King of Cups Explained - Upright & Reversed Meanings
Last Updated: November 7, 2023
The King of Cups is the fourteenth card in the Suit of Cups (also known as the suit of Goblets or Vessels) and one of the fifty-six suit cards from the minor arcana. In divinatory tarot, the Suit of Cups is typically associated with the element of water.
It traditionally represents emotions, intuition, relationships, and creativity. Each card of this suit can provide insight into different aspects of our lives such as love, friendship, family, and emotional well-being.
The King of Cups is renowned for their emotional maturity, wisdom, compassion and creativity. When their world is in equilibrium they’re able to respond to the needs of others, explore their creative inspirations and express themselves fully. They’re large and in charge when it comes to understanding their emotions and maintaining balance in their inner world.
When they’re still working to master their emotions they may be prone to a lack of objectivity, manipulation of others and emotional imbalance. As they learn to temper the deep currents of their emotions and refine their ability to be empathetic they are able to heal old wounds, promote inclusivity and maintain productivity.
Divination practices such as cartomancy can help us make decisions, offer guidance, and help us tune into our intuition when we are at a crossroads in our lives. Understanding the meanings of each tarot card can help you sharpen your interpretative skills so you can get the most out of your readings.
In this article, we will discuss the meanings of the King of Cups in various tarot reading contexts as well as the different symbols and nuances that can be found within this court card.
Pictorial Symbolism in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck
Typically, this card shows a king sitting on their throne amidst the sea, a cup in one hand, and a sceptre in the other. The objects in his hands highlight power, control and emotional mastery.
The cup is a direct symbol of the water suit and indicates a connection to the inner world, our emotions and our intuition. The sceptre is also a nod to the creativity found within our subconscious mind.
It can be noted that this king’s gaze looks off into the distance, traditionally indicating that their focus is elsewhere, presumably because they’ve already mastered their emotions and they are fully in control yet balanced.
One of the king’s feet is positioned close to the water’s edge, symbolising balance, control and connection to the depths of their inner world. They don’t need to dip their toes to recognise and understand their emotions or to maintain emotional balance. They utilise their intuition and allow themselves to be a manipulator of the waves (emotions), without being consumed by them.
Other symbols commonly seen with this card are the fish, the sea and the ship. Fish symbology points to creativity, emotion, intuition, the subconscious and abundance. The sea signifies hidden depths, and it too links to intuition and emotion.
The sea is also a powerful force and can be calm or turbulent, but always vast and mysterious. And the ship represents journeying, whether physically or spiritually, and as it sits upon the water it also signifies the deeper aspects of our psyche and subconscious; highlighting the need to uncover what we’re carrying with us and where we’re navigating to.
The King of Cups key correspondences
Emotional balance, Compassion, Diplomacy, Creativity, Wisdom, Tolerance and Devotion
Emotional imbalance, Indifference, Manipulation, Unproductive, Dishonesty, Repression and Violence
|Yes or No|
Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio
(Pisces season, dates according to Decan Wheel etc) 9 February – 10 March
Neptune, Njord, Poseidon, Odin
What does the upright King of Cups mean in the Tarot?
The King of Cups upright denotes emotional maturity or mastery and points to someone moving into a space that is balanced, nurturing and creative. If referring to a person they may be becoming aware of their intuitive ability and are now able to recognise and understand how their actions and words affect not only themselves but others around them. This open and compassionate awareness is going to assist them in a myriad of situations, allowing them to sit comfortably in their inner knowledge.
When faced with a challenge, this king encourages you to avoid quick or hot-tempered reactions, instead take a moment to pause and sit with your emotions until you can react in a more measured and sympathetic way.
Take responsibility for your emotions, actions and words, and be guided by your empathy.
What does the upright King of Cups mean in a love reading
Warm, nurturing, and passionate might be the perfect words to describe either the situation, the connection or the person. This king suggests fulfilment on an emotional level, as well as passionate and romantic levels.
If referring to a person it can denote someone who is adept at anticipating your wants, supporting you when you most need it and nurturing your needs. They could be more experienced or emotionally mature and as such offer a strong, intimate relationship that allows you both to grow as individuals. A long-term partnership for long-term benefits.
If you’re single, this might be a good omen when it comes to getting back on the dating horse. You might have taken the time to learn your value and drilled down what you really want in a relationship and partner. Don’t avoid emotional vulnerability or be afraid to attract what you deserve.
