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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Hey, that's no bird! 4 of Cups in Tarot of the Hidden Realm

Let's look at the elements at work in this 4 of Cups card from Tarot of the Hidden Realm by Barbara Moore and Julia Jeffrey (Llewellyn 2013).

At first glance, I see a faerie in a tree, with birds. But on second glance, those aren't birds, they're seals! Then it becomes clear it's not the wind lifting her hair but the water. And those aren't tree branches, they are seaweed. It turns out what we are seeing is a selkie, sinking back into the deep.

The selkie (or silkie) comes from Scottish and Irish lore of the seals. The legend is that some seals will come ashore and shed their skins and take the form of beautiful human males or females. I don't know much about the male version; I think they mostly came ashore to comfort wives whose husbands were at sea. The females would come ashore and fall in love with a man, and if he could get her seal skin and keep it hidden, she would stay with him forever, though she would often sit and gaze longingly out to sea. If she ever did find the skin, she would be unable to resist putting it on and returning to her seal form. Sadly, once back at sea, she would then feel longing for the land. So she was both happy and sad in both places. Always longing for one or the other, no matter where she was.

This strikes me as a poignant representation of the 4 of Cups, which we often hear interpreted as 'boredom', when in fact it might better be described as dissatisfaction or unrest arising from longing. (Though we may not often know what we're even longing for.)

The element of suit of Cups is Water, which corresponds to feelings, intuitions, relationships. The elemental affinity of the number 4 is Fire, which corresponds to passion, drive, vitality. Thus the 4 of Cups is Fire of Water. Boredom can't really be seen as 'fiery', but emotion can be. Not the emotion of anger, but of longing. And the element of Fire is an element of taking action, which the selkie does by leaving the sea and by returning to it. Why does she do this? The passion is what drives her to it. The love is what keeps her in place for so long in both places. 'Dissatisfaction with what you have and wishing for something you don't have,' is how Barbara Moore describes it, in the companion book to Tarot of the Hidden Realm. 'Humans pulling this card are not doomed to the selkie's torment.' (That's a relief!) 'This card asks you to open your eyes to what is before you and recognize the happiness that is right under your nose.'

Which is all well and good and very fine advice. It's the moments before we 'open our eyes' that the card depicts with such accuracy (even in the RWS version - though the 'open your eyes' aspect is more overtly shown by the hand offering the cup) -- not boredom, but deep unrest arising from dissatisfaction. Fire of Water.


  1. Interesting what you say about it being dissatisfaction rather than boredom. And how come the female selkies are the only ones who pine, while the male selkies are just "wham-bam, thank you mam!"? ;)

  2. Yes yes yes and yes :D love this card and post!