Four of Cups Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretations
The 4 of Cups card scene was first illustrated in the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck as a young man sitting under a tree, with his arms folded defensively, looking at 3 cups on the ground before him. A single cup is being offered to him by a hand coming out of a cloud just like the one in the Ace of Cups. The artist, Pamela C. Smith, may have chosen to split the cups into 3 and 1 possibly to instruct us, through numerological symbology, in the deeper meanings of this card.
The numerology of 4, and in particular 4 cups, can be seen in the 6 Of Cups and the King of Cups. In the RWS 6 of Cups there are 4 cups positioned in front of the two characters. The number 4 represents a solid, rigid structure or something that is static, immutable and unchanging. Therefore in the 6 of Cups those 4 cups represents unconditional love, that is love that cannot be broken, lost or changed. This theme of unconditional love is one possible interpretation of the 4 of Cups. The youth under the tree could be a petulant child or teenager who is being difficult or rebelling against family.
By dividing the cups into 3 and 1 the artists opens up other possible interpretations for this card. The 3 cups should relate to the 3 Of Cups card which is a happy, joyful and social card. As those 3 cups are on his left then their symbolic position is in the past. This card could therefore be post party blues or a need for rest and recovery after a big social engagement. He is being offered a 4th cup but isn't interested as he has had more than enough. This matches a common interpretation of the 4 Of Swords which can sometimes be interpreted as the recuperation, or convalescence, card.
The King of Cups is also a number 4, by virtue of his relationship to The Emperor which is card 4 of the Major Arcana, as are all the Kings in Tarot. The King of Cups represents a man who is emotionally experienced and unafraid of the wild and deep emotional waters of life. The defensive posture of the youth in the 4 of Cups may be due to emotional inexperience. Unlike the King he is afraid of getting into deep emotional waters. The 3 cups that he is staring at intently represent what he desires - fun loving freedom and a happy, carefree social life. He wants to continue partying and, by ignoring the 4th cup being offered, is showing no interest in giving that up for long term, meaningful relationships which the 4th cup represents.
The 4 of Cups is a card of apathy, boredom and dissatisfaction. The element here is Water which relates to love and emotions. The aspects of the number 4 in numerology are patience, endurance, stagnation and rigidity. The 4 is the most stable of all numbers but with it comes feelings of restriction and suppression. This card may point to a feeling of being tied down, unable to express one's feelings or boredom with what one has emotionally.
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THE PICTORIAL KEY TO THE TAROT
By Arthur Edward Waite (1911)
A young man is seated under a tree and contemplates three cups set on the grass before him; an arm issuing from a cloud offers him another cup. His expression notwithstanding is one of discontent with his environment. Divinatory Meanings: Weariness, disgust, aversion, imaginary vexations, as if the wine of this world had caused satiety only; another wine, as if a fairy gift, is now offered the wastrel, but he sees no consolation therein. This is also a card of blended pleasure. Reversed: Novelty, presage, new instruction, new relations.
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