What does the upright King of Cups mean in a career reading?
This suggests a working environment or opportunity that is fulfilling and creatively inspiring. It might also be a career that nourishes your, or others, emotional and spiritual well-being. And could be a platform for you to share your wisdom and/or support and uplift others.
There’s likely going to be a healthy work-life balance available, where you are respected by those around you and allowed to utilise your skills to help or heal – or perhaps to expand culturally, emotionally and/or artistically.
What does the upright King of Cups mean in a health reading?
In regard to health, there’s a particular emphasis on your emotional well-being. Take care to focus on your inner world – how are you dealing with your emotions and how is this affecting yourself, and others around you?
If you’ve been unwell this might be an indicator of healing and good health to come. Identify any imbalances in your health with a view to working to rebalance.
This is a reminder to treat yourself kindly and with empathy, just as you would with others.
The King of Cups as feelings/emotions
If you are asking the tarot how someone feels about you, pulling the King of Cups means that someone has loving, nurturing and passionate feelings towards you. It might indicate a balanced deep emotional connection and likely suggests very positive and warm feelings which are grounded in reality.
The King of Cups as a person
As a personality archetype, the King of Cups represents someone who is empathic, intuitive, jovial and sincere. They’re likely a master of their emotions, wise and artistic in nature.
They are responsible in a way that allows them to assist others before themselves, alongside being compassionate and diplomatic. In Jungian archetypes, I would say this is the Father or the Husband (sponsus).
They’ve done the emotional work meaning they’re living a balanced life and are in control of their emotional well-being. This person is skilled at healing emotional scars, celebrates differences and promotes understanding.
As someone who is emotionally strong, they’ll also have highly developed social skills, be naturally diplomatic and protective, and will likely be someone well-liked because you can always count on them.
The King of Cups as a job/vocation
As a vocation, career or job role, the King of Cups represents someone who is a wise and compassionate leader. They have a great ability to listen, understand and provide valuable feedback and guidance. They can see from many different perspectives and endeavour to always be inclusive.
This person makes for a devoted counsellor, advisor, therapist, teacher, or artist.
The King of Cups as advice
If you are asking the tarot for advice regarding a specific situation in your life, pulling the King of Cups means that you need to take a moment to find your equilibrium. This might require a pause whilst you regain your composure and balance your emotions. Now is not the time to emotionally react.
Be kind with yourself whilst you move to a more grounded position. Emotions will need to be navigated with compassion in order for you to see clearly now.
Draw on your intuition and creative inspiration.
What is the zodiac or astrological sign associated with the King of Cups?
The King of Cups is associated with water zodiac signs, in particular Pisces. Water signs are all about intuition, creativity, sensitivity and emotions.
Pisces are known for their deep feelings, creative inspiration and inner wisdom, which are also associated with the King of Cups. Pisces are able to create something from nothing and utilise their social intelligence to connect with people on a deep level.
Both the King of Cups and Pisces possess a high level of maturity and wise perspective, making them highly sensitive, romantic, and devoted. They’re also compassionate, thoughtful and insightful.
Other water signs which are also associated with the King of Cups are Cancer and Scorpio. Cancerians are known for their ability to connect on an emotional level. When combined with the King of Cups they represent nurturers who are empathetic and imaginative. Scorpio folk are known for emotional fluidity and smart decision-making. When combined with the King of Cups they represent controlled emotions and sweeping energies.
Is the King of Cups a yes or no card?
The King of Cups is a ‘yes’ card, particularly when it relates to emotions and creativity. This is a card of confidence, security, balance and generosity, often leading to an abundance of all kinds. This ‘yes’ is intuitively positive in nature.
Below are some of my interpretations, as an experienced tarot practitioner, based on different types of questions:
Querent Question: “Will I get the job?”
- Card interpretation: The King of Cups suggests security when it comes to your career and might refer to a job, which is fulfilling in an emotional an/or creative capacity. You should be appreciated and respected in your given role, afforded a productive and inspirational environment and your work-life balance should be healthy.
Querent Question: “Is this new person in my life good for me?”
- Card interpretation: Yes! This person should be compassionate, loving and empathetic. They’ll likely be someone who is able to support you and your endeavours, your emotions, wants and needs. A balance between head and heart is also present, making the connection a deep and peaceful one.
