I've always liked the number four. Not sure why, but I do. Fours have a certain nice sound to them and they're orderly and you can pair it off into two two's. It's just a nice number. And it's true that fours represent stability, orderliness, practicality, patience, responsibility and all those nice things, so it's no wonder our dear Mr. Emperor of the Major Arcana is the supreme IV of Tarot. Fours are very solid and dependable, like a square. In fact, the word, "square" has come to mean things like "fair, proper, honest, and straightforward." We say we got a "square deal" if it was an honest exchange, a "square meal" is a proper one and if you've won something, I hope you won it "fair and square."
Fours are associated with the planets Saturn and Earth, and with the astrological sign Cancer because Cancer is the natural ruler of the fourth house. Saturn is known in astrology to be the planet that restricts and limits, a taskmaster which brings strength through discipline and planning. It is also the planet of the Emperor, the tarot taskmaster and disciplinarian and sometime control freak. Four is essentially the number of our earthly existence: the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water; the four seasons; the four points of the compass; the four phases of the Moon. Even our days are divided into four time periods: dawn, day, evening, and night. The Tetragrammaton is the four-letter name of God. The four Matriarchs (foremothers) of Judaism are Sarah, Rebeccah, Leah, and Rachel. The Four Species (lulav, hadass, aravah and etrog) are taken as one of the mitzvot on Sukkot. Four is the sacred number of the Zia, an indigenous tribe located in the United States State of New Mexico. In Christianity groups of four in the New Testament include The Four Creatures of Revelation and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Also from the New Testament we have the four gospels written by the four evangelists; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Three of them are often represented by animals; the ox for Luke, and the eagle for John, and the lion for Mark. The origin of the animal representations is likely Ezekiel 1, 5: ". . . of the midst there came the likeness of four living creatures. . . And . . . they had the likeness of a man. . . . And every one had four faces . . . the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: . . . the face of an ox on the left side; . . .they four also had the face of an eagle." You can see these animals on many renditions of the World card in tarot decks, signifying completeness and universal blessing.
The four suits of tarot which align to the four elements also speak of a completeness in the deck itself, in that it pretty much covers all the bases of earthly life. In tarot, when you see the number four you can know something has been established for sure. It's not a period of growth as much as a time when you know you have grown something solid. It may be time for a brief respite or celebration, to regather your energies to move onward.
The Four of Swords often shows a knight or warrior lying in vigil, with the four swords immobile and awaiting his next venture. Moving from the often harsh or painful realization of the Three of Swords, the Four of Swords takes a time out to allow the truth of the revelation to sink in and become part of the reality of the person's mind. This is one reason the Four of Swords is often seen as a rehabilitative card and can represent time in recovery such as in a hospital or even a brief time in jail. As the mind tends to be ever active, even while sleeping, it's difficult to imagine a time when there is no activity whatsoever. Let's not be literal here. No activity would mean brain dead. What this card is alluding to is a time when you take a break from obsessively thinking about an issue or problem, or when the conundrum has been solved (by the three, probably) and there just isn't any more to be said or thought about on the issue. At least for now. The Four of Swords brings a time of peace, a quieting of the mind so that maybe some other senses can speak and be heard. Whereas in the Two of Swords the individual is trying to quiet her emotions and other senses so as to only hear her own thoughts, the Four quiets those thoughts now. A truth has been told, a quandry has been settled, a realization has been made manifest.
The Four of Cups is a different kind of time out. This card often feels uncomfortable because the individual on the card usually looks like he's just not happy or is dissatisfied with just about everything. Being cups, it is dealing with emotions and relationships, and this guy is taking time to reevaluate his own feelings. He's sorting through what he has in his life, relationship-wise, feelings-wise, and is coming up rather empty. He's just not at all sure what he wants. Often a cup can be seen offered out of the blue and he seems unaware or unwilling to accept this offer. As the four stems from the three, it is a natural rebound response to the abundance of the Three of Cups. The fullness of emotions and cooperative relationship seen in the three has him pulling away for time to himself and his own emotions. While fours may appear to be a time of little or no activity, just like the guy in the Four of Swords is not brain dead, neither is this guy numb emotionally. There really is a lot going on, but it's under the surface. You know that little hourglass on your computer that flips around? Processing...processing...processing. That's what happens in the fours and in this case it's emotional processing. On a very mundane level, he's had enough of others, the houseguests have overstayed their welcome and he just needs a break. On a deeper level, it could mean a time of really scrutinizing how one feels in a romantic relationship and realizing it isn't meeting one's emotional needs but being unsure what exactly to do about it. The relationship may feel a bit stagnant and boring after the excitement of the two and the high of the three and the realization that he farts in bed and she picks her nose is settling in.
The Four of Wands is a bit more lively for a four. That's because it is wands, after all. Still air and water you can understand, but still fire? Not unless it has gone out and then it isn't fire anymore, is it? The Four of Wands represents a time out as well, but a time out for a party. It's often seen as celebratory and a time when congratulations are in order. As the Three of Wands brings completion to one's first efforts in an endeavor, the Four of Wands allows for those involved in the cooperative effort to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor, to congratulate one another on their accomplishment, to dance and eat and drink and just have some fun. For this reason, this card is associated with home, establishing a home, housewarmings, wedding and baby showers, christenings, wedding receptions, or just a fun get together with friends. Often readers will see this card as someone moving house, but it's after the fact. The person has moved and set up residence already. The actual moving part would be seen in the Two of Wands (the planning, the researching real estate) and the Three of Wands (working with agents and movers and financial institutions or even just getting friends with a U-Haul to help). The four means you need to go shopping for a housewarming gift for your next visit.
The Four of Pentacles puts a different kind of spin on the stability of the fours. While it is the establishment of material gain, there is a certain solidity that is a little too settled for one's own good. This four resists sharing and giving because it fears change. Well, if there's anything constant about life it is change, so resist as one might, you will either change or be forced to face change. There is a lot of hard work that went into establishing your current sense of security, so it's very understandable why you may want to just sit there on your four pentacles and resist both gain and loss. You have enough, why risk it? However, nature is about growth. Stagnant material just sits there and deteriorates. Change happens one way or another. In many decks this is seen as the "Miser" card. This is someone fearful of losing what he has so he clings ever the tighter to it. Through the fast-paced Two of Pentacles into the mastering of skills in the Three, the Four just wants to be left alone with his stuff. He likes this plateau very much, thank you, don't push him to change anything. In business, in life, if you don't keep up with the pace you're sunk. To get you have to give. In this four there is a lesson learned about that. Stability is temporary, always. As sure and solid as the earth may feel under your feet, there are undercurrent and terrestrial shifts you don't know about until the earth cracks and shakes things down to their foundations. Nothing is entirely solid, so you may as well go with the flow. Don't be afraid of change. Not changing is much worse.
The thing to remember about the fours is that they are, as all of life's phases, temporary. Most of the time they represent brief respites, not long convelescence. These times are absolutely necessary for growth and change, though it may seem like nothing much is happening during a four time. As we take a look at the five's in tarot, you'll better understand why this regrouping and recouping time was to your benefit. You're gonna need all the energy you have to deal with the five's.
Tarot of the White Cats by Severino Baraldi © 2005 Lo Scarabeo ISBN# #073870463-6Hudes Tarot Deck by Susan Hudes Published by US Games Copyright 1995Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood Copyright 1999 Published by Llewellyn Worldwide
The Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti Copyright 2004 Published by Llewellyn Worldwide