Five of Cups

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At first glance, the Five of Cups Tarot card appears negative, but there are indications of hope, as well. The moment in time encapsulated by the card is one where all seems lost to you, but the truth is, you are so focused on the negative that you are failing to see that there is a silver lining, or at the very least, a way forward and out of this morass.

The overall mood of the card is gloomy and despondent, but there is also a lot of hope in this card, too. The catch is, it isn’t obvious, you have to search for it.

You may have just experienced the death of a loved one, the end of a special relationship, or a setback in your career. Either way, your feelings are tumultuous, marked by disappointment, misery or grief.

The key message in the Five of Cups Tarot card is that this, too, shall pass. Even the darkest night comes to an end. If you start focusing on your solutions instead of your problems, your emotional wounds will soon begin to heal.

What the Cups mean in Tarot

The Minor Arcana Suit of Cups is linked to the water element and deals with feelings, emotional bonds, creativity, imagination and psychic perception.

Because water is the element connected with the unconscious mind, it shares its characteristics – it is as powerful and healing as it is volatile and irrational.

When the water element is balanced, there is a sense of creativity, effortless flow and authentic and nurturing connections with other people. When, on the other hand, the water is misbalanced – as it is in the Five of Cups – negative emotions run high, relationships suffer and creative potential is lost or misdirected.

What the numerological number five means in Tarot

The numerological number five is the number of change and progress. The number naturally involves a certain amount of imbalance, as a necessary component of transformation.

When the number five appears in a Tarot reading – or anywhere else – it is a sign that change is afoot. When you go with the flow, the winds of change may bring lots of new possibilities and opportunities into your orbit, while removing the old. If you resist, you may be in for an unpleasant ride as you can’t stop change from happening.

Five of Cups Tarot card description

Depictions of the Five of Cups Tarot card differ from Tarot deck to Tarot deck – but most use the symbols and other details found in the Rider-Waite Tarot. These are the ones we will be delving into here.

The man

A man dressed in a long black cloak is standing in the card’s foreground. His head is bowed in an obvious display of sadness as he gazes down at the ground in front of his feet. He is pulling the cloak tightly around himself as if seeking comfort in its mourning colour. The cloak nearly covers him head to toe, suggesting that he is hiding, envelope in his grief.

The cups

On the ground, in the man’s line of vision, are three golden cups that have toppled over. The vital essence they contained – creative potential, talent, love – has run out into the sand and been lost forever.

If the man would only turn around he would notice the two upright cups standing behind him, their contents still intact.

The river and the bridge

In the background of the card is a river; an apt symbol of the man’s painful feelings.

A bridge leads over the body of water, but for the moment, the figure is still unable to face making his way across it, effectively putting the pain behind him and moving on.

The castle

When the man finally does mange to tear his focus away from the fallen-over cups and cross the bridge, an awesome reward awaits him. On the other side is tall and imposing castle, symbolic of security, stability and success.

Five of Cups Tarot card meanings

Every Tarot card is a tiny prism of meaning; which facet of its significance stands out in a Tarot reading depends on a number of factors, including the Tarot reader and any surrounding Tarot cards.

Here are the most prominent facets of meaning associated with the Five of Cups Tarot card.

Failure and setbacks

The upright Five of Cups is a clear indication of failures, setbacks and detours. These things can be tough to swallow, as they can be a severe blow to your ego and self-image.

Setbacks can also take the form of loss, such as the loss of a loved one or an unexpected and unwanted breakup.

Regret, disappointment

Closely related to experiences of loss and setback are overwhelming feelings of sadness, regret and disappointment. Like the vital essence run out into the sand, there are choices and events which can’t be undone. The next best thing you can do is to not dwell on them, or beat yourself up over them in perpetuity.

Pessimism

The upright Five of Cups can be a sign that you are focusing on the negative, to the exclusion and detriment of the positive. Like the cape-clad figure, you are starting yourself blind at the toppled-over cups, instead of directing your attention on the ones that are still upright and full of potential.

When we look at the Five of Cups Tarot card, it seems clear to us what would be the best course of action its despondent figure could take: Instead of focusing on the cups that have fallen over, focus on the ones that are still upright. Then, start moving. Make your way across the water by way of the bridge, and reach the castle.

But when we ourselves are in a situation like the one depicted in the Five of Cups Tarot card, things may be less clear to us. It is easy to get caught up in a negative loop, and forget that we have options and the ability to heal and move on in the wake of loss, breakup or setback.

Reversed Five of Cups Tarot card meanings

When the reversed Five of Cups shows up in a Tarot reading its negative meaning is flipped on it head, and the figure manages to break free from his despair and continue his journey. Here are some of the most prevalent meanings of the Five of Cups reversed.

Self-forgiveness

The reversed Five of Cups can be a sign of self-forgiveness and personal absolution.

You may well have squandered both time, opportunities and other resources, but you have the wisdom to not keep dwelling on your past mistakes. Instead, you take the proactive approach of granting yourself forgiveness for your sins and trespasses, knowing it is the only way you will be able to move on. You cannot undo the things you have or haven’t done, but you can do better in the present and in the future.

Letting go and moving on

The Five of Cups reversed implies that you have come to a place of acceptance and letting go.

You may have done wrong, or others may have done you wrong – but you have the wisdom to not hold onto the negativity of any of it. Instead, you absorb the lessons of the past and get on with living your life. You know that the only way you can ever make up for the cups that have fallen over is by directing your attention and focus to the ones that are still upright.

Silver lining

Even the darkest cloud has a silver lining and the reversed Five of Cups hints at a wonderful ability to find it.

When you emerge from the initial grief and sadness after suffering a terrible loss, a bad breakup or a trauma, you will often find that the experience contained a valuable lesson. Maybe it showed you your own strength, reminded you of your priorities in life, or taught you how to stand your ground.

Five of Cups Tarot card interpretation examples

The Five of Cups contains a plethora of meaning and possible interpretations. Here are some of examples of what the Five of Cups Tarot card could mean in different contexts.

What the Five of Cups upright means in a love Tarot reading

A romantic relationship or the potential for one has just been severed – or brutally stomped out -, leaving you in the dust. New romantic possibilities are out there, waiting for you, but for now you are still too focused on your grief to really sense them.

What the Five of Cups reversed means in a love Tarot reading

You are ready to make peace with past relationship fails and are looking to the future with positive expectancy. Perhaps you are taking some time to focus on your own healing, before reaching out to connect with another new person.

What the Five of Cups upright means in a career Tarot reading

You may have been let go, pass over for a promotion, or failed in getting your new venture off the ground. Either way, your focus is on what has been lost or missed, rather than on what may still be created or achieved.

What the Five of Cups reversed means in a career Tarot reading

You are picking yourself up and dusting yourself off in the wake of a career setback. Not to be deterred, you absorb the lessons inherent to failure, shed your regret, and come at your ambition with renewed energy and force.

Lucius Nothing

Lucius has been slinging tarot cards professionally since 2014. He’s taken the tarot to places most wouldn’t think of: His best-known patrons include Torture Garden, The Dark Circus Party, Handel & Hendrix, A Curious Invitation and The Candlelight Club, where he has been resident tarot reader for the past half-decade. His writing on divination, magic and creativity has been published in Sabbat Magazine and on Medium.

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