Home » Astrology » Tarot Fours: Finding the Mystical in the Mundane

Tarot Fours: Finding the Mystical in the Mundane

Allegory of the Four Elements, Mark Ryden. How do the four elements illuminate the practice of Tarot? Let’s count the ways.

I know you know this. I’m not trying to tell you stuff you don’t already know.

However, I just feel the need to reiterate, from time to time, things we already know, albeit from a slightly different perspective. The thing I’m going to tell you that you already know is that tarot relies heavily on numerology. My slightly alternate perspective riffs off of numerology and mysticism, taking what we turn numbers into, how we anthropomorphize them, as its inspiration.

What I don’t want to do is say to myself some version of “I know what the number four ‘means,’ so now I don’t have to think about this anymore.” The reason I don’t want to think like that is because typically, we’re exposed to only a few messages of which the collective approves.

Instead, I’m going to be Hermione Granger in The Prisoner of Azkaban when I say: Broaden your minds! Use your inner eye to see the future!

Okay, she was making fun of Professor Trelawney, but maybe you get the idea. On the subject of the number four, by the way (although you would never know if you only watch the movies), in the books, J. K. Rowling created four central characters whose skills and characteristics complement each other: Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville. They hang out together as cohesively as the trio does in the movies. I also suspect Rowling’s innate need for order (exemplified by a stellium in Virgo) instinctively created four Hogwarts’ houses, each with its own animal totem.

The Chinese also used animal totems for the four cardinal directions. Since Tarot itself is organized around four suits, these animals would make a great tarot set if it hasn’t been done already:

Tortoise (Black Warrior) = North, Winter, Black, Water
White Tiger (Kirin) = West, Fall, White, Metal
Red Bird (Phoenix) = South, Summer, Red, Fire
Dragon = East, Spring, Blue/Green, Wood

Tarot of the Four Elements prepares the soul for a magical exploration of the dream world using images that span cultures, races, and religions, including masks, totems, stars, handprints, and various symbols representing the natural world.

We feel safe with the number four for some very important reasons.

The number four carries with it some of the strongest, most enduring imagery and metaphors we rely on to make sense of our world. How would you organize a map without North, South, East and West?

For those living in climates with four discernible seasons, it comes in handy to give each one a name, although we should learn the lesson of the Four of Pentacles and try not to hold on to that which the collective tells everyone they ‘should’ do or be. Not everyone lives in a climate with four seasons, after all.

If we’d never discovered the four Fixed Stars, would ships have been able to navigate the world? Connecting four points together gives us coordinates, it gives us the beginning of maps, it allows us feel like we know where we are. ‘Four’ is a very important concept, in other words, especially since fours occur in nature, and we replicate a template nature has given us to follow. There’s stability and a sense of order and method in the number four you’re going to miss when we get to the number five.

As it happens, asociating the number four with nature forms the core beliefs of the Zia tribe of the Pueblo Indian community of New Mexico.

Four is their sacred number, the Sun their sacred symbol. They depict the sun as a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions.

This design is painted on ceremonial vases, drawn on the ground around campfires, and used to introduce newborns to the Sun. The Zia’s spirituality tells us that there is more to the number four than we give it credit for, and that, in fact, it’s a powerful number that gives us access to profound truths about what it means to be alive on this Earth. I suspect there’s a lot we can learn from the Zia’s spirituality, and if they regard this number as a unifying symbol, that tells me a lot about this number’s innate mystical power.

For the Zia, the number four is embodied in:

  • the four points of the compass (north, south, east, and west);
  • the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter);
  • the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night);
  • the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age); and
  • the four sacred obligations one must develop (a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of others), according to the Zia’s belief.

The withdrawal that this card recommends is shown by a tree in the shape of a woman, symbolizing Mother Nature nurturing four fetus “fruit” in her branches.

Every single day, the unifying principles of the number four influence us, in virtually any sphere of life that requires organization and order.

Every minute we’re alive, blood pumps through the four chambers of our heart, keeping us alive. The power of the number four, comprehended on a psychological/metaphorical level, seems inescapable.

