Mundus Volubilis

the flowing universe

Alchemy

three graces mundus volubilis

The duplex nature of the Two of Cups develops here into a triplicity. We see women celebrate in a prosperous garden. I will not go into detail on the symbolism of the number three, but the first figures that come to mind are the three graces of Greek mythology.

Here, the three women wear white, red and gold. Red is central in the Three of Wands, as well, where we see a man facing a vast, golden landscape (the same colour as the ground on the Three of Cups). A red heart is in focus in the Three of Swords. The exception seems to be the Three of Pentacles, where red is not placed in the visual centre, though the red motive on the robe of the man on the right seems to echo the rose in the middle.

three of cups mundus volubilis
three of wands mundus volubilis
three of swords mundus volubilis
three of pentacles mundus volubilis

In the Three of Cups, the blue of the sky is reflected in the shoes of the personage dressed in gold. She also holds blue grapes in her hand.

There is some resemblance with the Nine of Pentacles, where we see a woman alluding to the sky (a falcon on her hand) and among grapes. But on the Three of Cups, it seems as if her goblet was a funnel, and the blue of the shoes and the grapes were heavenly water flowing through her body.  

nine of pentacles mundus volubilis
three of cups mundus volubilis

Notice the striking structural similarity with the Hierophant.

three of cups mundus volubilis
hierophant mundus volubilis

On both, there is a central red figure in the company of two others. But the dynamics of these two cards is contrary: on the fifth major arcana, the figures are male, and they observe a rigid hierarchy (as opposed to the Three of Cups which is a meeting of equals), etc.

The two golden details at the feet of the pope (worn by the two monks) recall the golden shoes of the woman in the red dress on the Three of Cups. The Hierophant has no goblets, but he is wearing a three-tiered tiara and a papal (triple) cross that hint at the three cups held in the air.

Interestingly, one of the monks is wearing the dress of the Empress, and the other has the cape of the Queen of Cups.

hierophant mundus volubilis
empress mundus volubilis
queen of cups  mundus volubilis

The question arises whether we see two very different expressions of spirituality here. The Pope is chosen to represent celestial power on earth, and he is seated in a church, probably performing a strict ritual. The women on the Three of Cups are together in an intimate, spontaneous and unceremonious way, where spirit flows freely and naturally.

hierophant mundus volubilis
three of cups mundus volubilis

As opposed to the Hierophant, the Three of Cups welcomes all to their holy communion without conditions: there is no dogma to accept, and no rituals to follow.

Suggested reading

Tarot: The Ace of Cups

ace of cups mundus volubilis

When the Ace of cups appears in a reading, think of the womb, an embryo growing, or seeds waiting for spring in the dark soil. Something has started, it is alive within you, you have to let it grow and manifest when it is ready to. Read now

Cottonwood – The Whirling Bee’s Blog

I realized that what surrounded us was not snow but seeds from a cottonwood tree. There was hardly any wind, we were enveloped in small, luminous feathers, playing in the colours of the setting sun. The world was in slow motion, as if we were all floating. I looked around, observing all the details, the lights, the colours, and I noticed that there was a river close by, and a boat on the bank. There was an old couple sitting by the boat…Read now


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wheatgrass mundus volubilis

In Ancient Rome, the Brumalia honoured Saturn and Ceres. In East Asia, the Dongzhi Festival marks the time when the feminine life force of Yin is balanced with the masculine force of Yang. During the night of the Korochun of the Slavs, the old Sun dies and the new one is reborn with the next sunrise. This period was also very important to the Celts and the Germanic peoples (Yule).

Apart from these festivals and celebrations, there is also a quiet and gentle tradition originating from Hungary that is observed every day from the 13th of December until Christmas. It is called the wheat of Luca (pronounced as "lutsa"). In Central Europe, wheat used to be the one constant and most important element of people's diet. Any meal was unimaginable without bread.

wheat mundus volubilis

The seeds do not only carry within them the full-grown plant itself but they also symbolise the continuity of life: they will grow into wheat and the wheat will transform into a human body.

