Tarot and the Elements
by Bonnie Moss 2003
The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits: Cups, Swords,Pentacles, and Wands. This is
in the Rider Waite deck. These four suits correspond to the four elements:
Cups for Water, Swords for Air, Pentacles for Earth and Wands for Fire.
Understanding the elements and their functions in this world add dimension to the
meaning of the Minor Arcana cards. In complex spreads, the interaction of the elements
with one another offer insights that could otherwise be misunderstood or worst, missed.
When a Sword card turns up, other cards will help to identify the cause of the unfriendly
Sword. A knowledge of the elements will give an indication of the source of the problem.
The elements as interpreted in Tarot readings could be harmonious,encouraging and supportive,
or in opposition, thus has an inhibiting effect. In one-card readings, knowledge of the elements
can prove really helpful.It adds to the perception of the situation, deepens the insight
of the reader.
The Suits and the Elements
Fire stands for the "fire" within, the energy, force and vitality, and the will. We need
fire to keep us warm, to cook, to brighten our world when the Sun goes down. This is the
friendly aspect. Fire could also be dangerous- forest fires or house fires are disastrous.
When it roars, better watch out. Fire could nurture, it could also destroy. Fire is considered
to be an expanding element. It changes whatever it touches.Looking at the suit of Wands- how
does this relate to an interpretation?
Think of the energy, the will, the focus , even passion. In the Rider-Waite deck, the Ten of Wands
shows a man trying to forge ahead under the heavy load of 10 wands. It shows strength of the will,
focus and determination to get wherever he has to go. Is the fire element in this card supportive
or disruptive? Will he fall under the pressure of his burden?
Does he have the will to arrive at his destination and be freed of the heavy load?
Water is love, emotion, relationships, pleasure, celebration, devotion, ecstasy and the
sub-conscious. The suit of Cups represent all these- the forces of emotion and sensual perceptions.
Water is refreshing in its coolness, envigorating in its warmth, mysterious in its depth.It does
have its destructive aspect. When emotions run deep, or highly wired, the water aspect rises
like flood waters that engulfs and destroys everything in its path. When water is still, is
that good, or is that bad?
Look at the 5 of Cups in the Rider-Waite deck, a man looks despondently at three empty cups,
in front of him is a stream, beyond is a bridge that leads to a distant castle. His sub-conscious
is trying to get his attention. What dimension would the knowledge of the water element add to
the interpretation of this card? The two cups behind him may offer him the solace that he needs.
Is he willing to drink out of those two cups?
The suit of Swords evokes that "ugh, oh, no! " feeling.Should it? In most tarot decks, the
air to breathe. How we welcome air when the atmosphere gets suffused with tension! Air represents
intellectual capabilities, mental ,spiritual and cultural aspects of Life. How can the element
Air help to alleviate the pain and sorrow, the suffering, the betrayal, the deceit, all the
negative energies that come with this card?
When the Nine of Swords is drawn, what is the first impression? The ultimate in suffering,
a dead end? The weight of the pain is too much to bear, hiding in the darkness of night, in
solitude, and buried deep in sorrow. Is the figure at the literal "end of the rope". What
could be done about the situation?
To every problem, there is a solution, for better or for worse, there has to be en ending,
a closure. Overwhelmed by the situation, it is difficult to analyze and shed some light. This
suit offers the insight that YES, the problem is bigger than life, wallowing in despair does
not solve it. Get up, open your eyes,face the issue , analyze the priorities and take it
We live in a material and success- oriented world. Technology is wonderful, but to get wired
and keep up-to-date with technology means added expense our elders did not even dream of. They
took great pride in owning a television. Today, most households have more than one.
Earth is our material world, it stands for something tangible, real, something we can hold on to.
Earth nurtures us, surrounds us with its bounty and beauty. If we could only stop for a minute
and appreciate all she has to offer. In its negative aspect, Earth is stubborn and rigid.
The four of Pentacles stands for everything that is material. Foremost on the mind of the person
depicted in this card are his material pursuits. Does he get headaches from this? Possibly. Is he
close to being burnt out? Remember,getting close to Mother Earth is the best way to get grounded.
Is it possible for this card to show the way to balance earthly pursuits with attention to the
inner being? Perhaps.
Fire and Water do not mix, neither do Air and Earth. These combinations are in "opposition",
in a reading, opposing forces diminishes the effect of each other. Fire puts out water, air blows
away earth. This shows a negative influence on the significance of the individual cards.
Just as the elements work in opposition, they do work to strengthen each other.Fire is
supported by Air, but Fire also consumes Air. Air is strengthened by Water, but Air consumes
Water in its evaporation
There is a fifth element- the Spirit. This is the element that pulls it all together.It is
the Spirit that inspires the insight, the intuition that makes Tarot a most fascinating tool.
It is drawing upon the spirit that a reader gains a deeper insight, see beyond the artwork
and symbols of the card. There is an inner voice that guides a reader. From one reader to another,
there is a dimension to each of the Tarot cards that is personal, and is the inspiration
only the reader can experience and relate to.