Monday, January 30, 2023

The Six of Cups: Girl Gives Boy Flower

6 of Cups
Six of Cups

Students are expected to accept that the information presented in the "textbook" is accurate, correct, truthful, etc. because generally it is. But students, particularly at higher academic levels, are warranted to question prior research and verify facts for themselves when it's their opinion that what the textbook claims doesn't seem to quite add up.

Admittedly, I just started my deep dive journey into the Tarot a few years ago. As I actively engaged myself in learning the cards, I focused on several primary resources, which includes and The New Tarot Handbook by Rachel Pollack. I continue to utilize these sources, along with many others, when I desire deeper insight into the cards than what my own intuition is delivering.

When I was very new to reading tarot, I initially just accepted the traditional interpretation for the "Rider Waite" (aka Rider Waite Smith) cards that were created in the early 1900s at A. E. Waite's direction, and feature artwork by Pamela Colman Smith. Following are two examples of what I consider to be traditional, "textbook" interpretations for the RWS Six of Cups (6 of Cups).

"In the Six of Cups, a young boy leans down and passes a cup filled with flowers to a younger girl. The girl looks up to the boy with love and respect as he offers the flowers to her." (

"On the surface this seems like a happy and simple card, the very image of the Six's theme of generosity, as what appears to be an older child gives a flower to a young girl." (Rachel Pollack)

It's my opinion that there are two key factors that play into this interpretation of the pictorial content of Smith's Six of Cups. First and foremost is the stereotypical assumption that it's the male's (masculine) duty to bestow flowers, and the female's (feminine) duty to receive them. Secondly, probably the way the picture has been drafted lends itself to this interpretation, with the much larger boy holding the cup as he smells the flower. This conveys a sense that he is extending a gift to the diminutive girl. Presumably, the metaphorical cliché being that "bigger" people who have more are obligated to give to "smaller" people who have less, with help, aid, charity, and assistance being key attributes of the tarot sixes.

After studying the Six of Cups a few times, the aforementioned conclusions started to not sit well with my intuitive sense of what was actually occurring in the card, and something that I recalled from Pollack's own interpretation added to my dissatisfaction: "And notice how overdressed she appears, her hand encased in a large mitten despite the seemingly warm day."

I don't know why Pollack makes the assertion that it is a "seemingly warm day" when the ground looks kind of bleak, and the main characters are wearing warm clothing. It also seemed puzzling to me that Pollack would not view the "mitten" as a gardening glove, but then I was a new student of Tarot, so who was I to question the teacher? And the girl is oddly bundled up as if it is a cold day, so maybe it really is just a mitten.

Regardless, it got me thinking about the question, why does everyone just assume that the boy is giving the girl the cup with the flower? Another assumption seems to be that these are his flowers to be giving away. It appears the boy has entered the scene from the road that leads into the castle/estate in the background (on the left side of the card), whereas the girl is already standing in a courtyard/garden in front of a house. If this is a sensible conclusion, shouldn't it also be concluded that she is already standing in front of her own residence? Isn't this suggested by her positioning in the foreground? Why would Smith draft the picture this way if that wasn't her intention? If the yard in front of the house is the girl's domain, and the boy is a pedestrian who has stopped by (stepping off the adjacent road) to smell the flowers, why is everyone jumping to the conclusion that he is giving the girl her own potted flowers?

Viewing the imagery as a whole, it looks to me like the moment in time that Pamela Smith has intended to capture is that the girl has just handed the boy, who waltzed into her yard, one of her flowering cups, and she suggested he take a big whiff to smell how nice it is. Look closely at her expression. She is smiling with delight because, despite her allegedly youthful age, she is an outstanding gardener. It's a chilly spring day, and she is bundled up because she has been outside gardening all morning, preparing six beautiful golden cups, each filled with a white star flower. Notably, the most prominent flowering cup is sitting on a pedestal at the entry to the residence, as if serving as a signpost that potted flowers are available at this location. 

Not surprisingly, in the Pictorial Key to the Tarot, A. E. Waite doesn't help clarify any of this, stating only, "Children in an old garden, their cups filled with flowers." His non-descriptive commentary definitely does not do the imagery any justice. It is also interesting that Waite considers the area to specifically be an "old garden," something that isn't necessarily implied by the image itself. "Cold garden" seems like it would have been a more appropriate description, but perhaps this was an application of artistic license by Smith, or maybe just a simple misunderstanding of Waite's intention (i.e., Arthur said "old" and Pamela heard "cold").

That said, I'm unaware of any source that presents a definitive account of Pamela Colman Smith's interpretation of her own artwork for the RWS tarot, which is unfortunate. If you know of one, please contact me because I would love to read it.

At this point I have studied all 78 of Smith's tarot cards extensively, and I have concluded that she did not hesitate to imbue the images with her own secret coding or messages. Furthermore, despite Waite's statement (or lack thereof) regarding the context ("children")--and the unquestioning interpretations of countless tarot readers over the decades--the "girl" doesn't appear to be all that childlike. Her clothing aside, looking closely at her face, I find her appearance to more accurately resemble a young lady. At any rate, I don't see any logic in trying to argue that these are not her cups of flowers, and if they are her flowers, in her yard, not questioning the depiction of the action as it is traditionally interpreted. Again, why would the boy be giving the girl, who is a gardener (or certainly the daughter of a gardener), her own flowers? It makes no sense.

In my opinion, the young woman on the Six of Cups has offered the cup with the flower to the boy. If you want to read it the other way around, you have the support of virtually everyone else in the entire tarot community, as far as I'm aware.