The Four of Cups, The Five of Cups, and Finding Gratitude in Painful Times

There are a lot of people out there right now talking and writing about how to create abundance.  One of the things that they all agree upon is the need for gratitude as a part of the process of manifestation.  

Whether you’re working with angels and spirit guides or an agnostic trying to get the hang of the Law of Attraction, all of the teachers and financial gurus will tell you to start with a grateful heart.  If you’ve only got a few bucks in your pocket, be grateful for them before you try to manifest more. If you want to have stronger, more positive people in your life, start by telling the people who are already in your life how much you appreciate them.

But sometimes we get stuck and it’s really hard to pull up that attitude of gratitude.  It could be that we’ve had some sort of a terrible loss. It could be that our lives are going through one of those phases where everything just sucks and we finally have to say, “Jesus, why is this shit happening to me?”  Or it could be that it’s just one of those times when we need to feel sorry for ourselves a while.

Gratitude is an emotion, just like love, hatred and anger, so it’s appropriate that the two cards in the Tarot deck that deal with a lack of gratitude are in the suit of emotions – the Cups.

In the Four of Cups we see a man sitting on the ground, arms crossed in defensiveness or rejection, staring at three cups standing on the ground before him.  A fourth cup is appearing out of thin air but he doesn’t even see it. The Three of Cups is, of course, a card of celebration and happiness so we can conjecture that the cups he’s staring at represent the loss of some major source of happiness in his life.  Perhaps he’s broken up with a lover or he’s been fired from a job that he really liked. In any case, he’s so focused on the past that he’s not perceiving the new opportunity, the cup floating in the air.

Contrast that with the Five of Cups.  This is a card of MAJOR, life changing loss and deep, deep grief.  He’s dressed in the black cloak of mourning and the wine from the three cups is spilled upon the ground, gone forever.  And, again, he’s so focused on his loss that he can’t even see that he has two cups left which are quite full. An example might be a man or woman who can’t focus on their children because they are too deep in grief over a spouse who has died.  She has literally turned her back on happiness for the time being.

So, knowing that gratitude can be a major factor in manifesting an abundant, spiritually satisfying life, how do you even GET to it when all you can feel is a sense of loss?  Sometimes cognitive and spiritual reframing is the answer.

In the case of the Four of Cups – the loss of a relationship or a job – try to see that cup that’s hanging in the air.  Ask yourself WHY it happened. Is it clearing the way for a deeper relationship or a better job? What employment or relationship skills did you learn by going through this?  How is this going to make you a better or a stronger person in the future?

You can even take it to a deeper level of analysis if you like.  Is this some kind of a script from a childhood trauma that you’re playing over and over again?  Are you subconsciously manifesting lovers who will reject you or make you miserable? Are you seeking out jobs or bosses who won’t appreciate you?  Can you bring that to full consciousness and turn it around? Can you feel grateful for the growth?

In the case of the Five of Cups, it’s a much rougher road.  It’s hard to find anything positive about someone you love dying.  True, deep grief is devastating. It can actually make us physically ill and sometimes it drives us to a despair that’s so deep we can’t imagine it will ever end or we’ll ever smile again.

Yet, it can cause a major and ultimately beneficial shift in our perspectives.  If we are at all honest with ourselves it will drive us to real and permanent reevaluations of our lives.  It causes us to ask what in the hell it’s all about. Is there really life on the other side? Did my loved one survive in some form?  Are there spiritual beings? If she was taken and I was left behind, what am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Surely I have some life purpose that’s higher than watching television and eating junk food.

It’s like a ball of yarn that’s come completely unraveled and you have figure out how to roll it back up.  Or a jig saw puzzle where you have all of the pieces but you’ve lost the picture of the assembled puzzle. All you can do is start at the edges and try to put life back together in a way that makes sense.  Eventually, though, it adds a much greater depth and meaning to life.

Gradually, horribly slowly, we do begin to recover from grief if we choose to go on living.  And, yes, it gives us a sense of gratitude for life and for the love we experienced with the person we lost that’s more profound than we could have ever imagined.

Gratitude can always be discovered.  Sometimes we just have to look for it a little harder.

The Wheel of Fortune Reversed and Turning it Over

I recently made a decision to start turning some of my problems over to my Higher Powers.  And I found that for me – as a Wiccan who tries to be emotionally and intellectually honest – that was a surprisingly easy decision.

Sometimes life turns into a shit sandwich.  It happens to everyone sooner and later and this was my turn.  Within a period of just a few months I’d lost my beloved life partner to cancer, I was embroiled in a nasty probate process to settle her estate, and the unpaid bills just kept piling up like malevolent imps that had taken up residence on my desk.

In other words, The Wheel of Fortune Reversed.  A prolonged period of bad luck.

I was beat up, beat down, and hung out to dry.  Emotionally and spiritually exhausted, I knew I needed some help from the higher realms to keep walking down my path, and getting to that help turned out to be more of a revelation than I could have anticipated.

