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, chose to divide the cups into a group of 3 and a single cup 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. The 3 cups in his past have left him feeling a bit vulnerable or he wants 3 cup situations and isn't interested in single cup situations. In other words he wants to party and isn't interested in any one friend or meaningful relationship.
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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