The 6 of Cups shows a scene from Nance Oldfield, a short play starring Ellen Terry and featuring a confusion of ages and an overzealous suitor.
It signifies the problems that arise from emotionally over-asserting yourself to another.
You may be surprised to know that this is the first time – here, on this page – this source has been been revealed, despite a century of people guessing about the card in hundreds of books and thousands of websites.
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Pamela took her experience of theatre in 1909 to best choose a scene which really captured the complex ideas of the Book T description used by the Order of the Golden Dawn which reads …
… Also affront, detection, knowledge, and in some instances contention and strife arising from unwarranted self-assertion and vanity. Sometimes thankless and presumptuous; sometimes amiable and patient.
There is significant evidence that the mis-matched figures on the 6 of Cups, the flowers, the glove, the guardsman and other elements of this scene are drawn from the play, Nance Oldfield, which starred Ellen Terry and was so popular as a “blend of humour and gooey pathos” according to one review, that it allowed Terry to purchase Tower Cottage.
The play features a young poet who falls for an actress, based on a real-life actress Anne Oldfield. As she is far older than he, she resists his advances by a series of comical reactions, playing down herself.
The play fits the theme perfectly as given in the Golden Dawn Book T text as “contention and strife arising from unwarranted self-assertion and vanity”. The young poet is being tricked by the older woman who appears young to him – and she is rebuffing his unwarranted self-assertion.
There is a portrait of Ellen as Nance Oldfield, painted by Pamela, showing the same curly hair, headscarf and flowerpots that we see in the card.
These were well-known motifs for the character. Ellen Terry famously complained about the problems of keeping the wig and headscarf fixed to her head.
There perhaps are further clues in that the real Anne Oldfield was not only an actress but a florist (sometimes seamstress), and most significantly a daughter of a captain of the watch (the figure in the background). Another side-sketch by Pamela of Terry as Nance Oldfield in the souvenir booklet Sir Henry Irving and Miss Ellen Terry (1899) shows the similarity even more markedly.
The real Anne Oldfield was also famously buried wearing white kidskin gloves, and a surviving portrait of her which may have been familiar to Pamela shows her right hand wrapped in a shawl much as painted on the card.
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Learn More about the meanings of this card in everyday readings in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot and over at our free sister-site, My Tarot Card Meanings where you can also download a free guide to card meanings and spreads, Keys to the Tarot by Andrea Green.