Public feelings & dark days with the King of Cups

First published on Little Red Tarot on August 24, 2018 as a part of my twice-monthly Heal & Harm column. Heal & Harm is a no-bullshit column by Sabrina Scott. Released every two weeks to honour the full and new moons, the column affirms the old as hell phrase “a witch who can’t harm can’t heal,” and oscillates between summoning good vibes and releasing pain.

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I’ve seen this card before.

It jumps out and says hello to me every few months, whether I want it to or not: a reminder – insistent – to feel where I’m at, a reminder not to skip the emotional part.

In the Dark Days Tarot, the King of Cups is full of mourning. He is the deep ability to grieve, to cry, to feel. It is power to feel emotion, and feel in full depth. It is a powerful skill to be wounded and not hide from the hurt, to feel safe enough in the self to unfurl and catch and cradle ourselves.

To feel feelings deeply is a form of expertise: hard won, gained over time through practice and intention. This card has big emotions, thick like the ocean. And it has just as many gifts for us, just as much solace, just as much beauty.

I love this deck’s divergence from how we usually see Kings depicted in the tarot, with their stoic put-together faces and bodies devoid of outward expression. The King here, despite being the fullest embodiment of the cups suit, isn’t stoic. We see an eye brimming with sadness, fallen tears overflowing through clasped fingers, past wrists that merge into mermaid tails. This King embraces a different type of masculinity, a different relationship to gender and strength and intimacy. Each round of tears is an initiation into freedom, a fuller expression of how we feel who and how we are.

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Some folks seem to think that full mastery of an element means control over it. Means: keeping it to ourselves. Means: hiding ourselves. Means: keeping it all together. Means: being tidy. But with the cups especially – such an emotional, intuitive suit – I really don’t think this applies, and this unique deck’s imagery reminds us of that. Of course, we can also think of an immature embodiment of cups emotionality – best personified, perhaps, in a traumatized youth with no emotional regulation, caught in constant outburst. But, and: this card shows us what it can mean to have a mature emotional outburst. To master the emotions, to become King of Cups isn’t predicated on denying emotionality. It is instead diving deeply into feeling, it is connecting with the truth of our story, our heart, our sensations.

For some of us, trauma and pain and judgment from others can teach us to keep ourselves hidden.

It can teach us that to emote and express is to put ourselves in danger. To emote is to be weak, vulnerable, soft, and so we should push it under the rug, hide, pretend. This is all a lie – a lie which can keep us safe in the interim, until we’re in a different environment, until we’ve grown enough of a nest and a cocoon and a community and into ourselves enough to hold us.

A story has trickled into my ears lately – through the grapevine, as always – about how people who have experience with abuse are to be avoided, are unclean, are undeserving. People who have experienced hardship create hardship, I hear. Don’t spend time with them. They are not good enough. They are beneath. Good vibes only. Keep it above board. Be respectable.

This story is dangerous. And so I wish to unspin it, to unravel it so this tapestry can fall off the wall, your wall, exposed to be a false cloak, with warmth fleeting. No shroud is more threadbare, deserves more to be eaten through by moths, needs to be full of holes through which our truths can finally breathe free.

This story is dangerous. When we tell ourselves and our families and friends this story – when we sing it like gospel – we cut ourselves off from ever being able to fully express who we are.

We cut ourselves off, and we do this for others, too. We cut off the opportunity to embody a healthful emoting, a connection to and channeling of emotion as it is felt, rippling through our bodies like waves in a summer storm, ocean spray splash over our skin, cold. An opportunity for baptism. An opportunity to touch in with yourself. What do you feel? Actually. Not what they/he/she/they say you are to feel. What do you feel, not what you have selected from the predetermined acceptable options determined by someone else? What is happening, regardless of what is ‘supposed’ to happen?

The King of Cups is, in this deck, for me, right now, about this struggle – it is about embracing it head on.

It is about being unafraid to cry on public transit, in the park by your house. On your front step. It is about both being fearless and about facing the fear of having no one to hold us. It is about knowing that we can hold ourselves through each wave. We can keep ourselves afloat. We are our own water wings. It is about connecting with emotion enough to express it. It is about connection between body mind soul heart breath tears and anger to know when to bring what out when in response to what, in what amount; it is about having the connection and integration to know how to steer our own ship, our own body, relating as it does with so many other bodies.

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The King of Cups rejects false narratives around the public airing of emotion. The King of Cups rejects fake chillness, rejects passive aggression, rejects answering that we are fine thanks when we are not fine thanks. In each of our lives there are moments when we are not fine and this does not mean that there is anything ‘wrong’ with us; to publicly perform or state or claim otherwise is to dive deep into a spiral of denying ourselves, and by proxy to teach those around us, our supposed loved ones, that we also deny them in their fullest extent. We keep them uncomfortably contorted, perhaps for lifetimes. When we deny ourselves the permission and compassion to stretch out and embody our humanity in all its peaks and valleys, we lead by example and deny this also to our friends, our families, our children, our lovers. We teach them to keep their emotions in a cage.

The King of Cups rejects that narrative.

The King of Cups says: Cry in public. Cry in private. Cry on your friends’ shoulders and let them cry on yours. It does not mean you are a mess. It means you are free.