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Eight of Cups Meaning – Smith-Waite Centennial

Today's Eight of Cups might remind you of the Five of Cups card that we looked at earlier this week. They're both about turning away from emotionally intense situations. But while some folks who are learning how to read tarot cards have difficulty at first separating the meaning of these two cards, these cards are actually pretty different.

The Five of Cups is about focusing on loss—perhaps even to the extent that you turn your back on important sources of support. Meanwhile, the Eight of Cups describes a conscious decision to turn away and start over. I explain what that means for you in today's free one-card tarot reading below. But first, let's unpack the symbols and imagery of the Eight of Cups!

Eight of Cups Rider-Waite tarot card pictured with a clam shell on a black background. The is a detailed image description of this tarot card in the body text of this post.

The Eight of Cups card in the Smith-Waite Centennial tarot deck

In the Rider-Waite-Smith style of tarot cards, I always find the Eight of Cups particularly striking because of its rich colours. We see a figure with a walking stick in an extremely vivid red coat and boots turning away from a beach. On the sandy foreground are five cups. They're stacked up as if partway toward forming a pyramid shape.

Of course, in tarot decks, the Cups suit symbolizes deep emotions, interpersonal relationships, and intuition. The Eight of Cups tells the story of someone who's choosing to leave behind an unfinished, emotionally intense project. They may even be stepping away from a legacy that other people have built. Have you felt this kind of internal pressure to opt out? 

The nighttime sky has a transitional hue, evoking dust or dawn and the spirit of change. Meanwhile, the Moon in eclipse looks down on the scene. And just like in the Two of Swords, the Moon here symbolizes intuitive wisdom and the power of instinct.

Beneath the sky, we see a jagged but green landscape of mountains jutting out from the water. This horizon evokes the decision-making aspect of the Air element and the difficulty of a treacherous road ahead. But significantly, it also represents the verdant promise of new growth and future bounty. Also, the Wands suit finds some representation in the Eight of Cups card. Notice the figure's walking stick. This wand suggests that passion and creativity will also help guide the way in this journey—not all that watery Cups energy alone.

Knowing when it's time to walk away

All in all, the complex Eight of Cups describes a decision to give up that's grounded in intuition, critical thinking, and profound emotional needs. This card doesn't promise a happy or easy outcome. The journey has just begun, and the path is steep and winding. But even if the choice is hard to make, the Eight of Cups upright confirms what you probably already know: it's time to walk away. 

Change is in the air, water always flows, and stubbornness has no place in personal development. There is the promise of planting new seeds and exploring creative impulses that will carry you to a new project. It takes courage to leave behind unfinished work—especially when that work is already well underway, the stakes are very high emotionally, and other people are expecting you to succeed. 

The Eight of Cups asks you to strike out on your own path

If you're carrying a heavy burden of social expectations, this daily tarot card asks you to consider whom that work is serving. From family to career—and even in tightknit circles of friends—we all face opportunities to collaborate, to build something new together. But collaboration shouldn't always be an end goal in itself.

Self-care reminds us that there are times for sacrifice and times to put ourselves first. While the Eight of Cups doesn't give you carte blanche to abandon your responsibilities and commitments, it gently reminds you to trust in yourself. Are your intuition and your careful thinking are both telling you it's time to walk away from that big commitment? Even if you risk offending people or letting them down, it's time to honour that understanding.

So today's fortune is simple to understand but very hard to heed. Walk away if you're burning out. There's no shame in leaving a project unfinished. And it's okay to choose not to live up to a legacy you didn't ask for. Just don't lash out in anger or scorch the earth in your wake. Leave what you've built for someone else to take over, and set out for another shore.

S.M.