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Tarot Talk

Comparing the 4 of Cups and the 4 of Wands



Many Tarot cards can seem similar enough to each other that interpreting them when they both show up in a spread can be challenging. One way to achieve a deeper understanding of a card is to compare it to another card. This month we will compare two Minor Arcana cards, the 4 of Cups and the 4 of Wands. We will explore similarities between these two cards, and then we will look at the differences. I will be using card images from the Rider Tarot Deck for this analysis.

The basic messages or traditional interpretations of these two cards have commonalities. Some keywords for the 4 of Cups are meditation, dreaming, lacking motivation, focusing on the self. Keywords for the Four of Swords are taking a break, quiet contemplation, stillness, and listening to the inner voice. Both cards are about shutting out the noise of the outer world in order to connect with the inner world.

Both of our cards have the number 4. 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 cube, 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.

The traditional image of the 4 of Cups shows a man sitting beneath a tree, looking down at the ground where there are three Cups resting before him. To his side, at about eye level, is a hand coming out of a cloud, offering a fourth Cup, but because the man is looking down at the three Cups before him, he is not seeing the fourth Cup. Both his legs and arms are crossed, giving the impression that he does not want to be disturbed. The traditional image of the 4 of Swords shows a man laying on a bed, his head on a pillow, his hands with palms together over his heart and his eyes closed, as if he was praying. There is one Sword decorating his bed, and three other Swords are hanging on the wall, points down (hinting at the mind being well-grounded). There is also a colorful stained glass window, giving the impression of a spiritual focus. Both men are shutting out the world around them.

The suit of Cups corresponds with the element of Water. When amassed, Water 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.

Feelings and emotions are the main correspondences of the element of Water, and the suit of Cups. Emotions flow and have currents, 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, the dark and unknown depths hidden below the smooth reflective surface.

The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air; Swords cards usually tell of some focused intent to bring forth a manifestation, or a struggle and then an outcome. Swords cards are about purposeful and deliberate actions and the thoughts, intentions or beliefs behind them. Swords cards and the effects they describe are sourced from within us; we create our own reality from our expectations. They give hints as to our mental state, the beliefs we have, and actions we take in response to effects around us. A Sword has two edges, a perfect metaphor for this suit, which can represent attacking or defending, logic or aggression. The Swords cards also represent an opportunity to feel more empowered; self-empowerment happens when we successfully deal with challenges, but self-empowerment can be dangerous if it is not balanced with a bit of humility.

The element of Air corresponds with truth, clarity, and our capacity to analyze or apply logic. Air also represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of ignorance so we can clearly see and understand, and it supports communications and sounds of all kinds; Air allows both expression (out from within us) and hearing (in from outside of us) to happen.

Water is cold, which binds things together, and wet and adaptable. Air is hot, which separates things, and wet and adaptable. These two elements are opposite in temperature, with Water able to be mixed with other things. Think of what happens when you mix water with soil; you get mud. Mixing water with salt gives us good pasta, and mixing water with sugar gives a bit of sweetness when we add lemon juice. Heat causes things to separate or expand. When we heat water, it becomes steam, which expands and is able to power train engines and turbines. Both of these elements are adaptable. Water fits into whatever container we place it in, and heat causes atoms to vibrate, breaking down solids into liquids.

Astrology is a tool that can offer subtle differences for us to consider. The Four of Cups represents the Moon 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, and the Moon 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 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 easily expresses joy and fun when feeling secure, and moodiness when feeling threatened

The Four of Swords represents the planet Jupiter when it is in the astrological sign of Libra. The planet Jupiter is in many ways the ruler of our solar system. Some astronomers believe that Jupiter with its massive gravity actually protects the rest of our solar system by attracting or deflecting comets and asteroids that might otherwise threaten Earth. Like passions and emotions, Jupiter is brightly colored and covered with large and intense storms; the planet is symbolized by a lightning bolt. Astrologically, Jupiter is associated with growth, expansion, prosperity, freedom, exploration, and good fortune. Jupiter is connected to long distance and foreign travel, higher education, religion, all humanitarian pursuits, and the law (and its role as a protector of society). Jupiter is also associated with gambling and merrymaking.

Libras are usually very focused on the people around them, and how they interact with those people. Libras are true team players, concerned with balance and cooperation, with fairness to everyone. Libras always put their minds to good use, considering and balancing carefully before choosing a course that brings the highest good to all. Balance is important to Libras, too, and they don’t like conflict. Libra corresponds with the planet Venus and with the element of Air. They use the intellect and their ability to communicate to form those partnerships and to maintain harmony.

When Jupiter is in Libra, matters focused on equality, liberty and balance are of importance. The energies associated with Jupiter, expansion, growth and good fortune, harmonize with the traits of the sign of Libra, partnerships and collaborations, and bring us balance, harmony and equality, a good foundation for building on and improving all kinds of relationships.

The Tree of Life offers further insight. 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. We are also told that the love associated with Chesed flows freely, without boundaries, and is not of a transactional nature consisting of giving and taking. 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.

The 4 of Cups shows us what happens when we have access to the energies of the suit of Cups without form or imposed boundaries. It takes discipline in order to deal with these energies, and the 4 of Cups card does not have that discipline yet. This card also shows us what happens when we refuse to look away from those three Cups sitting before us; we miss out on another opportunity. However, surrendering to the flow allows the energy to wash over us and through us and then pass away so we can release distractions and awaken our awareness. We just need to not allow that flow to settle into the lowest place, but channel the flow so it benefits us and then moves on.

The 4 of Swords also needs discipline in order to be effective. Performing a meditation requires the ability to not respond to distractions or drift away in order to keep the mind focused. The meditation presented by the 4 of Swords is purposeful and deliberate, bringing recovery and alertness. This card is often seen as representing a vigil of some sort, which requires us to stay alert and focused but at the same time, quiet and still. Within the energies of this card are hints of the danger that comes when we focus so much on the reason for the meditation that we no longer are awake to the messages that come through to us. We need to take into consideration that the voice we hear might be our own ego. The 4 of Swords tells us that we should rely on intuition, surrender to the process and keep the intellect from interfering.

These two cards both tell of resting, however they offer opposing views of this concept. The figure in the image of the 4 of Cups is resting, but he has no goal, no boundaries, no format imposed upon this period of rest. Without those boundaries, he can only see what is before him and as he slips into a daze he misses the gift that is offered. This figure seems lost in his own mind, unwilling or unable to awaken and under the power of lethargy and inertia. The figure in the image of the 4 of Swords is also resting, stretched out comfortably on a bed with no distractions at all, however his rest is more of a recovery. Like a deep sleep, when we can appear to be dead but in reality our brains and our bodies are recharging, this figure will awaken aware of his surroundings and ready to continue on his journey.


About the Author:

Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher.  Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.


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