From Potential Into Action: The Twos in Tarot
This is one of a series of articles that I wrote over my five years as the tarot columnist at Planet Waves (if you're interested in astrology, politics, and the place where these intersect, I encourage you to visit). I will be re-releasing these, one at a time, over the coming weeks and months.
Today, we enter the world of the Twos, where potential is brought into the physical world that we inhabit. I believe that the Twos are about duality. They are where we get to work with the mode that each suit expresses: libido (Wands), emotions/unconscious (Cups), intellect/mind (Swords) and matter (Pentacles).
I also believe that the Twos are each suit expressed in its simplest incarnate form: our life experiences have not as yet added the layers of complexity that become apparent as we move through the numbers towards the Tens.
The Twos in the minor arcana are also seem to be connected to their major arcana equivalent: The High Priestess. As card number II in the major arcana, The High Priestess sits at the gateway between spirit and matter. As the intermediary, she receives messages from the non-incarnate, and brings them into the world. The High Priestess is a midwife. What she assists in birthing takes its first steps in the Twos.
Let’s look at how the idea of first steps manifests in each of the four cards.
The Two of Wands
A man stands on the parapet of a castle.
He is well dressed, and so I'm assuming that the castle is his. In his left hand, he holds one of two wands, its base resting on a crenellation; in his right, he holds a globe. Behind him, the other wand is fastened to the wall with a metal bracket — held in place while his attention is focused elsewhere. Below him lies what seems to be a small village. Does it belong to him?
The figure is looking out to sea, a bay stretching around the left of the picture and into the distance, hinting at the presence of the ocean just out of view.
Wands are concerned with creativity/libido, their roots going back to the first moment when God said, "Let there be light" - or when an impulse was translated into the Big Bang. They are the force that brings things into being. They are the move towards creation.
In this picture, the world — the culmination of the creative process — is still taking shape. It is being held by the figure, yet to be fully developed and released to spin in the cosmos.
It represents beginnings; a seed. It also represents a choice: he holds one wand while perhaps deliberately placing the other behind him. With this particular wand he creates; the other he holds in reserve.
And he looks outwards, waiting for something to appear on the horizon and move towards him. At its most basic, the man could be a merchant waiting for his ship to come in. But as a two, there seems to be more to it than that:
What will appear? What has he been able to call forth? When will he pick up the other wand, and how will he use it? The journey is continued in the ensuing eight cards of the suit.
The Two of Cups
The Two of Cups has a Yin/Yang quality to it. Cups are concerned with emotions, which are also associated with that area of the psyche that resides in the unconscious - and this card in particular represents an archetypal idea of love: a man, a woman, bringing with them qualities of masculine and feminine, in a picture that evokes a strong sense of balance… but which already starts to have an asymmetry to it in the landscape in the background and in the reaching out of the male figure’s hand.
The figures are contrasted yet complementary and, to me, traditional roles seem somewhat reversed. Where the man wears a patterned tunic, the woman’s dress and robe — often ornate to attract male attention — are plain; where he wears a wreath of roses — symbol of Isis and Aphrodite — she wears one of laurel — symbol of Apollo.
Hence the feel of Yin and Yang: in the incarnate world, there is no human who is purely masculine or feminine. We contain elements of the two, their proportions varying from one person to the next.
Above the two figures is a caduceus with a lion’s head. The caduceus is the symbol of Hermes, or Mercury, the messenger of the gods; and the lion — powerfully evocative of grounding energy — brings the messenger into the physical.
The ‘agape love’ (selfless, or unconditional, love) of the Ace of Cups is manifested as love for the other. Because it is new, it is more of an ideal than a certainty. It is what we perhaps strive for in a relationship, and we might reach it.
But equilibrium is hard to maintain, and it calls for constant adjustment, which is witnessed in the rest of the Cups suit.
Two of Swords
In the Two of Swords, a blindfolded figure - probably a woman - sits facing us, arms crossed, holding in each hand a sword, their tips touching the outer edges of the card.
The waters behind her are calm, with just a stirring of rippled waves. The yellow of the crescent moon reflected on the woman’s right thigh and echoed in her yellow shoes, along with the blindfold, give a sense of limited vision.
Only in the immediate vicinity is there clarity.
If Swords are about the mind or intellect, then I think that the Two of Swords concerns itself with the balance of opposing thoughts. Unlike the Three, Ten and Knight, these swords are not being used actively, nor are they inflicting damage. They are pointed away from each other.
Be that as it may, any equilibrium feels to be only temporary — it is a truce, a holding position. The swords may be held in check, but their blades still shine in the moonlight, a reminder that they can indeed cut and wound. The truce ends with the swords’ movement from one mental state to the next as the suit progresses.
If the Ace of Swords is the intellect or mind in a state of changeless perfection, the Two is the moment when sword is united with sword, and discovers that it has another purpose. Thoughts can be creative, and they can be destructive. Both are needed on the physical plane.
For now, however, they are poised, waiting. It can go either way.
Two of Pentacles
A juggler stands in the foreground, holding a pentacle in each hand. Both hands and pentacles are surrounded by a green strip in the shape of a mobius strip - or an infinity symbol. In the background we see a deeply undulating sea on which sail two ships.
The simplest interpretation of this card is the juggling of 'things'. It often comes up in a reading where the querent is dealing with limited resources that need to be weighed and apportioned so that there is enough to go around.
It is not necessarily a card of scarcity — the juggler is well dressed and the large ship in the background looks prosperous with its tricoloured sail — but it does concern itself with the judicious use of the things at one’s disposal.
However, as with all the Twos, there is a greater depth to this card than is suggested by a literal interpretation of juggling. The key to this lies in the infinity symbol and the fact that the juggler’s shoes share the same colour.
The pentacles are enveloped by infinity, and the infinity sign in turn is linked with feet, as symbols of groundedness. This is the dance between matter and spirit, between the temporal and the eternal. There is much movement suggested in the picture. Life swings one way and then another in a constant quest for balance. When we work within this principle, connecting ourselves to the non-material while finding ways to ground ourselves in the process, we have created a ship that can withstand the larger waves when they sweep into view.
From Ace to Two, from oneness to duality, we have potent foundations for the rest of the tarot journey.