Your Cup Runneth Over: the Ace of Cups

Your guide to understanding and interpreting the first card in the Cups suite

ace of cups graphic

Image courtesy of Dark Days Tarot.  

Aces are the first cards in the minor arcana suites, and unlike many faerie tale beginnings, they’re often wonderful and generous origins for that suite’s journey.  The Cups suite represents water and the emotional realm, and so the Ace of Cups is the fortuitous beginning to an emotional journey.  

Over the next few minutes, we’ll dive into this card and cover:

  • What the Ace of Cups means
  • How to work on developing your understanding of the Ace of Cups
  • Working with the Ace of Cups in a reading

Pour your favorite drink in your favorite drinking vessel, and let’s go!

Here we see some traditional symbols in the artwork-- the cup, water, lotus blossoms-- what do the symbols mean?  Image courtesy of A Little Spark of Joy.  

What does the Ace of Cups mean?

When addressing the meanings of cards in tarot, it’s necessary to address whether or not you read reversals-- when the card appears upside-down.  It’s a personal choice whether or not to read a card as a reversal, and there are several arguments both for and against doing so.  Let us know if you’d like us to dive more deeply into this topic!  

In this article, we’ll cover both meanings, just in case.  

The upright Ace of Cups indicates new beginnings in an emotional landscape-- new love, empathy, compassion, and happiness.  The old expression in the title-- “your cup runneth over”-- applies here.  Abundance, joy, all of the feel-good emotions are bubbling up like a fountain and spilling over-- your heart is so full, you must share it.  

There’s a bit of a focus on forming new relationships with this card.  Don’t narrow your sight to just romantic ones-- this ace is very social, and the relationships can be of all sorts, including platonic or even with the self.  

The reversed Ace of Cups isn’t as solemn or soul-sucking as you might think.  That’s because, generally speaking, reversal doesn’t mean opposite in the sense of all-or-nothing.  Reversals really point to blockages, lessons, and pointers about divine timing.  The Ace of Cups Rx can mean that something is blocking the flow of emotion-- that it’s stopped or has become stagnant, or that hostility exists instead.  However, it could simply indicate that the beginning will be a rocky one, or that it’s delayed because not everything is in alignment yet.  

It could also simply mean that it’s time to dump out the cup’s old water and fill it with new, fresh water.  Perhaps toxic patterns need to be broken in order for the water to flow again.  Even when the Ace of Cups is upside-down, there is still opportunity.  You need to look for the lesson, or to see if there is something not quite in alignment to unblock the flow.  

A reversed Ace of Cups can also be a distinct warning sign that your cup has been empty for too long, and is thirsty.  Perhaps you’ve poured too much into others.  Now it’s time to focus on yourself, and nourish your soul.  Refill your cup, and perhaps remember not to pour so much into others.  

There are benefits to reading reversals, and to not reading reversals.  You decide to read them or not.  Image courtesy of 78 Nights of Tarot.  

Building your relationship with the Ace of Cups

If you’ve read any of our major arcana series, you know that the symbolism of the tarot card artwork is vital to furthering your understanding of how the card works in a reading.  Understanding symbolism is something of a dying art, considering the general lack of spirituality in the world today, and the exclusionary practices of most institutional religious organizations.  For example, if you’ve never gone to Christian services or read the old Greco-Roman myths about the Three Fates, you’d be missing key pieces of the symbolism behind the number 3.  

So taking the time to research and understand the key symbols in a tarot card’s artwork is important.  By looking at where symbols are echoed in the tarot card reading, you can work out connections intuitively that you might otherwise miss.  

The key symbols in the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Ace of Cups artwork are-- naturally enough-- the cup, water, and the hand emerging from the clouds.  The water flowing from the cup is in five distinct streams.  

Cups are vessels-- they contain and hold, but have an opening to allow freedom of movement when tipped the right way.  Water is classically the element which brings life, and is therefore classified as a “feminine” element.  It’s also representative of emotions, intuition, and spirituality-- perhaps because women were traditionally the “nurturers” and instilled religiosity in their families.  (Please note that we are not archeologists, claiming facts, nor are we making any claims that are gender-biased.)  Since water has a “surface” and a “deep,” it also represents the unconscious.  

The hand represents holding, and the dove with the Eucahrist in its mouth represents celestial peace.  The streams of water are intuition and feelings, which pour into the lake below filled with lotus flowers.  Use this as the starting point for your research-- What is the significance of the number 5 in the streams of water pouring from the cup?  What does the lake symbolize?  What do the lotus flowers symbolize?  

It’s also important to look at research on other types of vessels, and stories about famous cups.  For example, look up the history of cauldrons and bowls.  But also, read up on the Holy Grail-- especially since some readers see the Ace of Cups as the Holy Grail-- and Cauldron of Cerridwen.  Read up on water myths and legends, such as Lady of the Lake, the Sirens in Greco-Roman mythology, and the birth of Venus.  

Other information worth noting are the zodiac water signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces as well as its connection to the planet Mercury-- the planet that rules communication.  

Other questions to consider and journal about:

  • What is your relationship like with your emotions-- ALL of your emotions?  
  • Do you block yourself from feeling emotions?  Why?  
  • What is your relationship with water?  How could you build up on that?  
  • How can you nurture your emotions?  
  • What shadow work do you need to do to address the origins of your harder emotions?  
  • What major arcana cards share symbols with the Ace of Cups?  What do you think the connections are?  
  • Where can you nourish more love in your life-- all different kinds of love?  
  • How do you dive heart-first into this world?

Next up, we’ll talk about interpreting the Ace of Cups in a reading.  

Take the time to develop a relationship with and understanding of this card.  It will spark your intuition and make your interpretations of readings more accurate, and less reliant upon guidebooks.  Image courtesy of Veil and Vow Tarot.  

How to interpret the Ace of Cups in a reading

Whenever you are interpreting a card in your reading, take into account the position of the card in the reading, the meaning of the card, and how it fits into the narrative of the question.  If there are any similarities in symbols on the artwork, look at how they’re connected, too.  Here’s an example of what we mean:

Andrew has been feeling more and more distant from the friends he’s had since grade school.  He no longer feels part of the group, and isn’t sure what he should do about it.  So he shuffles his cards, and does a Past, Present, Future reading.  He pulls the 3 of Cups, The Moon, and the Ace of Cups in succession.  


3 of Cups: Joy, Celebration with friends

The Moon: hidden fears, subconscious fears, unresolved issues, phases

Ace of Cups: New Beginnings, feelings of abundance, overflowing with good vibes

In relationship to their positions, the 3 of Cups refers to what has passed and is no longer around.  The Moon is the current situation and the Ace of Cups is the future.  When we put this together with the question at hand, we get the following train of thought:

The 3 of Cups indicates that the joy and belonging that this group of friends made Andrew feel in the past served his highest good, but that it’s over now.  Followed by The Moon in the present, which indicates that Andrew may not want to face that it’s over-- let’s face it, making new friends and walking away from ones who, while you love them, no longer serve your highest purpose is HARD-- the friendship will always tie them together emotionally, but the karmic chords need to be cut.  He owes them gratitude, and should move on.  The Ace of Cups in the future position indicates that moving on and finding emotional new beginnings with new people will happen and will serve his highest good.  Additionally, every card in this reading features water in the artwork, a symbol we know means emotions.  The Moon controls the tides, so it’s another reminder that the unrealized or unfaced fears of losing friends has been controlling Andrew’s ability to start with fresh friends.  

Therefore, Andrew decides it’s time to find folks who hold the best qualities of his old friends, with none of the qualities he felt were separating him from the previous group.  In fact, he should take a look at everyone he’s been talking to casually-- chances are, he’s already found his new tribe and just needs to see them in the right light.  

How would you interpret these cards together?  Image courtesy of Free Tarot Telesummit--  

Now it’s your turn to try this process.  

Let’s keep the same inquiry, but change up some of  the cards.  

Past: Ace of Cups

Present: Two of Swords

Future: The Hermit

Remember to first look at the meaning of the card, then at the card’s position in the reading, how it relates to the question, and finally if there are any shared symbols in the artwork.  Then put them together into the narrative that advises Andrew.  Leave your interpretation in the comments below!  

Jean Linder

Jean Linder is a writer and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA.
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