Woman in field of red grass

The Fours

I’d like to begin by acknowledging all of my teachers who have brought me to the understanding I have of Tarot today. I began my studies at The Tarot School in NYC with Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone. I have also taken classes and participated in seminars and classes that were conducted by Rachel Pollack, Ellen Goldberg, Mary Greer, Elinor Greenberg, Robert Place and many others at The Readers Studio, too numerous to mention here. I am grateful to them all!

All of my remarks regarding the Tarot Fours are based on my interpretation of the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot Deck.

The Tarot Fours

The Fours have many lessons to teach us. Today, we are focused on living in the stability that we need versus the stagnation that keeps us stuck.

My intention is to support you in

  1. Taking time for yourself to grow
  2. Moving beyond stability with this mantra: Say to yourself, “I can’t be more than I am, but I can strive to be all that I am.”
  3. Knowing the difference between the anchors that ground us and those that weigh us down

Isabel Kleigman coined in her book, Tarot and the Tree of Life the word “enoughness” to describe what the Fours are about. I would add, that in its lower polarity, the Fours are also about “not enoughness.”

There are many qualities about the Fours to which I think we could all agree:

  1. They are a place to stop, look and listen to that internal voice that says it’s time to rest, take stock on where we are, where we would like to be and what we need to do to get there.
  2. At first, the Fours may suggest a lack of activity, except for those irrepressible Wands; but, actually, there is a lot going on. However, at the moment, it is mostly internal.
  3. On the other hand, in its lower polarity, or reversed position, the Fours may point to a time of boredom, stagnation, resistance to change out of fear of the unknown or fear of failure. The difference is to know the difference between the two.
  4. The Fours are about attending to your own needs for stability before you are ready to take it out into the world.

Kabbalah-The Tree of Life

Let’s look for a moment at the position where the Fours reside on The Tree. It is the fourth sephiroth and reflects the Emperor who is number four in the Majors and speaks to us of stability and structure. Chesed, position four, is the place of Mercy and Grace. We often think of showing Mercy and Grace to others, and that is true. Bur before we can do that we have to show it to ourselves. This is Mercy in progress. If you haven’t taken care of yourself, you can’t be helpful to others. What does the flight attendant say when demonstrating the oxygen masks? “If you’re with a child, put the mask on yourself first and then the child.”

Another example comes from the musical, Godspell:

“How can you look at a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, when all the time there’s a great plank in yours?”

“I don’t know; how can you take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye when there’s a great plank sticking out of your own?”


“How can you take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye when there’s a great plank sticking out of your own?”

“I don’t know; how can you take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s eye when there’s a great plank sticking out of your own?”

“You hypocrite! First you take the plank out of your own eye, so you can see clearly how to take the speck of sawdust out of your brother’s.”

Chesed is the first sephiroth following the supernal triangle. The supernal triangle began to give us shape, but it is with the four that we begin to see structure and stability.

I’m reminded on a mishap that occurred in my apartment recently. I bought a three-legged stool; the man who made it reminded me that it was a place to sit, not to stand. Choosing not to heed his advice, I stood on it anyway. My face was quickly introduced to the floor below. I got it. Four is structure and stability. By the way, we find similar meanings for the fours when we look at numerology or Lenormand.

Sometimes, stability is exactly where you need to be. So let’s look at each card now in its upright position, sometimes called its upper polarity. Let’s begin with the Wands and in keeping with the Four, I’ll share four upright and four reversed meanings for each card along with what issue each card may raise. So first, the upright position.


According to The Golden Dawn, this card is The Lord of Perfected Work.

Venus in Aries-Stability through relationship and partnership

  1. Much deserved rest after hard work
  2. Wedding, graduation, a rite of passage
  3. Renewing spirit through celebration
  4. The security and stability that goes along with relationships and partnerships


  1. Waite says this card is unchanged reversed; the joy is so powerful, it cannot be blocked.
  2. A person’s environment is just as strong, bur perhaps unorthodox, at least in terms of other people’s perceptions and expectations. I have heard gay marriage mentioned as a meaning for the Four of Wands reversed.
  3. Admiring ‘Free Spirit’ but being too fearful to join in
  4. An inability to appreciate success, to express joy

The issue that comes up in the Four of Wands is the possibility of burn out if you don’t allow yourself the time to celebrate your accomplishments. Celebration is a ritual so important in acknowledging and honoring our accomplishments. It’s the pause that refreshes.

With the Four of Wands, abundance has been received when all that Wand’s energy is ready to bring to it in the world; but for now, we notice that even with the activity, the figures we see in the foreground are still outside the city walls. It has not yet been shared with the community within those walls.

The Four of Wands is sometimes called “The Marriage Card.”


Now we come to the Swords. This is The Lord of Rest from Strife. However, I prefer Wald Amberstone’s modification of this title. He calls it The Lord of Rest from Striving. I believe this is more descriptive to one’s need to take a break from all the trials and tribulations of the mind and to regroup.

Jupiter in Libra-Stability and balance achieved through retreating from the complexities of the mind, taking the time that is needed to recharge the batteries.

  1. Retreat/withdrawal, a time of peace healing and recovery
  2. Isolating yourself as a response to difficulty
  3. Can mean physical healing-notice the stained-glass window-Some say it is Christ ministering to the supplicant. By implication, we may interpret it as a healing. Notice the work “Pax” around Christ’s head, Latin for peace, which is what we would hope to experience as a result of rest.
  4. Can mean sleep, some say coma, or even death in rare cases. I have heard it referred to as “The Time Out Card” or “The Do Not Disturb Card.”


