Divination, Tarot

Divine Timing in the Four of Cups

If you’re familiar with the Rider-Waite-Smith image of the Four of Cups, then you recall a young man sitting beneath a tree, arms crossed, lost in thought, oblivious to the cup being offered, as three cups already sit before him. A traditional interpretation of this card is that he is bored and apathetic. He cannot see opportunity, because he is too self-absorbed or perhaps a bit too content with what he has already manifested for himself.


Most of us have been there before. We don’t always know how to deal with stretches of time where nothing big seems to be happening. Maybe we worked some serious mojo to bring about some type of change in our lives, and nothing has shifted yet. Maybe we put gallons of sweat equity into a project that didn’t exactly have the impact we had hoped, and we don’t know what to do next. Or maybe we did have a huge win or a peak spiritual experience, and now everything looks a bit pale in comparison.

Life can take us for a roller coaster ride, and it can also put us in neutral. Can we be grateful for the ordinary days? Can we sit with ourselves through these periods of stillness and trust that they, too, have purpose?

Another way to look at the Four of Cups is to think about the number four and how it provides perfect balance, stability, and containment. Water that is contained is very still. When we think about water representing emotion, then we get stillness and depth in the Four of Cups, or contained emotion. We are at rest, contemplating, looking within ourselves, and waiting.

The truth is that we’re always in some kind of in-between state, always in process. We never fully arrive. –Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

The Four of Cups involves some trust and faith in timing—not our own, but the kind we leave up to the Universe. We can’t always see what’s waiting for us, especially after we know in our hearts that we’ve already done all that we can do. There are things even our best divination efforts won’t reveal. Rather than seeing the fourth cup as a missed or ignored opportunity, we can see it as one that is available after we’ve had time and space to do our internal work. I’m a firm believer that what is truly mine will not go past me, and what is yours will not go past you.

One other alternate interpretation is that the cup being offered is not in alignment with our values and core truths. Perhaps we’ve sat under the tree long enough to gain some wisdom about who we are and where we want to be, and the contents of that cup just aren’t going to taste good anymore. We’ve had quite enough of the same old swill.

The key with the Four of Cups is not to allow our water/emotions to become stagnant from being held too long, which is the inherent risk being portrayed in this card. Remember that water’s natural state is to flow. We have to recognize when that period of contemplation is actually over, so we can either take the cup being presented or refuse it and move on.

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Divine Timing in the Four of Cups”

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