Eight of Cups. divination

Tarot Talk

December, 2014

This month, we will talk about the Eight of Cups. On the surface, this one looks pretty depressing, but it’s a Cups card so it can’t be all bad! Let’s begin our process of breaking down this card.

The Eight of Cups is a Minor Arcana card, so we know right away that the message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. Notice right away that I am qualifying many of my statements with “most likely” or “usually”; as readers and interpreters and students of the Tarot we do need to remember that every message, no matter how insignificant or mundane on the surface, can also possibly be a symptom of a deeper or wider issue. Nothing in the Minor Arcana is in any way minor in nature.

The easiest way to get a decent understanding of a Minor Arcana card is to examine its number, or in the case of Court Cards, its rank, and to examine its suit. In this case, we are dealing with the number 8, and the suit of Cups. These two ingredients could actually give us enough information about this one card to offer a useful interpretation.

Let’s look at the number 8 first. I see the number 8 as telling me that I need to consciously act or choose the next step, and that I need to believe the next step I choose will bring something good. It is easier to understand the number 8, which is about deliberately reacting, if we understand the number 7, which is causing this deliberate reaction. The number 7 represents the pause that occurs as growth slows and the beginning of degeneration approaches. This pause usually requires a choice of some kind, usually either stick with what we have, or try for more. The number 8 offers the concept of a remedy or a reaction to the pause and approaching degeneration of the 7. The number 8 is kind of a kick in the pants, telling us we already have what we need to move forward, so move already. So, just by looking at the number of our card, we already know that the Eight of Cups is going to present some kind of deliberate action sourced from within us and in response to something happening around us.

The suit of Cups corresponds with the element of Water. Many Tarot decks use images of cups and water on their Minor Arcana Cups cards, and that will make it easy to connect with the symbolism of this suit. A nice place to begin is with the element of Water itself.

In its natural state, Water is cool and wet. When amassed, it has weight, and it tends to gather or pool at the lowest place. Because of this tendency, Water creates its own roadways or channels, and it prefers to use those already-in-place channels if it can. Water is used for cleaning and purifying, and Water can be a carrier for other substances. For instance, we can dissolve salt or sugar into warm Water, and use that concoction for other things. A body of Water can be calm and deep, or it can be dangerously churning and filled with powerful currents.

You can see just by examining the paragraph above just how easy it is to connect the element of Water to our feelings and emotions, and indeed, feelings and emotions are the main correspondences of the element of Water, and the suit of Cups. Emotions flow and have currents and eddies, a powerful wave of emotions can be cleansing, emotions can be hot and expanding or they can be bubbling upward, like steam, or cold and contracting and heavy, like ice, and our emotions can affect our physical bodies (which contain a lot of Water) and our health. Often, tears appear when we feel things strongly through sadness or joy or anger, as physical manifestations of those emotions.

Water also represents the Inner Voice and the subconscious. If we were to sit beside a lake on a calm, clear day, we can understand this connection. As we look out on the surface of the lake, we will see a reflection of the trees and hills, and even the clouds and the sky, on its surface. If we step closer and look down, we will see an image of our face and upper body, just as if we were looking into a mirror. If we were to step into that lake and keep moving away from the shore, we will discover the hidden depths of that lake, not visible from the surface. We can’t tell how deep the center of that lake will be by looking at it from the shore; it might be shallow and easy to cross, or it might be deep and dark and cold, the home of mysterious creatures. To many of us, the subconscious is deep and dark and frightening, and a body of Water makes a perfect metaphor for the hidden segments of the Self.

We have other sources of information besides the number and suit of our card. The traditional image of the Eight of Cups can evoke a feeling of loneliness. Usually we see someone walking away from a set of eight Cups, often wearing a red cloak and carrying a walking stick. The figure is not looking back; he or she has obviously moved on and is not even paying attention to the Cups left behind. Often the figure is shown walking away from water of some kind and onto dry land, sometimes with mountains in the distance. I have seen a few card images where the person is facing the reader, but in these cases the Cups are behind the person, who is still walking away without a backward glance. In the Tarot, the color red often represents willpower, vitality, courage, or action, and the staff or wand being held by the person walking away would hint at the presence of Fire or transformation. Water, of course, tells of feelings and emotions; Earth tells of the things we need to exist and thrive, and mountains often represent challenges or evolution of some kind. The cloak could be telling us that the willpower or courage or action is perhaps subtle or hidden.

The Eight of Cups has, as do all of the Tarot cards, an astrological connection as well, which can help us to add even more depth and texture to our readings. The Eight of Cups represents the planet Saturn when it is in the constellation of Pisces. Saturn’s rings are the source of its correspondences, usually authority, discipline, restrictions imposed by others, as well as time, karma, diplomacy, or organization. The image for Pisces is fish, and we all know where fish live, in the Water. Pisces is a sign of feelings of all kinds, of the suffering that brings soul growth, and of duality (picture that lake we spoke of above; we have two worlds, one above the surface and one below the surface).

Each of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck also has a home on the Tree of Life of the Qabalah; all of the Eights correspond to the sephira (or sphere) of Hod. Hod (or Glory) is the eighth sephira on the Tree, the third on the Pillar of Form/Restriction, and represents science, teaching and the intellect. Hod corresponds with Mercury, the planet that receives the most light from our Sun, and working with Hod can stimulate the workings of the mind and provide illumination, but this kind of work presents dangers, too, especially if the process of shining light in the dark corners exposes any shadow issues. If you think about it, the Eights represent some kind of conscious use of the intellect, often in order to maintain control or harmony.

Let’s sum up what we have found. The number 8 tells of deliberate action or remediation or response to a slowdown that could be bringing some kind of discomfort. The suit of Cups tells of purification, emotions of all kinds and all intensities, and the Inner Voice and the Self. The image on the card tells of being alone or feeling lonely, of taking action on our own after careful consideration and having the courage to believe in that action without a backward glance. Saturn tells of restrictions, discipline, and organization, and Pisces tells of feelings and the kind of suffering that brings growth and evolution. The sephira of Hod tells of the intellect and of knowing why something works.

So, the Eight of Cups tells of feelings and emotions that are requiring some kind of action from us, perhaps because of some fear (approaching degeneration) or discomfort (slowing of growth). This card reminds us to use our intellect and our feelings to make decisions, and then believe that what we’ve decided will work out for the best. It tells us that these types of decisions are uncomfortable and often made in a solitary way, relying on our own judgment. And it also tells us that often the best move is to cut our losses, walk away without getting emotional about things, and not stress at all about what might have been.

Leaving a situation that is not working for us is sometimes the only healthy answer. We need to do our due diligence and make certain that there is nothing to be done to save the status quo, but once we have determined that any more effort will be wasted, then the Eight of Cups tells us it is time to leave those Cups behind, without a backward glance.