The cup of knowledge

  • an immersive theatre project premiering Jan 29th, which can be booked here
  • the name given a series of cups produced by 6 combined pottery companies for British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 – 1925 capitalize on women’s fortune telling.

Researching for the Cup of Knowledge has been an amazing exploration recently. After looking at the history of tea as a foundation, I’ve been exploring fortune tellers in Victorian times, a time when there was a nation wide fascination with the occult (Queen Victoria famously had a psychic, Georgiana Eagle try to contact Prince Albert for her) and self- analysis- this was after all the time of Freud.

We started exploring fortune telling as women’s work, a profession that could keep working women afloat with the need of male financial aid and the strings that went along with it. But the middle class was equally fascinated with the occult, resulting in the founding of the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn. This order was initially established by freemasons, William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers, but let in men and women equally.

By the mid-1890s, the Golden Dawn was well established in Great Britain, with over one hundred members from every class of Victorian society. Many celebrities belonged to the Golden Dawn, such as the actress Florence Farr, the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the Welsh author Arthur Machen, and the English authors Evelyn Underhill, Aleister Crowley, Arthur Waite, illustrator Pamela Coleman-Smith and tea heiress Annie Horniman.

From the Dublin Inquirer- see sources below

Annie Horniman particularly fascinated me, as the heiress to the Horniman tea fortune, her grandfather’s company. He was a Quaker and founded the company on Quaker values, most likely becoming the first to seal individual packets of tea, so they could not be bolstered with fillers such as flour or blood (!)

Annie in contrast was amongst the first women to attend the Slade School of Art with her brother and rode a bicycle while smoking- both quite rebellious for a woman of the time. She was introduced to theatre through her German governess, growing up to co- produce a play w Shaw on the West End, and then moving to Ireland to help W.B Yeats fund the Abbey Theatre, originally starting as an unpaid secretary and costume designer for The Kings Threshold, which were described as garish and inappropriate ( I would have loved to have seen them!) She didn’t let this stop her from becoming involved in the Abbey, and founding her own theatre in Manchester, the Gaiety.

Supposedly, this was after she inherited large sum from her grandfather who started the Horniman Tea Company, and an auspicious tarot reading.

She stopped funded in the Abbey after a falling out, but did invite Yeats to be involved with the Gaiety, although he refused. Still it went to become a model for repertory theatre all around the UK and it still the model for rep. theatre today. The Gaiety was successful enough for her to use the proceeds to help fund the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn, particularly in a project involving Arthur Waite, the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

This was a brand new illustration tarot, still one of the widely used decks today, mostly due to Pamela Coleman Smith’s beautiful illustrations. At the time the majors were illustrated, but the minors were seen as pip cards, that were illustrated simply as pattern rather than illustration. It was said by meditating on these patterns, the meaning of the card would come to the reader. ‘Pixie’, as Pamela Coleman Smith was known, instead humanized the minor cards, and drew them with daily emotions and trials we all go through, compared to the largely archetypal major cards, which is probably why they are still used for the basis of most new card decks today.

From Life and Soul magazine, see below for scource.

She was born in London, from Brooklynite parents, and after living with her family in Jamaica for her father’s job with the West India improvement company, moved back to Brooklyn and studied at Pratt, and exhibiting as one of the first painters at the 291 gallery- one of the first painters at an avant-guard photography gallery run by Alfred Stieglitz before moving back to London when her father died. In London she continued with illustration work she had started in NYC and stage and costume design, designing sets for Yeats at the Abbey, and it was he who introduced her to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The tarot card illustrations took 6 months to make, which is a short amount of time for ‘a big job, for not a lot of money’ and she was not given the royalty rights to a project she truly made an inspiration for generations of tarot readers to come: a familiar refrain for women’s work.

~~~A cup of knowledge~~~
an immersive fortune telling performance.

A fortune teller peddles the whispers written in the stars, in one of oldest professions still forbidden to women. For a woman who drinks from the cup of knowledge is aware she can support herself financially and emotionally, and what dear reader, is more threatening than that?For the pittance of a cup of tea, join us for an immersive fortune telling performance, Jan 29th-31st in Gather Town and explore a new world within.

Cup of Knowledge
Jan 29th-31st
Shows at 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm EST / 4pm, 5pm, 6pm PST

Tickets are *very* limited!Book your ticket here:…
What’s Gather Town? Gather is an online proximity-based social interaction platform. Sorta like Zoom meets original Zelda, part video game, part video conference. Gather does not require any downloads and is free with your ticket. To learn more and try a demo, please visit

For more information please follow the breadcrumbs…

from Mary K Greer’s Tarot Site

the Horniman Museum site

A bbc article about the Gaiety

On Annie Horniman from the Dublin Inquirer

On Annie Horniman from the Dulwich Society

On Pamela Coleman-Smith from Life and Soul Magazine

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