The King of Cups depicts the King sitting upon his throne, holding a single cup in his right hand. Behind him is the sea, a ship sailing past. His throne is floating upon the water. In his left hand is a sceptre. A fish necklace hangs from his neck while the outline of a fish jumping from the waters can be seen on the right hand side.
Despite the turbulence of the seas behind him, the King of Cups sits expressionless upon his throne, seemingly ignorant of the seas around him. Water in the Tarot (and indeed the suit of cups) are indicative of emotions. The King, far from being ignorant, has learnt through his journey to accept things as they are. In the midst of the violent seas, he knows his emotions will not calm the seas nor change the path of things to come. Therefore he accepts the violent seas as they are. The King is in control of his own emotions.
The card suggests that we may need to control our emotions and likewise, remain calm through what may be difficult emotional times ahead. While ships are getting tossed around and our own throne is rocked back and forth by emotions, we need to keep our feelings and emotions in check and not let them control us. That is not to say that we should be emotionless and cold hearted. The King is actually a very caring yet calm individual. We all feel emotion, the message of the King of Cups is that we need to find the right balance between our intellect or logic and our emotions.
The symbols within the card reinforce the notion of power, control and emotion. The cup indicates emotion, solidly held by the hand, as if the cup (i.e. Emotions) and under his control. The sceptre indicates the King”s authority. The fish handing from his neck occurs a few times in the cups suit of the Tarot and is a symbol of life and renewal or fertility.
Reversed: The King of Cups reversed suggests that we may be allowing our emotions to control us. We may have lost our sense of reason or intellect and be driven by emotions to carry out actions that are neither wise nor helpful. In relationships, we may be acting on jealousy, revenge, out of love or insecurity. We need to control those emotions and ask ourselves if our actions are rational or logical. In work, our greed may be getting the better of us. In spiritual matters we may be taking short cuts so desperate are we for a connection with the divine.
In a sense, the King of Cups urges us to take a moment out. Sitting on his throne, the King is calm in the face of the dangerous seas. A toe next to the waters is symbolic of keeping him in touch with the sea of emotions aroud hism. Despite the hectic activities that may be swirling around us, we need to make time to contemplate our actions and give our intellect some space to analyze the situation.