The period preceding the Winter Solstice is a time to honour the pregnant Mother Earth: all living things enter her womb to grow and wait in darkness to be born again.

After the grains are planted on 13th December, they need regular care, every day. They need warmth and just the right amount of water. The sprouts usually appear within a few days or so, and by Christmas, the wheat is quite tall. Then the pot can be decorated with ribbons and candles and placed at an important spot in the home; sometimes it becomes the centrepiece of the holiday table. The Luca day wheat does not "symbolise" the renewal of life, it is reborn Life itself.

* If you would like to join this tradition, pick grains that are part of your life every day and/or are sacred to your culture (barley, rye, corn). Make sure they are not chemically treated against germination.

Suggested reading

The Woman who Eats the Sun

In ancient Egypt, the goddess Nut was the mother of gods. She was the night sky; and the Milky Way in particular. Alternatively, her body can be interpreted as the path of the stars, and she might even have been one specific constellation. Naked, in her full feminine beauty, she was bending over the Earth…. Read now

The Natal Chart from an Animistic Perspective

the natal chart from an animisitic perspective 01Many of us start learning astrology by attaching keywords to planets. And at one point, the list will become overcrowded and full of overlaps. Read now


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two of cups mundus volubilis

It's interesting to have a look at how the symbols of the Ace develop in the Two of Cups. The single chalice multiplies into two goblets. The disembodied hand from the clouds changes into those of a man and a woman. The dove turns into a winged lion. The waffle with the cross becomes the caduceus. The lake with the lotuses is now a meadow with a family home in the distance.


Tarot: the two of cups by mundus volubilis

The special, symbolic nature of the number two is preserved in many languages that distinguish between one, two and many.

In English, for example, there's "both" vs. "all" and "between" vs. "among". In mythology, we find various types of pairs: divine couples, twins, parent and child, the hero and their adversary, etc. Duality is everywhere within and around us: we have a pair of eyes, ears, hands, kidneys, and so on. When we first notice anything, it is always in contrast to what we are already aware of. At a young age, we discover that there is light and darkness, sweet and salty, there are boys and girls, adults and children, humans and animals, animals and plants, and so on.

dualityThe problem with duality is that we define the other as a negation. We can only tell what one is not: a child is not an adult, nor an animal, a plant or an object. Duality can answer the question "what is this?" only by telling what it is not. If we do want to know who and what the other is, and who and what we are, we need to go further.

Out of duality, a new, third, alternative has to be born.

If we follow the astrological order of the elements (Aries - fire, Taurus - earth, Gemini - air, Cancer - water), then the Two of Cups is the last of the "twos". As such, it depicts the culmination of duality: the union of opposites. The house in the background may hint at the couple founding a family, here is the promise of a child.

There is also a subtle exchange of attributes. In Greek mythology, we find the laurel in representations of Apollo, the god of the Sun (the lion in the card), healing (caduceus), and prophecy (cups). Now it is on the head of the woman. The flower corn on the man's head is that of Apollo's twin sister, Artemis.

Artemis - image source: wikipedia
Artemis - image source: wikipedia
Apollo - image source: wikipedia
Apollo - image source: wikipedia

This card is often compared to the sixth major arcana, The Lovers, where we see a naked man and woman in a setting that recalls the garden of Eden.

tarot - the lovers
Tarot: the two of cups by mundus volubilis

On the Two of Cups, the couple is dressed, which suggests that they are participating in everyday reality.

Together with its positive message, the card also brings a challenge. This reunion of opposites has to be shared with others. This work is not only inner or psychological, it has to incarnate in the physical and social world.

