Tuesday, 26 February 2013

John Matthews | The Shadow of Ecstasy | 5 Vessels

Wildwood Tarot, 5 Vessels - Will Worthington

More than one Tarotist has commented on the unusual interpretation of the Five of Vessels (or Cups as they would be in a traditional tarot) which diverges from the general interpretation of this card in classic tarot. 

In fact, the reason for this springs from a desire to follow the journey of the Wanderer (The Fool) through the entire deck, and to acknowledge the experiences that he/she (our Wildwood Fool is non-gender specific) encounters along the way. If we explore the ‘story’ underlying the suit of Vessels we see how this works.

This suit explores the profound mystery of the human emotions:  

From the Ace the Wanderer learns how to access memory, the very beginning of the ancestral dream.  Then, in the Two of Vessels he/she meets an aspect of him/herself that offers a glimpse of completeness, of the other self that has been missing from the start of his/her journey.  In the Three of Vessels he/she reaches another point of emotional understanding - the joys of family, the inner circle of friends and relations who carry the central energy of the home. But this causes the Wanderer to over extend him/herself and begins, in the Four,  to suffer from dissatisfaction, boredom, and ennui. 

Thus we reach the Five

Here the Wanderer experiences a brief glimpse of inspiration, an access to the divine which releases a spontaneous rush of joy, ecstasy. But here the Wanderer learns that even these heightened feelings are short lived, and is plunged back into a darker state. Thus the more usual meaning of the 5 of Cups, longing or despair, undermines the sense of wonder and delight, making it bitter sweet. 

We felt and feel that this makes more sense of the Wanderer’s ongoing story, especially as it is followed by the Six of Vessels, which denotes the welcome return of the inner unity expressed in the Two. With this comes the remembrance of wholeness set against the fleeting passage of ecstatic wonder in the Five. The weight of loss, the memory of that divine impulse, is such that in the Seven the Wanderer mourns his/her lost delight. From this moment, as the Wanderer accepts the path of fate things begin to turn.  A rebirth begins in the Eight of Vessels, followed by a bursting fourth of joy that he/she wishes to share with all. From this flows happiness, the waters overflowing the spring, and the joy of the Wanderer, which had been present all along, issues to the world. 

In this way we see that while the 5 of Vessels appears to contradict the more traditional meaning, it is essentially the same. The ecstasy of the moment is fleeting and serves as a reminder to the Wanderer of the way things had been and perhaps might be again. It is a crucial turning point in his/her journey.

©  John Matthews & Mark Ryan
February 2013


  1. I drew the 5 of Cups in my most recent "dukkering" for myself and boy does it apply! Your blog/newsletter I'd signed up for has not been reaching me and only just this morning (CST daylight time, i.e. just now) did I realize there will be a ROS convention next year - I went immediately to sign up, only to find I am too late :(
    Ecstasy followed by regret...

  2. Hello! I am nominating you for the Liebster blog award, check it out!

  3. I have always had a positive experience when I draw this card. The euphoric burst of positivity, however short lived, is like a welcome cool breeze on a too-hot night. The description seems a bit apologetic. The Waite deck, although a good first deck to learn about tarot as I did, is fairly negative , sometimes to excess. I salute you for turning this around. A loss of material wealth is nothing compared with a loss of a connection with the divine. The woman has looked within, surrounded by light below and the stars above-ecstasy indeed.