A man in a flowing, long red cloak and matching boots walks away from a beautiful row of golden goblets in the Eight of Cups. Carrying a long staff, this lone figure trudging up an arid mountainous landscape is reminiscent of another Tarot card, called the Hermit. And similarly, this sole traveler is leaving comforts and material riches behind, hungry for something else instead. What could that be? Perhaps the moon knows, as we see it smiling kindly down from the sky above. Or is that the sun, being eclipsed by the moon? Opposite forces joined, bringing a dynamic change in the atmosphere. A time for which this figure is taking to forge a new direction. For whatever those cups hold, they no longer taste sweet to this lone traveler. He is in want of another elixir, in search of something deeper perhaps, more fortifying, more meaningful. Something that requires self-awareness, a dimension perhaps only the moon can bring. A river runs below the arid mountains, winding down to the bottom of this card, flowing with instinct and watery intuition. When we are at our best, even in a situation where everything appears perfect and looks pristine outwardly, our gut instinct will tell us all that glitters is not gold. If we want the real thing, we must go in search of it.
When this card appears, we are in an eclipse. An astonishing, insightful choice point is upon us. Dare we take it? It will not be easy. Are we like the Hermit? Turning away from our lazier, more luxurious habits and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone? Once we begin up the mountain of truth, there will be no turning back. But perhaps the bite of a new adventure will overtake us, and the loss of all that superficial glimmer will shine for what it is – sweet and frothy but without much substance. Should we follow the Hermit’s footsteps – sacrificing our outer comforts for inner enlightenment? Willing to reach our dreams, despite all odds and whatever costs? The Eight of Cups says yes. The Eight of Cups says the time is now.
The perfect traveler’s companion is an herb which is well known for aiding in digestion, often called Wood Betony or Hedge Nettle. This aromatic perennial with a square stem, like mint, is from the same plant family (Lamiaceae) as all sorts of other culinary and medicinal herbs such as thyme, oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, and lemon balm. Used in medieval Europe for both healing and magical properties, Wood Betony belongs in a reflective moon ceremony as readily as in a cup of tea for stomach upset due to nervousness or overexcitability. It has a calming effect, both on digestive muscles as well as the mind, making it a great antidote to irritable bowel syndrome as well as anxiety or fatigue related to depression. The active components in the plant responsible for its healing actions seem to be its phenylethanoid glycosides, triterpenoids, and flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, as well as calming or mildly sedative, even helping with insomnia, increasing dream recall and inducing lucid dreams. During the Middle Ages, along with St. John’s Wort, Wood Betony was one of the most common herbs used to drive away wicked spirits – indeed, it has a strengthening quality about it, enabling those who drink its leaves the ability to ground themselves, banishing all doubts and dark thoughts away.
The Eight of Cups teaches us to step into new directions with calm purpose and self-awareness. When we walk away from the golden handcuffs of comfort and all that we know for soulful sacrifices and risky adventures that push us into new directions – let us turn to the moon to guide us. Let us turn to Wood Betony to ground us. Then we will be ready.
*Tarot reading is based on the Rider-Waite Tarot Card deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. San Francisco, Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2007. P196 -197
Smith, Erin. “Plant Profile: Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis).” Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville, PLLC, retrieved 20 September 2023. https://www.integrativeasheville.org/plant-profile-wood-betony-stachys-officinalis/
Uritu, Cristina M, Mihai, Cosmin T, Stanciu, Gabriela-Dumitrita et al. “Medicinal Plants of the Family Lamiaceae in Pain Therapy: A Review.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 8 May 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5964621/
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines. Berkeley, California, North Atlantic Books, 1997. P165 -177