A decanic introduction to Cancer I, the Two of Cups
This is an example of the decanic introductions we’ve been doing as we move through the 2022-2023 year using the astrological decans and their associated Minor Arcana tarot cards as guides to the quality of time. If you’d like to join our decan walk, send me a message!
The Two of Cups is about love, and it’s also about care. Those are related but not the same. Love requires form, and relationships require restriction. Care works (or does not work) as a result of the limitations induced by love. All of the sudden, possibilities are foreclosed by the attention and devotion that an other demands. And yet time, space, and possibility warp, take on new definition through the Two of Cups’ generosity, which is to say through care, love’s requirement.
I rarely draw the Two of Cups, and when I do, it’s usually upside down. If I’ve got my astrology hat on, I like to blame this on all the Capricorn energy in my chart—I generally do better with the Two of Pentacles, the tarot opposite of the Two of Cups. The Two of Pentacles offers up material manipulation, playing fast and loose with the rules, a life of steady disruption. Excitations. Inappropriate responses to everything, a mantra of mine, and also an Achilles heel.
The Two of Cups is a much steadier card, which is a bit odd given that we’re in the realm of water, flow, emotional tides, Neptune-colored dreams. This is in part because of the bodies necessitated by love, the pledge, or offer, of care necessitated by the bodies themselves. On Pamela Colman Smith’s version of the card, the Caduceus of Hermes rises above the dual cups—the figures are verbalizing commitment, and, in doing so, they initiate a solidity through the structure of naming each as for and part of the other.
But naming is only the first requirement, language the imprecise and incomplete answer to bodies in need. I struggle when tarot readers speak solely of romance with the Two of Cups. I instead think of Venus’ rulership of the first decan of Cancer as the potential for abundance through the paradoxical foreclosing of other options. We forego the little man with his eternal lemniscate on the Two of Pentacles; we’ve got other bodies to care for, and limited time with which to do it. But how sweet, and how rewarding the efforts of endeavoring to delight a person, to tend to their mild and deepening aches, to have them reciprocate, in turn, eventually, sometimes. Or maybe they can’t really, but they want to.
I draw this card most often for my relationship with my child, next for my relationship with my friends. I think of the Moon’s rulership in Cancer, I think of the reversed cups in my pocket. I delight, I care, I limit my future. Sometimes those efforts don’t come back equally to me, but generosity functions in the garbled “love you" of a two-year-old’s strawberry-crushed mouth, the crushed hug of a friend, whose sudden needs and long lunches overtake work’s necessities, every time.
When I draw the Two of Cups upright, it’s a moment to reflect, a moment, as a nod to Hermes’ Caduceus, to write. I’ll leave you with this flash essay, a recent finalist for Pinch Journal’s nonfiction contest, written for the love of my life, Kiernan, the one whose care I’ll never quite know how to return in full. It’s been a devastating-hopeful-sleepless-chaotic few weeks in our neck of the woods, hence the short essay, the style-less words, just in time for the summer solstice, Cancer I, the longest day of the year.
Two of Cups
We tell people we fall in love because of school, but really it’s the matching bipolar diagnoses that do us in. I once jumped in a river to see how far it’d take me, he says. I spent two months without sleep, spelling the name of homicide victims in the dark, I say. We trade stories and secrets and relief, here is another who shares the ritual of Lamictal and sleeplessness, secret debts, impulsive sex. When I move to the Midwest for grad school, he comes along. When they upgrade my diagnosis, he holds my hand and sings funny songs, helps me fill out the financial aid forms for my second round of inpatient rehab. When I get sober, he gets sober too. When I teach, he turns our attic into another world, builds tables that look like sculptures and sculptures that look like exploding stars. When I begin to question how my doctors have arrived at my diagnoses, he helps me wean off the drugs. When we marry, we press our fingertips to our foreheads in the desert and dance with our friends and try to ignore my parents lurking in the background. When we nearly break under the pressure of lost jobs and old stories about ourselves, we make bread together, Ligurian focaccia, dense little rye loaves with sprouted wheat, rich knots of challah brushed with egg wash and black poppyseeds. They get stuck in his teeth, and if I’m in the mood, I’ll kiss them out, and if I’m not, or he’s not, that’s OK, too. We test each other’s moods tenderly, like tiptoeing over the creaking boards of our old house at night. When he decides he wants to spend a year as a cook, getting paid under the table, I write poems for him about the smells of the kitchen, the people who love his food, the rush to deposit his night’s earnings before our accounts bounce into the red. When I ask him if he minds that I’m writing about all of this, he says, no. He says he’s proud of me. He listens to the first draft of every essay. When I get pregnant, my mother’s pressing question is what I’ll do about my medication. Kiernan rolls his eyes and rubs my back. Whatever, your parents don’t even recycle, he says, and somehow it is just the right thing. It makes just the kind of sense I need.