Suggested reading

Tarot: The Ace of Cups

ace of cups mundus volubilis

When the Ace of cups appears in a reading, think of the womb, an embryo growing, or seeds waiting for spring in the dark soil. Something has started, it is alive within you, you have to let it grow and manifest when it is ready to. Read now

The Woman who Eats the Sun

In ancient Egypt, the goddess Nut was the mother of gods. She was the night sky; and the Milky Way in particular. Alternatively, her body can be interpreted as the path of the stars, and she might even have been one specific constellation. Naked, in her full feminine beauty, she was bending over the Earth…Read now


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nut_goddess

In ancient Egypt, the goddess Nut was the mother of gods. She was the night sky; and the Milky Way in particular.1 Alternatively, her body can be interpreted as the path of the stars, and she might even have been one specific constellation.2 Naked, in her full feminine beauty, she was bending over the Earth with her two hands and feet touching the North, East, South and West.3 Sometimes, she was a sky cow decorated with stars and carried the Sun god, Ra, into the heavens.4

When they died, the Egyptians embellished the lid of their coffins with her image, and asked her to spread herself over them and put them among the stars in the night sky.5 She was the womb where they returned to be born again, just like the Sun, who set in Nut's mouth every evening and emerged every morning through her birth canal.

The goddess of the night sky does resemble a lot the dea abscondita of the alchemists, or her Christianised version, the Black Madonna. All give form to the light that exists within the darkness. To consciousness, which emerges and returns to the unconscious following a certain rhythm or cycles.

According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, it was around 4500 B.C. that the Ancient Egyptians defined the year as consisting of 365 days.6 That includes the twelve times thirty days of each month and five extra days at the end of the year. In the coffin texts, Nut is described as the mother of those five additional (epagomenal) days. According to Plutarch, she was cursed by the Sun god not to be able to have children any time during the year, but Thoth (Mercurius) won a game and demanded five extra days to the calendar as his victory. This was the timespan when Nut could conceive and give birth. 7

goddess Nut - mundus volubilis

In that era, exactly at the time of the winter solstice, the Sun was observed to descend in the constellation of Gemini, the mouth of Nut8
(ruled by Mercury according to astrological symbolism). Six thousand years later, in sixteenth-century alchemical texts, the philosophers' stone was still created in the vessel of Mercurius/Hermes, also called a "virginal womb" or "Mary's womb".9

"So below, so above" says the Tabula Smaragdina of Hermes Trismegistus. Or, as Schopenhauer puts it: "Thus everyone in this twofold regard is the whole world itself, the microcosm; he finds its two sides whole and complete within himself. And what he thus recognizes as his own inner being also exhausts the inner being of the whole world, of the macrocosm".10

amazing-736881_640

For the ancient Egyptians, the cycle of light and darkness was not a mechanism, it was a dynamics. The former is the endless repetition of the same. The latter is an ever-changing system that goes through certain predictable phases or cycles. It is the journey of the Sun god, Ra, through the body of Nut. The Sun rises. The Sun sets. Is it the same day that starts all over again, every morning? Yes and no. Are we the same person as we were twenty years ago? Yes and no.

What is it that stays itself no matter how much it changes? What is it that is never exactly the same no matter how identical it seems? Whatever it is, it belongs in the body of Nut, in the womb of the Virgin. After it enters the darkness and before it emerges into the light, it is embraced and nurtured by the goddess. And it will always be itself and it will never be the same, just like She, Herself.

Suggested reading

Tarot: The Ace of Cups

ace of cups mundus volubilis

When the Ace of cups appears in a reading, think of the womb, an embryo growing, or seeds waiting for spring in the dark soil. Something has started, it is alive within you, you have to let it grow and manifest when it is ready to. Read now

Preparing for the Winter Solstice – Sowing the Seeds of New Life

winter solstice mundus volubilis

The seeds do not only carry within them the full-grown plant itself but they also symbolise the continuity of life: they will grow into wheat and the wheat will transform into a human body. The period preceding the Winter Solstice is a time to honour the pregnant Mother Earth: all living things enter her womb to grow and wait in darkness to be born again. Read now


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capricorn mundus volubilis

Capricorn is the tenth sign of the zodiac. Its period corresponds to the Winter Solstice, rich in symbolism of the interplay (and often struggle) between light and darkness. It is also strongly connected to all kinds of fertility rites.

Its pagan connotations and its tie to the earth and the underworld are among the reasons why Christianity linked this sign to the Devil.

capricorn mundus volubilisThe Abrahamic religions separate "spirit" from "matter", and this split is essential to their worldview. The god of monotheism is the god of spirit: it is in his best interest to separate his realm from that of matter, where he cannot be the one and only. The physical world is never homogenous, it cannot be. Nature is diverse, plural and forever changing. It cannot be ruled by one single force.

