My first tarot deck was the Rider-Waite. It's the standard, iconic tarot deck, and because I like to start from the beginning when I learn something new, the Rider-Waite felt like a good choice. It served its purpose well, and I do still use it sometimes, because there's something about the kitschy-ness that I like. It's not without its problems, though. In short, it's an old, traditional deck that subscribes to a very patriarchal, heteronormative worldview. Because of that, its interpretations are narrow, and that's something that I always have to work around when I read with this deck.
One of the most problematic cards in that respect is the Ten of Cups. The core message of the card is beautiful, one of deep emotional fulfillment that comes from finding a sense of place in the world. It's a groundedness. It's a deep well of peace. It's having a family that fills your emotional cup. The Rider-Waite represents that idea with an image of a husband and wife, gazing at a rainbow while their two children play happily nearby. In the background is a cottage surrounded by lush greenery and a gently flowing stream.
It's a lovely little picture, but it's also kind of archaic, and it's a definition of emotional fulfillment that leaves a lot of people feeling shut out. And I do think that the Ten of Cups is a difficult card to illustrate because of what it represents. Tarot works within archetypes, and the message of the Ten of Cups is one of deep contentment. The problem is that contentment is a deeply personal thing. It looks different for everyone. But there have been decks published in the last few years that have taken great artistic liberty with this card, and have done a better a job of illustrating that warmth of place and belonging.
One of the things I love about the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot is the emphasis it places on nature and how we interact with it, and we see that in its Ten of Cups. I think it's interesting that the background imagery for this card is identical to what we see in the Rider-Waite interpretation: a cozy cottage, a gently flowing stream, a lush landscape. But this interpretation replaces the image of the nuclear family with a maypole. The symbolism of the maypole has been debated for centuries, but it is definitely associated with May Day, and the celebration of spring and the triumph over winter. This Ten of Cups reminds us that we are deeply connected to the earth. That we are animals, of nature and in nature, and because of that, we have a place here. For me, there's a certain warmth and contentedness that comes from remembering that we are of the earth, and that we belong here.
The Wooden Tarot offers us a more inward-focused version of the Ten of Cups. The flower here is a lotus, a well-known symbol of emotional and spiritual fulfillment. And in the center of the lotus is an orb which, to me, looks like an eye. It calls to mind this idea that emotional fulfillment is found by turning inward and finding an understanding of one's own self. It's this idea that your place in the world is, well, you! And that contentment comes from figuring out who you are. This interpretation also kept the traditional rainbow, and I really like that. It's a symbol of the full spectrum of joy, and a reminder that joy can come from many sources in many ways. But it's also obviously a well-known symbol of the LGBTQ movement, and that association feels particularly potent in connection to the Ten of Blooms. It reminds us that being true to your own identity is central to the idea of emotional fulfillment.
Slow Holler gives us the Ten of Vessels, and this might be my favorite interpretation of the Ten of Cups. I like it because it manages to capture what I like best about the Ten of Cups--the rich tapestry that is the concept of emotional fulfillment and all the beautiful variations of human experience. Each of these vessels represents a different interaction with one's feelings, a different path to contentment. Water is a symbol of abundance, and this card reminds us that we're allowed to enjoy that abundance. That abundance belongs to us! And I do feel like there's an emphasis on family as a path to emotional fulfillment here, as we see in the Rider-Waite Ten of Cups, but it's more abstract, and gentler for it. This deck, as a whole, places emphasis on the families we create for ourselves. And the Ten of Vessels recognizes and cherishes all the diverse parts of our lives. It's a reminder that we are happiest when we are our freest selves. That the point of emotional contentment is not to find it in one mold, but to celebrate your truest self, and by extension, the full diversity of human experience.