“Betwixt and Between”: Liminality in the Seven of Cups, The Hanged Man, Temperance, and Six of Cups Tarot Cards

Lately, I’ve been thinking how easily we default to the Death card or to the Eighth House when discussing transformation. The natural zodiacal connection to Scorpio and Pluto seem inescapable, particularly when you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Pluto transit across one of your angles.

One of the challenges in talking about Death or the Eighth House is that the single reference can be reductive. In my experience, a profound personal transformation occurred in relation to my fourth-house/tenth-house axis, stirring up questions relating to the fourth-house ruler in the second. It was all about my values, my foundation, hopes and dreams, and what I wanted to prioritize in life. Instead of looking to the Eighth House, the trigger resided elsewhere in the chart, reminding me that astrology, as much as Tarot, is nuanced, interlinked, and extremely complicated.

The idea of liminality came to mind when journaling about the current transits. With Mars’ ingress into Scorpio, I’ll confess to heightened feelings of anxiety, arising without basis or provocation. It reminds me of being caught in a between-space, characterized by uncertainty, groundlessness, and even confronting a metaphorical abyss without a clear pathway to emergence. For me, these feelings are tied to larger life questions as Pluto transits through my fourth, but I imagine others have felt the same way at times in their lives without even having to reach for their natal chart or an ephemeris.

Some might attribute this odd ambiguity and feelings of uncertainty to the ongoing pandemic, but I think the pandemic acts more as amplifier than a direct cause. Although I haven’t arrived at the threshold of midlife, I still feel as though that transitional period is at play here, where I’m walking the long, upending corridor of middle-age, called to reinvention by a peculiarly rootless discontent. Everything seems off; nothing seems meaningful. Purpose, priorities, values, and, above all, identity are in flux. I know I’m not the same person I was in early 2019, but I also don’t feel as though the “new me” is fully formed. Perhaps this is one of the wonders of approaching midlife: a kind of organic and mutable identity, where awe and curiosity return and uncertainty is more gift than obstacle.

Jean Shinoda Bolen has a compelling passage about liminality in her monograph, Crossing to Avalon. She writes:

“At [liminal] times, we are often thin-skinned and vulnerable, which accompanies being psychologically receptive and open to new growth. Most of us can remember being so in adolescence, another time of major transition. At such times, we resemble a snake, the ancient symbol of transformation, which must shed its own skin in order to grow and while molting and growing a new skin is vulnerable, irritable, and, for a long time, temporarily blind” (8).

Bolen invokes T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, which I drew heavily on in my thoughts around nostalgia in the Tarot, writing about liminality as “‘the point of intersection of the timeless / with time,” that place of poetic sensibility where glimpses of the eternal and ordinary perception overlap.” In my experience, this can also be when we are more open to synchronicity and to the hope that something bigger than ourselves is directing our lives.

Liminal spaces imply boundaries just as much as they imply the absence of them. This is one of the key reasons why the Seven of Cups, discussed below, comes to mind as one of a handful of Tarot cards articulating this concept.

In Bjørn Thomassen’s Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between, he writes, “On the one hand liminality involves a potentially unlimited freedom from any kind of structure. This sparks creativity and innovation, peaking in transfiguring moments of sublimity…On the other hand liminality also involves a peculiar kind of unsettling situation in which nothing really matters, in which hierarchies and standing norms disappear, in which sacred symbols are mocked at and ridiculed, in which authority in any form is questioned, taken apart, and subverted; in which, as Shakespeare said, ‘degree is shaken’” (1).

Liminal states are therefore paradoxical; on a personal level, they ask us to inhabit a realm that is devoid of form, structure, and boundary, yet, we may have to find those for ourselves to navigate them. Oftentimes, this can translate into us “going through the motions” of our daily lives while our interior world is thrown asunder. These times are clearly the domain of Mercury. More than Scorpio or Pluto, the liminal spaces are controlled by the archetypal trickster, psychopomp, translator, alchemist, and general navigator between our world and the underworld. The shape-shifting nature of liminal passages are invariably governed by Hermes, but by Persephone as well, whose archetypal influence over Venus in our charts is often overlooked at the expense of her more Aphroditic expression.

If you’ve been following my posts, I circumambulated the topic of the alchemical process in the Tarot cards because so much of our transformational journey is about form as much as function. As rational creatures — and perhaps to our detriment — we like to concretize the unconcretizable, ascribing labels to each phase of our metapmorphosis: nigredo, albedo, rubedo, and so forth. In a similar vein, transformative processes seldom follow sequences; they can be messy Tower moments that bring us to our knees. For this reason, I’ve chosen to focus on four cards that can point to liminal periods in our lives; each illustrates a different aspect of boundlessness: the Seven of Cups, The Hanged Man, Temperance, and the Six of Swords.

Seven of Cups tarot card.
By Authorship: [Arthur Edward Waite], Pamela Coleman Smith was the artist and worked as an artist for hire. Waite was the copyright holder and he died in 1942. — This image scanned by Holly Voley, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35262353

The Seven of Cups is often read as a card of choice and illusion. Sometimes, it can point to indecisiveness in the face of too many options, or to a lack of structure, which adversely impacts our ability to take hold of our own destinies. Called “The Lord of Illusory Success,” this is Venus’ decan in Scorpio, where the depths of the mutable sign can drag us under and off to secret realms.

