Tarot Card Meanings: 5 of Cups

The 5 of Cups is a card of loss, emptiness, disillusionment, and regret.  Often times considered the “spilled milk” card, as in the clichéd adage “No use crying over spilled milk,” this card is one of the more nuanced in the deck.  It’s energy is that of of an almost natural dissipation and decline, thus distinguishing it from the violence and suddenness of the 10 of Swords, and it is distinctly emotional.  No one dies, no one deceives you, there are no bogeymen, you’re simply disappointed in someone or something.

The traditional Rider-Waite image shows a cloaked man in black mourning three spilled cups while two remain upright behind him.  Most interpretations admonish the querent to look at what they still have, figured by the two full cups behind him, in lieu of mourning the loss.  But I’m not so sure…

The 5 of Cups often times speaks of a fundamental miscalculation that predates the existential loss, as in the statement: “If I knew then what I know now.”  Thus, if the querent should do anything, they should be glad to be out of their previous situation; it was premised upon their own ignorance.  With that said, time for processing (feeling sad) should be encouraged and allotted.  This card is profoundly normal.  It is not the end of the world, but rather the end of an illusion.

Dali is on point in his representation of the 5 of Cups.  Using a (Rococo?) nude, bathing woman as the central figure, he has positioned her under an archway, on the edge of two worlds.  The world which she leaves is tiled white, empty save the five cups in their traditional Rider-Waite formation.  This world looks like a locker room, like the lowest and most hackneyed imagery Surrealism has to offer (thanks Dali!), like some bad Tom Petty video (Tom Petty fans, see Comments section below.)

She has been living under a false sky, a matte turquoise wall that has blocked her from a wild and mountainous countryside.  The distinction in texture and detail from one world to the next is outstanding.   To her left, a few brush strokes constitute a male figure.  He appears illusory, a figment amid ochre smoke.  She gestures towards him in parting.  She belongs in that countryside, she is clean, and yet her figure is haloed in an opaque black.

The 5 of Cups can feel scary and sad, but it’s also perfectly healthy.  As such, I prefer to see it more as an “Oops-a-daisy” card.  If the milk didn’t spill, it would have soured anyway, since you can’t have your milk and drink it, too.  But that doesn’t mean that the idea or dream of the milk won’t be missed.  The 5 of Cups is like a too fresh, wannabe nostalgia.  You may be bereft over what you never really had — an ideal — but to the extent that you thought you had it, the realization stings.


**While all manner of comments are welcomed, any further information pertaining to art history, symbolism, myth, cultural reverberations, and Tarot card meanings that traverse decks or lend especial light to the Universal Dali deck, specifically, are actively sought and encouraged.  I’m not using a book for these descriptions, so I may miss a reference that bears mention in relation to a card.  If you know something, please share it!

Conversely, I actively negate the astrological significations of the Trump cards within the Universal Dali deck in favor of the more traditional Thoth.  My plan is to tackle the astrological significations of the Universal Dali Trumps and their overt divergence from all norms in one article… after having described each card.  That’s a ways off.  ;)

Numerological Affiliations: XV. The Devil5 of Wands5 of Swords5 of Pentacles

To visit the Tarot card library, click here.

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