This is the third post in our blog series, “Tarot Tuesday.” Every other Tuesday I will post a new little gem about Tarot. This is our first Tarot Tuesday in which we will look into one specific card. This week I chose the 3 of Cups because I feel like it reflects the essence of GTG’s upcoming Spirituality Support Group.
The 3 of cups
Ahhhh…don’t those cold glasses of water look so refreshing? It’s a sweltering day in August. As I guzzle down gallons of water to keep cool over here I couldn’t help myself from posting a photo of ice cold water glasses. In Ayurveda, it is suggested to surround ourselves with balancing images throughout the varying seasons. So, when it’s hot “Pitta” season, it is balancing to imagine refreshing streams and cool, lush mountains. The 3 of Cups is widely considered to be a card that represents libations, but water is enough in itself to rejoice over!
The element of the Cups suit is water and like the above photo, it’s color is blue. The 3 of Cups reflects relationships, community, groups, feelings, spirituality, celebration, reunions, and meeting new people. Let’s look more in depth into the symbolism and upright/reversed meanings below.
The above card is from the original Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which we focus on predominantly in these posts. There are three women holding chalices filled with what we can assume is wine since they are holding grapes. There is a bountiful harvest around them and they wear flower wreaths upon their heads.
The number three represents celebration, creation, ideas, community, gatherings, and expansion. It is a masculine energy number in a feminine energy suit which highlights the active quality of emotions, communication, friendship, and community. This card is related to the Empress in the Major Arcana (key III) which represents the divine feminine among many other things. All of the queens are also related to the Empress and Queens are the third court cards. After studying these cards for a number of years I have come up with my own hypothesis that these are the three Queens of Wands, Swords, and Pentacles at a younger age before their coronations. The Queen of Cups is represented and celebrated by the chalices they are raising to the heavens above in thanks and merriment. The Queen of Wands wears yellow, the Queen of Swords wears white, and the Queen of Pentacles wears red. This is merely my own interpretation. At the very least I do feel that the cups and clothing represents each of the elements.
Theories and Colors
The colors in this card overall represent harvest, abundance, joy, friendship and energy. Red represents passion and vitality, white is for purity and divine blessing, and yellow shows friendship and joy. The Sun is represented by these colors also.
I mentioned above my thoughts on how the clothing colors represent the 3 elements of fire, earth and air, and that the cups in their hands represent water. There are few other interpretations of what that clothing colors represent. One interpretation I have seen believes that the three women represent the three Major Arcana cards of Justice (air and red), Strength (yellow and fire), and Temperance (white and fire). You might be thinking, “hey, wait! The woman is wearing white in the strength card!” Indeed, she is. But if you look at the card the first color that will undoubtedly jump out at you will be yellow. I personally feel that if I were to use this system I would not leave out the suit of Cups and would represent it most likely with the High Priestess who wears blue and is represented by water. Furthermore, I would argue that this theory also leaves out the earth element and Temperance really isn’t a very good representation for people running around at a harvest celebration getting inebriated. I would instead remove Temperance and replace it with the Empress who represents femininity, earth, harvest, and creativity. She also wears a white dress (with pomegranate embroidery). To sum all of that up, my modified interpretation of this system to represent Major Arcanum within the 3 of cups would be with Justice, Strength, Empress, and High Priestess (represented in the cups themselves) instead of with Justice, Strength and Temperance as stated in the original theory.
Another interpretation is that the three women represent the Three Graces from Greek mythology – Euphrosyne in red (cheer), Aglaea in White (radiance), and Thalia in gold (warmth).
Still another theory says that they represent the three phases of Woman – maiden, mother, and crone.
I would like to point out that in Tarot there are myriad meanings for all of the cards. Believing in one theory does not cancel out another. One interpretation may lend itself better to a particular reading but in another reading an alternative interpretation is necessary. It is good to learn and intuitively discover as many meanings as you can to be the most well-rounded reader that you can be.
As with every card in the Tarot deck, the 3 of Cups is heavily imbued with symbolism.
- Golden Chalices: riches, abundance, emotions flowing
- Hands: two women lift their cups with their right hands and the other woman with her left. The right hand represents giving and the left hand represents receiving. This card is about both giving and receiving joy, friendship, and love.
