Ah, this guy. The King of Cups. I’ve always had a really hard time connecting with this card. In the contest of which tarot character I’d least like to have dinner with, it’s a toss-up between this dude and the Hierophant. I mean, Death and the Devil at least seem like they’d be interesting conversationalists.
I know this king has good qualities, but the Waite Smith imagery is so… stiff. There he sits, stiffly, looking into the middle distance like you’ve just burped and he’s politely ignoring you. I never really got how he can embody anything but disapproval and emotional repression.
But earlier this week, I did a reading that might have changed my mind. It was the confidence spread over at Little Red Tarot (a quick but highly useful spread, so check it out!). A couple of the positions relate to existing strengths, and when I flipped over the first of those cards, who did I see but the King of Cups. That dude.
In the past (by which I mean a few weeks ago), I’d have opened my guidebook and reread the same brief description I’ve read probably hundreds of times. I’d have sighed and gone on to the next card, hoping it would be so awesome I’d forget about the King of Cups. But my rule right now is that I’m not allowed to look at any guidebook while I’m reading a spread.
So I stared at the card. I knew because of its position that this card was showing a strength. If I was going to find meaning in the spread, I had to interpret him positively.
Here’s what I noticed – if I look at him with the assumption that there’s a relevant, positive meaning, suddenly I can narrate that. He’s not stiff, he’s prepared for action (like king cards usually are). He’s deeply engaged with what’s on the horizon. He doesn’t become absorbed with his feelings, like the Queen might. He uses them as a basis for decision-making. That ship behind him is headed somewhere, exploring, and the jumping fish is a sudden moment of inspiration and surprise. The King’s emotions are bridled, not repressed, and so he can use them to get somewhere new.
Suddenly I don’t totally hate this guy!
This is an example of how spreads and card images can interact, shifting the meaning in unexpected ways. And it’s a reminder that we don’t always need to back our instincts up with descriptions in a book. Sometimes what we come up with on our own is better, because by thinking for ourselves, we have to dig deeper.