Eight of Cups – learning to let go

I like this card very much – it has a good, wise resonance. It came up in the reading I’ve just done for myself, and begs a little further exploration.

Eight of Cups tarot card - Erin Morgenstern

The Eight of Cups from the Phantomwise Tarot, by Erin Morgenstern

The image is relatively consistent across decks, usually showing someone turning away from their cups. Why are they doing this? What are they feeling?

It’s a card about making a choice – perhaps not an easy one, but one that has become more and more clearly the right one. The person’s cups are still standing, still full, there’s nothing apparently ‘wrong’ with them, and we might wonder why they are turning away. But this person knows something about the cups, and they know something about themselves. Whilst their current situation seems to onlookers to be pootling along nicely, they know that the time has come to leave it behind. Their turning away could be an act of self-protection, or to protect someone else, or it could be a preventative measure. Maybe they are letting go of an old longing or pain, or an old hope that they now know will never bear fruit. It could be weariness or boredom and a knowledge that to leave is the only way to reawaken themselves. It could be that where they are going is even better. Sometime a good situation just runs its course. We get all itchy, we feel doubtful, we question ourselves. It could be that it’s time to do something new.

In many versions of this card, the figure is wearing a travelling cloak, suggesting that they are at the start of a long journey. In the Phantomwise (above), they are climbing a long staircase, literally raising themselves up. So when I say ‘it’s time to try something new’, I don’t feel that this means getting bored halfway through a film and switching the channel. It feels more like choosing to begin a new phase of our lives, changing the way we think, or finding out something about ourselves. In the Shadowscapes Tarot (below), a mermaid with a little headlamp dives into the darkness of the deep sea, her glowing light guiding her through all that subconscious, unconscious, emotion, spirit…all that water represents.

Eight of Cups tarot card - Shadowscapes Tarot

The Eight of Cups from the Shadowscapes Tarot, by Stephanie Law

Whatever the reasons behind the journey, there are two ideas to focus on in this card. One is of course the journey and its purpose. The other is the loss of what is left behind. Even if we know the time is right to move forward, it can be hard to say goodbye to our old selves, our home, those feelings, or whatever it is we are leaving. My guess is that the figure on the card did not simply one day turn their back, but has said a farewell to what will soon become the past. A sense of closure pervades the card, a sense of emotional responsibility. It’s a card of sadness, but of hope too, reminding us to have respect for every self we are, but not to be afraid to move on to the next.

6 comments

  1. Little Red says:

    Great, thanks very much! You should definitely check out the Shadowscapes, it's such a lovely deck, and has a unique interpretation of so many of the cards – the imagery is very different from the traditional ideas, and yet not so much of a departure as to be confusing. All the cups are mermaids, and I love the wands/foxes too :)<br> xx

  2. George says:

    This card – I have the Shadowscapes tarot too- gives me a very heremit-ous feel…
    I am actually kinda confused between the overlapping / difference between the two.
    Any thoughts?

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Hey George, well for me, the Eight of Cups is about walking away from something – maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe both… whereas I think of the hermit more about taking some time alone, for a kind of conscious self-reflection, exploration.

  3. Fiona says:

    Beth this is amazingly timely, thank you, certainly finding a point at present where an old path of life seems to have run its course and a new one is beckoning. Blessings.

  4. angharadlois says:

    Thank you for sharing your interpretation, it really resonates with me right now. I felt drawn to this card as I was shuffling my deck earlier this evening. It’s a new moon – in my natal moon sign no less – and I’m at a crossroads, knowing I need to move on but finding it hard to let go, so drawing this card was wonderful synchronicity.

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