Querent Question: “Will I achieve my current goals?”
- Card interpretation: You’re going to be able to draw upon your intuition, creative intelligence and emotional maturity to reach your goals. Finding a balance between heart and head is going to allow you to remain grounded and clear-minded when it comes to planning and attaining these goals.
Querent Question: “Should I start my own business?”
- Card interpretation: If you’re looking for a career or vocation that is going to fulfil you emotionally and creatively, it might be a great idea to start your own business instead of working for someone else. This card indicates someone who is responsible when it comes to money, and creative when it comes to everything else. Don’t be against fatherly advice or a warm mentor to assist you.
What does the reversed King of Cups mean in the Tarot?
The King of Cups reversed points to an imbalance when it comes to emotions, suggesting over-sensitivity and/or overreaction when it comes to emotions or an emotionally fuelled situation.
If referring to a person they might be emotionally imbalanced or immature, where they lack self-assurance/confidence leading to them being emotionally manipulative or needy. They may need constant reassurance, and display moods that are difficult for others to deal with.
In regard to challenges, this king can make snap judgments and decisions, and react out of emotional confusion or anger. It can point to unhealed emotional wounds.
It might be that you are letting your inner peace be controlled by outside sources, which can lead to anxiety and/or depression.
Identify your emotional imbalances and realise you have the inner compassion and control to change this.
What does the reversed King of Cups mean in a love reading?
Distant, emotionally immature and manipulative may be some of the words used to describe the situation, connection or person. This king reversal suggests a lack of support and empathy, which could cause problems when it comes to partnerships.
At worst, it can indicate violence and repression. If you find yourself in an unsafe setting, now is the time to get support for yourself away from this individual.
If referring to a person, it can denote someone who is not emotionally mature enough to deal with your wants and needs, let alone their own. It could stem from genuine past emotional distress, but in the end, it causes them to find it challenging to treat you with the respect and consideration you deserve.
If you’re single, this card suggests you need to create an environment for yourself where you can address old wounds and heal. It might mean removing yourself from a particular situation.
Hold space for yourself in a safe and compassionate way to understand what you really need and deserve.
What does the inverted King of Cups mean in a career reading?
As a vocation, career or job role, the King of Cups reversed represents someone who is cold and ruthless. They might be keen to advance at any cost, and not care who they stand on to get to the top. It might denote an environment which is unfulfilling, making you feel lack-lustre, disregarded, and unappreciated.
You might be in a role which is paying the bills, but you’re not feeling happy or fulfilled.
What does the upside-down King of Cups mean in a health reading?
In regard to health, there might be a warning when it comes to certain coping mechanisms; such as drug and alcohol use, and codependent relationships. There’s an emphasis on your emotional well-being, where your inner world may be leading to things like anxiety or depression, or even explosive rage or larger-scale emotional reactions.
It’s time to focus on your emotional well-being and identify how you can regain balance. Take responsibility for your actions and meet yourself with kindness and compassion.
In conclusion, the King of Cups card is a powerful symbol of emotional balance, compassion, diplomacy, creativity, wisdom, tolerance and devotion. When this card appears in your reading, it is often a sign you have a caring wisdom that is needed in your life, or your communities life, right now. Listening is just as important as taking action, however, and sometimes just being there for yourself can give you the energy to be there for others.
Despite its association with mysticism and occultism, the tarot has grown to become much more than a simple “fortune-telling” tool. For many tarot practitioners, it is a complex system made of symbolic imagery and psychological considerations (Jungian archetypes for example) that can be used for self-exploration, meditation, and personal transformation.
The 56 lesser arcana cards relate to the day-to-day events of our lives, the more mundane aspects of our existence. Even though that part of the tarot is about the “smaller picture”, it symbolizes the constant choices we make that shape our lives, our characters, and ultimately our destinies.
Have you ever had a reading where the King Of Cups appeared? What was the outcome? What does that card mean to you personally? How do you interpret this card in your own tarot practice?
Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments below. Additionally, If you want to know more about the different tarot cards, feel free to check out my complete list of all 78 tarot cards and their meanings.
Written by Vicky McAfee
Vicky McAfee is a witch, empath, creator, and writer. She’s a professional divination reader, dream decoder, and witchy business owner. Through her website and Instagram page Medieval Morticia she offers knowledge, guidance, and support through a variety of divination and witchery tools.