 222). The Mithraic meaning does not seem to add to the basic meaning
of the card, and it is probably an example of the intuitive free associations
that Smith was known for.
On the Alchemical Two of Vessels, the man and woman, now nude, stand
holding hands in a glass vessels. A second vessel has been placed on top,
mouth to mouth. In the upper vessel, the caduceus has been replaced with
an Old World Rose, which arises like a vapor from the union of the couple.
This rose is a symbol of perfection. It is the vegetable counterpart of gold.
This image in influenced by an engraving found in Mylius’s Basilica Phil-
osophica (Philosophical Pavilion), 1618, where the upper vessel contains
the god Mercury, who is the alchemical essence and the equivalent of the
rose. This card represents sexual attraction or attraction of other kinds. The
pair in the vessel are lovers but this may be a metaphor for other partnerships.
Attraction is wonderful but it only a beginning.
For The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery I wanted to create a design that
was closer to the Marseilles Two of Cups. I placed a winged caduceus between
two cups in the same way as they appear on the Marseilles model. The
serpents, however, transform into a man and a woman as they ascend the
shaft. The man is offering a cup to the woman, as a symbol of his love. As
on the Etteilla card, the sea is in the background.