Uncomfortable Curiosity: The Page of Cups

Once during a weekend trip, my partner, his other partner, and I decided to play a board game. My partner’s partner is a board game enthusiast and they had a brand new indie game still wrapped in plastic. It was so beautiful and intriguing that even though I am entirely unfamiliar with that kind of game, I wanted to give it a try. 

As we removed the pieces from their wrappers and set up the board on the dining room table, we realized just how complex this game was going to be. This was on an afternoon in early winter. It took an hour and a half to set up the board and read through the rules, and during that time the sun had gone down. Both my partner and his partner had played this general type of game before, so even though the game was complicated, they could at least see the overall structure. I, on the other hand, had nothing. It was difficult for me to understand what the game’s objectives were and what basic gameplay even looked like (each player’s turn had at least 5 separate steps.) As the sun went down and I sat there at that dining room table listening to the rules, I began to get angry, and then very, very sad. Without warning, I was fighting back tears and I had no idea why. As we were about to begin the game, I apologized, said I was tired, and laid down in another room to cry.

Why on Earth was I so upset about a board game? I was bewildered by why I felt so bad (I mean, I was sobbing) but I knew that I didn’t want to repress the feelings or blame them on someone else. I just allowed myself to be with myself as I went through it. 

After a while, a thought struck me: this wasn’t about the board game. This was about something from my past. Almost immediately, an image came to my mind of myself as a child sitting at the dining room table on darkening early winter evenings, despairing of ever understanding my math homework. Feelings of worthlessness and frustration about math were a constant companion in childhood and my teenage years, but I almost never think about them anymore. However, getting lost in byzantine board game rules felt similar enough to those childhood scenes to trigger feelings from years before. I realized that I had never healed from this part of my childhood, I had just forgotten about it. But my body hadn’t forgotten. 


Every instance in which we are triggered is an opportunity to work with the Page of Cups. While some may think that triggers only happen in the context of PTSD, my definition of trigger is any time our body-mind reacts to an event in the present as if it were something that happened in the past. In my case, my adult self was listening to the rules of a complex board game, but my body-mind reacted as if I were a child unable to understand her math homework and unable to get the help she needed. This is a non-intellectual, instantaneous response that involves the whole nervous system. The work, then, is trying to bring the trigger into conscious thought so we can heal the patterns that keep our nervous system stuck in painful loops.

The Page of Cups in the Smith-Waite deck looks kindly at the little fish that popped out of their cup—which can symbolize emotional or psychological material arising from the unconscious. The Page of Cups is not less developed than the Knight, Queen, and King of Cups, but they embody curiosity and willingness to learn from unexpected thoughts and feelings. Willingness to learn is one of the qualities that distinguish the four Pages from the other court cards. 

While The Moon might symbolize material from the unconscious erupting into everyday life, the Page of Cups is about our relationship with that material. If the Page appears in reverse or is close to several Fire cards in the spread (suit of Wands or certain Major Arcana cards), it might suggest that we’re unwilling or not ready to work with that material right now. But in any case, the appearance of the Page of Cups means that we’ve found a piece of the puzzle.

Once I recognized that I had been triggered, I was able to take care of myself. I allowed myself to fully feel the feelings and cry as much as I needed, I told my partner what was going on and asked for support, I was able to understand what kind of food and sex I was craving. And after a few hours, my nervous system was able to relax. I think about what might have happened if I had not been curious about my feelings. I would have gone away from the experience thinking that I was really just that upset about a board game. Or maybe I would have taken it out on my partner or his partner. Or maybe I would have just concluded that I am crazy or broken. Instead, I allowed a deeply buried wound to disclose itself and gave that wound much needed care.

Summoning Page of Cups energy isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, by the way. Often, we’re taught to repress and be ashamed of our feelings from a very young age. It took me years of therapy and meditation and self-help books to instinctually turn toward my feelings in that moment. Now that I know the energy embedded in this card, I can consciously call upon the Page of Cups whenever I am triggered and don’t know why.

March 14th Reading: Turning the Page

For about 2 months now, I have been doing a daily 4-card pull almost every morning. It’s a spread I modified from Benebell Wen’s beginner’s study guide to Holistic Tarot. Four cards every day is simply too much info to work with, and I know that. But it is helping me learn Tarot…approximately four times faster than if I just pulled one card a day! Some day I only have time to pull the cards, take a picture of them, and paste it into my Tarot journal. Most days I pull the cards, take a picture, note the card meanings in my journal, and move on. But sometimes I have time to really sit with the spread and try to do some reading. So I’m going to write up what I got out of the spread I pulled this morning, with the caveat that this is for learning and I will probably make mistakes.


Position 1: What is today’s outlook/overall energy? Page of Pentacles

Position 2: What am I carrying with me into this day? Three of Swords

Position 3: Yesterday’s unfinished business. Page of Cups, Reversed

Position 4: Something I need to work on. The Wheel of Fortune

Position 1: Today’s outlook–the Page of Pentacles. I also got him in this position the last time I did a reading two mornings ago. It’s little synchronicities like these that keep bringing me back to Tarot and make me want to keep doing morning readings. I shuffle the cards quite thoroughly, doing a mixture of riffling and hand-over-hand. Then I spread them all out and choose which ones feel right for each position, so it’s not as easy to pull the same card twice, as it would be with drawing off the top, I think. It’s a coincidence that I picked this card in its upright position out of all 78 for the same position in a spread two times in a row. But sometimes random chances make you sit up a little straighter to see what’s going on.

