The Ace of Cups as “Affirmation”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following observations by Mme. Le Marchand in The Grand Etteilla regarding the Ace of Cups are unique in my experience of tarot literature (although they do bear a resemblance to the cartomancy I’ve studied). It’s interesting stuff for speculation and perhaps for use.

This Ace is described as “confirming the prediction of neighboring cards, whatever that prediction might be.” In a three-card series it would therefore affirm that the evidence of the preceding card was correctly expressed, and that the testimony of the succeeding one will be correctly perceived. This is a compelling idea that goes beyond the usual emotional implications of the card. It is reminiscent of the Key in Lenormand as the “yes” or “certainty” card. If, for example, it appears between two sympathetic court cards, I might interpret it as reinforcing an agreeable accord between the two. But, as implied in the quote, falling between two antagonistic cards it could escalate the hostility, and between two cards that are indifferent to one another it could accentuate their mutual apathy. Think of it as an “enabler” of sorts, either a cheerleader or a provocateur.

This is the first time I’ve encountered the idea of a specific “affirmation” card in tarot. There are acknowledged “Yes” cards like the Sun and the Star, but none that impart their benediction in quite the same way. There are also emphatic “No” cards like Death and the Tower that present their own hardships rather than simply exaggerating any defects in the adjacent cards. It’s as if the Ace of Cups doesn’t have a personality of its own and exists only to promote that of its neighbors. This strikes me as a powerful tool to apply in any reading where it appears since it could strengthen the argument in one direction or the other. I envision it as a “linchpin” binding the import of the preceding card to that of the following one in an entirely unforced way, especially in a three-card “Past/Present/Future” reading, putting the spotlight squarely on the transition (where it really belongs anyway since it is the most immediately “actionable” part of the narrative; everything else is either hindsight or conjecture).

In the middle of a larger spread, the Ace of Cups and its partners could reveal either a notable highlight or a conspicuous hazard affecting progress in the querent’s circumstances. I think of it as “punching up” the influence of the cards it adjoins. I’m intrigued by the notion that the three cards would, in Billboard Magazine parlance, appear “with a bullet” in the matter: they may have entered the affair with a high profile, could have increased rapidly in significance or are expected to exhibit further acceleration in their importance. If we think of a populated tarot spread as resembling a relief map with peaks and valleys defined by the nature of the cards, the Ace of Cups could represent a ridge connecting two peaks or a gateway between adjacent valleys, furnishing improved contact between the “highs” or “lows” it links. If the progression of the bordering cards suggests a rise or decline in fortunes , the Ace could either offer a “leg up” or “grease the skids.”

This array would be handled differently from the operation of the “principal” (central) card in an Elemental Dignity triptych, since the Ace of Cups in the middle would dispense its largess evenhandedly rather than harvesting the often inharmonious elemental energy of its companions. I’m undecided whether to continue interpreting it as an independent, emotional “exclamation point” instead of as merely a type of battery that energizes its fellows without imparting much color of its own (the Aces are already rather unassuming). Its role as validator would cut across the spectrum of situational variables and it might “bleed out” in the process, detracting from rather than enhancing the emotional stability of the subject. But the potential for “coming up dry” in the transaction may be pushing the analogy a little too far; in practice, the idea of simple ratification would seem to be the most valuable.

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