3 things have always bothered me about this card;
For the pyramid of cups to work for 10 cups, there would need to be 4 on the base row.
Everyone says it is "letting go" We don't know if he is walking away for good, or only for a while.
What does the eclipse mean?
So let me explore some of the symbolism in this curious card;
His red clothes
Compared to the blues & yellows of the card the red cloak & boots are striking. They make me think he is not giving up, or moving on. Red is the colour of vitality, passion, strength. It is a colour of perseverance & life. It is bold, and risk taking.
He is walking away- agreed, but he is not (in my opinion) giving up, or letting go.
I connect the staff with the suit of wands, and relying on your own intuition.
I also connect the staff, and the landscape, with the card of the Hermit.
This is some one who is intuitive, independent, and seeking a different perspective on life (or the problem)
When he has climbed to the top of the hill (rock, mountain) he will have a different view of the cups .Whether he comes back & continues, comes back & starts again, or just keep going. I look to other cards to answer that question.
So different to many of the Rider-Waite cards which show fields and a more "pastoral" scene. This is watery, craggy, magical, dreamy....
The combination of the staff (wands, intuition) and so much water makes me think this is a card of being guided by your intuition & heart.
Go with your gut reaction if this card represents a choice or decision.
The pyramid of cups
As I mentioned, if he wants a pyramid with the full 10 cups then there needs to be 4 at the base.
Maybe he is magical & has access to 11 cups?
Maybe he realizes something is wrong, can't quite work it out, and is seeking distance to better understand?
Maybe he is happy with the pyramid being irregular?
I tend to think the answer to this question is part of the story filled in by the cards around, or the whisper of intuition. They can all be the right answer.
I have read that there was a lunar eclipse at the time Pamela Coleman-Smith designed this card (Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot, Katz & Goodwin) which is an interesting thought.
I connect eclipses (both lunar & solar) with illuminating with our shadow side.
We all have a shadow side; characteristics, memories, roles, that we have pushed deep into the recesses of our unconscious.
I often imagine them as a forgotten computer proramme, always running even though we are (mostly) unaware of them. They often form invisible blocks in our life and may include beliefs like;
I am unlovable
It's all my fault
Money is evil
I don't deserve success.
A really useful way to try and highlight a shadow block is to work with the court-cards;
Separate the 16 court-cards out and really look at each one. Make three piles;
Love & really understand
Don't really get.
Working with piles 2 & 3, try to find which is the card you most dislike, or just don't get. This card is most likely to represent something about you that you have repressed, or disowned. Placed in your shadow.
Anyone who has worked with me knows which court-card always gets my back up. The wishy-washy, out of touch, always late, mostly useless bloody Queen of cups (I know she has a good side, somewhere)
When I started my Tarot business I avoided any mention of "psychic" "empath" "intuitive" "shaman" I was a psychological reader, using Jungian archetypes to read with.
It was only when half way through one reading I had hardly looked at a card, but had been speaking for twenty minutes with the client saying I was "spot on" when I started to realise maybe I needed to accept this side of me.
The biggest problem with the Queen of cups (in my opinion) is her lack of boundaries. As I have developed my skills I have come to relaise this is also my biggest problem too. I am so the Queen of Cups it is actually quite scary. The hardest part of shamanism for me is not connecting or letting go, it is remembering to come back again.
So- find the court card card that best represents your shadow. Now however expert you are in the tarot, I recommend you research what other people have said about this card. Because the basis of shadow work is it is something you don't know, so this attribute may be something you have overlooked in your own study.
When it was bought to light that "shame" was my soul wound, it was like seeing another colour. I re-read numerous books and realized I had actually overlooked whole passages about shame. This shadow stuff can be powerful!
(Excuse the plug, hey I do run a business as well as writing blogs. I have an online course that dives into each of the court-cards in great depth. You can find the link here )
So, lets get back to our starting point- the 8 of cups. We know he is walking away. We do not know if;
The combined symbols of staff, red clothes & eclipse lead me to think he is most likely to be heading to the top of a hill to have a better vantage point.
Most often in a reading I advice clients to try and get some space (from work, relationship, life problem) to get a better understanding from a different perspective.
I find even a change in routine, or an afternoon in the bath can help someone to see their life differently.
I love this card, and find the energy resonates with the hanged man & hermit, both having a feeling of "looking at things differently"