The 4 of Cups: Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

The qualities of the numerological suit of the fours include the building of foundations, order and stability, work and discipline, tangible achievement, and practical attainment. The fours are concerned with the endurance and maintenance of their elemental domain, and with the 4 of Cups, the flowing, abundant qualities of Water are married with rigidity and structure. It helps to imagine a river, flowing unfettered through the hillocks and valleys of a quiet little village. Now let’s assume that a team of real estate developers visit the village and after a meeting with the council, propose to transform said village into a burgeoning township, replete with all the contrivances of modern living. One of the key changes proposed is to create a dam where the river runs past the village for the dual purposes of irrigation diversion and flood control. While all this is being implemented in the name of progress, it will inevitably upset the natural balance of things. If a dammed river impedes the natural flow of water and if we think of water as the element ruling our emotions, then the 4 of Cups can be equated to emotional stagnation, or a block at the level of the heart chakra. In its most simplistic terms, the 4 of Cups shows a perception of lack in our lives, whether it refers to the giving or receiving of love.

4 of Cups from the 'Tarot of Dreams'

Traditional depictions of this card show a man seated under a tree, three cups at his feet, gazing with mixed parts wistfulness and longing at a fourth cup floating just out of reach. The 4 of Cups from Ciro Marchetti’s Tarot of Dreams is one of my favorites, as it perfectly captures the look of desire on the man’s face as he gazes upon the glowing ‘treasure’ drifting in front of him, failing to see the ‘gifts’ in the three other cups placed before him. The emotional nuances of this card are a mixed bag of apathy, passive acceptance and dissatisfaction. With the 4 of Cups, we can get so caught up in chasing the end of that proverbial rainbow that we fail to stop and wonder at the miracle that is the rainbow. We are constantly distracted by new dreams and opportunities, neglecting to acknowledge and appreciate the evidence of successes already achieved. In this sense, the 4 of Cups represents the eternal malcontent who believes the grass is that much greener on the other side.

4 of Cups from the 'Fenestra Tarot'

When this card crops up in a reading, it can mean one of two things. First off, the querant could have an abundance of choices awaiting their selection but considers each to be without merit. Gifts and opportunities presented are met with disdain; nothing and no one will ever seem good enough. The 4 of Cups can coincide with a period in a person’s life where they become jaded with the good life and regardless of what comes their way, all opportunities for happiness and personal/ professional growth will be dismissed without further thought. The second way in which this card can be interpreted is when the skills and resources already at your disposal are undervalued. Here, the self and all its capacities are underappreciated and deemed less than worthy. The success of a project or the stability of a relationship are viewed as inconsequential. Where structure was once experienced as comforting, it now becomes stifling. A partner who is devoted to meeting your needs is now seen as a bore and a nuisance.

The 4 of Cups highlights the inconsistency of feelings, a decided paradox given the 4’s rulership over order and structure, and shows us how emotional stagnation can result regardless of whether we have something or we don’t. The challenge inherent to this card is that we may yearn for something yet when that wish is so generously fulfilled, the feeling that we once experienced as longing becomes transmuted into rejection and revulsion. At its best, these emotional blocks manifest as a nagging sense of apathy that though intense, are transient in nature. At its worst, it results in an embittered state of depression that simply can’t be shaken off til radical changes in perspective are implemented.

“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects that too little attention is paid to the passive sins such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt.

4 of Cups from the 'Thoth Tarot'

Astrological Association: Moon in Cancer

The Thoth tarot recognizes the 4 of Cups as Luxury. However, this card comes as a warning that we are in danger of rejecting all that is good for us out of sheer boredom or spite. We begin to take the good life for granted, and neglect to count our blessings. On the surface, this card can represent someone who is blessed enough to receive love, affection and devotion; a person who enjoys the unlimited bounties of emotional and material prosperity. Nevertheless, as all good things do, Luxury comes with a caveat: when we become accustomed to receiving the gifts of love and devotion, we fall into the trap of taking that affection for granted. We become too settled in the knowledge that the source of love will never change or be depleted, and thus, we begin to forget those moments when we knew loneliness, or cried because we felt unloved and unwanted. We neglect the gentleness and compassion that others invest in us, and repay their love with cruelty and disdain. Our partners are viewed as barriers to our freedom, people who do not love us but seek only to possess, choke and stifle. We begin to experience their love as a leash that keeps us tethered to their side, preventing us from wandering off to explore pastures anew.

