Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Elder of Water (King of Cups)

in Art, Place, Tarot


A fisherman rows his boat out into the sound just before sunrise on Summer Solstice.  It's an inbetween time and place:  between night and day, between shore and sea.

What secrets does the breeze at dawn have to tell?

I've just finished him, after several interruptions over the last month.  And I have to tell you: I really, really love him.  

 I'm going to quote from the interview that Catherine Chapman did with me in Tarot Elements last week. She had asked a question about my creative process:

More recently, it was time to start the Elder of Water and I was unhappy with the photo reference I had planned to use. So I started thinking about the qualities of a person who was over 70 years old and had spend his life on the water. He would need to be a fisherman, I thought, or someone who was intimately familiar with the tides and moods of the Ocean Mother at all times of day and night. I decided I wanted him out on the water, in a boat but not a canoe, because I already had done that in The Canoe (Chariot). A rowboat sounded right to me. So I knew I wanted an elderly man in a rowboat, out on the water. Then my eyes happened to land on a beautiful print I bought recently from Cari Ferraro, a calligraphy artist. I read the quote by Rumi:

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell. Don’t go back to sleep.”

Dawn! of course! The setting should be at dawn, that magical time of transformation that is always so silent. I’ve been in the habit of getting up before dawn on Summer Solstice the last few years with my circle of island sisters. We head to the east shore of the island to watch the sun rise over the mountains and light up the water with color. I searched through the photos I’ve taken at dawn on Solstice morning, and found one that was exquisite and perfect — sky and water in shades of pink, violet and blue. From there, I remembered a picture book that my children loved when they were kids —”Dawn” by Uri Shulevitz. It’s a beautiful account of being out on the water at dawn, in a rowboat. (Read it — it’s total magic.) And I had the inspiration for my Elder of Water.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, dear Readers!

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Catherine Tue - Sep 15th 2009 2:38 pm

    It’s beautiful Joanna, everything you described during our interview; the colours and the elder himself. It’s very evocative and yet so serene and tranquil.
    I get the feeling the seal knows the secrets held by the dawn too 😉

  • Celeste Tue - Sep 15th 2009 3:18 pm

    Really beautiful! Very nice work indeed.

  • joanna Wed - Sep 16th 2009 6:48 am

    Times sure have changed. There’s over 30 comments on this image over on Facebook:
    Thanks and Blessings to all!

  • Grace Looney Wed - Sep 16th 2009 3:32 pm

    The old man and the sea…although much more relaxed than Hemingway’s Santiago…perhaps only searching for the water’s secrets instead of a big fish that will only be taken away bit by bit…this is perfect for that spiritual connection to all that is that you experience near a body of water as the sun rises…
    Maybe he’s looking for that inspiration to have something to give away bit by bit during his day…once he comes back from his morning reverie on the calm sea.
    Love it!

  • Anna Wed - Sep 16th 2009 9:12 pm

    I am so moved by this card! Really! It touoched my heart! Background: King of Cups have always symbolicly stood for my grandfather. The wise, kind, loving, diplomatic approach. Some decks (Legend) have also had a somewhat resemblence of how the card looked like. But only because you know where to look. Now this card – wow! Did I say that it took my breath away? Take away that we are from Sweden so our skin is fair insstead of dark as you painted him it is a living, breathing copy of my grandpa! This speaks even more strong to me since he have been ill for quite some time now and we don’t know how long he has got left… Thank you!

  • Stacey Thu - Sep 17th 2009 6:39 am

    Ah! He hears the geese! This was my immediate response to this wonderful Elder. Whenever I see a skein of geese or hear their honking, I feel as though a hook has caught me by the heart and lifts me up and no matter how low my mood may be a thrill of joy enters in. His face is so expectant. Obviously old enough to have weathered life’s blows but greeting each dawn with joyful expectation. May I be so blessed. I love it!

  • Rita Thu - Sep 17th 2009 7:53 am

    This isn’t the first time i write here. I love your work and i believe (“i feel” as a king of water would say) that it really makes the difference. But this card is even better. It brought me to tears and that never had happened with any tarot card of any tarot deck.
    He remembers me of my country’s fishermen (i’m Portuguese). They are all so special, so hard working, so wise and they cry a lot. In my country (and i think almost all over the world) men usually don’t cry, but the fishermen do. I’ve seen this wise man many times. If you ever come to Portugal, you will see too.
    LOVE YOU ART Joanna* I have learned a lot with you.

  • Elly Sat - Sep 19th 2009 12:58 am

    Lovely! Once more you have created cards that have so much depth to them that one can dive right in and soothe their Soul on many different levels.
    BTW having a heck of a job trying to link to you on Facebook!

  • Quiet Sun - Sep 20th 2009 12:01 pm

    I love this image, too, Joanna.
    It is very peaceful yet has a sense of transition and wonder about it.

  • Otter Mon - Sep 21st 2009 6:09 am

    The in-between time is the time of true magic; the Place of Knowing. You have captured this place in the sky as well as the Elder’s eyes. Just beautiful!

  • joanna Mon - Sep 21st 2009 7:50 am

    Oh, you have all written so many beautiful things about this card. A Swedish grandpa, a Portuguese fisherman . . . oh I love it! Thank you thank you.
    Elly – I’m not sure why you are having trouble finding me on FB. Does the link at the top of this page (left column) not work? You should also be able to find me if you search on “Joanna Powell Colbert” or “” or “”. If you’re still having trouble, send me your email address and I will find you.

  • JLB Wed - Sep 23rd 2009 10:47 pm

    When I used to work in Seattle, I would walk on to the ferry from Bremerton every morning. I always rode on the benches outside, no matter how cold, and watched the sunrise on the way in, or the moonrise on the way home. For me this was a time of thinking, sometimes writing, always watching… the sound and rhythm of the water and the slow illumination of mountains, trees, and shore were an important part of “preparing” for my day, or “reviewing” at its end. I feel that the Elder of Water captures those feelings of my memory – especially with his eyes up, and his palms on the oars. When I look at this card, I feel the rocking water, and I hear the crisp wind.
    As always, thank you Joanna.

  • joanna Fri - Sep 25th 2009 6:45 am

    Jade, what a lovely writer you are. Yes, exactly – it’s those kinds of moments I was trying to capture in this piece. So glad it all came through.

  • Wed - Nov 04th 2009 6:55 pm

    I like that you included a seal. The seal, too, is a liminal creature belonging both to the sea and to the land and speaks of the selkie folk who come to dance on the shore in the summer moonlight.