Tarotcard 4 of cups: Spoiled or Neglected?

Tarotkaart Bekers vier uit het Waite-Smith deck

Tarotcard Four of Cups is a card that I always thought was a bit “out of place”. I never really thought about why I had that feeling. The meaning of the card was clear to me. However, something was always gnawing at me somewhere inside, but I never had the time or patience to investigate this. Cups aren’t really my suit anyway ;-). But the other day something happened that reminded me of this card. So I dived in and tried to look at the four of cups with a pair of ‘fresh eyes’.  

The keywords and meanings that are generally assigned to this card are (among others):

  • Not wanting to see what you’re offered
  • Wanting something that isn’t available
  • Being dissatisfied
  • Acting Spoiled, ‘adolescent’ behaviour

Waite also mentions “Aversion” and “disgust.” Literally, he writes in ‘Pictorial Key’:

“A Young man is seated under a tree and contemplates three cups set on the grass before him; An arm issuing from a loud offers him another up. His expression notwithstanding is one discontent with his envronment. 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”

A.E. Waite – The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1911)

What does Waite mean by “blended” pleasure? Does he mean that you have too much of something that makes you ‘fed up’? The inverted meaning – which I never see as ‘reversed’ but more as the other end of the spectrum – doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.

In Eteilla’s deck, the card i.d.d. literally means ‘boredom’. The ‘reverse’ meaning there is misfortune, bad luck; Aleister Crowley describes this card as being ‘Luxury’ and also in a more ‘modern’ version (the ‘Urban Tarot’) it is called ‘Luxury’. All of these meanings seem to match Waite’s interpretation.

The four of cups in the Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot deck of Paul Huson also depicts ‘boredom’. You can see how a young man is not knowing what posture to take on, it is kind of a ‘clumsy’ and sad adolescent.

Tarotcard 4 of cups from the deck of Paul Huson

If you were to go along with these interpretations, you would think that the young man on Waite-Smith’s card would not accept the cup because he has enough. Not because he’s spoiled or fed up?

However, the cups in the Tarot are not about wine (unfortunately 🙂 Nor about milk and cookies. Cups are about feelings and emotions. What is the young man on the card really doing? Does he cut himself off from other people’s emotions? Or his he denying his own feelings? Or does he refuse interaction, i.e. does he not want to share feelings ? I thought about this and I think that the deeper meaning of this card can be expanded with one of the following possibilities:

Take the time to sit with your emotions

The young man on the card takes the time ‘to sit with his emotions’. Emotions come and go. Sometimes they come out of nowhere and can engulf us and color our lives. If we take the time to look at it, it can have a ‘healing’ effect. When you stop to think about it and ask yourself why you feel the way you do, you sometimes notice that these emotions vanish just by themselves. On the other hand, you can also sit with your emotions for too long. For example, because you remain angry or emotional about something that happened in the distant past. Being aware of time – how long has this feeling lasted? – can be a technique to ensure that you process your feelings. And that’s super helpful. Perhaps the young man on the card will take such a moment. Or is he at the point where he gets stuck in it for too long. It’s just the question you might ask when the card pops up in a spread;

Emotional pain makes you not want to expose yourself

The young man on the card is hurt and that causes him to withdraw into himself. He doesn’t want to share his feelings with others, including those close to him. On the other hand, he is also unable to offer comfort and support to the other person. It becomes a kind of dysfunctional pattern that is maintained and gets stronger as the young man becomes quieter and quieter. The people around him may feel left out and may no longer feel sympathy for him. This only makes him even less willing to express his feelings. According to psychologists, silence as a reaction to emotions is a learned response that can also be unlearned; When the young man can begin to express all that he has withheld in a safe place, things can become “okay” again. Perhaps this is what the man on the card is trying to do, although it doesn’t really seem to work out yet ha ha.

Numbing yourself prevents you from facing your problems and keeps you from finding a solution or peace

The young man on the card feels uneasy because of the emotions that flood him. Emotions don’t always have to be negative, but sometimes delight or happiness can be overwhelming as well. Instead of experiencing them, he prefers to “numb” himself. Maybe literally by using  alcohol or medication. Or figuratively, by seeking distraction and/or by withdrawing into a world where everything is ‘neutral’. When you numb yourself, you don’t feel anything. No pain or sadness, but no joy or relief either. The less you feel, the less alive you become. We live in a society where it is not considered normal that your emotions can fluctuate from one extreme of the spectrum to the other. But if you experience this consciously, there is a chance that the fluctuation will become less and that you will become better balanced because you learn to recognize and deal with your emotions.

I myself have 2 tarot decks in which these meanings may be depicted; The 4 cups from Robert M. Place’s alchemical tarot deck  depicts an elephant balancing on 4 earthenware jars; And on the cups 4 from Christine Towler’s ‘Tarot of the holy light’  you see four chalices floating on a turbulent sea. I think that these images better express my ‘intuition’ about this card. But that is up to each one to investigate for him- or herself.

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