Today’s article is a reprint of my meditations on the Eight of Cups that I first published in 2012. You might also find my tarot card astrology series of interest.
Decan: First, the cardinal decan (initiating, generating)
Calendar dates for the decan: February 18-28
Decan ruler: Saturn (the old man) – The World
Tarot Card for this decan: Eight of Cups
Card Title: Lord of Abandoned Success
(For a full list of the decans and associated cards, please see the Astrological Decans Chart)
According to tradition, the first decan of Pisces is ruled by Saturn. Pisces is a feminine, watery, mutable sign. The classical ruler of the sign of Pisces is Jupiter, which points us towards the depth and breadth of the boundless sea of empathic Pisces. The first decan exhibits the most cardinal qualities of the three periods of the sign—qualities of beginning, activation and generation. Saturn is the planet of authority, boundaries and limitations. The contradictions are clear: the activating and generating third of the sign is ruled by the planet of endings; the empathic Pisces, not able to tell where one thing ends and another begins, starts off its process under the authority of the boundary maker. Luckily we have learned our lessons from the Moon-ruled third decan of Aquarius, and remember that when logic fails us, we step into intuition to find our answers. And Pisces is very intuitive.
There is another symbol system that equates the symbol of the sea with the planet Saturn—the kabbalistic Tree of Life. The third sephirah, Binah, which means Understanding, is given the association of the seas, Saturn and the mother. Here we find the image that reconciles our contradictory correspondences: the womb. Its physical and temporal boundaries create a sea-like space for the generation of new life—an appropriate corollary for our symbols.
Our tarot card attributed to the first decan of Pisces and its ruler Saturn is the Eight of Cups. The RWS image shows eight cups stacked in the foreground, while a figure in a red cloak and a staff walks away from us along a rocky shoreline towards a shadowy and looming promontory. Rocks like this are the result of erosion, where the headland is washed away over millennia, while the harder and more resistant rock remains. The history conjured by the image, age after age of waves crashing against the hard and unyielding boundary of land, again brings to mind our contrasting correlations of Saturn in Pisces.
The title of the card is “Abandoned Success.” This is in some ways contradictory to the scene—the water has certainly never abandoned her ongoing carving of the shore. But perhaps if one doesn’t have the perspective of time, one might think that the seas have forsaken their task. All appears to be still while the moon looks down meditatively on this quiet scene. Certainly our figure seems to have abandoned the authority of society to seek in the shelter of the lonely rocks the boundless connection found in the natural world.
One characteristic of organisms that can live on a rocky shoreline is the ability to hang on tightly, such as barnacles, which cement themselves to rocks, or mussels, which anchor themselves securely to prevent being washed away in the tides. The suggestion of abandoned success might paint the picture of these marine creatures giving up their hold and allowing themselves to be washed away in the tides. Indeed, the very rock itself, old as dirt, has over its lifespan slowly receded and abandoned itself to the persistent caress of the water. The rock has given up its resistance and very structure to become one with its loving aggressor.
In childhood I loved to read a book called Mighty Miko. I no longer have the book and doubt my memory is perfectly accurate, but here’s the story that rises to my mind. Miko was a stonecutter, who worked all day in the hot sun chipping away at rocks with his hammer and chisel. One day a rich man comes by, carried in a litter by servants, shaded from the sun by a canopy. Miko wishes he could be such a dignitary and using the magic spell, “Ah me, ah me, if only a rich man Miko could be.” He instantly takes the man’s place. But Miko discovers that the Emperor’s life is better yet, and again changes places. But even the Emperor is affected by the unrelenting heat of the Sun, so Miko becomes the Sun itself. Miko progresses through a series of transformations, each time morphing into that which he considers to be more powerful than the previous. The Sun is overcome by the rain, and he becomes a rain cloud. The rain cloud is blown away by the wind. “Ah me, ah me, if only the Wind Miko could be.” He blows and blows, creating havoc everywhere, reveling in his new-found power, until he discovers a huge rock that does not bend or bow to his efforts. He becomes the rock and feels completely secure and unaffected as the Sun beats down on him, the rains wash over him and the wind blows around him. Until one day he hears, chink, chink, chink and realizes that there is one being more powerful than the rock—the stonecutter. “Ah me, ah me, if only a stonecutter Miko could be.” And he returns to the life he had before, now confident about his power and his place in the cycle.
One might interpret this story as classist, discouraging the minions from striving above their station, while extolling the virtues of being content with one’s lot in life. But certainly from the perspective of a more spiritually based philosophy, the story advises finding happiness through knowing our strengths and weaknesses and through gaining understanding by viewing ourselves from different perspectives. An alternate title for the sephirah Binah is discernment, and the boundaries of Saturn placed in the undifferentiated sea reminds us how very small gradations of change, very tiny shifts of perception, can mark the limits of much larger transitions. At what point does water become deep? Saturn in Pisces can tell you. When does the tide shift from ebb to flow? Saturn in Pisces can tell you. When must we abandon our success to progress to something greater? Saturn in Pisces can tell you.
Any such shift must be initiated in the womb of our Piscean empathy and intuition. The shift necessitates a withdrawal from our usual life into the shadowy unknown of the broader perspective. Seeing the development of the shore through the eyes of history gives us new insight into rock and water. Knowing the cycles of social and natural trumps teaches us the supreme power of the stonecutter.
One thing I’ve always loved is formalist poetry. Writing sonnets or otherwise allowing myself to be bound by the constraints of prescribed rhythm and rhyme has always been very inspirational to me. Knowing our limits, agreeing to our limits, opens up intuition in a very profound way. When there are only so many syllables one can use to communicate the vast sea of expression one is connected to, one learns to wait patiently in the dark depths, letting the words, like food to a deep sea fish, come to you. This is the image of conception, both mental and maternal.
The modern ruler of Pisces is Neptune, the tarot’s Hanged Man, whose kabbalistic attribution is Mem, the seas. The Hanged Man summarizes our discussion—he is Odin reaching into the depths of the abyss to return with the components of written language, he is the birthing child, he is the shift of perspective, he is the one who waits. In the first ten days of the sign of Pisces, perhaps his focus is on his limitations, on being bound, treading water. His progression through the decans of this sign is from Saturn to Jupiter to Mars—from accepting his limitations, to using them to expand into a greater perspective, and then from this place of insight to connect with desire as motivator to transformation.
Rocky shorelines are not vulnerable to erosion in human time scales. The change they undergo occurs over thousands or millions of years. When you are ready to walk away, consider the cycles involved and allow the discernment of a broader perspective to guide you towards your transformation. Is it your situation that must end? Or is it your understanding of yourself in that situation that could shift? Or do you like the promontory on the rocky shore, simply exist at the very limits of your boundaries, and there allow the primal forces to define your beginnings and your endings?
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.