Likely influence for Ace of Cups


I ran across something of interest in Waite's The Secret Tradition in Alchemy, 1926. It's in a footnote in chapter 22. The reference is to an image found in Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians of the 16th & 17th Centuries, 1785. This seems like a good candidate as one of Waite's primary influences for the Ace of Cups.

The footnote reads:

"It is to be regretted that the measures of my critical purpose do not permit the consideration of a diagram and connected letterpress on p. 51 of the Secret Symbols. A Cross surmounted by a Crown is superposed on two solid triangles, the inscriptions on which are (1) Faith, Hope, Charity; (2) Way, Truth, Life. It is written also, in the words of the Psalmist, that "the Stone which the builders rejected has become the headstone of the corner". Beneath the Cross is a Chalice, from which emerges a Sacred Host. The doctrine is that of Tauler: (1) "The true communion is the substantial, potent, omnipotent presence of Christ"; and (2) "If we are penetrated and full of the spirit of Christ, then is Christ present within us, and we are in Christ." It is the Rosicrucian doctrine of the Eucharist in its clearest formulation. It is said otherwise (1) that the Spirit of God is the nutriment of the human soul, and (2) that the Body of Christ is an universal spiritual substance or principle which fills those who can receive it. The Law is Nature and flesh but the Gospel is grace and spirit. Herein is the contrast between Adam and Christ. It is the most important diagram in the whole collection and has no adventitious elements. It is said elsewhere of Christ that He feeds flesh with his own substance and transforms it into a new being—another of the Eucharistic references which recur so frequently in the records of the Rosy Cross."​

That Waite singles out this diagram as the most important of the whole collection says a lot about its influence on him. It also reveals a lot about the meaning this symbol probably held for him.


I updated the above image to include all the text that's part of it. Some of it's fairly interesting.


Very interesting Abrac .
There is no doubt that the Eucharist held a special place in Waite's thought. Quotes to support this could be found throughout his writings , and this is but one : " The instituted sacraments can be received after two manners, of which the one is as signs only but the other as living channels. The one is a communication of the symbol, the other of an efficacy within. The Eucharist is the greatest of all because it is the sacrament of mystical marriage ." ( Footnote on page 303 of the Kessinger edition ( n.d.) of ' The Way of Divine Union" ).


Nice quote. :)


Having thought about this a bit more , I'm not convinced that this image had to be Waite's inspiration for the Ace of Cups because as far as I know the host over the chalice as shown in the Rosicrucian diagram is / was a fairly conventional Catholic symbol for the Eucharist ; Waite could probably have seen it in many places including Catholic Missals .

As for the dove on the Ace of Cups , in "The Holy Grail " , Waite talks a lot about the epiclesis clause of the Eucharist wherein the Holy Spirit is invoked at the time of consecration of the bread and wine. Hence we see on the card the Dove of the Spirit descending bearing the host .


The imagery is fairly common, but this particular image seems to hold a special place for him, and especially the text that surrounds it. It's hard to say to what extent it influenced the Ace of Cups, but the image itself clearly influenced Waite. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the influence or the only influence, but the likelihood Waite had it in mind seems good.

The imagery of the dove is certainly another part of it. In reading Waite's statements in the HCHG and THG about the Epiclesis clause, I don't find where he associates it with the particular imagery of a dove descending with a Host; it's possible I overlooked it though. I found where he says it was used to invoke the Holy Spirit's blessing on, and conversion of, the Elements.

There is one place though where he describes the dove descending with a Host quite clearly. It's in the section on "The Parsifal of Wolfram." The paragraph where it's located starts: "I pass now to the matter of the Graal itself. . ." The Graal is described not as a chalice but a stone (which I take as symbolic of divine Spirit within). In Wolfram's version, once a year, on Good Friday, a dove descends from heaven carrying a Sacred Host and deposits it on the stone; this, he says, recharges the stone not unlike a talisman. With this in mind, one way of interpreting the Ace would be the cup representing the body and within it the soul, symbolized by water. We are never told what the cup actually contains; the only clue are five streams coming out if it which appear to be water. The Host carried by the dove serves to nourish and recharge the Spirit living within the waters of the soul, causing the waters to spring to life.


