four of cups

Tarot Talk

May, 2016

Well, I think it is time to talk about the Fours of the Minor Arcana. Last month we talked about the Three of Cups; if you haven’t read that one yet, take a few moments now to check it out. This month we will talk about the Four of Cups, and attempt to understand what happens to the energies of a card when we move forward from the Three.

The Four of Cups is a Minor Arcana card, so as we know, the message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. The easiest way to get a decent understanding of a Minor Arcana card is to examine its number, or in the case of Court Cards, its rank, and to examine its suit. In this case, we are dealing with the number 4, and the suit of Cups. These two ingredients could actually give us enough information about this one card to offer a useful interpretation. Let’s get started!

The suit of Cups corresponds with the element of Water, and the information about Water applies to both the Three and the Four of Cups. Many Tarot decks use images of cups and water on their Minor Arcana Cups cards, and that will make it easy to connect with the symbolism of this suit. A nice place to begin is with the element of Water itself. In its natural state, Water is cool and wet. When amassed, it has weight, and it tends to gather or pool at the lowest place. Because of this tendency, Water creates its own roadways or channels, and it prefers to use those already-in-place channels if it can. Water is used for cleaning and purifying, and Water can be a carrier for other substances. For instance, we can dissolve salt or sugar into warm Water, and use that concoction for other things. A body of Water can be calm and deep, or it can be dangerously churning and filled with powerful currents.

You can see just by examining the paragraph above just how easy it is to connect the element of Water to our feelings and emotions, and indeed, feelings and emotions are the main correspondences of the element of Water, and the suit of Cups. Emotions flow and have currents and eddies, a powerful wave of emotions can be cleansing, emotions can be hot and expanding or they can be bubbling upward, like steam, or cold and contracting and heavy, like ice, and our emotions can affect our physical bodies (which contain a lot of Water) and our health. Often, tears appear when we feel things strongly through sadness or joy or anger, as physical manifestations of those emotions. Water also represents the Inner Voice and the subconscious. To many of us, the subconscious is deep and dark and frightening, and a body of Water makes a perfect metaphor for the hidden segments of the Self.

The number 4 is about solidification, discipline, balance, authority figures, a foundation being created, calmness, caution, being steady or difficult to shake up. There are four points to a compass, so the number 4 can represent everything around us as it is right now. If we remember that the number 3 usually represents the creation of something new, or the making real of concepts or understandings presented by the number 2, then we can see that the number 4 brings depth or solidity to that creation. On the negative side, the number 4 can represent energies that are slow and plodding, too conservative, averse to change, or suspicious.

Within the Tarot, the Fours represent the concept of The Solid, very stable and hard to tip over; here we have the pause that allows us to take a breath after activating the potential of the Ace through the partnership of the Two in order to manifest the creation of the Three. Briefly, we have the potential to experience potent emotions and feelings (the Ace of Cups), and balance, caring, attraction and chemistry (the Two of Cups), in order to give birth to something new (the Three of Cups). Now the celebration is over, and inertia begins to present itself; while stability is necessary for a new creation to thrive, attempting to hold still while the rest of the world keeps moving actually means we are falling behind.

The astrological correspondence for the Four of Cups offers us a bit more depth of understanding; the Four of Cups represents the Moon in Cancer, very different from our Three of Cups (which corresponds with Mercury in Cancer).

The Moon is in synchronous rotation with Earth, always showing the same face. It is the second-brightest regularly visible celestial object in Earth’s sky after the Sun, and although it can appear a very bright white, its surface is actually dark. Its regular cycle of phases causes it to appear to change shape. The Moon’s gravitational influence produces the ocean tides; while it appears quite changeable, the Moon actually stabilizes the Earth’s orbit. Its current orbital distance from the Earth causes the Moon to appear to be the same size as our Sun (which allows the Moon to cover the Sun in a solar eclipse). Astrologically the Moon is associated with a person’s emotional make-up, unconscious habits, rhythms, memories, moods, and a person’s ability to react and adapt to his or her environment. It is also associated with Yin energy, the receptive feminine life principal, the mother, maternal instincts or the urge to nurture, the home, the need for security and the past, especially early experiences and childhood.

Cancer, the Crab, is responsive, emotional and generous, but that hard shell can shield a person who is moody, insecure or sensitive, and is often affected by the environment and people nearby. Those born under the sign of Cancer, the 4th sign of the zodiac, acknowledge that they experience strong feelings and emotions, and they are very protective of those feelings and emotions. Cancer people tend to be very attuned to the past, and they place a high importance on family, both family of the blood and family of the heart.

The Moon and Cancer are both connected to feelings and emotions. Together, they strive to surround themselves with both the familiar and the secure. They love peace and quiet, and they are not big fans of change or the unexpected. This combination is about being devoted to family and loved ones, about being domestic and nurturing, about easily expressing joy and fun when feeling secure, and moodiness when feeling threatened. This is a change from our Three of Cups, which presents an openness for experiencing emotions and feelings and an ability to use logic and analysis as well as intuition and reflection.

The traditional image of the Four of Cups is of a man sitting under a tree, contemplating three Cups sitting before him, while out of a cloud a hand presents a fourth Cup. Some cards show a feminine figure, representing the feminine energies of this card, and she is sometimes reclining, or resting her head in her hands. There is stillness to the image, even a heavy or pensive essence, or a sense that the figure in the image is pondering or imagining or even dreaming.

The Fours have a place on the Tree of Life of the Qabalah; they are found in the sephira of Chesed in the middle of the Pillar of Force/Expansion. This sephira is seen as the place of both expansion and stability. Chesed represents Mercy and tells us that love cannot happen without understanding. Chesed also represents the concept of authority, which brings the danger of self-righteousness and at the same time offers us the opportunity to learn humility.

There is a common theme throughout all of these ingredients: a slowing down of activity. Serenity, like a pond of still water, easily becomes stagnation. The Thoth Tarot Four of Cups uses the keyword of “luxury,” but it is only after examining the keyword for the Three of Cups, “abundance,” that we can see the emerging pattern of lethargy and possible stagnation. Abundance is a good thing, but luxury can sometime make us soft or unable to respond to a challenge. The Llewellyn Welsh Four of Cups tells of isolation and an inability to determine what should be done next, despite the support and encouragement presented by the Three of Cups of this deck.

The image on the Shadowscapes Four of Cups portrays the energies of this card in a wonderful way. The card shows a beautiful mermaid lounging by a still pool of water, seeming to be transfixed by her reflection; self-absorption, sinking too deeply into our own concerns to the point that we miss what is being offered by the world around us.

Visualizing goals and dreaming of the future are not bad things, and having someone to support us and assist us is one of the benefits of community. The Four of Cups reminds us that too much dreaming of the future can end up causing us to miss the opportunities that are around us now, and depending only on the efforts of others without doing our own part will make us soft and weak. As humans we are able to experience pleasures of all kinds, but overdosing on pleasure will only serve to deaden the senses. When this card shows up in a spread, we may need to counteract our tendency to look inward and instead, connect with the outer world, and the connections and motivation to be found there!