Tarot, astrology, alchemy, and, to varying extents, the Occult, are organized around the metaphors and myths of the natural world. Numbers help shape that world, so the affinity with numbers weaves its way seamlessly into tarot and astrology.

Indeed, without numbers as an ordering system, there could be no astrology, and one wonders how we would organize tarot if we didn’t use some sort of hierarchy, which is what numbers are.

They are, of course, so much more, but at least on one level, they give us a way to look up and look down. They help give us direction.

This is not to say that it isn’t possible to organize tarot without numbers, around some other unifying principle (and perhaps we should be encouraging that, if only to balance the inherent elitism in hierarchical systems) but how often have you given a tarot card a meaning primarily because it is a certain number? Number and tarot card become one a great deal of the time.

For the purposes of studying the Occult, alchemists divide influential elements into earth, water, air, and fire, and this is where the connection with tarot (and astrology) becomes obvious.

Since we usually see manifestations of this metaphor expressed in nature, we tend to associate the number four with manifestation, that which is real, that which we can build if we take the mental energy from the Number Three and put it to good use.

This card has a propensity for depression and ennui, captured here in black and white.

When using tarot cards, the number four showing up in a reading gives us a message about a mystical unifying principle underlying the source of our lives—but only when the questions you ask reflect your need for something more than a mundane reading.

In mundane readings, of course, if you want to know about the material outcome of an endeavor in its early stages, you should hope to see at least one four. Sometimes it’s better for the four to be upright, sometimes it’s better if the four is reversed, depending on the outcome you’re looking for.

The Fours tell us how we should respond to what we’ve accomplished, or, more accurately, how we do respond. In each case, the four asks us to stop and think, take a break, before moving on. Fours typically depict a scene where the action stops. Our project, relationship, movement forward, halts for a time. Maybe we’ll pick it up again, but maybe we won’t.

Although the four contains a tremendous amount of potential, therefore, in terms of expressing that potential, it’s as though the pictorial images we’ve grown accustomed to are telling us to reflect on the nature of our energy, and ask if we’re using it effectively.

There are two Fours you most likely want to see reversed in a reading, and these are the Four of Swords and the Four of Cups. Both cards speak to the inability to make effective use of one’s energy, but in the Four of Swords, lying quietly might be the best, most rational, answer, since all attempts at movement will be blocked, or at the very least, slowed down.

Swords are a very active suit, but this card depicts your internal warrior taking a well-earned break from the fray. Some situations might call for a permanent halt. When I see this card come up with the reversed Ace of Pentacles, I know the situation will not evolve—ever, under any circumstances. It’s over. Let it go.

The Four of Swords is often associated with taking a break from emotional or mental pain, due to the dynamic, but aggressive, nature of the Swords’ suit. I think this is a viable interpretation. After the agony of the Three of Swords, we need a rest. We might feel deadened. The Four of Swords speaks to that inertia, the need for what I think of as ‘ghost-time,’ where we’re neither here nor there.

This card also implies a need for introspection, so if you find that others disagree with you all the time, take some time out and sit with your cards, and meditate on why you’re encountering such resistance.

There are many rounded shapes that occur in nature that you can replace Pentacles with. If you find you’re losing inspiration in your readings, try a radically different deck and see what happens.

Speaking of resistance, there is no stronger resistance to what is, than in the Four of Pentacles, revisioned here (to the left) as the Four of Pumpkins (a round shape found in nature, to be sure).

The Four of Pentacles represents stagnant energy, just like the Four of Cups does, although since the energy is represented by Pentacles and is aligned with material accomplishment, the danger of inactivity revolves around not letting go of whatever the question is about.

Sitting on it, containing it, holding it in, holding back: all of these describe the Four of Pentacles experience. Yes, there is attainment, but this card does not speak to offering your skills, wisdom, or even your love, freely.

Not letting go of a relationship, a way of being, an attitude; a home, a child (who’s going off to college); a lover who wants to see other people… the list of things we cling to is endless. This four asks us to stop and think: maybe we’re misusing our acquisitive energy?