- Flower Wreaths: victory
- Pumpkin: shows us that the season is Autumn, often a time of great harvest (though, cups usually represent spring). In history, people would bring in the great and last haul of the fields and rejoice with a grand Harvest celebration. After this, people rationed their harvest to last through the winter. Alternatively, it could represent a first harvest which would also be a great celebration.
- Element: Water
- Astrological association: Mercury in Cancer – emotive communication
Every time I see this card upright in a reading I instantly feel a surge of happiness. I do this also with the four of wands, 10 of cups and the Star. When the 3 of Cups is upright, there is so much merriment and joy. It shows people living in the moment and appreciating one another’s company.
Three is the number of expansion. It reflects the first rewards of hard work but also reminds us that there is still much work to be done. This is reflected in the 3 of Wands where we see our ships out at sea for the first time after much planning and in the 3 of Pentacles wherein we work with others to achieve goals (often career related). With the three of cups we expand in our community, with friends and family, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes the 3 of Cups can literally mean expansion of family and there may be a baby on the way! If 3 of Cups comes up with the Empress the prospect of having a baby is greatly strengthened.
This card also represents reunions. It can also represent meeting new friends and shows up for support systems especially concerning emotions and spirituality (which is why I chose this card on the week I am planning our upcoming Spirituality Support Group).
This is greatly a card of indulgence. If it shows upright, it usually is not a concern and reflects temporary celebrations.
While the 3 of Cups upright shows merriment and jubilation, when reversed it can reflect hedonism and overindulgence. If this card comes up (either reversed or upright) with Temperance reversed or with the Devil upright, one should consider the impact of substances or addictions in their life or in the lives of loved ones. It’s okay to have fun but we should try not to overindulge in anything…balance is very important to our relationships, sanity, and spirituality.
The 3 of cups can show up when expected reunions don’t happen or when someone is isolating.
It also appears in readings that involve infidelity. It shows that a 3rd party is involved and is encroaching on a partnership. If this comes up with the 7 of swords the chances of lying, cheating or infidelity are greatly increased.
It may represent problems in a three-way friendship. My mother told me long ago that trios have sustainability problems and I have always found this to be true. It is part of nature that imbalanced numbers will try to find equanimity. A Three-way friendship will often eventually end up as a two-way partnership or all members completely break apart. The expression of three, at it’s worst, will be thrown completely off kilter. However, at it’s best, it will strive towards balance through growth. This is why the three is considered a first step towards expansion; there has been substantial progress but more work and balance is to come.
I highly suggest Zach Wong’s Revelations Tarot to any intermediate reader who would like to improve on intuitive reversal readings. There is no other deck that I have ever seen like his that shows completely different meanings when the card is flipped over without providing any distractions. He is a true master at his art and I can’t stress enough how helpful this deck is in really learning reversals intuitively. In his Three of Cups above, when the card is upright it looks like three mermaids swimming and having fun. When turned upside down, however, the blue hue of one of the mermaids shows up much more drastically. This highlights the third wheel problem of this card and possible infidelity. When flipped over, the bottom of the ocean floor also becomes more clear, highlighting all of the emptied alcohol bottles strewn about from these mermaids over indulging.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I chose this card because I have been planning our Spiritual Support Group. Hopefully, after having read this article it makes sense to you why the 3 of Cups reflects a Spiritual Group so well.
The cups represent emotions and spirituality. The number 3 is expansion, friendship, support systems, community, groups, giving, and receiving. It is a yang number in a yin suit, representing taking action on reflective thoughts and feelings. In it’s reversed aspect it warns against isolation or turning towards distractions or addictions (which is what some people may do to avoid looking within and doing some hard inner work). Hard work, however, yields great abundance as seen in the flowers and cornucopia.
There is a belief that the three women in the card represent body, mind, and spirit coming together in unity and rising up towards spiritual awakening. The astrological aspect of this card is Cancer (water and emotions) in Mercury, which is the planet of communication. I believe that all of these symbols and meanings point to the importance of connecting with like-minded people as we grow on our individual spiritual paths. I have even heard this card referred to when people unite with their soul families.
Llwellyn Vaughn-Lee speaks of the importance of groups on our spiritual paths in his book, “Spiritual Power.” He says, “a spiritual group is a container for inner work, providing a space of protection and nourishment for the individual wayfarer. Being in the company of friends is of great assistance on the path.”
Our Spiritual Support Group meetings will be held on Zoom on Sundays beginning in August. Details to follow. I hope to see you there as we support one another and contemplate what Spirituality means to each of us.