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King of Cups Meaning – Smith-Waite Centennial

Today we say hello to another tarot court card as the King of Cups sails in hot on the trail of yesterday's Knight of Swords. The King of Cups is our very first King here on the Card of the Day blog!

While Pages represent hopeful newcomers with limited experience and a playful attitude, and Knights are devout champions of their respective causes, Kings represent both authority and relative inertia. As Gina of Incandescent Tarot explains, "Like the Queens they are fully in control of their suit and element, having learned to master it after years of study, dedication, and real-life practice."

King of Cups Rider-Waite-Smith or RWS tarot card pictured with small seashells and a dark background. There's a detailed description of the imagery of the card in the body text of this article.

A brief word on Kings in the tarot

Some tarot readers view Kings as more accomplished or advanced characters than Queens because of the traditional hierarchy of the playing cards. (In the same way, non-tarot playing cards also value Kings above Queens.) But I share Gina's view that Queens and Kings represent similar mastery and experience. And as I wrote when we explored the meaning of the Queen of Pentacles card, the more Wiccan conception of masculine and feminine energies doesn't really inform my own tarot readings.

What does set the Queens and Kings apart—at least in single-card tarot spreads like our daily free readings here—is their individual personalities and depictions. So without further ado, let's take a closer look at today's tarot card, the wise and profoundly introspective King of Cups.

The King of Cups card in the Smith-Waite Centennial tarot deck

Cups are, of course, the suit of Water as an element. And their meaning hinges on emotions, relationships, instincts, and deep feelings generally. The King of Cups card is replete with symbols evoking mastery of the emotions. Here we see the deep wisdom that comes of introspection, as well as a carefully cultivated inner compassion.

The King of Cups figure sits on a shell-shaped throne, which is adrift on a wide and mercurial sea. The floating throne suggests that this figure is a world unto himself. His strength is no castle or army. Instead, it's his wisdom, and he carries it with him wherever he goes. His heavy robes of blue and green echo the colours of the water around him, while accents of vivid red remind us of the more heated emotions and match the sails of a ship that sails behind him.

Everything about the King of Cups' clothing calls us back to the ever-changing sea. His crown repeats the shell motif of his throne, and at its base, the gold is cast in waves that parallel the waters around him. From his neck hangs a golden amulet in the shape of a fish. To his right, a fish jumps out from the depths, echoing the King's necklace. Even the edging on the King's cloak is scallopped like a fish's scales. And likewise, the boots or armour peeping out from beneath the hem of his robes are scaled.

Finally, Cups themselves are—naturally enough—present in this card. The King holds a stately chalice in one hand, which is much less elaborate than the Queen of Cups' ornate goblet and more similar to the Page of Cups' vessel. And in his other hand, he holds a sceptre. This sceptre is itself shaped like a cup, underscoring his mastery of the suit's emotional wisdom, intuitive power, and interpersonal connections.

The King of Cups asks you to trust in your intuition and face your feelings openly

Today's tarot card is a powerful reminder that you should trust in your own intuition. Few of us have the emotional wisdom of the King of Cups. But all of us can get there by working on facing our feelings openly and getting to know ourselves a little better.

How often do you set aside time to really explore your feelings? I say "feelings" here and not emotions because I want to emphasize that our emotions are also somatic. They're physical as much as they are mental. And while Swords represent the mind and rational thought, Cups are about that intuitive reality that transcends the mental and the physical.

You can think of the King of Cups as someone who understands every gut reaction—every pang of worry and every spark of desire—because he has taken the time to study them deeply. His power comes from not tuning out his instinctive reactions. Instead, he rides them out and gets to know them intimately.

A simple King of Cups meditation to try today

To my knowledge, the best way of cultivating this kind of deep self-understanding is meditation. And there's a simple meditation you can try today to practice the skills that our King of Cups has fully mastered.

Start by setting a timer for just ten minutes. Find a place and position where you can be the most comfortable. But try not to worry if it's not completely quiet or if your body is in pain or discomfort that prevents you from completely distraction-free. It's a misconception that you have to completely tune out the world in order to effectively meditate! Instead, see if you can simply acknowledge any distractions as you start focusing your attention on your feelings.

Do you feel some emotions? Scan your body and your awareness to see what comes up for you. Can you name any feelings that come up? If you imagine them taking up physical space in or around your body, what are they shaped like? And where do they live? Is it possible to gentle explore the outlines of these shapes, to weigh them, or to gauge their temperature? Do they move around, or are they set in place? And if you focus your mind on exploring your feelings in these metaphorical ways, is it possible to feel them soften or melt away at all?

The is just the practice itself—don't worry about experiencing any specific outcomes

It's okay if your feelings don't change at all over the course of your meditation. And it's also okay if you don't come up with answers to any of these questions! The goal here is just to focus intentionally on the feelings that so often guide us but that we tend to ignore or intentionally avoid.

I hope that by trying out this mental exercise for ten minutes, until your timer goes off, you come away with a better understanding of what you're feeling and less fear of exploring those sensations and emotions. The King of Cups assures you that you're strong enough to do this inner work. And today's tarot card also reminds you that this kind of understanding is its own inner strength.


If you're looking for other ways to explore your emotions and focus your attention inward, tarot is a great tool for introspection. For years, tarot readings have been an important part of my own meditation practice. The classic tarot spreads below are a great way to gain a deeper perspective on any of the feelings, memories, urges, or sensations that come up for you in today's meditation. Just let me know if you'd like to book a tarot reading to take a closer look!