Tarot Suits and the Four Elements

6160647-the-four-elements-earth-wind-water-and-fireFrankly I thought that this was a topic that was really cut and dried. But reading this article yesterday flipped my ideas upside down, and to be perfectly honest, it was just a *wee* bit disturbing to yours truly. Actually, let’s not exaggerate. As with much in life, when our ideas are challenged, getting past that initial feeling of discomfort and resistance to a place where we can explore other perspectives can often give us a fresh take on something. Not to mention that this is the essence of what I think constitutes keeping the proverbial “open mind” that so many people talk about but so few actually achieve in practice.

So what am I to think after doing some research on the Marseilles tarot (thank you Enrique for inspiration here) and to discover that one of the foremost authorities on the cards tells us that the four elements associated with the suits are totally flipped on their head compared to what I’ve always accepted as THE UNSHAKABLE TRUTH?

I feel extremely comfortable identifying the Wands with fire, Cups with water, Pentacles with earth, and Swords with air. It just MAKES SENSE to me, on a very basic level. I’m able to “feel” these elemental connections to the various suits, and I hadn’t ever been exposed to any source material that claimed it any differently. It was as if you were to say to a person that 2 plus 2 equals four, and they simply nod as if to say, um, duh, I know that.

But no—no, people! Don’t take everything at face value! Especially when it comes to tarot.

Of course I’m not the first one to broach this topic. But it’s continually relevant and always can be revisited.

One of the most comprehensive articles I’ve found on this topic, one that goes beyond your basic definitions as I listed above, is from the Association for Tarot Studies newsletter archive, by Jean-Michel David. It’s fascinating in its in-depth history and, while I don’t recommend getting wrapped up in it if you’re just starting to learn the tarot, I certainly think it’s useful for continuing studies and for professionals or non-professionals who are ready to broaden their perspectives in how they view their minor arcana cards and the elements that they may or may not represent. In it, David writes:

So many authors write in ways that presumes an intrinsic correspondence between the four elements and the four basic suits that, in some ways, a diminution of the core of each suit results…

In tarot, as in life, remember that nothing is ever black and white or set in stone. Be open to new possibilities and to changing the way you look at things. Even if you don’t decide to adopt a new strategy regarding the four elements and how they might correspond almost interchangeably to the various suits, depending on the situation, you still stand to gain from exploring this possibility and simply from realizing that there’s never one right way to do a reading, so long as it’s done with pure-hearted intention and a free-flowing intuitive impulse. Real artists are the ones that master the basics and then find their own ways to create new results based on knowing how to intertwine the basics with their own individual talents and gifts. And, after all, some of the most beautiful things in life continually defy attempts at rational explanation.

What elements do you typically associate with each suit? Does assigning an element to a suit, or considering the element of a suit, come into play in your readings?

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