Some people are reluctant to use older decks, such as this one, where the number cards simply show the suit symbols repeated the correct number of times, rather than featuring an illustrated scene to convey meaning. I enjoy the older decks, though, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share how I work with older number cards like this one.
One could, of course, learn the meanings and images from a more modern deck, and then bring those to mind when drawing one of these cards. For example, I might recall the Waite-Smith 10 of cups, which shows a happy family with a rainbow arcing over them. It conjures feelings of abundant happiness, success, a blissful home life.
This seems to be sort of missing the point of using the older cards, however. If I’m going to base my interpretation solely on the pictures of the Waite-Smith deck (or some other modern deck), why not just use that deck in the first place?
My approach, instead, is to work with the image on the card, blended with my own understanding of the symbolism of numbers and of the suit symbols.
Cups are associated with the element of water, for obvious reasons. Since antiquity, water has been associated with emotions and moods. Cups (especially the fancy, medieval-looking cups we see in this old woodcut deck) were also associated with wine, with religious ritual, and with the pleasures of courtly dining. So in addition to the familiar association of cups with emotions and relationships, we can blend in some thoughts of ritual communion, and of opulence or hedonism.
When thinking of number symbolism, you can of course use a numerological system that you are familiar with. I tend to take a more down-to-earth approach. I look at the concepts of magnitude and parity. Magnitude is simply how big a number is. Bigger numbers stand for bigger, more complicated things. So a few cups represents a simpler, lighter emotion, and a lot of cups represents a stronger, richer, more overwhelming feeling. Parity is whether the number is odd or even. I see even numbers as stable and orderly (because you can arrange an even number of things symmetrically, which you often cannot do with an odd number). Odd numbers are dynamic, changing.
So in the 10 of cups, we have a large dose of emotion, opulence, or communion (the largest possible dose, in fact). Because 10 is an even number, we can identify it as representing something static.
With this in mind, I look at the card itself. The nine cups arranged in a 3 x 3 pattern nearly fill the space. The tenth cup (the largest) is worked in on top of them, laying on its side. It feels like excess to me. You have all the cups you need, but then you have to add yet another one, a huge one, that you don’t really have a place for.
So, to bring it all together, I would interpret this card as an excess of pleasure. An overabundance of love, an embarrassment of sensuality, communion, or bliss. This may be just what the doctor ordered if you’ve been going through a dry spell, or it may be a gentle urge to moderation. In any case, it is here to stay for awhile.