Anyway, the Page of Pentacles. I feel like I get a lot of Pentacles. Or rather, Pentacles are the cards that I seem to pay the most attention to in readings right now. And that makes sense, given that I’m looking to start a new career after I finish my Ph.D. But when I look at the Page of Pentacles, I really feel this guy right now: he’s a dreamer, but he’s also a student. He straddles the line between the world of imagination and the earth. I’d say of all the court cards, this is the one I identify with the most at this point in my life. I’m constantly shifting between dreaming and doing–between thinking big and mucking around in the particulars.

Position 2: The Three of Swords, which I’m carrying with me into this day. YIKES!!! Or so I thought at first. This is the classic card of grief and loss and made the strongest impression on me visually back when I messed around with the cards as a teenager. But am I really carrying grief, loss, and sadness into this day? Not literally, no. I had to think about this one for a while, and Biddy Tarot helped:

The Three of Swords therefore serves as a reminder that if you can start to see pain as a learning opportunity, life will suddenly become less painful. You need to really get in touch with pain and sorrow. Challenges remain but once they are no longer perceived as negative or ‘bad’, they lose a lot of their impact. This card is therefore encouraging you that you have the ability to conquer any pain that comes your way. Understand how the pain can help you grow.

This makes much more sense to me, particularly because I spent all of yesterday reading a book about exactly this topic: No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by the great Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. His basic argument is that “the art of happiness is also and at the same time the art of knowing how to suffer well” (p 10.) This is a pretty familiar Buddhist teaching, but only as I read this book yesterday did I really start to get it. More on that in a bit.

Position 3: Yesterday’s unfinished business–the Page of Cups, reversed.This guy has shown up a few times for me in the past month or two, usually in this position. Since the Page of Cups is a card of intuition, emotion, and creativity, its reversal suggests that something is out of balance here. Looking back on yesterday, which was an emotionally balanced day if there ever was one, I’m going to go with creativity. I can pin this to a very specific thing, which is that I am trying to create more art. While I’m doing better with drawing more regularly, I think, I need to keep going. There’s more work to be done–hence the unfinished business.

Position 4: The Wheel of Fortune–things to work on. I don’t get this card all that often, so I’m not that familiar with it. It seems to me that it’s about things that are out of my control, but as I looked at it in conjunction with the Three of Swords, things started to make sense. And so…

Bringing it all together. I really do think that this morning’s reading is a snapshot of where I am right now. There are lots of Pages because I’m at that a Page-y place in my life: once again, I am transitioning from mastery (or at least competence) as a scholar and teacher into a novitiate re: the new career I am choosing for myself. The Page of Pentacles is where I want to be, but I can’t neglect the Page of Cups–creativity, intuition, and emotional sensitivity are things I need to cultivate alongside earthy studiousness and planning. The Page of Pentacles dreams, but the Page of Cups tells him why he’s dreaming what he’s dreaming about. Why am I choosing a career in environmentalist nonprofits? What are my real goals in doing so? Even as I prepare to start networking, resume-writing, and all that nitty-gritty stuff, I need to enlist my intuition and creativity to help me figure out what my real goals are.

But even more poignantly (pun intended), I was struck by seeing the Three of Swords paired with the Wheel of Fortune. Frankly, I am coming out of a fairly crappy few months. Only fairly crappy–not the worst, but from about mid-September to the end of February, I was not feeling good. Part of this was the stressful class I was teaching last semester, which made me realize that classroom teaching at the university (or probably any) level is not my path and takes a serious toll on my mental health. Part of it was also the Huge Family Emergency that happened in November, which came at a time when I was feeling pretty numb and withdrawn already. I don’t usually have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I am wondering if the weather has had something to do with my mood as well. During times like this, my feelings begin to dry up and anxiety creeps in. I’m in a MUCH better place for dealing with it than I was three years ago, however. Only in the past couple of weeks has life been starting to feel juicy and inviting again, so now I’m in a place to reflect on the past half-year.

The Three of Swords and the Wheel of Fortune together remind me to reconsider the value and place of pain in my life. When I feel crappy, I think back to times when I wasn’t feeling crappy and assume that happiness is the default and any time I’m not happy is wrong.

What the Wheel tells me is that, no, life is actually made up of a mixture of happy and not-happy times and that’s just how it is. Therefore, appreciate happiness when it’s here because it is impermanent. Likewise, the Three of Swords tells me: learn from sadness, grief, numbness, and depression when they are here. Don’t look back on happy times as the default or the way things should be. Don’t beat yourself up for not being happy. Enjoy happiness in the now, learn from suffering in the now.

As my two Pages saunter forth into uncertainty, hopefully the Page of Pentacles can help the Page of Cups pull himself upright and they can work together with the wonderful and terrifying things that are coming and learn to appreciate both.