How Water, Fire, Earth and Air Shape the Tarot
One of the fastest ways to learn to read Tarot is to understand the elements (water, fire, earth, and air) that sit behind the Tarot Suits of the Minor Arcana.
These elements are what truly shape the Minor Arcana and give a specific type of energy to each Suit.
Combine it with numerology (from 1 to 10), and you’ve already unlocked the meanings behind 40 of the 78 Tarot cards. Now that’s an efficient way to learn Tarot!
In this post, I’ll walk you through the elements and how you can create a personal connection with each of them. I’ll also show you what these elements reveal about the four Tarot suits, and how to use them easily and effortlessly in your Tarot readings.
THE FOUR ELEMENTS
There are four classical elements – water, fire, earth, and air – each with its own ‘energy’ and symbolic meaning.
And in the Tarot, each of the Suits is related to one of these four elements.
THE WATER ELEMENT (SUIT OF CUPS)
Water is fluid, agile and ‘in flow’ but it’s also very powerful and formative. It can be soft and gentle, like waves lapping against the sandy shore, or it can be powerful and even forceful, like a raging river.
The element of water is symbolic of fluidity, feelings and emotions, intuition, relationships, healing, and cleansing. It is a feminine element and reflects the subtle power that often resides within women. It is receptive, adaptable, purifying and flowing.
In the Tarot, water relates to the Suit of Cups. The Suit of Cups Tarot card meanings deal with the emotional level of consciousness and are associated with love, feelings, relationships, and connections. The Cups Tarot cards indicate that you are thinking with your heart rather than your head, and thus reflect your spontaneous responses and your habitual reactions to situations. Cups are also linked to creativity, romanticism, fantasy, and imagination.
The negative aspects of the Suit of Cups include being overly emotional or completely disengaged and dispassionate, having unrealistic expectations and fantasizing about what could be. There may be repressed emotions, an inability to truly express oneself and a lack of creativity.
THE FIRE ELEMENT (SUIT OF WANDS)
Fire is hot, wild, unpredictable, and energetic. It can be creative in helping us to cook food or build tools, or it can be destructive, like a devastating bush fire or house fire.
The element of fire is symbolic of passion, energy, enthusiasm, and sexuality. It is a masculine element and reflects the drive and willpower of the masculine energy.
In the Tarot, the fire element is represented by the Suit of Wands. The Suit of Wands Tarot card meanings is associated with primal energy, spirituality, inspiration, determination, strength, intuition, creativity, ambition and expansion, original thought and the seeds through which life springs forth.
Wands cards deal with the spiritual level of consciousness and mirror what is important to you at the core of your being. They address what makes us tick – our personalities, egos, enthusiasts, self-concepts, and personal energy, both internal and external.
The negative aspects of the Suit of Wands include illusion, egotistical behavior, impulsiveness, a lack of direction or purpose, or feeling meaningless.
THE EARTH ELEMENT (SUIT OF PENTACLES)
Earth is tactile, earthy and tangible. It creates the foundation from which the planet can grow and develop, and it supports and nurtures the plants and trees.
Earth is grounded, stable, supportive and fertile. It is a feminine element that is receptive – it takes in nutrients and sun rays and then uses this energy to sustain the life that grows out of it.
In the Tarot, the earth element is represented by the Suit of Pentacles. The Suit of Pentacles Tarot card meanings covers material aspects of life including work, business, trade, property, money and other material possessions. The positive aspects of the Suit of Pentacles include a manifestation, realization, proof, and prosperity.
Pentacles deal with the physical or external level of consciousness and thus mirror the outer situations of your health, finances, work, and creativity. They have to do with what we make of our outer surroundings – how we create it, shape it, transform it and grow it. On a more esoteric level, Pentacles are associated with the ego, self-esteem, and self-image.
The negative aspects of the Suit of Pentacles include being possessive, greedy and overly materialistic, over-indulging and not exercising, not effectively managing one’s finances, and being overly focused on career to the detriment of other life priorities. Often what is required to counteract these negative aspects is a return to nature to ground oneself and rediscover what is truly important.
THE AIR ELEMENT (SUIT OF SWORDS)
Air is intangible and unseen, but also in constant movement. Air can be still and mostly unnoticed, to becoming a breeze or a fierce wind. It is powerful yet refreshing and cleansing.
Symbolically, the air element relates to knowledge, action, power, and change. It is a masculine energy that can lead by force and power, even though it remains unseen.
In the Tarot, the Suit of Swords is related to air. The Suit of Swords Tarot card meanings is associated with action, change, force, power, oppression, ambition, courage, and conflict. Action can be constructive and/or destructive.
The Suit of Swords deals with the mental level of consciousness that is centered around the mind and the intellect. Swords mirror the quality of mind present in your thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Swords themselves are double-edged and in this way, the Suit of Swords symbolizes the fine balance between intellect and power and how these two elements can be used for good or evil. As such, the Swords must be balanced by the spirit (Wands) and feeling (Cups).
The negative aspects of the Suit of Swords include anger, guilt, harsh judgment, a lack of compassion and verbal and mental abuse.
CREATING A PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH THE ELEMENTS
One of the most powerful ways to connect with the elements and understand their true energy is to experience them.
For example, experience the element of water by spending time at the beach or a nearby river. Watch the rain fall and the puddles form. Turn on the tap at home and feel the water run over your hands. Take a swim in the ocean.
Simply observe the element in its purest form and watch how the element expresses itself in different ways.
Then, come back to your Tarot cards and look at how the element expresses itself in the cards. Pull out all of the Cups cards, for example, and take note of the water on each card. What do you notice now? Is the water flowing or stagnate? Is the water forceful or gentle? See what new insights are revealed to you with this deepened understanding.
Mastering the elements is a critical part of learning to read the Tarot. Once you connect deeply to the elements, you’ll have a heightened awareness of how the Tarot suits work and your Tarot readings will be even more in depth and insightful.
Choose an element to work with this week. Learn more about it and experience it in your everyday life. Then, look at how the element is expressed in the Tarot cards. What new insights do you have?