Troubled Blood: The True Book’s Celtic Cross Tarot Card Spread, Part 2, Card 2

The Two of Cups, the second or “crossing” card of the Talbot Celtic Cross tarot spread in the ‘True Book’ of Troubled Blood, is a big deal, both with respect to its placement and its stand-alone meaning. Having listed all the cards that appear in Strike5, at least in spreads, in search of any pattern in their appearances, it’s time to review what Crowley and Waite say about the Two of Cups as well as how it is most often read today, take a longish look at what the second card in a Celtic Cross spread means, before offering my conclusions about its importance.

If you need an incentive to join me for that discussion, I’ll remind you that the Two of Cups is the only card to appear three times in Troubled Blood: in the crucial point of the Celtic Cross spread and as the final card in both of Robin Ellacott’s readings. I think Rowling uses it to point simultaneously to the Whodunnit of Strike5 and to the nature of Cormoran and Robin’s relationship. Stay tuned!

Card 2: The Two of Cups/Cancer (possibly Taurus)

  • Celtic Cross Position:

The Celtic Cross is called what it is because the ‘Celtic’ form of the Christian two-bar cross features a circle around the nexus of the vertical and horizontal arms; the radiant point of the extensions is simultaneously the center of the circle, which puts its emphasis on the origin of both if visualized as a Cartesian coordinate graph. This Celtic form highlights the Logos nature of the Cross and the creative principle aspect of the second person of the Christian Trinity, God’s Word. The Celtic Cross’ first two cards are this “crossing point,” the next four cards encircle it, and the remaining four make up the staff or vertical arm of the cross, whose tenth position, the resolution card, if place over the circle to complete the cross, coincides with the radiant point of the first two cards. The round towers of churches in Norfolk and elsewhere, in addition to their use of defensive citadels, have their shape in keeping with this symbolism of the circle cued to vertical extension, earth to heaven (whence its greater power as a fortification contra strictly horizontal, worldly forces).

The importance of the Two of Cups, a love card, harmony between the essential polarity of masculine and feminine contraries in the natural realm of becoming, is as much about this symbolism as it is a card whose meaning comes in a tarot deck guide. Before jumping into the meaning of the Two of Cups, then, let’s talk about its position on the table. In my first post on Talbot’s Celtic Cross spread, I listed Bunning’s description of the meaning for each of the ten card placements. The second or “crossing” position is as important as the first: 

Card 2, placed horizontally across the first card to form the cross, represents “That Which is Crossing You.” Bunning explains that this means opposition, the factor for change, the secondary or ‘outer’ factor, “what’s rocking the boat,” the catalyst for change.

In the post on the Nine of Swords first card, I relayed Pollack’s explanation of the first two cards or “inner cross:”

In my work I have developed a slightly different way of looking at the first two cards, referring to them not as cover and ‘opposition’ but as ‘Centre’ and ‘crossing’. for their meanings I term them the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ aspects, or some times ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ time, or simply ‘being’ and ‘doing’. The Centre card shows some basic quality of the person or the person’s situation. The crossing card then shows how that quality affects the person, or how it translates into action. Put another way, the first shows what the person is, the second how he or she acts. (Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom, 281)

Waite’s Pictorial Key‘s description of the ten card spread, probably not by Waite (who despised divinatory use of the cards, but by Florence Farr under the influence of William Butler Yeats, both Waite associates; see Robert Place’s The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, page 185, for that discussion) offers the more accepted or conventional view of the second card as the forces of opposition:

Turn up the SECOND CARD and lay it across the First, saying: This crosses him. It shows the nature of the obstacles in the matter. If it is a favorable card, the opposing forces will not be serious, or it may indicate that something good in itself will not be productive of good in the particular connexion (sic). (301; cf., also Caponi, Guided Tarot, 41, and Adams Media’s How to Read Tarot, 216, for echoes of this interpretation).

The Two of Cups is an extremely “favorable card,” as we’ll see, and this view, that it may mean “something good in itself will not be productive of good” in relation to the Nine of Swords is a good bet for Rowling-Galbraith’s meaning that Talbot misses, what the ghost of Margot Bamborough is trying to communicate to him if she is guiding the cards, and a message that Strike-Ellacott ignore.

  • Thoth Guidebook Notes by Lady Harris:

The first thing to do in grasping the meaning of this card is review the guidebook for Thoth tarot deck cards as Robin does in Troubled Blood:

Two of Cups = Love. Chokmah in the Suit of Water. Venus in Cancer.

This card represents two cups overflowing on a calm sea, twined with two dolphins, showing the harmony of the male and female interpreted in the highest and broadest sense. (28, emphasis in original; second commentary on page 47 repeats this one)

  • Crowley notes in ‘Book of Thoth:’

Lady Harris’ notes supposedly are largely Crowley’s thoughts, which are the following:

The Two always represents the Word and the Will. It is the first manifestation. Therefore, in the suit of Water, it must refer to Love, which recovers unity from dividuality by mutual annihilation.

The card also refers to Venus in Cancer. Cancer is, more than any other, the receptive Sign; it is the House of the Moon, and in that Sign Jupiter is exalted. These are, superficially, the three most friendly of the planets.

The hieroglyph of the card represents two cups in the foreground, overflowing upon a calm sea. They are fed with lucent water from a lotus floating upon the sea, from which rises another lotus around whose stem are entwined twin dolphins. The symbolism of the dolphin is very complicated, and must be studied in books of reference; but the general idea is that of the “Royal Art”. The dolphin is peculiarly sacred to Alchemy.

The number Two referring to Will, this card might really be renamed the Lord of Love under Will, for that is its full and true meaning. It shows the harmony of the male and the female: interpreted in the largest sense. It is perfect and placid harmony, radiating an intensity of joy and ecstasy.

Of necessity, the realization of the idea in the Four (as the suit develops) will gradually diminish the purity of its perfection (195-196; emphasis added).

“The harmony of the male and the female” is the take-away that Robin makes from the appearance of this card in her three card spreads, in which she laments that “harmony is good” not a problem as the first-card position of the Two of Cups suggests. As noted above, though, this good “may not be productive of good,” i.e., it may be the motive of the crime. The “Lord of Love under Will” is important because of Crowley’s Religion of Will, Thelema, and its single imperative, “Do What You Will.”

  • Rider-Waite Guidebook Notes:

TWO OF CUPS — A youth and maiden are pledging one another, and above their cups rises the caduceus of Hermes, between the great wings of which there appears a lion’s head. It is a variant of a sign which is found in some old examples of this card. Some curious meanings are attached to it, but they do not concern us in this place. Divinatory Meanings: Love, passion, friendship, union, affinity, concord, sympathy, the inter-relation of the sexes, and — as a suggestion apart from all offices of divination — that which nature is sanctified. Reversed: False love, folly, misunderstanding.

This is taken almost word for word from Waite’s Pictorial Key, though he writes “curious emblematical meanings” and “that desire which is not in Nature, but by which Nature is sanctified” (222).

  • Talbot’s notes in The True Book:

Talbot labeled the card “Two of Cups ().” He wrote beneath an arrow pointing to this card “But Levi says ‘The two of cups is the cow’ SO ALSO POSSIBLY  ♉ These two will be key  ♋ and ♉” (249). The glyphs here are of the astrological signs for Cancer and Taurus, respectively. Above this note, again with an arrow pointing to the card, he predicted “A partnership with ♋ will emerge.” Next to The Chariot card above the crossing center pair, he wrote, in confirmation of this hoped-for partnership, “Victory, determination – I can solve (with ♋).”

Talbot’s take-aways from the Celtic Cross spread, as even Strike noted, was his determination to re-interview Janice Beatty and Wilma Bayliss, his ‘Cancer’ and ‘Taurus’ stand-ins. About Cancer, he wrote in a ♋ box paragraph beneath the card lay-out, “QUESTION ♋ AGAIN — PSYCHIC, intuitions, reinterview/nature is GOOD — nurtures, protects opposes EVIL,/Remember ♄ also in ♋,/ therefore ♋ may have had contact with Baphomet/♑ MIGHT BE IN DANGER.” ♄ is the glyph for Saturn and for Capricorn.

Referring back to Talbot’s astrological chart, the one with the centerpiece goat’s head lifted off the Thoth tarot deck’s card for ‘The Devil, we find that the DI annotated the Saturn in Cancer with these notes: “Baphomet’s ruler in ♋/ ‘Holy, holy, holy, unto One Hundred and Fifty Six Times holy be/ OUR LADY that rideth upon THE BEAST!’ CROWLEY/ ♋ knows something, possibly subconscious, has had prior contact with  ♑?

The quotation from Crowley is found in his Book of Lies, in which he wrote under the heading, “ΚΕΦΑΛΗ ΝϜ:”


Holy, holy, holy, unto Five Hundred and Fifty Five times holy be OUR LADY of the STARS.

Holy, holy, holy, unto One Hundred and Fifty Six times holy be OUR LADY that rideth upon THE BEAST!

Holy, holy, holy, unto the Number of Times Necessary and Appropriate be OUR LADY Isis in Her Millions-of-Names, All-Mother, Genetrix-Meretrix!

Yet holier than all These to me is LAYLAH, night and death; for Her do I blaspheme alike the finite and The Infinite.

So wrote not FRATER PERDURABO, but the Imp Crowley in his Name.

For forgery let him suffer Penal Servitude for Seven Years; or at least let him do Pranayama all the way home — home? nay! but to the house of the harlot whom he loveth not. For it is LAYLAH that he loveth……………………………..

And yet who knoweth which is Crowley, and which is FRATER PERDURABO? (56, emphasis added)

I believe that Rowling-Galbraith included this reference to the lady riding on the Beast as a pointer to the Lust card of the Thoth tarot deck, the “Babalon, Mother of Abomination,” pictured on the last True Book page (774). This is of critical importance in Crowley’s Thelema occult system in which the Scarlet Woman (Leila Waddell) was his complementary antagonist-goddess; for more on that see the Wikipedia entry for ‘Babalon‘).

  • Conclusions:

I think there are at least three take-away ideas from the second card in Talbot’s True Book Celtic Cross tarot card spread.

First and most obvious, the first two cards of the Celtic Cross spread, its “inner cross,” reveals quite boldly the murderer of Margot Bamborough, as well as how it was done and why it was done. It is obvious only in hindsight, of course, but it is hard not to see after-the-fact.

The Two of Cups is “Venus in Cancer.” The only two characters in the story, as Talbot sees it (and we learn to understand it), who were born with their sun in cancer are Janice Beattie and Cynthia Phipps. Of these two, only Janice is a credible suspect as Cynthia was a clueless schoolgirl at the time of the doctor’s disappearance. It’s right there; why don’t the detectives see it?

Strike and Ellacott tell themselves that the True Book is necessary to decipher because Talbot may have included pointers to things he learned in it that he did not include in the police case record. They take his astrological ‘key’ to the mystery very seriously, then, but not because they put any credence in the occult arts: not astrology and certainly not the tarot.

This is a shame, of course, because, not only is ‘Cancer’ marked off in several ways as the killer in Strike5 — think of Phipps, Aunt Joan, and Jonny Rokeby — the cards and the chart say “Cancer did it:” the cards in the “crossing” of the Two of Cups, ‘What Opposes Him’ and the chart in having Saturn in Cancer. Saturn is not only the mark of death in astrology, Troubled Blood spins on the number 29, the number of years it takes for Saturn to revolve around the sun (‘Saturn Return’).  

Talbot doesn’t get this because of his prejudices; he believes the astrological nostrums that Cancer is healing, nurturing, and kind as well as that Capricorn is Saturnine, he is a racist, whence his obsession with Wilma Bayliss, and, as with Strike and the readers, he thinks that nurses are close to saints in piety and selflessness. The Nine of Swords card reflected that this was his great failing: “intellect is replaced by heartless passion, as the Thoth guide notes. Strike and Ellacott don’t get it, in addition to their blind-spots about nurses, because they cannot bring themselves to take seriously the possibility that the world is the projection of an archetypal dimension, a more real plain of being, which the symbols inherent to the occult arts of astrology and the tarot reveal.

The Nine of Swords, the first card in the Celtic Cross and the last in the ‘Babalon’ page’s embeded three card spread, tells the reader — one who either believes in the cards or who thinks Rowling deliberately chose them to reflect the murder mystery’s solution — that the murder was accomplished by poison. Talbot notes on the Celtic Cross page as well as the ‘Babalon’ page the Lady Harris and Crowley cipher, “poison and blood drip from their blades,” the only mention of poison in the Thoth tarot guide.

And the motive? “Venus in Cancer” is a very, very positive card in any reading, as Robin notes: “Harmony is good.” As Waite/Farr noted, however, a favorable card in the second position “crossing” the first “may indicate that something good in itself will not be productive of good in the particular connexion (sic).” Love in this position is more like ‘Lust,’ as Talbot noted in his quotation of Crowley’s Book of Lies in reference to this card. It is, in brief, the reason that Cancer/Janice killed Margot with poison; she was mad with desire for Steve Douthwaite, imagined that Margot had turned him against her, and Janice killed the feminist just as she killed two other obstacle-women to win his attention and love (see her comments about Douthwaite at the end of her last conversation with Strike in her apartment; it’s still all about Steve… 898-900). “Lust and strange drugs” (775).

In hindsight, then, the first two cards of the Celtic Cross spread, its heart or essence, reveal the murderer, her motive, and her means of committing the crime.

The second point, as is usually the case with Rowling artistry, is that there is significant chiastic resonance around these cards. The suit of swords, as mentioned, is the beginning, middle, and end of the Celtic Cross spread and the Nine of Swords is the first and last card mentioned in Talbot’s True Book. More important or at least as important, I think, the Two of Cups is the “crossing” card in the ten card spread and ‘the solution’ or third card in both of Robin’s three card readings.

So what? The ‘latch’ of beginning and end of any ring composition represent the opening question and the closing answer reflected in the meaningful middle or ‘turn.’ This, in brief, is what Troubled Blood is about, beyond whodunnit.

In the Celtic Cross cards placement, the Two of Cups’ usual meaning (“the harmony of the male and the female: interpreted in the largest sense. It is perfect and placid harmony, radiating an intensity of joy and ecstasy“) is inverted or turned on its head to mean Lust rather than Love. It, as discussed above, is Janice Beattie’s motive. It is also the end-game of the Strike-Ellacott relationship, one that eludes the detective partners thus far, namely, “the harmony of the male and the female.” Robin has a remarkably masculine vocation and inherently feminine drives for reproduction, a process that her personal history with relationships makes her believe that one precludes the other; there’s no “harmony of the male and the female” in that.

Strike’s part in their failure to achieve harmony, the union of soul and spirit in transcendent love, is the third take-away, I think, in the Celtic Cross spread thus far, and specifically, the Two of Cups. Rowling-Galbraith, from Matt’s proposal beneath the statue of Anteros that Robin confuses with Eros to the underlying myth of Cupid and Psyche, is, as Spenser did in Faerie Queene, writing about Real Love that is cued to or continuous with Logos selfless-sacrificial love, the ‘true Cupid’ or Anteros, and its erotic twin, that is, lustful passion.

Robin struggles with her interior “harmony of the male and female” with respect to her vocation and life as a woman; Strike’s agony is that his mental-model for “male and female” interaction remains Leda Strike and Jonny Rokeby (Mags is spot on in her accusing Cormoran of being just like his old man in this regard); he cannot figure out how Robin, whom he admires, trusts, and acknowledges is his “best mate,” fits into the paradigm of a woman being useful, even necessary — a la Tolstoy via Dave Polworth — for free meals, healthcare, and 24/7 brothel services in exchange for financial security and fidelity. He is something of a rake or cad in this regard, alas, as Lorelei spelled out most explicitly at the story-turn in Lethal White.

Whence the Aleister Crowley backdrop to Troubled Blood, from the Laemington Spa connection with Paul Satchwell to the Thoth tarot card deck and Talbot’s obsession with him. Crowley’s ‘Thelema’ idea of love is the antithesis of the Christian conception, as contrary as “Do What Thou Wilt” is to “Not My Will but Thy Will Be Done.” His ‘Babalon’ woman is Crowley’s occult partner in pleasure and power not self-transcendence in what is most real, the Logos fabric of Reality.

Cormoran’s’s journey in Strike5 as the Red-Crosse Knight with Robin/Una from this kind of delusion to a victory over Duessa/Janice and the Dionysian Creed/Dragon is the beginning of his passage from a disciple of Eros to a devotee of Anteros, a man worthy of the semi-divine Psyche, Robin Ellacott. And that is the difference between the love in the Two of Cups figures and the chalice held by Lust, Babalon, the Mother of Abomination.

Talbot’s blind-spot is not to the psychic realm and occult entrances to it; his prejudices are what blind him to the meaning of the card spreads and astrological chart he made to solve the Bamborough case. Strike chides himself for not getting to Janice sooner as a suspect; he thinks that it was only his prejudice in favor of nurses that kept him from seeing all the clues and what connected all the “coincidences” in the case. I think Rowling-Galbraith included an astrological chart and this ten card spread to alert the attentive reader to the fact that his much greater prejudice or blind-spot is with respect to the immaterial, immortal soul and the symbolic nature of reality, which is to say, its origin in metaphysical planes rather than the world of measurable quantities and ratiocination.

Card three in Talbot’s Celtic Cross spread is a Major Trump card, the High Priestess. Coming up next!



  1. In my brief researches into the occult-religion of Aleister Crowley, I stumbled upon its connection with The Hellfire Club.

    Remember the meeting with the Minister, Jasper Chiswell, in ‘Lethal White’? The one at the Gentleman’s Club for lunch to discuss the Strike Agency digging up dirt on his enemies?

    What about the liquid lunch that Jerry and Cormoran enjoy (?) at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand in ‘The Silkworm’? The Groucho Club and Fancourt?

    This is just a post-post note to suggest that ‘Running Grave’ might include an Crowley-esque ‘Club’ a la Medmenham Abbey or the Hellfire Caves somewhere in Norfolk, perhaps a place that Rokeby frequented back in the day.

    A trip underground, especially to an occultish lair “miles beneath” a church, seems a great place to finish Strike7, no?

  2. Very O’Doyle in some ways. Reminds me of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero.

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