RWS Winged Lion's Head in 2 of Cups


Is there a name for it?

Or, is it just a lion's head imposed on the caduceus?


Waite's explanation in the Pictorial Key does sound like he's describing a lion's head imposed between the two wings which, in turn, belong to the Caduceus.

"...above their cups rises the Caduceus of Hermes, between the great wings of which there appears a lion's head. It is a variant of a sign which is found in a few old examples of this card."

But the picture looks as if the lion and the wings belong together. I think Waite must have had one idea in mind but Smith interpreted it differently and Smith's idea is what we see in the card. I can't think offhand which old cards Waite might be talking about, but the whole emblem, as seen in the card, seems like it could have been inspired by this ancient deity (scroll down to "Zurvan"). Waite's main purpose for including it here seems to have been to match it up to some older cards he had seen. It apparently had some symbolic meaning to him but he doesn't say what that is, unfortunately.

"Some curious emblematical meanings are attached to it, but they do not concern us in this place."

I don't know who "us" is, but it definitely concerns me. :)


The winged lion is the symbol of St. Mark and Venice.


In the Golden Dawn tradition the winged lion's head is the emblem of the King of Wands (Prince of the Chariot of Fire).

Description of the King of Wands in the Golden Dawn's Liber T:

A kingly figure with a golden, winged crown, seated on a chariot.He has large white wings. One wheel of his chariot is shown. He wears corselet and buskins of scale armor decorated with a winged lion’s head, which symbol also surmounts his crown. His chariot is drawn by a lion. His arms are bare, save for the shoulder-pieces of the corselet. He bears a torch or Fire Wand, similar to that of the Apprentice Adeptus. Beneath the chariot are flames, waved and salient.

(The winged lion's head as the emblem of Venice represents its patron saint Mark, as such it usually includes a book (to represent the gospel) and a halo - not always however, the 'official trademark of venice since 2003 has been a winged lion's head (showing only one wing) on the letter V - no book or halo).

As Waite says, the winged lion's head is an emblem that appears on the 2 of cups in a few old decks, it is not original to the RWS. It is an emblem with various meanings and references in gnostic, masonic, alchemical and emblematic texts all of which Waite was no doubt aware of, though he didn't care to elucidate upon them in the PKT (but with the advantage of todays internet search engines, and enquiries here - you may find out in half hour what took him a knowledge of French and Latin and years of searching, reading and translating in the British Library).

Its appearance on older decks might possibly relate to it being a remnant, like the Visconti ducal crown, of the heraldry of crests to be found on the early painted decks of the Italian and French nobility: a winged lion's head is one of the crests of the House of Savoy*, connected by several marriages with the houses of Visconti and Sforza, who have an established and recorded historical connection with the production of cards.

Another interesting aspect of the card are the crowns of flowers and leafs; calling to mind those that are worn by the two woman on some TdM style lover VI cards. The flowers are a symbol of Natura, do they relate perhaps to where Waite says:

" a suggestion apart from all offices of divination - that desire which is not in Nature, but by which Nature is sanctified."

And the pattern on his costume, a four leaf clover possibly?

Two cups, two serpents, two crowns: could the symbolism of the two types of crowns representing nature (flowers) and the celestial (laurel leaves) be reiterated by the winged (wings as symbols of heaven) lion (symbol of nature)? ... But in the King of Wands the winged lion represents the airy (wings) part of fire (lion).

In the Golden Dawn tradition the card is assigned to the decanate of cancer ruled by venus. As the two crowns in the TdM lover card identify each woman as either an aspect of Venus Natura (crown of flowers) or Venus Urania (crown of laurel leaves or flames), so the crown of leaves on the woman here, together with the winged lion's head as emblem of Mithras, connects the woman of the card with Venus Urania. Mithras being identified with Venus Urania in the Histories of Herodotus*:


“As to the analogy instituted by Herodotus between Venus Urania and Mithras… I can only beg my readers to believe that it is one which comparative archaeology fully corroborates : aye! and philology too, I might add; for the Persian mihr, (a contraction for mithra) means: "Mithra," " love," and " sun." Just as in the autonomous coins of Dyrrachium, and in a temple at Acrocorin- thus (see Pausanias) we find Aphrodite, Eros, Helios, conjoined.”

