In the Major Arcana, the card numbered 4 is The Emperor. The Emperor represents structure, stability and leadership. It also represents having good boundaries and being able to stick up for yourself. When we look at the Four of Cups and the Four of Pentacles we can see that kind of imagery quite strongly.
Think about the last time you had too much on your plate and had to say no to somebody or to something. Even if you really wanted to help, or were excited by the project or idea, you just couldn’t manage it.
You’ll see a lot of people in the business of ‘positivity’ telling you that you should say yes more, that only good things will happen. This is an aspect of something called Toxic Positivity. You might have heard of this term, or you might be thinking ‘wait, what, how can positivity be toxic?’
If you strive to avoid suffering, you will feel worse when inevitable suffering comes your way. You feel like a failure, that you’re not trying hard enough. There are of course ways to reduce pain in the various parts of our lives, but sometimes, you have to just sit with it and let it pass on its own.
Anyone who has struggling with mental ill health will know that when people tell you to just cheer up, it doesn’t magically cure you. It is a form of erasure and ableism to deny someone their lived experience. That’s why shaming someone for not being able to adhere to ‘positive vibes only’ is counterproductive and harmful.
Similarly when you take on everything and never say no, you are bound to get burned out. Sometimes it is time to take a break and just do nothing.
Some people really struggle to do nothing, because that’s when the painful thoughts and feelings start coming in. You get restless and want to do something just to take your mind off of everything you’re repressing. It’s hard, but try to sit with those feelings, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Don’t dwell on them and don’t push them away. If it helps, write down what you’re thinking.
Understand that as you learn to see yourself through these difficult thoughts, they will loom less, and you will be better prepared for dealing with hard times further down the line.
Let’s have a look at what we can learn from these four cards.
Four of Wands: This card is about appreciating what you have right now. Have you ever heard of a depth year? It’s this idea that you should take a year where you don’t buy anything new for your hobbies, you don’t learn new things, only improve on what you already know. Started to learn guitar a few years ago and lost steam? Pick that up again rather than get the ukulele you’ve been eyeing up in the local music store. Read the pile of books you bought ages ago that you never got around to.
The people in this image are celebrating. This represents reflecting on everything you’ve achieved so far and feeling great about that, rather than thinking ‘what’s next?’
Four of Cups: The person in this card looks very apathetic. They don’t notice, or don’t feel up to accepting this fourth cup they are being offered. There’s something called Autistic inertia which can be really difficult to deal with. Even doing things you enjoy like your hobbies, or basic everyday things like eating, become a slog and you can’t make yourself get up to do them.
Alternatively, maybe you just don’t want that fourth cup, you don’t need it. Being able to stop before you get in over your head is a really good skill to have. Be aware of your limits, don’t run out of spoons.
Four of Swords: I’ve heard that some people see this character as someone who has died. They almost look like they’re made of stone. To me, that’s how it can feel sometimes when you’re so burned out, you can’t even get out of bed. You’re stiff and can hardly open your eyes. Sometimes you’ve had so much going on lately, you haven’t even processed it all yet. If you pull this card, it might be time to take a mental health day off work, or take some time to just take care of basic things like eating and sleeping until you feel a little more energetic again.
Four of Pentacles: Traditionally, this card represents a miser. He is protecting his pentacles, his wealth. Maybe he’s being too materialistic, or maybe he just has boundaries and has been giving too much lately. This card can represent self-care.
Think about the word ‘selfish’. It’s too often misused. According to Oxford Languages, selfish means:
(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
An action is selfish if by doing it, you profit, and don’t care about anyone else. But colloquially, we often call someone selfish for doing something for their own good even when it doesn’t negatively impact anyone else. I don’t think that’s selfish. It’s okay to prioritise yourself sometimes. So long as no one is hurt, you’re allowed to protect yourself. It’s up to you whether you think your motivations are good or not, so if you pull this card, take a moment to think about the difference between being miserly and selfish, and looking after yourself in a healthy way.