The 9 of Cups shows Falstaff, a character in three plays by William Shakespeare; The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV parts 1 and 2.
It signifies over-indulgence, laziness, and a forgetfulness of one’s original values.
You may be surprised to know that this is the first time – here, on this page – this character 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 character who deeply embodied the Book T description used by the Order of the Golden Dawn which reads …
Complete and perfect realization of pleasure and happiness, almost perfect; self-praise, vanity, conceit, much talking of self, yet kind and lovable, and may be self-denying therewith.
High-minded, not easily satisfied with small and limited ideas. Apt to be maligned through too much self-assumption.
A good and generous, but sometimes foolish nature.
This text of the Golden Dawn describing that card is exactly the description we could read for Falstaff’s character in any study of Shakespeare!
Above is a photograph of a famous actor at the time Pamela was designing the cards, dressed in costume as Falstaff – you will notice exactly the same style of hat!
& here is what Henry says of Falstaff in Henry IV, Act I, Scene 2:
Thou art so fat?witted, with drinking of old sack
and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon
benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to
demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
We see that Pamela has drawn the old sack (beer) as the Cups, the unbuttoned garb, and even the bench (not a chair, throne, stool or other design) in the likeness of this exact quote.
At the time, these would have been instantly recognisable to Pamela and her circle – we have just lost track of their environment over the century since the cards were designed.
The photograph is in the style of the Cabinet Cards that Pamela was using as her design template. These were popular at the time but became out of fashion so have been forgotten to other than collectors. To Pamela, they would have been the ideal style in which to draw the tarot cards – they are not “stage cards” but “cabinet cards”.
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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.