End quote from The Journal of Philology VOL. I. June, 1854. 16

References to scholastic texts on early Christianity, Herodotus and magazines of philology, and to the relationship of Mithras to two of Waites main interests (alchemy and masonry) suggest IMHO that any allusions to Mithras in this card would clearly indicate the influence and direction of Waite upon the symbolism of this card of the minor arcana (some people suggest Waite had no influence on the imagery of the deck, and 'certainly' not the minor arcana - but then go on to read into the cards all sorts of esoteric or scholastic influences of which there is no evidence that Pamela was interested in or had any knowledge of, but in which Waite was steeped).

*note : The Persians sacrifice to the Sun and Moon, also to earth, fire, water and the winds. These were at first their only objects of sacrifice, but they have now learned to sacrifice to the Uranian Aphrodite, having adopted this rite from the Assyrians and the Arabs. The Assyrians call Aphrodite Mylitta, the Arabs Alilat, the Persians Mithra. Herodotus 1.131

Possibly confused by Persian descriptions of Mithras that could lead one to identify him with the morning star, Herodotus seems to have made an understandable cock-up here in identifying Venus with Mithra - deities of opposite sexes. However, Anahita (whom we may associate with Venus), was the consort of Mithra, and as consorts we may see them being conjoined as one.

As Mithras was often depicted as a figure with a winged lion's head and a body entwined by serpents, the inclusion of the serpent entwined caduceus might futher identify the emblem with Mithras.

*note - the winged lion's head was adopted as an emblem of the Savoys by Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy 1334 -1383 : Amadeus was notable for his establishment of state support for the poor (an innovation for the time).


On Venus Urania, the chalices and the Winged Lion

Taking into consideration the exellent previous post....

Venus Urania was born of castrated Uranus' penis - cast into the ocean. There she was 'born of the foam of the sea'... as is said of several other gods associated with Mythraic-like shamanic practices. Add in the 'Holy Grail' chalice and the countless other associations within the tarot - and one can be sure to realise that this the winged Lion is a quite accurate pictographic and mildly cryptographic form of the hallucenogenic Amanita Muscaria. Indeed the etymology of Mushroom in French is - 'Mousse Ron' - which is 'Foam of the Sea' (G.Wasson). So the higher love of Venus Urania is born of the castrated sex (tantra), the sexual force (lion/serpent) is exalted, along with/or the foam of the sea 'Mushroom'. Not to mention the Amanita looks like a big red penis, turned upside down has wings and often grows a mycelial mane, and can give you the energy of said beast.


According to David Hulse's "key to it all vol. 2: Western Mysteries" this is alchemical symbolism.....the marriage of fire and water. Leo is Fire and Scorpio (in it's eagle form) is water. The male wears red, the female blue. This is a depiction of the Great work. As a Unit, the Lion/Eagle represents Air (what you get when you combine the fire and water) and the "alchemical homunculus or descending soul that hovers over each instance of sexual intercourse in hopes of having a vehicle to enter this world" (Hulse). Further, " The caduceus intertwined with two snakes is also a toke of the element Air, but this instance it is the alchemical Mercury which unites the firey heat of Sulfur with the cooling Crystals of Salt".

To me, this is the explanation that seems most likely.


Interesting quotes that describe two processes in the 'alchemical trinity' :thumbsup:

I dont see 'air' as such as a result, the identification of mercury is closer ...'Mercurius' is even closer.

In traditional culture here 'lion-serpent' , would be translated as 'seed / germ'. A man (fire and 'lion' ) will take the 'germ child' from the 'waterhole' (or other totemic 'increase site') and take it home and give it to his wife.

It is often depicted as a 'Lion serpent' in magick .... or 'royal seed'

You can see it in the tail of the lion, hovering over the woman and beast in the Thoth Lust card.

The whole thing is enacted in the Gnostic Mass. The red and the blue

(Oh jeeze ! Thats an old acquaintance of mine ! :laugh: ..... sorry, that was unexpected! )


The PRIEST: O Lion and O Serpent that destroy the destroyer, be mighty among us.

( I still dont 'get' the ritual of the Mass without the woman :neutral:


LOL...look up the same image in the New Palladini....the "angry hamster!" What was he thinking???


Do you mean in his decks 2 of cups ?

< looks it up >

yes, it does look like a golden hamster !

The divinatory meaning ; raising a family is expensive nowadays - best start with a small pet and work your way up.


"You may be happy together, but your scorned pet hamster will be furious!!"