Tarot Tuesday: The Knight of Cups


The Rider-Waite-Smith Deck

The Knight of Cups always seemed like a card of contradictions to me. On the one hand, he’s the epitome of a romantic dreamer. Cups are linked to the element of water, after all—and water represents dreams, emotions and the subconscious. And he’s holding the cup up as if it were the true grail, possibly imagining himself on a sacred quest.

Yet neither he nor his horse seem to be in a rush to get anywhere!

Despite that, he wears the wings of Hermes on his helmet and right above his spurs. An interesting choice, since these wings suggest the element of air—and air suggests mind and motion and quick wits and speed. But there’s nothing witty or speedy about this card. It’s . . . well, gentle and almost stately.

So is this the card of an ineffective dreamer? Of someone who yearns for adventure, but never goes outside of his own imagination to find it? Not that I don’t sympathize, mind. I spend an awful lot of time wrapped up in my imagination! Still, I thought this was someone who never tries to bring his dreams to life. Someone who’s content to build cloud castles, because building real castles is much harder, dirtier work.

But I’ve come to have more respect for this Knight. Maybe he’s holding the cup like that because he knows its worth. Maybe that cup doesn’t represent an imagined quest, but a completed one.

And that stately, measured pace of his—maybe this is someone who’s fought to remain on an even keel. If cups represent emotions, they also represent the dangers of high highs and low lows. They represent the brutal suffering that comes from depression. Maybe this knight is a survivor who’s finally found his balance.

Or perhaps he’s still questing for that balance, or for whatever the grail represents to him. In one of my favorite books on the Tarot, Tarot and the Tree of Life: Finding Everyday Wisdom in the Minor Arcana, Isabel Radow Kliegman writes as though his quest is just beginning. She has this to say about the Knight’s leisurely pace:

He’s moving at a walk. Why? Because when you’re seeking your Holy Grail, when you’re finding your dream, you don’t have to hurry up and get it over with so you can get on with something more important! The water in this card is a gentle, slow moving stream. The Knight, setting out on his journey, already knows that you “can’t push the river,” that the stream will swell in its own time to become the river of his life. When you are going at godspeed, there’s no urgency, no rush. What is important is to do the best you possibly can.

How do you see this card? Have you ever created or read about a character who has a lot of the Knight of Cups in him? (Or her. It’s okay to gender bend with the Tarot, as some recent decks do.) Let me know in the comments! And if this knight inspires a story or meta from you, please leave a link.

Now for next week’s card: we’re back to the Major Arcana with The Magician.

About Jenn Moss

Author * Web Serialist * Virtual Addict
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7 Responses to Tarot Tuesday: The Knight of Cups

  1. Quintessential Editor says:

    Very cool breakdown and I love the artwork too! Do the fish on his armor mean anything?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      The fish, as a symbol in general, gets a lot of attention. It’s important in both Judaism and Christianity–and that might get its own post eventually, because there’s a lot to cover for it’s significance in both! (For example, in both it represents abundance; in Judaism, it’s sometimes used as protection against the evil eye; in Christianity, it’s often shorthand for the faith itself.) It’s also linked to Pisces, a water sign, and of course it’s another symbol of water in general, reinforcing the knight’s link to that element.

      In the book I mentioned above, Kliegman links that fish to the one we see in the Page of Cups–implying, I think, that the knight is a grown up version of that page. (Google “Page of Cups Rider-Waite” to see what I mean.) The page peers at the fish as if it were just a curiosity, but the grown knight has learned from the symbol and now incorporates it in his armor.

      Hope that helps–thanks, as always, for reading!


  2. I love your analysis of this card. I’m not sure what I could find to say about it that wouldn’t be restating in some way. A knight of the unconscious. That also makes me think of the priestess card which is also about arcane knowledge and power drawn through darkness and stillness rather than movement and colour. He is such the complete opposite of our impetuous Knight of Wands, who is all activity and haste.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Yes, very different from the Knight of Wands! I like the way you link the Knight of Cups to the High Priestess as well. I feel like I should do a meta post eventually on the Major Arcana cards (like the High Priestess) versus the Minor Arcana cards (like the Knight of Cups.) Maybe reviewing my sources and writing out my thoughts on both will help me get a better grip on those differences myself . . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Why does it look like he is riding his horse in the desert?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      I don’t have any kind of definitive answer, but I see the desert surroundings as possibly a reference to the wasteland imagery of the Grail quest in Arthurian legends (which T.S. Eliot puts to such good use.)

      On the other hand, this landscape may not be as dire as that. I’m open to other interpretations!

      Liked by 1 person

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