I’ve pulled the Three of cups twice this week, so it seems as good a time as any to dig more into this card and its associations — once again, using astrological concepts to expand my understanding of tarot.
The Three in any suit comes right in the middle of what I think of as the cardinal phase of the sequence, the Two, Three, and Four. Cardinal energy is also exhibited by the Queen of each suit; in a sense, the Queen of cups could be said to rule over the lessons carried in these first three cards.
Being in the middle, the Three is gaining mastery of the cardinal water element and reaching its prime. In the Rider-Waite deck we’re shown a joyous gathering of three women. It’s meant to depict a meeting of equals and a warm sense of community. Just by showing up, you’ve created something good; you’ve become an essential part of a shared experience.
The cardinal phase of water is represented in astrology by the zodiac sign of Cancer.
The cardinal water sign Cancer is one I’ve sometimes struggled to understand, even as a fellow water sign. They aren’t exactly stubborn, but they also aren’t quick to change their minds about something (or someone). Sometimes it seems like they need to see a feeling through to some kind of logical conclusion or “finale” before they are able to move on; from the outside, this can seem like wallowing or rumination. Sometimes, maybe it is. But there’s more than that going on, I think.
Cancer connects to the Chariot in tarot’s Major arcana, which despite portraying a literal vehicle actually has everything to do with rooting yourself in order to decide on your direction. Sometimes we can see Cancer holding very firmly onto their version of events in order to come to a conclusive judgement. I hear a lot of Cancers speak in absolutes, of “that kind of person” and set character traits. They tend to simply trust their gut as the source of deep truth, and use this as a basis for forming opinions about what action they want to take in a particular situation.
The Two, Three, and Four of cups are all situations where an individual is making some choice about how to relate to others. The Two is an intimate bond, and the most personal: both people are putting everything on the table. The Three offers an integration into a group, a feeling of belonging with others. The Four represents a breaking point when the individual becomes stalled and needs to seek a new experience in order to progress; they may find themselves feeling isolated from or bored within the group where they think they still belong.
Cardinal water, like any mode of water, will settle into the shape it finds most natural. It adapts and does not resist constraints, but it can overflow them if they are too confining. Many people compare cardinal water to embryonic fluid, or even the primordial ocean from which all life evolved. There’s a strong potential for creation with this energy, a distinct creative drive that the Queen herself embodies. The Three in particular picks up on this, connecting to the Three in the Major Arcana, the Empress. Grow, connect.
I don’t always think of Cancer when I pull the Three of cups; most of the time, I just think about where I’m feeling supported by others, or where there’s a functional group that seems like it’s clicking. Sometimes you feel a particular kind of flow state when you’re with other people, and it might be something you’re working on or just a shared moment of laughter and understanding. You don’t need to study it or take it too seriously, but at the same time it defines a little bit of who you are. It sets your direction by helping you align with what you know in your gut feels right.