By Sarah Taylor
This week, we have the tarot version of a carwash: something that has gone as far as it can in its current form enters a process of integration, and emerges, purged and revivified, in the landscape of the heart.
Looking at the two outer cards, there is an unmistakable mirroring in the figures of Death and the Knight of Cups. On the left, the figure of Death moves into the reading, its horse walking in the direction of the ensuing cards. On the right, both the Knight and the horse hold the same positions as their card XIII counterparts, they, too, heading in a left-to-right direction.
They, however, have passed through the jaws of Strength, and, while they have been transformed and the landscape around them has been cleared, whatever it is that the Knight offers his cup to is unknown. Its presence is hinted; it is yet to come into the picture.
But first, back to the Death card. While Strength and the Knight have two figures set against comparatively simple backgrounds, the Death card is full of detail and symbolism. I won’t go into that detail save to say this: there is a call to pay due reverence to a passing, which makes space for something new. “The King is dead. Long live the King.”
The Death card corresponds to the sign of Scorpio, and scorpions are adept at the transition from ending to beginning: they have to shed their skins in order to grow. We, too, find ourselves in an experience called life, which regularly demands that we let go of what no longer nourishes us — which in all probability is holding us back — so that we can expand into something greater. If we don’t heed the call and work with this natural metamorphosis, it can limit us to the point of pain. Therein lies the rub: what we tend to fear and resist so much — change — is, in actuality, the only thing that makes sense. Life is change. Without death in all of its forms, life cannot exist. All things make way for their successors.
The presence of the Death card as the first in this week’s spread suggests that this process of metamorphosis is already underway. It leads on nicely from last week’s reading where The Moon was the central card: if you look at the Death card, at the right-hand side in the centre, you will see the two towers that were in the background in The Moon. This time, however, instead of the Moon between them, we now have the Sun, implying that Death heralds a new dawn along with a good-bye to something that has already had its day.
What survives passes into the energies of the next two cards, mediated by the maiden in Strength, who has matured from the young girl in Death. This maturation mirrors the process that we undergo when we begin to embody our physicality and sexuality, which we learn can co-exist with our more mannered natures, understanding that they are integral and valuable parts of who we are.
Without a connection to a mature aspect of the feminine, we cannot hope to have a balanced encounter with our masculine; without a connection to the mature aspect of ourselves as sacred beings, we cannot hope to have a balanced encounter with the profane. The beauty has become a match for the beast, and it is through their co-operative presence in us that the old is transformed into the new.
And what is now starting out? That would be the Knight, the man who would become king. The black armour of Death has been shed, and in its place is a watery-blue-sheened shell, a flowing tunic suggestive of a certain softness — an openness — of the new. Unlike the figure of Death who looks at us — we who cannot escape our own transformation — the Knight now looks forward. It is time to move into something different.
The Knight of Cups is the archetypal knight in shining armour. He is the romantic idealist; his is the domain of feeling; he is on a quest for love. Specifically, the presence of the Knight describes our own quest for immersion in the seas of no-thought, where we are washed by heart-derived sensation and which point the way to realms beneath the surface of consciousness that, when warmed, rise to meet us.
It is worth keeping in mind, though, that this marks a beginning, not an end. There is room for the evolution of something that grows from our acceptance of ourselves as both human and animal; our crusading zeal will be put to the test when we step into the world.
Remember: the elemental correspondence of the Knight of Cups is the mental aspect of emotions. The Knight of Cups thinks he knows about love. Soon enough, he will have the opportunity to find out what love really is.
Astrology/Elemental correspondences: Death (Scorpio), Strength (Leo), Knight of Cups (the airy aspect of water)
If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.