What are the Tarot Elements?
The tarot is bursting with symbolism and mystery, which is daunting to the beginning reader. However, for the time being you can choose to focus on the most basic of these – the elements. Don’t worry, we’re not looking at the periodic table – there are only four tarot elements.
The four tarot elements are: Fire, Water, Air and Earth.
Each suit in the tarot is assigned an element as follows:
Why are the Elements Important?
The elements are assigned certain qualities which reflect their characteristics and which also apply to their suit. These qualities are tempered or enhanced by the meaning of the card and its number. When you are learning tarot, it’s a good idea to get a good handle on the properties of each element. Although it is easy to think, ah, Wands = Fire = Passion and inspiration, that’s not the whole story.
The Element of Fire
Fire is fast moving and all-consuming, but it can also smolder quietly for a long time. Fire warms and sustains; it can also kill. Fire is inspiration, it is spiritual and passionate. It is a raw primal male energy that we can tame – sometimes. At others its sheer voraciousness is awe-inspiring and terrifying. Fire is rage and it is also comfort.
Fire translates into motivation, energy, enthusiasm, confidence and impulsiveness. Fire holds its head up and enters the fray without thinking. Fire has a hot temper, but it flares up and dissipates quickly, leaving no grudge or ill-will. It’s transient, or so it seems. Don’t forget that fire can smolder unseen for years and years. When we are inspired, energetic and enthusiastic the fire burns within.
The Element of Water
Water is co-operative, adapting, conforming to the vessel that contains it. Water is also shape-shifting. It can be liquid, water-vapor or ice – these forms change the character of water completely. Water is female, placid, easy going until a storm blows up, then water is devastating in its power to destroy, to quench and to drown.
Water is emotional, gentle, sulky. It has hidden depths and visible shallows. It flows easily along the path of least resistance. Or it stagnates and festers if not nourished by change. Water is life; it is in our blood, our cells, our whole self. When we feel love, emotion, foreboding – it is in our 80 percent water bodies.
The Element of Air
Air is all around us. The empty space before is is not empty at all, it is air, made up of many components – some good, some less so. Air is a gentle breeze, a biting wind or an all out hurricane. Air is influenced by other elements: it can be stale, humid, refreshing or fiery.
Air is male, cool, logical, refined, thoughtful. Air is idea-full, dreaming and communicating. Air caresses, surrounds and permeates everything. Messages pass through it; thoughts populate it. When we are using our minds, we are aligning with the element of air.
The Element of Earth
Earth is solid, slow to change. It supports us, nurtures us, mirrors our inner state by manifesting it in the physical. Earth is our work, our abundance, our health and our home. Earth is practical, pragmatic, grounding, female and fecund.
Earth gives birth, nurses, chides, steadies, encourages. Earth is tangible, materialistic, wealth-building and sexy. When we are considering our careers, our projects, the practical aspects of love – we are engaging with the element of Earth.
How do Elements Work in the Minor Arcana?
The Ace in each suit is the embodiment of the pure element. They represent it in its raw state, if you like. As the cards progress though the suit, the element either increases or diminishes. For example, the Ten of Cups reaches a place where all emotional fulfillment awaits, while the Ten of Swords equates to a complete lack of the air element, i.e. no thought, release, surrender, death of the ego.
How do the Elements Affect the Court Cards?
The Court Cards are where the elements get to battle it out, as the individual ranks of the Courts are assigned an element as well as sporting their suit element. It’s a little confusing but easy when you see it in a table like this:
|Page – Earth||Fire/Earth||Water/Earth||Air/Earth||Earth/Earth|
|Knight – Air||Fire/Air||Water/Air||Air/Air||Earth/Air|
|Queen – Water||Fire/Water||Water/Water||Air/Water||Earth/Water|
|King – Fire||Fire/Fire||Water/Fire||Air/Fire||Earth/Fire|
Many people have difficulty with the Courts, so if you can master these supporting/conflicting elements you will have a better idea how to interpret them. You can see which cards have a concentration of one element. Take the King of Swords: there is nothing that disrupts that Fire element in his make-up, whereas the practical Queen of Pentacles is also affected by her emotions.
Are the Elements Present in the Major Arcana?
Yes, the elements are present in the Majors, though sometimes it’s difficult to make the association. While the Majors aren’t ruled by the element in the same way as the Minor Arcana, knowing that it is there will help a deeper understanding of the card.
You will notice that three cards, the Magician, Wheel of Fortune and the World contain all the elements, rendering them neutral.
Fool — Air
Magician — All elements present
High Priestess — Water
Emperor — Fire
Empress — Earth
Hierophant — Earth
Lovers — Air
Chariot — Water
Strength — Fire
Hermit — Earth
Wheel of Fortune — All elements present
Justice — Air
Hanged Man — Water
Death — Water
Temperance — Fire
Devil — Earth
Tower — Fire
Moon — Water
Sun — Fire
Judgment — Fire
World — All elements present
Are the Tarot Elements the same as Astrological Elements?
Yes, each sign in the zodiac is connected to an element in the same way. For a deeper look at them, see Astrology 101 – Zodiac Signs