Abrac I just have a few comments on your last posting.

I'm not sure that the Cup represents the body as such but rather the soul . The reason I think this is that the cup is a universal symbol for the heart , and the heart represents the innermost part of the person , therefore the soul ( see any good book on symbolism such as Chevalier and Gheerbrant or Cirlot ) . Waite gives one of the interpretations for the card as "House of the true heart ".

In addition, to be consistent with the Catholic ( and catholic with a small 'c' i.e. universal ) symbolism all over this card , I think that we would have to take the Wafer or Host carried by the Dove as symbolic of the body as it represents the Body of Christ in the Eucharist .
So we have the Spirit ( Dove) , Soul ( Cup) and Body ( Wafer ) .

The interesting thing is that the Body seems attached to the Spirit as it descends into the Soul . Does this have something to do with the alchemical motto about " spiritualizing the body and embodying the spirit " ?


Hi parsival. There are a lot of different ways of looking at it I guess. The main reason I thought the cup symbolizes the body is because of a couple things I read in Waite. They are both in The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal and The Holy Grail.

First, HCHG, Book 9, section 3, "The Latin Literature of Alchemy and the Hermetic Secret in the Light of the Eucharistic Mystery"; the paragraph starts: "It must be affirmed further that in virtue of..." In THG, Book 11, section 5, "Of Spiritual Alchemy." I added the parts in brackets as explanations of how I interpret what he's saying; it's just that, my interpretation.

"It must be affirmed further that in virtue of a very high mysticism there is an unity in the trinity of the stone—or powder—the metal and the vase. The vase is also the alchemist, for none of the instruments, the materials, the fires, the producer and the thing produced are external to the one subject. At the same time the inward man is distinguished from the outward man; we may say that the one is the alchemist [the inward man] and the other the vessel [the outward man]; it is in this sense that the art is termed both physical and spiritual. But the symbolism is many times enfolded, and the gross matter which is placed within the vessel is the untransmuted life of reason, motive, concupiscence, self-interest and all that which constitutes the intelligent creature on the normal plane of manifestation. Hereof is the natural man enclosed in an animal body, as the metal is placed in the vessel, and from this point of view the alchemist is he who is sometimes termed arrogantly the super-man. But because there is only one vessel it must be understood that herein the Stone is confected and the base metal is converted. The alchemist is himself finally the Stone [i.e, the inward man and the Stone have become one], and because many zealous aspirants to the Art have not understood this they have failed in the Great Work on the spiritual side."​

First he describes the alchemist as the vase, or vessel; then he distinguishes them further as the outward man or vessel, and the inward man which is more properly the "alchemist." The work of transformation takes place within the "vessel," i.e., the body of the alchemist himself.

The next is in the very next paragraph in both books. He attempts to summarize all that has been said previously. I'll only quote the first one for this purpose.

"There are (a) the natural, external man, whose equivalent is the one vessel;"​

The rest of the summary is very interesting and worth reading. One part describes the dove descending carrying the arch-natural Host to "renew the virtues of the Stone."

The doctrine in the first paragraph he describes as "in virtue of a very high mysticism." And at the end of the paragraph, ". . .because many zealous aspirants to the Art have not understood this they have failed in the Great Work on the spiritual side." Therefore it seems to carry some weight.


"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? "

Saint Paul : 1 Corinthians 6:19

I think that to understand Waite better we have to understand better the anthropology of the tripartite constitution of man as body , soul and spirit which I still grapple with.


In a public Pentecostal church (years ago), I was taught a kind of systematic theology that divided the individual body-soul-sprit and that further divided soul into reason-emotion-will.

I always took the poetic imagery to be more imaginative than systematic, though, for example, when Jesus said that rivers of living water would flow from the inmost being. (Followed by the note that he meant the Holy Spirit, who would be poured out later.)

The body is sometimes called a temple or tent, a jar of clay, or as in the familiar word pictures of death in Ecclesiastes 12:6: "...the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain..."