Different traditions have different astrological correspondences when it comes to the Court Cards, but I follow the tradition of linking Cancer – the cardinal Water sign - to the King of Cups. The Cups tend to be associated with the element of Water, so it’s not surprising that one of the three Water signs would be tied in to the Cups courts.
Cancer is also one of the cardinal signs of the zodiac. Cardinality suggests taking the initiative - being self-motivated, as well as outgoing. The cardinal signs – Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn – are all symbolic of being good at starting new things but the element of each helps to define the focus of that energy. In the element of water, Cancer initiates contact on an emotional level; it has the ability to take the first steps in campaigning, for instance. Because the Sun is at a standstill at the point in which it enters Cancer, on the solstice, the outgoing, active nature may have more of a reflective quality.
So why Cancer - why the crab - for the King of Cups? I often think that the King of Cups represents a bit of a contradiction between suit and position – we tend to think of the Kings as being responsible and making decisions, while the Cups are about emotions, dreams, fantasy, romance...
Remembering that the Sun’s just been ‘standing still’ gives me a clue to a possibly more reflective, inward-focus for this King. He can symbolize wanting to be emotionally involved but at the same time feeling cautious about going too deep – a bit too Scorpionic, perhaps?! The King is often said to carry masculine energy, while the watery realm of the Cups are thought to carry feminine energy. So we have a King of Cups who might come across as quite ambivalent. What better creature to represent this ambivalence than the crab? At home in water, at home on land... but not belonging completely to one or the other. A foot in both camps, as it were...
The King of Cups in the Shadowscapes appears to be growing out of a strand of kelp or some other type of seaweed. Turtles swim around him, while he faces a sea-horse in a ball of light. The turtles represent the ability to guide the way calmly through the ever-changing watery realm of emotions, while the sea-horse symbolizes Poseidon’s power. The exoskeleton of the sea-horse is spiny as well as delicate – the male protects its young, symbolizing the King’s role as protector. Patient, tolerant, compassionate.
The Haindl Tarot gives us Odin to represent the Father, or King, of Cups. Hermann Haindl chose figures to represent a variety of ‘sacred expression’, to borrow Rachel Pollack’s phrase (Haindl Tarot: A Reader’s Handbook, US Games Systems Inc, 1999), from the Stone Age through to Christianity, symbolizing the beliefs of various cultures – the roots, the family, the community. The things that people believed would protect them, as the shell protects the crab.
Odin is shown hanging upside-down in the card’s image, representing the myth in which he hung himself from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine nights in order to gain the wisdom of the Runes. It’s the same story that’s often depicted in, or used as a basis for, The Hanged Man, also associated with the element of Water!
Haindl Tarot created by Hermann Haindl, published by US Games Systems, Inc.Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Sharman-Caselli Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections