A more modern card conception (Source)
The Little White Book issued with the RWS reads "Weariness. Aversion. Disgust. Disappointment. Bitter experience. Stationary period in life"
Eden Gray's classic and forefront of modern tarot reading "A Complete Guide to the Tarot" gives this sad meaning- "A stationary period in one's life; weariness, surfeit."
And people stopped reading there? There are times where one really should have more - this being one- Gray offers it with additions to the card's meaning-
"Dissatisfaction with material success. Reevaluation of one's earthly pleasures"
I feel as though that last part, like in many quoted passages, gets left out, when indeed it matters much in context.
Rachel Pollack in 78 Degrees of Wisdom calls it "negative imagination" (apathy) making one, "Look at everything as worthless and boring."
Most Tarot teachers will tell you no card is inherently good or bad- and that fours represent structure and stability.
Here I think of comedian Jim Gaffigan's talk about explaining the idea of dining out in America to an impoverished person.
Think about it: You have an appetizer- food you eat before your meal
Then you have your meal. (More food!)
Top all of that off with dessert, the food you eat after you have eaten
twice already in one sitting!
That's 3 courses! (Three cups?)
Now, could you agree that after your three courses of food, that if when you returned home from the restaurant and someone who loves you had food specially prepared just for you that you would be thrilled? That you would joyfully partake?
And if you did not, how would it feel to be labeled as "ungrateful" and "bitter"? How could you do that to someone who loves you? You 4 of cups, you!
When you already have enough, more is not necessary. That is a tenant in approaching a balanced lifestyle.
If the number 4 is meant to be structure and stability, and cups the emotions, balanced emotions don't sound so "meh" as this card is often seen.
What about Reevaluation? A sorting out of emotions?
-Would some quiet time needed for that maybe?
Perhaps the original card was drawn while the figure was in mid contemplation daydream, in which the stagnation is only temporary?
Now Arthur Waite, who commissioned Pamela Coleman Smith to design the RWS deck, belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This hints at many "secrets" to be teased from the cards, and the group even brought in from astrology.
No initiation required to see if this helps the understanding of the card.
The astrology of the 4 of cups leads us to the 3rd Decan of Cancer (13-22 July)
Basic astrology research yields this data:
"The third Decan Cancer personality is characterized by intuition, empathy and optimism.
You are somewhat of a dreamer and like to fantasize stretching your vivid imagination. Poetry, creative writing or art are all areas you can excel in."
and ends with:
"You enjoy your own company and like to have time alone. These times allow you to dream some more and also are times when you can get in touch with your inner self and strengthen your intuitive skills."
Hmm- let's look at the 4 of cups card again?
Could the card ever just mean ignoring opportunity or dismay with current circumstance? Of course. In correspondence with the query and other cards in context, one can certainly see boredom and refusal of an offer, inspiration, or emotion. And one can get caught up in dreaming, and not doing.
Buddha is noted to have found enlightenment sitting in contemplation under a tree. He WAS dissatisfied with material wealth and desires, and found more by giving up most of every THING and concentrating on spiritual matters.
People approaching leaving less of a carbon footprint and those approaching minimalism often feel subtraction adds to one's lifestyle- deliberate refusal of duplicate additions is not rude or wasteful.
I'm not advocating either lifestyle for you, however, if it becomes a relevant point to reading, what a wonderful find.
Let my last sentence will summate the point of the card perfectly. Three words will be enough, the fourth so close, but not chosen.
Cliffhangers are so