If you are getting a Tarot reading and the Four of Cups card appears, just having taken the step to acknowledge that the Tarot reader is needed – that there is someone in the universe besides your self – is a big step. The Four of Cups is a stubborn, ungrateful and self-absorbed card. Whether you are off in your own little world, depressed, selfish, afraid to reach out or are nursing wounds from a bad relationship, the isolation in your world is self-imposed – you can take the kindness of the universe and join us all in the real world whenever you choose. The appearance of this card insists that your detachment from being part of the world is becoming an issue.
A young man sits beneath a tree on a hillside. There is a subdued landscape off in the distance under a brilliant blue sky. The boy is sitting cross-legged with his arms folded. His head is slightly bowed and his eyes appear to be closed. In the foreground, just down the hill, are three golden chalices. They rest upright on flat, solid ground. The green hillside is alive with shoots of new grass. Floating at the young man’s eye level is a small cloud. From it a hand protrudes, holding a fourth, matching cup.
The ambiguous nature of the boy is key to this card. Is the boy pouting or asleep? The question really asks if he is resisting the offer of another cup in his intransigence or is he missing out on the offer of another cup by being asleep. The card symbolizes opportunities ignored or unrealized. Cups are the Tarot’s suit of emotions and in this card they are your future regrets if you do not stop sulking or sleeping. The card is a call to action; it is time to wake up, be alert and to be open to new experiences.
Meaning in Past, Present and Future Positions
Every Tarot reading sees the cards dealt out into positions representing your past, your present and your future. Cards are often stronger in one of these three spots than they are in the other two.
If the Four of Cups is in the past position in your reading, the foundation of your current situation is based on not taking an opportunity that was once offered to you. Perhaps you turned down a person who was romantically interested in you and now that person has gone on to have a successful career. You may have some bitterness over a failure to take advantage of a situation in the past. You may be angry at fate, you may be angry with some other person or group of people and you may be mad at yourself, but the presence of this card in this position is to insist that you acknowledge and accept the past. In such a realization of what happened, you will be able to move past it.
In the present position, the Four of Cups indicates that you are closed off to a solution that would assist you. You might be stubbornly clinging to the old way of doing things. There may be someone in your life who is offering you love and you are turning it down, or you are so self-involved that you do not even know what love is beyond self-love. You will have to confront yourself and be totally honest with how you are behaving, as this card brings up excuses and rationalizations as a defense mechanism to continue the pattern of avoidance symbolized by the crossed arms of the boy illustrated on the card.
The future position is actually a strong placement for this card and one that is more often beneficial to you than the card’s reputation might indicate. The Four of Cups takes on a wisdom of selective standards. The older we get, the more we know what to avoid as our intellect combines with experience to make us turn down certain offers. For example, the Four of Cups in the future could indicate you turning down cigarettes or avoiding wild parties where trouble could be brewing. What is attractive to you at one age is repulsive later in life. When this card is in this position, you will be growing wise and learning what to just not bother with anymore.
Tarot readings feature a few cards from the deck. No matter how much you learn about one card, understand that when it appears in your reading, it will be influenced by the presence of other cards. Some cards combine to change the meaning of each other and no card is static and consistent in what it tells you about yourself without considering how it relates to the other cards in the deck.
The Four of Cups mingles well with the Temperance card. This is the card of giving up the excesses of life to find peace. Temperance makes the cross-armed boy a symbol of avoiding temptation. Temperance is the higher echo of all Tarot cards with the number 4 in them, as is The Emperor. When The Emperor card accompanies the Four of Cups in your reading, you will be refusing opportunities from a position of superiority. People just don’t realize how far ahead in the game you are.
A pairing of the Four of Cups with The High Priestess makes your reading more about avoiding gossip and immature friends who stab each other in the back. Paired with The Moon and you may be running with a crowd that is getting into trouble. The Sun card paired with the Four of Cups puts your ego front and center and challenges you to see where you might be wrong about your responsibility in a sticky situation.
The hand in the cloud that holds the fourth cup on this card mimics the Tarot’s motif for each of its Ace cards. The Four of Cups pairs well with any Ace. When the Ace of Cups is present, the emotions of your decision to be avoidant are grounded in a deep psychological certainty. Paired with the Ace of Pentacles, and your stubbornness is based on feeling that you are not getting your fair share in a relationship or business deal. When the Ace of Swords is present with this card in your reading, you will be speaking your mind even if the ideas you express cut you off from the people you love. The Ace of Wands is a sophisticated addition to a reading that contains the Four of Cups. This is the indicator that you have mastered a creative process, be it painting or parenting, and you now know what to do and, more importantly, what not to do in conducting yourself through the project at hand.