Four of Cups


A young man is seated beneath a tree on a grassy hillock. Before him are three cups, from which he has apparently drunk. Before him, a hand emerges from the clouds, offering him a fourth cup from which to drink; arms folded, looking downward, he seems not to notice the gift being offered to him.

At first glance, this might strike us as a card of opportunity missed or potential unrealized. This is certainly one interpretation, but let us look at the young man. Arms folded, legs crossed and feet pointed, he is sitting in a classic meditational position. He may be deep in prayer—he may have entered into a trance! In any event, his station directly beneath a tree reminds us of the story of Siddharta, who having lived a life of dissipation as a youth (the three empty cups before him?) and a life of asceticism as an adult (refusal of the fourth cup?), sat beneath a bodhi tree one day and resolved not to stir until his search for truth had concluded in full. Seven weeks later, the story goes, he arose as the Buddha, the enlightened one, to teach the world the Four Noble Truths on the nature of suffering, and how to overcome it.

For us, this means that when we love, we assume the risk that our love may be unrequited or misused, and that our hearts may be broken. The suffering of heartbreak in love is universal, and learning how to release heartbroken feelings is one of the most important lessons we learn on the road to individuation; for who can truly know love if one has never known “un-love”? This is the mystery the young man under the tree is contemplating—the inseparability of love and loss—and learning how to condition his emotions to embrace the one while accepting, and then releasing, the other. This is “squaring the circle” in the water-world of love that is symbolized by the number Four. This is the same challenge that we confront whenever we resolve to love, and one with which we struggle until we find the perfect emotional balance within ourselves. This sounds like a simple task, but for most of us, it takes a lifetime to accomplish.

Aleister Crowley titled this card “Satiety,” an abundance of riches. If the young man in the picture seems unaware of the “gift” he is offered, perhaps he no longer desires it. He has drunk his fill of love and now awaits the inevitability of loss, that he may know its pangs of sadness in full—for that is the first step on his road to attaining his destined Buddha-nature, freed from sorrow and suffering. We would be well advised to meditate on the dualistic nature of love and loss, so that we too would be freed from the bonds of suffering when they threaten to constrain us.

Meanings of this card in reading can include:  Suffering overcome, a romantic relationship ending or beginning, the heartache of loss, stoicism in the face of troubles, “calm before the storm,” or time to withdraw and look within; but also excessive self-pity, the “martyr complex,” opportunity squandered, or the Self governed by ego. We have all known the pain and sorrow of loss in our lives, and while we have every right to our feelings, we don’t have to let them rule over us. By preparing ourselves emotionally for this ahead of time, we are better able to handle the impact of heartache whenever it strikes us. If we ignore this, however, complications can arise, as we will see in fuller detail tomorrow.

Dante DiMatteo

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