The Skull in The Seven of Cups
What does it Mean?
The Skull in the Seven of Cups
I received a query from a new tarot student about the skull that appears to be carved on the 6th Cup in the imagery of the Seven of Cups. Instead of replying directly, I have decided to write a post on it as there is quite a bit to discuss, and several theories to bandy about. The Seven of Cups is a very complex card and carries many versions of interpretation. I am quite confident of the potential in writing a complete book on this card alone if I set my mind to it. I have never mentioned the presence of the skull on the Seven of Cups before, as from deck to deck of the Rider Waite, it is not always prominent.
The Wreath is all about Success, fame, achievement and victory. There are various theories about the skull on Cup 6 in the Seven of Cups but apart from some bizarre ones, there is generally an understanding that it is associated with Victory over Death. This can be viewed in many aspects, just like every other symbol in Tarot, and really depends how you intuitively interpret it at the time of drawing it. Does the skull jump out at you immediately? There are probably many of you who have never noticed it before.
The Cups are very creative and artistic. The skull resembles Death which reminds us that we are immortal, and that Death will come to us all. So how can we triumph over death? We succeed in this by leaving something of value behind us that will outlive our mortal bodies. Take the writer/musician/artist whose works live on many centuries after their demise. Because of their success or achievement in mortal life, they gain a form of immortality. They may be dead but their name lives on. Athletes, rulers, scientists, inventors of the past are all to be found in history books, or have their lives documented in one manner or another. However, the Skull in the Seven of Cups, also reminds us of the flip side of being immortalised because of personal victories in life. Along with those long dead and gone who we celebrate and recall in such awe and wonder, are those we remember for all the wrong reasons. They have become immortalised due to their infamy, their wrong-doings, their cruelty, their savagery and their deeds. We think of Henry VIII, Hitler, and Charles Manson as just a tiny example. The Skull reminds us that all victories and triumphs come with consequences. We must be objective and discerning when it comes to interpreting our personal victories and the apparent victories of others. What price fame, what price success? How far will we go to achieve it? How much are we willing to pay or sacrifice? How low are we prepared to stoop? Are we prepared to sacrifice others in exchange for our laurel wreath? Are we prepared to work for our Laurel Wreath or steal it? What an individual perceives as a victory or triumph may be deemed by others as an act brutality, abuse of power or status, corruption, manipulation and greed. A personal victory can herald a dark day for others. In the Seven of Cups, the figure is daydreaming, indulging in fantasy and wishful thinking, building castles on clouds of dreams. He must examine his needs and desires and weigh them against the measure of his conscience.
On a spiritual and deeper level, the figure in the Seven of Cups engages in a period of soul-searching and reflecting on various aspects of his life in order to understand their greater meaning and how relevant they are in his search for emotional fulfillment and happiness. To do this he detaches from the world, or zones out, and becomes quite distant as he allows free association to take over. And so he examines and tries to emotionally analyse the floating visions, images and thoughts that surface from deep within. He stands as if outside himself and stares at his life laid bare in front of him. He may be truly seeing himself for the first time, and as the contents of each cup reveals itself to him, he must struggle to make sense of it and determine where and how it fits into his life and personal journey. Some cups may sit well with him, while others unnerve or ask questions of him.
As he stares into the 6th Cup, he is forced to confront his own victories and triumphs. The presence of the Laurel is not suggesting that he has any, but rather raising the unsettling question of whether this particular cup is empty or not. The Laurel Wreath is simply labelling the cup. It asks of the figure, ‘well, what do you see? What does this cup mirror back to you? Be honest with yourself, what have you achieved so far in your life? Have you anything to put in this cup, anything to add to it, anything you are working towards, that might earn a place in this cup? If you have nothing, then why is that so? Have you no goals? Is your life so perfect you have nothing left to achieve? Have you done it all? If there is nothing in this cup, maybe you desire something to be? If so, what is stopping you? Why aren’t you doing something about it?’
The skull on the 6th cup can taunt the figure by reminding him that someday, not too far from now, he will be gone, and not too long from that day he will be forgotten, for what is there to remember him by? With no legacy to leave of his existence in this lifetime, what was the purpose of him being here at all? The figure may have to admit that he has let life, and all his hopes and dreams drift by. He may not have sought to triumph in any area of his life. He may argue that he is not that type and is happy to let others set their sights on Laurel Wreaths, but he is wrong. The Laurel Wreath stands for all successes, victories and triumphs, regardless of how big or small they may be. A Laurel Wreath can be awarded to the individual who risks life and limb by acting as a volunteer in war-torn countries. However, it is the same Laurel Wreath that is awarded to the individual who succeeds in losing their excess weight to participate in a local 5km mini marathon. They are all victories, none greater than the other, as they are relevant to the individual involved.
The skull on the cup highlights the fact that time is running out for the figure who may be guilty of procrastination and has tendencies to put off till tomorrow what he should do today. The skull grins to himself and thinks, ha, foolish man, death has a habit of turning up when humans least expect it. How certain can he be that tomorrow will even come? There may be no tomorrow for him, for anyone. Therefore, the figure would be wise to resolve any issues or conflict in this cup sooner rather than later. (Please note that I am writing in a metaphorical manner and not suggesting that the skull is a warning of death being around the corner for anyone. I am simply using this tale to impress how vitally important it is to follow your dreams and realise your personal goals.)
