THE SUIT OF CUPS
One of the most influential Medieval stories was the Quest for the Holy Grail, a Chalice that Jesus would have used for the occasion of the Last Supper. This Chalice is often portrayed as made in gold, ornamented with jewels. Representing the Grail, the Cups found easily their way as one of the Suit Symbols.
If one thing is sure, it is that Jesus did not use a golden Chalice during the Last Supper. Probably it was just a simple goblet. In contrary to what you might think, this is exactly what is portrayed in the above figure.
In fact what we see above is not a golden chalice, but a reliquary containing a simple goblet made out of onyx. The goblet is shown here at right. The reliquary is known as the "Caliz da Infanta Doña Urraca". Urraca was the daughter of Ferdinand I, King of Léon from 1037 until his death in 1065. The reliquary is in Léon (Spain) since that epoch. The goblet has been dated to somewhere between 200 BC and 100 AD by carbon dating. Spanish scientist claim to have traced the reliquary back to Christian communities living around 400 AD in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem it was taken by Muslims travellers to Cairo. According the story the chalice was given to a Spanish Emir for his help to victims of an Egyptian famine. The story is explained in a a book written by these Spanish scientists called "Los Reyes del Grial" (the Kings of the Grail), published in 2014.
The figure here at left shows how the goblet is placed in the reliquary. Is this the real story of the Holy Grail? Nobody knows. There are some two hundred objects dispersed over Europe of which people claim, that that particular object is the one and only Holy Grail. For the Tarot this is of no importance. But this story and all other stories about the quest to the Holy Grail, make the continuing interest in the Holy Grail understandable, and make it comprehensible why the Chalice was so easily adopted as one of the four symbols, first for the Italian and Spanish standard decks, and later for the Trionfi decks.
On the general page about the suit symbols, we have learned that Cups are associated with liquid material, the Element Water, that in its turn is associated with the Goddess Venus. Cups have just as Coins receptive female characteristics. In contrary to the Coins, associated with mother Earth, Cups can be associated with a beautiful young woman, object of Desire and Love.
Cups are associated with water and with tears. In a general way, Cups are dealing with emotions, with feelings and with intuitions, states of mind not based on any logical reasoning. These emotional states come straight from our heart. For this reason, the heart is the part of our body that is associated with the Cups. Our emotions express themselves through the direct relationships we have with friends and family. And thanks to these strong emotions, we might care more for this other person than for ourselves. So, forget the first person and go to the second person, to You. If many Cups turn up in a particular reading, the spread is dealing with relations, with close friends and family of the Consultant. Or, when meditating for yourself, with the people closest to you.
The Virtue that is associated to the Cups is Temperance, the Virtue that is diluting wine with water.
In Milan, the shape of the Cups did not change on the various Trionfi decks. In the figure below we see from left to right the Five of Cups of the Visconti di Modrone, the Five of Cups of the Brera-Brambilla Visconti and the Five of Cups of the Visconti-Sforza deck.
Although there are some differences in detail, all the Cups depict the same golden ball-shaped chalice with a hexagonal base and a small hexagonal opening on top. Also the printed decks, the chalices are very similar.
On the image here above, three centuries of Chalices are represented. From left to right we have the Four of Cups of the Rosenwald sheet (+1500), the Six of Cups of a Tarocco di Bologna (+1600), the Three of Cups of the Tarot of Jean Noblet (+1659) and the Six of Cups of the Belgium Tarot of François-Jean Vandenborre (1782). Shapes varied slightly, but chalices they are.
To conclude, Cups are dealing with your relations with close family and friends, with your lover, your children and your parents. Keyword of the Cups is "You", the other person to who you are so closely related. In this relationship only emotions count, do not calculate, ignore details, let your intuition do the work.