  1. Emerging from retreat with caution
  2. Finding it difficult to relax though you know you need to
  3. Your “time out” has devolved into stagnation and boredom
  4. A lazy mind that comes from misuse or unchallenging, conventional thinking

So what issues may come up around this card?

Are you able to insist on taking the time you need to take a break from it all, access where you are and regroup before moving on? Now is the time to be your own advocate. Take care of yourself. When I look at this card, I’m reminded of a lyric from the musical, The Fantasticks which says in part, “To hide away in shadows from the tyranny of time.”


The Lord of Blended Pleasure. I use little tricks to remember these Golden Dawn titles. For this one, the cup being extended from the cloud looks a little like a blender to me: thus, The Lord of Blended Pleasure. Perhaps the pleasure is blended because it is dampened by boredom or distractions.

Moon in Cancer-stability through time alone to meditate; emotionally unavailable for now. This is also sometimes called The Time Out Card or The Meditation Card.


  1. Apathy
  2. Refusing opportunities
  3. Too comfortable in your environment; turning what you think of home into a prison
  4. Obstinate stubbornness

This is the issue that may come up around this card: Are you legitimately taking the time now to consider what you already have before moving on or are you closing yourself off to opportunity which may come from feeling you’re not enough, fear of rejection, pride or hurt. How willing are you to move out of your comfort zone and take a risk?


  1. A need for quiet grounding and rest
  2. Meditation
  3. Seizing opportunities
  4. Taking a risk as a cue for boredom

I have heard some say that the figure in the Four of Cups is not aware of what is being offered to him. But perhaps he is, and he is not ready to take advantage of it yet. If the opportunity passes him by, so be it. He trusts that there will be another. I think we’ve all heard the expression, “When the student is ready, the teacher is there.”


The Lord of Earthly Power

Sun in Capricorn-stability through the power of protection of money and physical possessions. This is The All Work and No Play Card or The Scrooge card.


  1. A miser, greed, selfishness, confinement within oneself, fiercely protecting what is yours
  2. Depending on material comforts for security and stability but deriving no pleasure from them.
  3. “All you are unable to give, possesses you.”-André Gide
  4. Shielding yourself emotionally


  1. Energy released, perhaps in the form of generosity and freedom
  2. Spending too freely
  3. Realizing there’s more to life than money and physical possessions
  4. Economically wise and avoiding waste

Here are some issues that the Four of Pentacles may bring up:

Ask yourself, with the accumulation and protection of your physical possessions, have you been unable to enjoy what you have?

Have you closed yourself off from others because of fear of loss or lack of trust?

Have you cursed yourself with abundance?

So now we come to the question, when do we know that stability has become stagnation:

That answer is simple really: It comes when enough doesn’t feel like enough anymore.

Think of when someone goes into a hospital and is diagnosed with a condition that is critical or serious. If the doctor later determines that the condition has upgraded to stable, that’s great news, but one would hope to improve beyond a stable condition. Stable is a transitional period in becoming completely healed.  So, I contend that the Fours are a resting place but not a staying place. They’re a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to live there! You’re not going to experience your best self or your highest self if you stay in the stability of the Fours.

If you are familiar with Robert Place’s Alchemical Deck, try to picture the Four of Vessels. We see an elephant balancing his four feet on the top of four jugs or vessels. He appears balanced, but he’s not going anywhere. If you look at the Four of Swords, Cups and Pentacles, there is also no movement. The pictures are static. I love this quote which is attributed to Grace Hopper, Rear Admiral, USN: “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were made for.”

In keeping with the number four, here is a four-card spread for you to explore the ways the Fours may be working in your life:

CARD 1: What do I have enough of?

Card 2: What do I need more of?

Card 3: What is blocking me from having it?

Card 4-What can free me in order to pursue it?


As a kind of meditation, I would like to share two brief readings from The Book of Awakening-Having the life You Want by Being Present in the Life You Haveby Mark Nepo, poet and philosopher:

Loving kindness to others begins with loving kindness to yourself.

“I’ve come to understand that without the healthiest form of self-love…without honoring the essence of life that this thing called “self” carries, the way a pod carries a seed..putting another before you can result in damaging self-sacrifice and endless codependence. I have in many ways over many years suppressed my own needs and insights in an effort not to disappoint others, even when no one asked me to. This is not unique to me. Somehow, in the course of learning to be good, we have all been asked to wrestle with a false dilemma: Being kind to ourselves is a prerequisite to being kind to others. Honoring ourselves is, in fact, the only lasting way to release a truly selflessness, kindness to others.”

Moving out of stagnation requires taking a risk.

“We’d all like the guarantee before making a decision or taking a risk, but the irony is that taking the risk is what opens us to our fate. It’s like wanting to know what things will taste like before putting them in your mouth. It just can’t be figured out that way.

I always seem to be relearning that real commitment comes before I know where anything is going. That’s what listening to your heart is all about. Without jumping off its perch, the bird would never fly. Without jumping out of your heart’s silence, life is never possible. Without asking to be whole, the divine essence waits inside everything. If we devote ourselves to the effort to be real, the universe in all its forms will find us the way that wind finds leaves and waves find shore.”

And to close, I end as I began:

I can’t be more than I am, but I can strive to be all that I am.

Copyright © 2004