Venus is said to be in her detriment in Scorpio and generates no shortage of internet memes involving leather, bondage and other tongue-in-cheek interpretations of the stereotyped goddess of sensuality in Mars’ equally sterotyped, overly sexualized nocturnal domicile. However, there are deeper archetypal references to consider around Venus, not least among them her connection to more underworld figures, such as Inanna and Persephone. These goddesses are known for mediating passage between the underworld, pointing to an innate ability to manage liminal periods with greater ease.

Another archetypal challenge Venus in Scorpio presents is around our ability to marshal resources and articulate desires. Venus’ earthy and airy natural domiciles are known places where the planet can become indolent — a bit too consumed with earthly pleasures or the pursuit of lofty aims. In Scorpio, a sign where Mars’ aggression is met with a propensity for precision, stealth, and strategy, Venus may struggle to determine her next step.

The Seven of Cups therefore seems to suggest the ambiguity we see at liminal times in our lives. We can be paralyzed by indecision and, yet, we are confronted by no shortage of pathways out of our current quagmire. Venus in Scorpio challenges us to confront the underworld aspect of our journey without getting dragged by the undertow. We must find our own way, even amidst myriad distractions, none of which may be too helpful in addressing our aims.

The Hanged Man, which I have written about before, represents one of the most quintessentially liminal cards in the Tarot’s Major Arcana. Ruled by Neptune, The Hanged Man can portend to the desire for a higher union, spirituality, and dreaming — all liminal states known for their positive qualities; however, when reversed, the card can point to disillusionment, procrastination, or escapism.

According to Arnold van Gennep, whose 1908 Rites of Passage has been quoted as the basis for successive analyses of liminality, rites of passage are typically segmented into three stages: separation of the individual from their previous role, a between-period where the individual is no longer occupying their old role but also has not yet taken on a new one, and a reintegration in which the individual enters back into society in their new role (xviii). This intermediary period is what successive scholars, among them Victor Turner, have called “betwixt and between” — the liminal stage in which we are nowhere except “on the threshold, in transition, in between, wandering in the desert, or in a fruitful darkness” (xvi).

The Hanged Man card is closely associated with transcendent spirituality, altered states, and a desire for union with a greater divine consciousness. For this reason, as preceding the Death card and following the Gennep-esque separation implied by The Hermit, The Hanged Man is clearly at an intermediary stage before re-emergence. There is nothing concrete about our roles in society or even our identities in this card. In fact, whenever I have pulled The Hanged Man, it has been at times in my life when I have felt the most powerless and uncertain of who I was and where I belonged within the grand scheme of things. The Hanged Man is therefore not a clarifying card, but a questioning card, asking us to use this period betwixt and between to seek out that which is bigger and beyond ourselves.

Temperance, which I covered previously as well, can also be thought of within the context of liminality. Immediately following The Hanged Man, this card of Sagittarius promises alchemical transformation as the angel pours life-giving waters from one vessel to another. That the Jupiterian-ruled card, known for its higher-mindedness, its connectivity to the Divine mind, and its transcendence of Mercurial intellect, can help us embrace a more spiritual path, which seems in line with the quest that The Hanged Man first set out on.

Jupiter also brings with it the qualities of expansion and growth, both of which can be achieved during uncertain, ambiguous, and liminal times in our lives. This can be when we are most receptive to wisdom and teachings, as well as myriad spiritual practices and traditions that help us gain clarity into our desires.

While Temperance is the sign of balance, the duality implied by the two vessels and the angel dipping one foot on water while the other remains on land further underscores the boundary-shifting nature implied by liminal periods. Water can be dark, cold, deep, and limitless, suggesting an element that is without shape and form unless a vessel contains it. Temperance is therefore attempting to provide that container, even as we struggle with questions surrounding faith and wisdom during our potentially upending circumstances.

Six of Swords tarot card.
By Authorship: [Arthur Edward Waite], Pamela Coleman Smith was the artist and worked as an artist for hire. Waite was the copyright holder and he died in 1942. — This image scanned by Holly Voley, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35262353

Finally, the Six of Cups appears to be a very literal depiction of three figures crossing the River Styx — the major water body leading to the underworld in Greek mythology. Surrounded by the disconcerting swords from previous cards, the figures are huddled, appearing fearful or downtrodden, while the Charon-like ferryman paddles through gently undulating waters.

Typically, the Six of Cups is read as a card of transitions — sometimes difficult ones. Often, in drawing the card, we are asked to unburden ourselves and consider that which no longer serves us. Many observers note that the figures huddled in the boat have nothing with them, suggesting that the time could be ripe for us to divest ourselves of our metaphorical baggage. For me, however, I see this card as representing an inconclusive passage. The ferryman is indeed taking the passengers somewhere — and dry land appears to be the destination in the distance — but so many questions are left unanswered. As we navigate the sometimes choppy waters of our psyche, the prospect of terra firma may be nowhere in sight, which calls upon our mental fortitude to accept the in between-ness of our present circumstances.

How have you experienced liminal periods in your life and through the Tarot Agree? Disagree? Got a different perspective? Drop me a line to let me know what these cards mean to you!

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Eclectic Occultista

Certified Hellenistic astrologer & Tarot lover. Writing weekly astrology forecasts and occasional Tarot thoughts. IG / YouTube: @theeclecticoccultista