Tarot card meanings

What is the Meaning of 5 of Cups?

The 5 of Cups is a card that grieves. But is really a wet rag of unhappiness as it seems? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?

Let’s find out.

The Hidden Story of the 5 of Cups

All Tarot cards tell a story that is unique to them. The 5 of Cups is no different.

5 of cups fairytale
5 of Cups, Fairy Tale Tarot by Yoshi Yoshitani

When we see this image, we immediately latch on to the woman’s sadness.

Her grief is so strong that she dominates the entire card. Yet it is not the image of a person whose world has suddenly fallen apart. This is the portrait of the aftermath.

The 5 of Cups represents a person or a situation that is already steeped in heartbreak and sadness. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

In this card, the girl is standing in the middle of a frigid body of water, surrounded by floating cups. Two more cups sit on the shore behind her.

To any casual onlooker it would appear that the woman is so sad about spilling the contents of her cups in the river that she can’t see the two still standing tall and full behind her.

Since the Suit of Cups represents the element Water, the cause of the woman’s heartbreak is transparent. Water governs emotions. Therefore, this sadness is because of an emotional trauma.

We all have experienced our fair share of heartbreak. So we know how terrible it feels, and how all-consuming it can be. That’s how this woman feels. She is so consumed by her sorrows that she has become a non-functional entity in her life.

But is her expression of grief justified? No. Look around the woman in the picture—

There is a full moon high up in a clear night sky. The air feels fresh. And in the distance stands a mansion with warm lights twinkling within.

The lady is standing in the middle of a world that is full of wonder, but all she can see is her grief. That’s the hidden story of the 5 of Cups.

The Meaning of the 5 of Cups

Every Tarot card has a positive and a negative meaning. The 5 of Cups is no different.

The Negative 5 of Cups

When the 5 of Cups shows up as a negative card, it represents pessimism: Your cup is half-empty. You cannot see the wonders of the world. And you are consumed by your pain.

This card represents an emotional wreck who is unwilling to leave this desolate state.

It speaks of depression setting in. The emotional wound is festering since it has no positive path of flow.

It is a spiral of one bad feeling feeding another, which grows stronger and darker with every moment that passes by.

The Positive 5 of Cups

Optimism is the antidote to pessimism.

5 of cups shadowscapes
5 of Cups, Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

When the 5 of Cups shows up bearing a positive message, it is telling you that although your heart was broken, it happened for a very good reason. All you have to do is look up from your ball of sorrow to see the reason why.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Optimism does not mean you suppress your pain. That is dangerous.

Optimism is about feeling your grief, but also having the strength to take a step back and see that there are opportunities that opened up because of the heartbreak. As they say — “When one door closes, a thousand more open up.”

Therefore, the positive 5 of Cups asks you to allow yourself to express the pain, but also take action to heal yourself by engaging with the world again.

It will seem difficult at first—clouds of grief can be terribly dense—but once you realize that all is not lost (your still have 2 cups standing) that’s when you start to rebuild yourself and allow the wound to heal.

A Numerological Insight into the 5 of Cups


While the images and symbols on the card will get you far, there is another aspect of the 5 of Cups that we still haven’t discussed, which can aid you greatly in interpreting it. It is the significance of the number 5.

In numerology, the number 5 is the number of change. It represents the need for constant stimulation, change of scene, emotional highs and lows, and a general instability.

But like everything else, 5 also has its positive and negative sides—

A positive number 5 represents an individual or situation that embraces change. These are the people who do not join cults or follow the crowd.

Fives are the ones willing to learn from everything and everyone. They crave stimulation and new opportunities. They do not like throwing down roots.

When the 5 of Cups reflects this positive aspect of the number 5, we see it reflecting the sentiments of change. It asks you to embrace the world and find something new and shiny. It beckons you to grow and leave the old behind.

But 5 also has a negative side.

The negative 5 stands for instability and lack of focus. It represents an individual who hasn’t found their path in life, and are meandering every which way to find something they truly like. It is a number of dissatisfaction with what you have.

That’s why when the 5 of Cups reeks of negativity, it reflects this inherent pessimism. After all, pessimistic people are more prone to letting things go and giving up on life because they are unsatisfied with what they have.

Call to Action

Tarot cards don’t stand in vacuum. They rely on each other to tell you the entire story. That’s why you should never read the card meanings given anywhere and believe that is it.

It never is.

The 5 of Cups you have turned up has a unique story to tell based on your unique situation in life. And this story has the ability to morph and change. That’s why you can sometimes get different impressions from the same card in different readings.

Keep this in mind and you will be far ahead of most readers.

But knowing the meaning alone is not enough. You need to actively engage with the card.

To help you out with that, I have created a free PDF worksheet. Use it as a prompt along with your card to decipher its unique story. You can even journal about it later to cement it in your mind. Just go ahead and take a printout. And then go crazy with the work-boxes.  🙂

Download your PDF by right-clicking on the link below and pressing “Save Link As…”.

Download the 5 of Cups Worksheet

Once you are done, share your insights below. Tarot is an exceptionally good storyteller, and there is a high chance your impressions might be something none of us have ever seen before.

Share your thoughts in the comments and help us all grow. #whatgoesaroundcomearound

If you loved this post, share it. You never know who you might be helping out.

Wondering what to read next? Try these:-

Take your knowledge of the 5 of Cups to the next level. Learn about the Reversed 5 of Cups.

Or download your free copy of the Ultimate Guide to the Tarot Fool.


2 thoughts on “What is the Meaning of 5 of Cups?”

  1. this is brilliant my dear — you are such an excellent writer! I also believe that each card has a negative and positive story to tell, and I love the way you articulated this one. Sometimes I feel like the five of cups or three of swords can in a way be giving permission to people to feel their feelings, which is so important, as you wrote about above. I’ve seen this card come up for myself and for a friend when we were both really sad but were suppressing those feelings and trying to ignore them. The cards are so great as a reality check in that way — no matter which cards come up, they’re saying “hey. this is what’s going on inside!” and that’s so helpful, because it’s often (at least for me!) something you don’t quite what to look at or acknowledge.

    PS: loved hearing back from you about your grounding!!!! thank you – you described that so well yet again, I totally get those vibes too =)


    1. Thank you, Avis! 😀

      I tend to suppress my emotions too, although it is not as much as it used to be before I found Tarot. The cards sure know how to slap us with cold hard reality. Can’t wait to read more on your site! You always have fascinating things going on there. 🙂


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