An important exercise to learn and to understand tarot is to compare and contrast two cards which have something in common.
Two important things are true about the language of tarot. One is that each card carries unique energies and interpretations. The second is that each card will have some things in common with a few other cards.
Even beyond obvious associations like elements and numbers, some cards will bear similarities one to another. When cards that have similarities appear in a reading together, their collective meaning can become a theme of the reading.
For newer tarotists, however, these similarities can make it hard to understand the significant differences between the cards.
I’ve discussed this before, most recently in a post that suggests using venn diagrams to figure out similarities and differences between two or more cards.
The Eight of Cups and the Six of Swords are a good pair to try this exercise with. In terms of numbers and elements, they have little in common. Swords are masculine, Cups are feminine. Six and Eight are both even numbers, but not particularly similar in their energy.
Yet, we see enough similarity in these two cards that sometimes newer readers have a difficult time distinguishing their unique energies.
What are the similarities between the Six of Swords and the Eight of Cups?
In the Waite-Smith tradition, both images show motion. Both these cards can convey a sense of travel, either literally or metaphorically. They are usually less about the beginning of an important journey, as the Fool or the Chariot might depict. Instead, both of these cards are about moving away from something, toward something better.
In both of these cards, there can be a sense of needing to move away from emotional difficulty, toward a greater sense of calm.
Both these cards relate to water. The Six of Swords, though an Air card, is in a boat. The Eight of Cups is at a beach.
Both of these cards suggest that there has been some trauma or difficulty in the past.
Both of these cards suggest that it will take some time to move toward something better.
What is unique about the Six of Swords?
Traditional fortune tellers often see this card as predicting a ‘journey over water’. Aleister Crowley called the Six of Swords the card of ‘Science’. Even in the Waite image, we see how the swords of logical thought float over the water of emotion.
The Six of Swords can discuss science and technology.
In the Six of Swords, we are sailing toward smoother waters. This card includes an inherent prediction that things are getting better.
What is unique about the Eight of Cups?
While the Six of Swords seems to be sailing toward something, the Eight of Cups seems to be walking away from something. In this card we see abandonment. The Eight of Cups may refer to the damage done by childhood abandonment. It might suggest that we feel abandoned in a relationship. Or, it might suggest that it is time to abandon an unsuccessful undertaking.
Aleister Crowley called the Eight of Cups ‘Indolence’. From this perspective, we can see that the Eight of Cups might involve a desire to avoid a situation, or something that we don’t have the will or energy to complete.
Often in this card I see the emotional process of healing that comes when we stop trying to fix something that can’t be fixed.
The next time you are stuck trying to understand how two or more similar cards differ from one another, try this simple exercise and see how much you learn about each card’s distinct qualities, as well as their similarities.