As a reminder, the suit of cups is driven by feminine energy and channels the power of emotions and feelings in every shape and form. Scholars and academics have connected the suit of cups to the classical element of water, and most of the cards from that suit embody the symbolic attributes of this element, one way or another.
Eight of Cups card: Traditional meanings
The Eight of Cups offers yet another glimpse into the darkest recesses of human emotions. More specifically, it is a clear example of basic fight or flight responses when put under emotional duress and pain. Here the Querent has to deal with rejection of some kind, and the temptation to just turn their back to the world and run away must be strong, but this is a slippery slope that ends with them withdrawn and alone in their own imaginary world.
As always for the most distressing arcana drawn during a reading, this should be seen as a dire warning to be heeded, using the tarot as a beacon shining a light of hope that might be useful in finding a way out, literally and figuratively.
Upright: Unhappiness, lack of satisfaction, loneliness, and despair.
Reversed: Running away, taking the easy way out, and shutting oneself out.
Upright Eight of Cups card
The eight of cups illustration in the original Rider Waite Smith tarot deck is heavy with symbolism, with a heavier use of black lines and dark elements than in other arcana of that tarot deck.
The main protagonist of this minor arcana card only occupies a small part of the overall image, as he is seen walking away from the foreground using a walking stick on a path that almost seems painful. The eight cups are neatly displayed at the forefront of the image, three of them balanced on top of the other 5.
The overall outlook is grim and gloomy, happening under the calm and watchful eye of the Moon in the night sky.
Like several other cards from the suit of cups, it is hard to define any kind of truly positive element in this minor arcana. This can easily be explained because as mentioned early on, the suit of cups represents the whole spectrum of human emotions, and there is usually a kind of balance between positive and negative feelings.
Here, the core meaning of the eight of cups tarot card is overwhelming unhappiness and discontent. Just like the character moving away from the spotlight and into the shadows. The goal is to find a way out of a seemingly doomed situation, and this is why the character on the illustration has to leave.
Reversed Eight of Cups card
The already negative meaning of the eight of cups is even further enhanced when it appears reversed in a reading. The raw unhappiness has become so strong that self-preservation overtakes any other reflex action, and any pretense of leaving to find solutions to current problems is blown away by an almost primal need to leave, period. But this is an unacceptable solution in the long term, so something should be done in order to avoid that final escape from the world.
Eight of Cups and love
When the eight of cups is drawn in a love tarot reading, is usually comes to highlight the negative consequences of a former love or affair that has turned sour. It might happen after a particularly rough breakup, or simply after having endured a kind of rejection coming from unrequited love. Regardless, in that context, this minor arcana usually represents the kind of emotional pain and anguish felt by the spurned lover. This highlights a need for self-reconstruction, learning to handle and process that emotional pain in order to become functional again. It hurts, and it takes time, but it can and must be done.