This morning's blog comes to you courtesy of the Five and the Four of Cups.
Every reader has a card or two that gives them a hard time; for me, it's the four and the five of cups (and also the two and the three of wands--but we'll come to wands another day.)
It's not that the meanings of the cards are illusive; the images are really quite self explanatory: In the Four of Cups, we usually a person, usually male, sitting against a tree staring, disgruntled, at three cups in front of him, while a Heavenly hand holds a fourth cup off to the side. In the Five, we see a person standing facing three spilled cups; to their back are two cups that are presumably full. The difficulty comes in differentiating between these two cards. They are both about loss and unhappiness--but the Four is more about perceived loss, or, more often, not being able to see what you already have, whereas in the Five, there really is a loss. The Four reminds me of the story of the dog and the bone--you know, where the little dog is walking over a bridge and spies his own reflection in the water. He thinks it is another dog with a bone (bigger than his) and is jealous, so he barks at the dog and loses his bone to the river. The Five, very literally, reminds us not to cry over spilled milk. Yes, we have lost something, but that doesn't mean that all is lost.
Remember, too, that fours in tarot are about foundation; fives are about stumbling blocks. Fours relate to the Emperor (structure, order, father figures); the fives relate to the Hierophant (a card that many of have love/hate relationships with--either that or you either hate him or love him. I happen to love him. The Hierophant gives you the keys you need to get past the stumbling blocks.) In the Four of Cups, therefore, there is a foundation, the querent (like the man in the card) simply isn't happy with it--and like the dog with the bone, if he isn't careful, he could lose everything. (On a deep and personal note, I'm suddenly reminded of a wonderful man I knew many years ago. He took his own life. No one really knows the reasons, he didn't leave a note--and those of us who were left behind suspect there were some issues we just didn't know about. There always are, right? But the thing I'm getting to, here, is that this man was handsome, talented, well loved; he had a wonderful girlfriend, many good friends, and a supportive family. The best any of us could ever cobble together as a 'reason' is that he and his girlfriend had been fighting in the days prior to his suicide because she was taking a six month job out of state and, while he recognized it as a great opportunity, he was afraid of losing her. He hadn't lost her; chances are good he wouldn't have lost her, but his fears got the better of him... and again, there is probably more to it than that, because we humans are very complex animals. But the message is still a powerful one; if you let fear of losing something, or dissatisfaction with your situation, or envy over what you think others have that you don't, get the better of you, the end result is not going to be a good one.)
The difference between the Four and the Five of Cups is a subtle, but crucial one. In the Four, the loss has yet to occur. You still have everything you had in the Three of Cups (joy, abundance, companionship); you are simply looking around and asking yourself "isn't there any more?" Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes it's no. When we get to the Five, however, we have already lost something. Sometimes it is important to ask ourselves "why?" Did we lose it because we missed an important opportunity or message in the Four? Or was the situation truly beyond our control? Only the client can answer those questions, but as a reader, you can give them clues, based on the cards that crop up with either the Four or the Five in the spread. And as readers, I think we have the ethical responsibility to do so; clients come to us when they want answers. We don't have to be brutal, but we do have to be honest.
Looking at where in a spread any given card comes up helps us to understand the role it plays in the client's life. In the past, a card tells us where the current state of affairs has come from, what the "root" of the issue is, or what the client may have done to cause their current situation. In the case of the Four of Cups, there was a missed opportunity, dissatisfaction, or perceived loss, even if it was just a loss of what could have been, the client being so busy playing 'what if' with their life that life passed them by. In the case of the Five, there was a real and actual loss of something the client had.
In the present position, a card simply tells us how our client is feeling about the situation; both the Four and Five speak of unhappiness.
When a card pops up in the future areas of a spread, there is usually an opportunity to avoid the situation, or at the very least understand it for what it is. Especially in the case of the Four, the client may be able (if they allow themselves to) to go forward with their eyes open to hidden opportunities (that cup held by the Heavenly hand.)
In my Four of Cups, we see a young... well, man isn't quite the right word, but the figure is male, leaning over the side of a bridge with a cup in one hand. The cup's contents are spilling into the river below. At his other elbow, we see two more cups, which are clearly being ignored as the figure stares off into the distance. Overhead, a willow tree holds out a beautiful chalice that the figure can't see (because he's so focused on his misery that he won't look up.) The loss here is clearly self-made; the figure is so busy being unhappy that he doesn't realize he's spilled his wine.
My Five of Cups shows a young woman with bird's wings sitting on a hillside, over looking a small village. In front of her are three tipped over chalices, spilling their contents out onto the ground. Behind her, are two full chalices, hidden in the grass. I imagine that she's looking at something in the village that she has lost, that perhaps the person she loves is getting married to someone else in the church. Over her head the star shines, reminding us that there is always Hope--if we look for it. Who knows, maybe true love is around the corner (because let's face it, if the person you love is marrying someone else, chances are pretty good you're not going to end up together and it is better to move on than to spend the rest of your life in mourning.)
Now, on to the Six of Cups...