Unveiling Tarot: Exploring the elements in the tarot
Besides knowing the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana with the subdivision into Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, we can also categorize the cards into elements. This is an important aspect because it determines the energy of the cards.
Using the elements goes back a long time in Western philosophy where they were used as five elements: air, fire, water, earth, and spirit (or ether).
Western philosophy’s use of the elements is first found in the works of the Greek philosopher Empedocles (494-434 BC). He explained that we, and everything around us, comprise a mix of four elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. With this concept, he influenced the Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos, who applied this philosophy to form his vision of disease. We used his philosophy about healing until well into the eighteenth century. Note that the tarot (or tarok) cards were already becoming very popular, so a link to the elements was easily made and was only logical.
According to Greek philosophy, all elements strived for their place in the universe. Earth was the heaviest, so it took the lowest place, followed by water that floated on earth. Above that, air found its place, followed by fire. According to the elemental philosophy, we are a mix of those elements. Although the belief was that our souls would be restored after death, we would not comprise spirit by that time. Ether (spirit) was only for the gods to breathe.
This approach came from the idea that everything comprises fire, water, air and earth. Each element has its character and meaning. Wands are connected with fire, cups with water, swords with air and pentacles with earth.
The qualities of the elements
The classification of the qualities of the elements originally comes from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This was a spiritual group that focused on spirituality, philosophy, and magic. One member was Arthur Edward Waite of the tarot deck we all know. This group attributed qualities to the card colors and the cards of the tarot deck.
Wands (Fire) and Swords (Air) are active elements because they have an outward-facing energy while also focused on themselves, taking charge, connected to the Sun, and to the masculine yang energy. Fire is hot and dry and is directly opposite Water which is cold and wet. They deal differently with the world around them and also take action differently.
Cups and Pentacles are receptive, passive and inward-looking. They connect with others, where they tend, want to take care and appease. Here we see a connection with the Moon that reflects the Sun. Earth is cold and dry and Air is hot and wet. As a result, they look at the world around them completely differently and also take action differently.
Active and passive
In combination, an active card can incite another active card even more. A combination of two passive cards can give the situation a slow movement and ensure that a solution is not so quickly found. An active card with a passive card can provide very interesting effects. Try to imagine what Air can do to water: a big storm at sea, right? And Fire with Air creates a very intense fire. This way you can play with even more explanation of the cards.
Major Arcana cards and elements
The Major Arcana cards are also linked to the elements. For this purpose, the works of the Golden Dawn are again used, which linked these cards to astrological aspects that in themselves are linked to an element.
Do you really need all this? Well, for the Minor Arcana, it has helped me, but I have never worked with the elements of the Major Arcana. But for everything spiritual, the following applies: study the link between astrology and the Major Arcana if it interests you. If it doesn’t, leave it out.
Below, you will find the links to the various elements for more information about the element in question.
Besides these suits, I have other pages about the separate elements in the tarot: