Sometime around 1405, military engineer Konrad Kyeser created Bellifortis, a book of descriptions and illustrations of technology used in the chaotic world of late medieval warfare. One of his most curious inclusions is what appears to be a tightly stitched leather suit with a long hose attached, for purposes of breathing underwater:
Humanity, of course, was not the first species to return to the water, as evinced by cetaceans, penguins, seals, loons, and so on and so forth. There is precedent for watertight immersion following evolutionary departure from waterborne life. But in this is something of a comedy: the vast majority of living matter is almost entirely saline water in composition already, having emerged from saline water. The ocean invented the air-breathing body so it could explore the land, yet the body cannot return without carrying air with it, lest it be subsumed. That we must inoculate ourselves to the sea that we are composed of, before we can submerge ourselves in it, is perhaps one of the more curious things to ponder about our embodied nature.
This technology has, of course, achieved capability beyond what Kyeser ever imagined in his war fantasies. Today, the ocean has stood upon the Moon wearing us, as we in turn have carried the world in specialized suits to survive upon it. Perhaps, most astonishingly, we then carried the world and the ocean back to the world, and landed in the ocean, surviving the gruesome heat of reentry and radiation in the Van Allen belt. It was not enough simply to carry air and metal with us, but to maintain them at the exact fluid pressure and necessary temperature while hurtling through the void.
And even when we are not present, the ocean has learned how to travel without us. The Beresheet spacecraft spilled a supply of water bears on the moon, microscopic creatures known to be hardy enough to survive in space. Many have even speculated that they are not from this world to begin with. While this is extreme conjecture, the fact that there is cause to consider such a thing is ponderous in itself. Just add water, and a tardigrade that has floated through space for eons can wiggle back to life.
This is not to be reductionist about our nature. Water finds ways to move and flow between unlikely places, though it negotiates with the other elements to do so. Earth, Air, and Fire are all part of the calculus of humanity’s lunar expeditions, after all. Even so, the fluid elements of self show just how deeply permeable we are, and how thinly our identities rest upon our home. The ocean is seven miles at its deepest, and the planet continues down for nearly four-thousand miles beyond. Its cosmological fragility only adds to its sacredness.
Given all of this, I enjoy the Somnia Tarot’s manner of portraying the Page of Cups:
The diving suit showcases the management of fluid forms central to being human alongside the simpler vessels of a bottle and bowl, as if to say, “here, all of these are the same.” This Page is the bringer of water, the carrier of that fluid stuff between bodies, as well as managing its composition relative to the self. By what machinery do we maintain who we are, and what do we allow in? Who do we allow into ourselves, and who do we carry water for? Can influence be understood as an influx of fluid self? Fundamentally, we permeate each other, and the Page of Cups is the facilitator. Cups is both the social and emotional suit for a reason- these matters are inseparable.
When considering the nature of human individuality, Thomas Edison had a very curious model: he believed that each human being was part of a fluid swarm of individual units of life, and that these swarms served different functions, co-mingled, and reconfigured into the world again upon death. Though there is perhaps no material way to prove this, in Tarot, following XIII, there is a path of the soul from the distillation of Temperance, to a return to the waters in the Star. The fluidity of self is unmistakably part of the deck’s alchemical allegories. In some respects, we return to Dust, but perhaps, mostly, we return to the Sea.