When I began learning tarot, one of the keywords I learned for the King of Cups is diplomatic. This has always stuck with me and is a key part of how I understand this card. Here’s the part where I do that clichè sharing the dictionary definition of a word thing, but I think it’s actually fruitful here so bear with me.
Diplomacy: skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings. (Merriam-Webster)
Diplomacy: the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way. (Oxford)
I see the court cards as representing specific aspects of personality. So when I draw a court card, I tend to begin by asking “in what ways am I currently aligned with this aspect of my personality? Is it helping or hurting? How can I better bring forward the useful aspects of this card within myself?”
So that’s how I got here, thinking about what it means to be diplomatic. What does diplomacy look like? Why is it important? In what ways have I been refusing to heed the wisdom of this card, hence causing it to show up for me again and again?
My first impulse is to get very defensive about how OTHER people aren’t being diplomatic. I mean, here in the US, we have a president who has normalized being (excuse my somewhat undiplomatic language) a hateful asshole who is constantly pouring gasoline on the fire of division. A lot of the discourse in the highest echelons of society is the opposite of diplomatic.
But tarot has this annoying way of being like “well, you can’t really control what other people do so maybe let’s think about how you can best process your own energy and then possibly you’ll show up in a way that inspires other people to transform as well.”
Ugh, tarot, you can be such a buzzkill. Making me examine myself instead of just constantly projecting shit onto other people. FINE THEN!
So, what can we learn here? How can I be a little more like the King of Cups even when existing amongst shadowy Emperors?
Well, the King is the adept one, and the suit of cups has to do with the emotional realm. So the King of Cups is someone who has a level of mastery in the emotional realm. They are not controlled by their emotions, but this doesn’t mean repression – it means contextualization. They are a leader who does not seek to divide and conquer, but rather to understand and unite.
Perhaps most important to the conversation here, the King of Cups understands the deep emotional undercurrents that move through every person and every situation. The fact is, we are all emotional driven creatures. Much more than we’d like to admit. A superpower of the King of Cups is that they know this. While some people seek to understand emotions in order to manipulate, this King seeks to understand emotions in order to maintain harmony.
In short, the King of Cups is diplomatic because being diplomatic works. That is, it works if you value peace and respect and compromise. If you really want to improve the well-being of yourself and others, if you really want to resolve conflicts, if you really want to be an effective leader…being diplomatic is the way.
Consider the alternative. The other ways are about shame, dehumanization, authoritarianism and control. If you read a history book or just take a look at the world around you, you’ll see these ways do not work in the long run. Probably we should all agree that these things are bad, but what do I know.
Here’s the kicker though: being diplomatic is soooooo hard. It’s much easier to just fly off the handle, blame other people for all the world’s problems, share hateful memes and lament about how people on the “other side” are at fault for everything. Aligning with your inner King of Cups requires you to challenge your base instincts and approach things from a deeper perspective. It ain’t easy, but it’s important.
Also important: this isn’t about putting on a ‘when they go low we go high’ air of superiority. It’s not about stroking your ego with the notion that you’re some ethically evolved being. It’s not about a naive expectation that we should all just get along (that’s more of a Page of Cups thing – the King has leveled up). It’s not about tone policing – this is a huge point: in some circumstances, being diplomatic is a privilege. This is DEFINITELY NOT about telling someone who is being abused or facing discrimination that they need to ‘just be nice.’ That is a distorted misinterpretation of this message and the King of Cups ain’t about it. The King of Cups is emotionally intelligent, not emotionally manipulative. Don’t get it twisted.
It is about realizing that the only sustainable path forward – both in our personal relationships and in broader cultural contexts – is diplomacy. I think it’s something worth expecting of ourselves (whenever it is reasonable) and also expecting from other people. We should not normalize or accept the erosion of diplomacy, because when we do, we’re in trouble.
I repeat: IT IS NOT EASY TO BE DIPLOMATIC. This requires great skill. It requires diving into your own depths, sifting through your shadowy unconscious, and bringing that wisdom to the surface (which is what you literally see in the image from the Spacious Tarot). It requires tremendous patience. It requires showing grace to yourself and others when you act out of impulse or shadow. It requires composure, compassion and inner stability.
To be honest, even trying to write diplomatically about diplomacy is a challenge for me. I’m more of a Knight of Cups than a King of Cups, most of the time, but you gotta evolve right? Or at least attempt to. I value diplomacy, and believe it is the way. And the Elder of Cups is nudging me, following me to say: so you believe this, do you? Then you must be willing to align with my energy and act accordingly. Again and again.