The desire nature that underlies each four, that fuels each four’s attainment, also comes with a warning in the Four of Pentacles: you’ve over-accumulated. Let something go. Nature, it tells us, cannot be contained against its will.

If I were to draw this card, I’d show four penned up horses behind a fence of human devising, pawing the ground, trying to escape their prison. That’s how the person you’ve trapped with expectations feels.

Also, holding on to your stuff because you “need” it is often the single most dangerous thing you can do to yourself. There is no growth in the Four of Pentacles, and the reversed position probably makes it worse.

If you’ve ever known someone who is terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought when you suggest tossing the Precious they wore once, four thousand years ago, and never put on again, you’re dealing with an over-active Four of Pentacles-type person. I’d suggest assessing the person’s sentimental attachment to the object, and find out if holding on to things stands in for something else, something more real, more vital. Living in the now is not this card’s strong suit.

Energy, so abundant in nature, fails in the Four of Cups, until the individual realizes his failure to accept the gifts being offered is a refusal of the life-force itself. When you see fours pop up in your reading, it can often mean a pause or resting point in the midst of a project. It can mean an ending, but a benign one, not painful at all.

Ennui and lack of inspiration paint this card in dark colors.

Fours have a theme of completion, so if you pull up a four as your final card, ask yourself if something is over or completed. The thing is, when a four comes up, whatever it is that’s on hold, resting, or paused in some way is the eye before the storm of the number five, so take this time out to rethink your plan.

Also take into consideration that if you are asking about the end of something, a job ending, a breakup, a marriage, or even a death, receiving a four indicates that the end will come, and your response to the ending will be reflected in the nature of the card itself.

When asked, “Will I ever see him again?” receiving the Four of Swords as the final card, it is clear the cards are saying, no. Let this lie, because no further action or activity will take place. This goes back to the idea that Fours contain energy for movement, but that it is often cut off or curtailed, leaving us to figure out “what next?”

There is possibly no more stagnant energy than that found in the Four of Cups. Getting out of your doldrums, boredom, ennui, and depression might be the hardest thing some people will ever do. When the Four of Cups appears reversed, it’s because we’ve found something new to whet our appetite for life, but the question remains, will we take advantage of the opportunity?

How does it affect your intuition to see the Four of Cups replaced by the Four of Ghosts?

In the Halloween Tarot (to the left) it kind of makes sense to me that the little girl might not want to hang with four ghosts. Therefore, in the traditional card, perhaps you don’t want what’s being offered to you in the four cups for good reason.

Maybe the things being offered to you suck. Maybe you’re clinically depressed, and your lack of enthusiasm is trying to tell you something important. Fours say: listen to your true nature.

Therefore, if Fours are aligned with nature, think of a four showing up in your reading as a challenge to your response to nature, and to life itself. That means that fours are no longer about “completion,” or “attainment,” per se, but are about your response to completion or attainment.

More than any other card (except perhaps Sevens), Fours ask, “What comes next? What will I do now? How do I respond to this?” The Four of Wands seems to never be a bad card; even in reversed position, it contains a message of “keep going as you are, all will be well.”

I have never seen that card come up in a situation that then portends disaster. It’s like a signpost along the way on your path telling you you’re doing the right thing, and are going in the right direction.

Time to rest on your laurels with a cool drink: Four of Wands in The Housewives Tarot

For that reason alone—the inherent simplicity of the message embodied in that card—I suspect it is easily overlooked in a reading, but don’t forget the hard work it took you to get here.

Although beautiful, abstract designs on tarot cards can be harder to interpret, unless there is something in their design that speaks to your intuition.

The Four of Wands (or Canes, as in the Steampunk Tarot) is telling you you’ve worked hard, so take off some time and enjoy it. Nothing wrong with that message, if you ask me. Consider it a reaffirmation card telling you it will be all right as long as you appreciate where you’re going and where you’ve come from.


2 thoughts on “Tarot Fours: Finding the Mystical in the Mundane

  1. Thank you for this lovely immersion on the energy of Fours. I have gained lots of new insight. I think my perspective had become stale and as such a perfect reflection of the Four energy. :)

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