The Moon in Cancer is in its natural position as ruler of Cancer, amplifying the positive and negative qualities associated with this lunar placement. Positively, those with the Moon in Cancer are intuitive, sympathetic, nurturing and protective. The shadow side of this placement, however, produces secretive, evasive, grudge-bearing manipulators who are not averse to emotional blackmail to get what they want. Lunar Cancerians are highly imaginative and sentimental, valuing intimacy and affection above all else in their personal relationships. Each life experience is encoded with the richness of heart and woven with the glittering strands of meaning, creating powerful emotional impressions that become rooted within their psyche. This placement of the moon bestows one with a spectacular memory for real or imagined past hurts, and while a lunar Cancerian may forgive, he or she will never, ever forget. In the context of the 4 of Cups, the Moon in Cancer is playing out its shadow side in which the evasive, malcontented qualities of Water are being given expression. It is important to note that with the 4 of Cups, regardless of how transient or fleeting that experience of apathy is, while it is in effect, it is extremely intense. With regards to emotional wellbeing, this is not a card to be taken lightly. A responsible tarot reader must walk the querent through each nuance of the 4 of Cups, ranging from a slightly moody disposition to a full-blown onset of clinical depression, to uncover the reasons behind the emotional stagnation.

4 of Cups from the 'Fairy Tale Tarot'.

In the context of a love reading, the 4 of Cups suggests dissatisfaction and disillusionment in a current relationship. A commitment or long-term partnership can be experienced as stifling and because no honest communication is forthcoming, resentment continues to brew with one or both parties. Take care that you’re not neglecting your significant other out of boredom or spite, or entertaining visions of what love could be like with someone else because chances are if you achieve what you’re longing for, you might realize it’s not at all what you want.  If uncommitted, this card can point to frustration with being single. However, it also suggests that you have a wealth of romantic opportunities available to you but you’re simply not interested. So if a lack of suitors is not the problem, perhaps a little soul-searching is in order to determine what it is in a potential partner that you’re looking for.

As a health card, the 4 of Cups points to blocks stemming from emotional and spiritual malcontent. A pervasive sense of malaise ensues, so seek counseling or the services of a pastor to help uncover the reasons behind your unhappiness. Choose dialogues that marry the need between heart and spirit, and give traditional medicine a wide berth. Sometimes, depression can be indicated with the 4 of Cups but look to the surrounding cards for confirmation. The Moon is one such indicator, as is the High Priestess (another Moon-ruled card) but with the latter, spiritual rather than emotional/ hormonal factors are involved.

With regards to career, the 4 of Cups comes as a message that the monotony of every day routines has drained you of energy and motivation. Your lack of contentment with your present job or work environment is not earning you good steed with your colleagues and employer. Figure out what you want and start making the changes you wish to see happen. Are your talents being utilized to their fullest? Do you see room for improvement and development in your current place of work? Remember that the way you perceive yourself has direct bearing on the quality of your performance. If you don’t feel supported, look elsewhere for what you need. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, be proactive and beat the stagnation blues.

With respect to finances, the 4 of Cups advises you not to overlook the obvious when seeking new sources of income. This is the time to reconsider proposals that you rejected in the past, or take a second look at investments that didn’t appeal to you six months ago. Why chase after that elusive fourth cup floating out of reach when three beautiful ones sit at your feet, awaiting your notice? Still bummed out over that editor’s rejection of your manuscript? Revise a few sections and polish up your grammar, and then take a chance by sending it out to someone new! Upset that your proposal for the ad campaign was pushed aside in favor of someone else’s? Market your ideas to a different company or agency! Take a leap of faith and make the most of the resources available to you, and watch as the Universe open its arms to support your new change of heart and direction.


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