We are all familiar with sayings such as ‘life is short’ and ‘don’t let life pass you by’. Time flies by very quickly and we may find continuous excuses to put off doing what we truly want to do. We can also let bad habits or unhealthy living triumph over us and become too apathetic to do anything about it. Our death-bed is often where we finally acknowledge all that could have been if we had only done differently. We can be full of regret for the life we should have led, the goals we never worked hard enough to achieve, the marriage we should have got out of years ago, the person we loved who went away because we never told them of our feelings. Too late, too late. If they only had their time over again! Well, of course they will have a go at it again, but the idea is that souls should seek to achieve as much as possible in each life time and not come to the end of them full of regrets and unrealised potential.
All the Sevens in Tarot represent challenge of one sort or another. In the Cups, it refers to emotional challenge. The figure takes a close look into each of the seven cups, and if he is unhappy with the contents, or lack of, this is usually as a result of fear. Emotional fear of success, and, or, failure, can paralyse him from working towards any goals or taking on any challenges in life. The Cups can be nervy and will come up with a variety of excuses as to why the time is not right, or that they need this or that before they can do anything. It takes guts to triumph over weak areas in our life or personality. We need to be emotionally strong to do this, and that is where the Cups can topple over.
In the Seven of Cups the figure has just recently passed through the upset and emotional pain of the 5, before finding sanctuary and peace in the 6. In the Seven he has to face up to his life and acknowledge where it has all gone wrong and why. He has to wake up and face reality, the slap on the face, the bucket of ice-cold water. He has to begin to mature and take responsibility for his own personal fulfillment instead of seeking it through others. He may have to accept the death of a former lifestyle without breaking down into tears and blaming everyone around him. If his 6th cup is empty, then it challenges him to do something about it. If he has no Laurel Wreaths then he must go and get some. In the Eight of Cups we see him begin to take action on what he has discovered about himself and his life in the Seven. Of course we see him find his Laurel Wreath in the Nine, and his wreaths multiply in the Ten, reflecting The World, as he triumphs at the end of his particular journey or cycle.
One important aspect of the skull on the 6th Cup is a painful reminder to the figure that he is only as good as his last success or achievement. If he only finds one wreath in his cup it may suggest that he is resting on it and may believe he has nothing more to achieve. He may be a one hit wonder, here today, gone tomorrow. He may be living off the fame or glory of one victory. His wreath may look a little wilted, with browning around the tips. It may be gathering dust sitting on a shelf. He may think he is important because of this one wreath. The skull once again is a reminder of how easily we can fall from our pedestal of fame and glory if we do not work to stay on top of it. What is given or bestowed upon us can be snatched back in the blink of an eye. The wreath he thought was there, may have been an illusion, or only on temporary loan. He may have concocted a fantasy around, what on a naive or immature level, he perceived to be a victory, triumph or success. On close examination, it has no substance at all.
As revealed in The World Card, our work is never truly done, there is always room for improvement and more victories and successes to achieve. Students leave college with degrees and doctorates in their hand. What a shame if they were to say, ‘ well that’s that, no more books or learning anything for me. I know all I need to know for this lifetime’. Think of reading a single book and on completion thinking, there, I have read a book from cover to cover so I don’t need to read another. The athlete who wins his first race and retires because he has a medal to show off. The architect who designs a particular building and for the rest of his or her life never designs another. Of course it would be insanity to think any of these would happen, that the above would choose not to build a collection of Laurel Wreaths. We may think, ah but they are different, that we are not at their level, but again I remind you that our Laurel Wreaths, our victories or triumphs, are no less than theirs. They are personal, and relevant to us and our lives. Every single human being should be able to stare into the 6th cup and find at least one Laurel Wreath. If not, they must go and find one, then build from there and remember to be mindful of how they obtain their victories, along with the consequences attached to each one.
When the Seven of Cups Reverses, we see the more negative aspects of the skull on the sixth cup. Here we have losing the Laurel Wreath or having it taken away from the figure. His cup is very much empty and he feels powerless to do anything about it. His fears mount and he becomes stuck in the Six of Cups where everything is done for him. He may harp back to the Five of Cups when challenged by others as to why he is not doing more to justify his existence. He can lay the blame for not chasing any Laurel Wreaths as a result of past experiences. If he chooses to stay in the less challenging world of The Six of Cups, he doesn’t have to make any effort and will let life pass by, a victim of circumstances. Death triumphs over him, and at the end claims him as just another human being who never made the most of what he had. Death has millions of those already. The figure needs to decide if he wants to be the next one. The choice is up to him. He needs emotional courage to overcome his fears and he can find that by calling on The Chariot. Card VII in the Major Arcana. In the Chariot he will find the gifts of stamina, determination and tenacity.
I am working towards my own Laurel Wreaths at present and a major one for me is the successful completion of writing Truly Teach Me Tarot. I would be delighted to think that I triumphed over death by leaving behind something of value that outlasted my physical being. Maybe it is egotistical but it is rather nice to know that long after I am gone, people, some maybe not even born yet, will read or study my work and wonder about me and the times I lived in. I look upon it as my contribution to the vast Universal Pool of Knowledge. This is just one of my goals, one of the Laurel Wreaths I chase. I look forward to the day when I can place that Laurel Wreath in my 6th Cup. Your Laurel Wreaths will probably be very different to mine but they are all equal. It is important to remember that the legacy we leave does not have to be tangible or in the physical at all. Legacies come in all shapes and sizes but what is important is its quality. Be mindful of leaving a legacy that all can be proud of and wish to embrace or emulate.
If anyone has more to contribute to the meaning of the Skull in The Seven of Cups, please pass it on and I will share it via the comments section.