The Suit of Cups: Working with the 4 of Cups
by Sarah Gottesdiener·
In my practice, the Tarot provides us with a spiritual framework to aid us in our personal evolution and healing. Every Tarot card is a window, a state of being, an energy, a mirror, and an invitation. In the Tarot, the Minors are the "how" and the "what" of our spiritual practice and our personal evolution. They tend to reflect more specific circumstances in our lives: interpersonal relationships, family, career, etc. They also reflect the stage of evolution we are in around a specific goal or circumstance. They can give us advice and guidance on what to do around problems or pain points.
Think of the 4’s as additional helpers and support systems: the 4's are helpful to all of us because they are the number of support, stability, boundaries, and resources. They point out what is worth protecting and offer us some ways to do that.
The 4 of Cups, like all the cards, can have a different tone depending on where you are in your life and what question you are asking your Tarot deck. Many of you reading this know that I could talk about one Tarot card for hours. There are a lot of different meanings for each card, as well as different shadow aspects that I will not be discussing here. I'm only going to highlight a couple of my interpretations for the sake of focus and support! :)
I often reference emotions and types of therapy. I am only speaking from my own life, and my own particular experience. If what I say does not align with your experience, that is perfectly natural as we are completely different people. As always, take what you’d like and leave the rest.
The suit of Cups is all about the themes of water: emotions, emotional repatterining and healing, love, intuition, psychic states and development, intimate relationships (including the ones with ourselves), art, beauty, harmony, spirituality, nostalgia, memories, dreams, and flow. These are just some of the themes that the suit of Cups in the Minor Arcana offer us insights into.
If you feel called to work with the 4 of Cups, it could be that you are ready to rewrite old stories. You could be ready to build a rich connection with your intuition. If you have been ignoring feelings, it could be time to face them; if you have been overwhelmed by emotion, it could be time to manage and transmute. You could be ready for a breakthrough, but not quite on that other side of clarity. You could be craving new beginnings while simultaneously meeting resistance and blocks.
The 4 of Cups has to do with finding support around our water. In the class I teach about the Minors—Elemental Intuition—I've made the analogy about this Tarot card being “stagnant” or “still” water: like a pond, or a moat. Yet ponds are hosts for vibrant life, and moats serve an important protective purpose.
Both of these analogies describe what water needs, which is a holding device, as well as something to nourish. The entire suit of Cups asks us to think about vessels, containers, sharing, receiving, boundaries, emotional sustenance, and all matters of intimacy and absorption. We can consider the 4 of Cups as an opportunity to think about the specific ways we need our own water to be held.
Traditional interpretations of this Tarot card include apathy, dissatisfaction, or disillusionment. It suggests we are not seeing a bigger picture, another way, or an incoming opportunity. Part of why this resistance occurs is as a result of ignoring, or discounting, the vast wealth of answers that reside in engaging with our interior self. When we act out of old defenses and choose inappropriate coping skills, we hit walls that become traps of habit.
As with all the Tarot cards, what is absent is also simultaneously present: imagination, contemplation, reflection, the ordinary made extraordinary, and energy or moments that feel like magical realism.
In welcoming the energy of the 4 of Cups, we integrate our interior resources. We are ready to relate to ourselves differently—balance emerges. This is an archetype about the reward of going within.
Suggestions on How to work with the Energy of the 4 of Cups:
Explore a part of your consciousness you haven’t visited in a while. The 4 of Cups can represent 4 different levels of our awareness: the unconscious, the subconscious, consciousness, and the superconscious. Make the unconscious your ally. Does your intuition need to tell you something? Ask your subconscious to give you answers before you go to sleep, then free write first thing after awakening. Attempt to activate your sustained consciousness more. If you are yearning for a spiritual connection, or to access divinity or the flow-state generally associated with the superconscious: pray, chant, meditate, or spend long periods of time out in nature.
Remember that feelings aren't facts. Figure out what you need in order to write new responses to your emotions. On average, an emotion lasts in the body and brain for about 90 seconds. Our thoughts and our stories about the emotion—keeping it afloat, connecting to other stories about our capabilities—are what keep that emotion sustained far past the original activation.
In dialectical behavioral therapy, there is an idea that “acceptance is not approval.” We can name what is happening, accept it, and look for ways to self-soothe and connect to healthier methods of coping. I know all too well about doing things when it is difficult. I have a chronic illness that often interrupts workflows and my self-regard. Remnants of my trauma include hypervigilance, and more. Over the years I’ve cultivated mindfulness practices in order to tolerate distress, or uncomfortable physical pain. I remember that I have a toolkit and I can use it to help manage my current feelings and mental health. That part of "showing up” for myself looks like acknowledging and caring for my feelings, but moving through them so that they don't become the moat—keeping me away from my own exploration of life and creative expression. Sometimes, it just looks like buckling them in the backseat of my days and having them along for the ride: I cry while doing the dishes; I feel like a storm cloud with legs, but I still jog. I can use all I’ve learned previously, put it in a different order, and see what helps now. This is an example of 4 of Cups work.
We rewrite how we emotionally respond when we respond to our emotions differently. The 4 of Cups can be about managing paradoxes, as Esther Perel has said. We can feel despondent and still write the email, we can be nursing betrayal but still extend a kind presence. Through it all, we can be clear about what our story is. When we place our hand on our heart and breathe, our story is now one of compassion. When we uphold an important boundary, the story is about the depths of our self-respect.
Make dates with the I’s: your imagination and your intuition. As stated previously, we will often ignore one facet of our inner world and experience imbalance. This archetype is a gentle nudge to make time to make friends with two very important allies: imagination and intuition. What do you need to stir up your imagination? Define what play feels like for you. Open up to silliness. Stare at the sky. Remember what you were obsessed with as a child and give yourself time to immerse yourself in that activity.
Our intuition may be the most important piece of self that we possess. It is our inner wisdom. It is the web that connects us with our deep ancestral-based knowledge, with the cosmic collective, with our own deep knowing. We all have it. We can be feeling anxiety, but that does not mean our intuition has left us. Beneath, or in-between whatever we are grappling with, our intuition still resides. Figure out what practices facilitate a state of being most yourself. What habits or behaviors do you need to put in place to support your intuitive self?
These friends—imagination and intuition—can help us to make the intangible tangible. They remind us that the energy needed to solve the problem is not the energy of the problem. Taking time to regroup can help you find a solution.
Call in Angels. In the traditional RWCS image, the figure does not appear to see the 4th Cup, even though it wishes to make itself known. Angels can be like that: hovering, just out of reach. What can help you turn your head?
Angels are guides, messengers, protectors, and vehicles into other journeys. They can appear as: messages, visions, clouds, synchronicities, etheric nudges, or light. They can appear as other humans, birds, butterflies, or pets. Call in your angels. See how your angels are turning up for you. Angels also look like a healthy gratitude practice. The figure in the original RWCS deck is despondent in part because they've been doing the same things in the same way for a long time. Be grateful for all you have now. Put a timer on your phone and name everything you are grateful for for at least 5 minutes.
Even if the idea might give your resistance: pray. When I think of praying as just talking to spirit, it feels fun. Ask spirit/your higher power/Goddexx/nature, etc. to give you information and messages. Note what those are and if possible, do something they are asking you to do. Later, return to prayer and let them know where you are at. Listen for more information.