The first realization was that I actually trusted my Higher Powers.  I had drifted a long way from the little boy kneeling in a catholic church, being taught that god loved us so much that he let his only son be murdered just to prove it.  My view of the universe no longer included some scary, bipolar, vengeful, patriarchal god who might be equally inclined to toss you into eternal flames or welcome you to heaven, depending on how much you’d prayed and how little you’d masturbated.

Somewhere through the many years I’d lived, my view of Higher Powers had morphed into angels and spirit guides, fairies, elves, and gods and goddesses (with a lower case, “g,”)  who actually loved and cared about us. The face of Jesus, writhing in pain and covered with blood, had been replaced with the smiling, tender faces of Lakshmi and Tara.

It was kind of a shock to me, to tell you the truth.  Despite all of the poison that had been planted in my subconscious mind when I was a child, despite the fact that I was going through a terrible, terrible time in my life, I found that I had unquestionable faith in a loving and nurturing universe.

And that brought along a second, equally powerful revelation:  I can live – for the most part – without the need for a constant cause-and-effect spirituality.  The universe doesn’t always have to be a comfortable place for me to trust it.

Cause-and-effect spirituality is the basis of all organized religions and has a large part in New Age spirituality.   The idea is that if you’re a really, really good person then really good things will happen to you. And if you’re a really, really bad person then really, really bad things will happen to you.  And there’s a lot of truth in that.

But then you look at someone like Donald Trump and you think, “Huh . . . what happened there?  Why has this tangerine colored, demon infested, piece of human excrement who’s never caused anything but misery been blessed with all of this material wealth?”

Or you have a friend who is a kind, loving, wonderful person who lives in poverty and dies an agonizing death and you think, “Huh . . . what happened there?”

As I said, cause-and-effect spirituality appears to be true a lot of the time.  But not always. People have been trying to come up with explanations for why good things happen to rotten people and vice verse since the beginning of human existence.  Maybe it’s karma from past lives. Maybe they forgot to say their prayers or slaughter an ox and two sheep and offer them to god. Maybe they masturbated too much. Who knows?

That’s what The Wheel of Fortune Reversed is really all about.  Shit happens. It doesn’t put any value judgements on it, it doesn’t say shit happened because you were a bad person or you brought it on yourself.  It just quietly observes that shit happens, sooner or later, to all of us.

And that’s a Spiritual Law, just as surely as the Law of Attraction.  It can be scary if you need to view the Universe as a neat and tidy place where everything happens for a reason, the good are rewarded, and the evil are punished.  Or it can be a strong motivator to deepen your spiritual resources and to cultivate your inner strength and resilience BEFORE it happens. As The Desiderata says, “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.”  

Angels, Spirit Guides, and the Tarot

We seldom see the Tarot referred to as, “a Spirit Guide.”  Which is weird.

There are many, many online courses about contacting your angels and spirit guides.  Thousands of videos online telling you how to do it and/or how to maximize your contact with your spiritual helpers.  Dozens and dozens of books on the subject.

So . . . it’s pretty widely accepted that (a) there are benevolent, loving beings out there who want to help us; and (b) we can learn how to be in touch with them.  But, curiously, the Tarot isn’t usually included in those discussions.

A part of that, of course, may stem from the fundamentalist christians horror of all things occult.  We’ve seen the ghost hunter shows on television where a couple of little girls are playing with a Ouija board and two minutes later thousands of creepy demons and ghosts are whizzing out of the kitchen cabinets.  Tarot decks have been painted with the same brush for decades despite the fact that the images in them are chock full of angels. (See my previous post, “The Angels of the Tarot.”)

Another element is that most people who read the Tarot don’t really THINK of it as a means of getting in touch with our angels or spirit guides.  We just think of it as, “Asking the Tarot for advice.” Of course, that begs the question of who or what is giving the advice. Is an inanimate deck of cards somehow capable of cogitating about our problems and giving us the best insight and solutions?  

In one of the better online courses about contacting your spirit guides and angels, Roslyn Light suggests journaling as a means for receiving messages from them.  There are some people among us who are able to be in direct contact with higher beings and see them and hear them. Others may receive guidance through synchronicities and so-called coincidences that occur in their lives.  A book falling out of a shelf and opening to a certain page with a pertinent message, for instance. For others answers and solutions may appear in the writing they do in their journals.

And, for some of us, the very best way to get in touch with our guides may be the Tarot.  Which makes a lot of sense when you actually think about it. It’s said that beings from the higher planes communicate with us in symbols and images rather than verbally.  There is probably no other source on earth that is richer in images and symbols than a deck of Tarot cards. In other words, it speaks their language.

Indeed, it seems entirely possible that this is exactly what the Tarot was designed to do.  It may well be a tool conceived by minds far greater than ours to allow us to have direct communication with the higher spiritual realms and the beings who dwell there.

And all we have to do is ask.