So, in order to be all-powerful, the god of monotheism had to create a sphere of "pure spirit", devoid of matter. But how to believe in such a heaven when it does not compare to anything we experience in life? That was quite a challenge for his prophets and religious leaders. Check in the history books how they coped throughout the ages.

Capricorn is represented by a hybrid: it is part goat and part fish. The symbol speaks of the ultimate mystery of life. Aren't we all connected? Aren't we all "mixed"? Aren't we both soul and body - both complete in ourselves and part of a greater whole? How is that possible? Capricorn is the key.

Suggested reading

Thoughts on Planets Aspecting Each Other

Thoughts on Planets Aspecting Each Other - mundus volublis

Planets are to astrology as metals are to alchemy. Both traditions work with deep and diverse imagery. Each symbol on its own has been the subject of several books and extended research. And yet, when it comes to discussing astrology, we often stick to a vocabulary that is surprisingly static – considering that we are talking about human beings and dynamic physical, psychological and interpersonal networks. Read now

The Natal Chart from an Animistic Perspective

the natal chart from an animisitic perspective 01Many of us start learning astrology by attaching keywords to planets. And at one point, the list will become overcrowded and full of overlaps. Read now


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the ace of cups in the tarot

The cups suit takes us to the realm of emotions, intuition and dreams. The Aces are about new beginnings and what the coming cycle springs from.

If we match the four aces to the four cardinal signs in astrology, the ace of cups corresponds to Cancer, the sign of the summer solstice.

Among the cups, there are nine cards where the goblet is held in hand. Seven has it grabbed purposefully, to be drunk from or used in some practical way.

cups01

The chalice also appears on two major arcana: the Temperance and the Magician. On the Temperance, like on the seven cards of the cup suit, the goblets are grabbed firmly and are used for a certain purpose. The Magician has it on his table, as he does with all the suits (the coin, the sword and the rod).

Now look at how Mary is holding the infant in orthodox iconography and compare it with the position of the hand on the ace of cups.


Here the chalice is held in a different way than on the rest of the cards (except one). It is standing on the palm, with the thumb raised and crossed on the foot.

ace of cups - mundus volubilis

The water below is the water of life, where everything grows and flourishes: an obvious connection with the Holy Grail. According to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven by the grace of (the male) God. Here we see the M of the Marian cross inverted, the cross equal-armed and the dove diving.

The Sacred Feminine is returning from the sky to her own domain, out of her own will.

And there is only one other card where the chalice is held in a similar way, standing on the palm: the Queen of Cups. Hers is a very special vessel that does not appear anywhere else in the deck…

queen_cups

When the Ace of cups appears in a reading, think of the womb, an embryo growing, or seeds waiting for spring in the dark soil. Something has started, it is alive within you, you have to let it grow and manifest when it is ready to.

Suggested reading

Tarot: the Two of Cups

It’s interesting to have a look at how the symbols of the Ace develop in the Two of Cups. The single chalice multiplies into two goblets. The disembodied hand from the clouds changes into those of a man and a woman. The dove turns into a winged lion. The waffle with the cross becomes the caduceus. The lake with the lotuses is now a meadow with a family home in the distance. Read now

The Natal Chart from an Animistic Perspective

the natal chart from an animisitic perspective 01Many of us start learning astrology by attaching keywords to planets. And at one point, the list will become overcrowded and full of overlaps. Read now


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  1. Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 174.
  2. Ian Shaw & Paul T. Shaw, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1997), 207.
  3. George Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses (London: Routledge, 2005), 110.
  4. Geraldine Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 174.
  5. Ian Shaw & Paul T. Shaw, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1997), 42.
  6. Donald B. Redford, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Vol 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 145-6.
  7. Geraldine Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002),174.
  8. Donald B. Redford, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Vol 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 146.
  9. Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 4. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 272-3.
  10. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol 1 (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), §29.
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