Reflections on The Four of Cups


It’s a cryptic image we’re confronted with here—one that suggests a condition of boredom, dissatisfaction and ennui, or which perhaps makes a statement of refusal, or even an outright rejection, of apparent good fortune. The number “Four” in the esoteric arts is generally considered to represent a state of completion, of “squaring the circle” and of the state of DIvine consciousness that is actuated in full when the otherworldly Trinity (the Christian Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the Jungian anima, animus and pneuma; or the kabbalistic worlds of Emanation, Creation and Formation) is made manifest inside the mind of Man. Cups, we should recall, though, are a vessel, a container, and as such their spirit-energy is primarily passive in nature; and here, we see the danger posed by an over-abundance of passive psychic energy, or “Satiety” as the card is sometimes called: A state of consciousness where we no longer see ourselves as active free agents but merely as passive bystanders through which others work through us. In a reading, this can signify a state of sadness or wistfulness on the part of a querent—that feeling we’ve all had in our lives at one time or another where we just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, when life seems to lack the kind of immediacy that animates and excites us. When we are influenced by Cups, we tend to love deeply in our relationships, and perhaps we are feeling that our love isn’t being acknowledged or returned in kind. Or perhaps we’ve just had a bad spell of luck of late, and are feeling sorry for ourselves. Whatever the reason for our funk, the card suggests that we are missing some of that fiery-active “Wands” energy in our daily lives, and that we should consider shaking up our daily routine, to literally “rekindle” our enthusiasm for living. But first, we need to have a drink of water, and get up and go for a walk!

As mentioned, the number “Four” signifies a completion of a thing—and hence, by implication, the beginning of another; and bearing that in mind, there is another way of looking at this card, particularly if it is surrounded by other Cups in a spread, and that is: A new opportunity, or a gift freely offered. Cups govern our emotional, feeling lives, and in a reading, the Four may signify a potential love interest or friendship on the horizon. Perhaps we find ourselves attracted to someone—or someone to us—but one of us is hesitant to accept the other’s offerings, perhaps out of fear of rejection and/or heartbreak. We’ve all experienced that sort of uneasiness at one time or another, particularly if we have recently gone through a painful divorce or breakup. But receiving the gift of love requires us to be willing to give love in kind, which in turn requires us to take chances, and to be willing to seize opportunities—in love and in life—whenever they’re offered us. We can “refuse the cup” and live the hermit’s life if we choose, but for most of us, it’s far less rewarding than a life lived in a spirit of love expressed outward and of shared happiness. The New Vision deck provides us with a clue of what we potentially miss when we spurn the entreaties of others:

Scan 2

We’ve been advised many times not to “look a gift horse in the mouth.” So what are we going to do here—sit and stare and feel sorry for ourselves, or hop on for a ride? Sure, we might fall off, but if we hang on tight, imagine the worlds we might behold along the way!

There is yet another way to read this card, though it is generally only applicable when surrounded in a spread by a predominant number of cards from the Major Arcana: in that event, the Four can signify the activation of the higher mystic impulse within the mind of the querent. Consider Gautama’s enlightenment after sitting beneath the bodhi tree; then consider the figure in the card who is likewise seated, legs posed in a classic lotus position, beneath a leafy canopy. Perhaps he refuses the cup being offered because he has no need of it, for he has transcended the mundane realm of feelings and emotions, or even the basic elemental need for food and drink! Very few of us ever achieve this samadhi-state of superconsciousness, but the potentiality of it exists in each of us, and it assumes countless permutations, large and small, within our psyches. We can behold the majesty of God’s Creation in some ecstatic-mystic trance state, or we can simply forgive and show mercy to others in our daily walk. The same Divine impulse lies behind both expressions, and favors both in equal measure.

Dante DiMatteo 

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