We continue through the mental part of our journey with the major arcana meanings of The Hermit through to The Hanged Man. This section of the major arcana contains some of the most mysterious cards of the entire deck. But all will be revealed!
Major arcana meanings for The Fool to The Emperor, plus links to the other meanings, can be found here.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Hermit
Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Voice of Light Zodiac Attribution: Virgo Keywords: Introspection, Self-reliance, Inspiration, Knowledge
The Hermit made an appearance on the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV album (ask your parents) but what else can we say about this slightly mysterious card?
This card represents seeking knowledge, the truth, divine inspiration. As one of the major arcana, the Hermit represents those times in your life where you want or need to understand where you are going or what is happening/will happen next. Want to really know what to do with the rest of your life? That’s Hermit energy. Trying to understand deep philosophical or spiritual meaning? Hermit again. Trying to understand the implications of a major event in your life? Yep, Hermit energy.
In the here and now plane of existence you may find yourself as the Hermit when you are engaging in something creative such as painting, writing a novel, inventing. This is when you search and feel for that inspirational spark. Which usually hits you when you are alone. And at night.
As well as a seeker of inspiration and knowledge, the Hermit can suggest those times in your life when there is nobody to help you and you need to be truly self-sufficient. During the recent pandemic lock downs here in the UK, many people needed to become self-reliant in order to get by due to isolation. This requires mental fortitude as prolonged isolation is extremely bad for your mental health.
The TdM Hermit is very similar to the RWS version. In early TdM decks, the Hermit is sometimes shown with an hourglass instead of a lamp which changes the meanings of the card. Perhaps the hourglass represents the fact that acquiring knowledge takes time. Or that we can only remain isolated in thought for a certain period before excessive introspection becomes harmful.
And if The Hermit was slightly mysterious, it’s perfectly mundane compared to the next card in our journey.
Major Arcana Meanings: Wheel of Fortune
Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Forces of Life Planetary Attribution: Jupiter Keywords: Good Fortune, Unexpected Change, Fate
The Wheel of Fortune is truly one of the more mysterious cards of the major arcana, if not the entire tarot deck. It represents good fortune or upcoming good fortune as well as unknowable fate. If you use reversals, it could indicate bad luck. The dog headed humanoid figure moving up the wheel is Hermanubis, a combination of the Greek trickster Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis, both gods are conductors of souls to the afterlife. The descending snake is Evil (as also seen in the Lovers card).
Whenever I have received this card in a reading asking ‘What can I expect today?’ or similar, the Wheel of Fortune has always come to represent some unexpected event which turns everything upside down (pun intended). Literally, some unexpected event which comes out of nowhere to make my day more ‘interesting.’ Usually, interesting in an unpleasant manner. Think of this card as message to ‘Expect the Unexpected.’
However, when I receive the Wheel of Fortune in a position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take,’ the card suggests the need to focus on improving your fortunes in a major way through various means. Which means it’s also the ‘kick up the backside’ card!
The message of the Wheel of Fortune then is to keep on your toes and stay alert as well as making positive changes in your life. Not something to be afraid of.
The TdM Wheel of Fortune is very similar except we have a handle protruding from the side. This implies that the Wheel can be controlled to a greater extent than the RWS version. This is true. Remember that we all have free will and can act to change our futures.
Major Arcana Meanings: Justice
Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Lord of Truth Zodiac Attribution: Libra Keywords: Balance, Judging, Truth, Critique
I personally find Justice of the most fascinating cards of the major arcana. The card means fairness but whenever I draw it in a reading it usually suggests being critical of self and finding out what really matters – getting to the truth of things.
This is a card that can be quite hard to understand because it can mean so many things. On a mundane level it can suggest fairness in legal issues as well as weighing up arguments to make a decision. On a higher metaphysical level it can suggest the effect of karma – receiving what you give out. I have also found it can mean that someone is critiquing and judging you – not a comfortable position to be in.
When you receive Justice in an ‘Advice’ position, it is telling you to weigh up what is most important to you and/or the need to act in a fair and balanced manner in the situation.
The RWS and TdM versions of the card are very similar except for the numbering. A.E. Waite swapped the positions of Strength and Justice in the RWS to fit the esoteric pattern he wanted. The TdM retains the original positions. It doesn’t really make much of a difference in actual readings unless you want to do a deep dive into tarot esotericism.
And up next, we have the most mysterious card in the entire major arcana..
The Enigma of The Hanged Man
Golden Dawn Title: Spirit of the Mighty Waters Elemental Attribution: Water Keywords: Meaningful Sacrifice, Suspension, Punishment, Inaction
The Hanged Man is one of the true enigmas of the tarot deck. Being hanged upside down was a punishment for traitors which gives us one possible meaning for the card. Another common meaning for this major arcana is being able to understand something from a different perspective. However, the RWS version of the Hanged Man goes a little deeper. Notice the golden aura of enlightenment around the figure’s head; this tells us that the suspension is a willing sacrifice in the here and now in order to gain intellectual and/or spiritual insight.
In my every day readings, the Hanged Man has come to mean something less meaningful and more mundane. The card usually signifies an enforced period of inaction – letting time pass by. Sometimes this inaction is due to external forces that can’t be controlled, other times it is necessary and self imposed. Here in the UK, the pandemic lock downs in 2020 and 2021 have had that enforced Hanged Man energy. Way too much of it.
If you’ve ever made sacrifices in order to achieve important life changing gains then that’s the Hanged Man energy. Such as doing night classes to gain important qualifications. Or going to the gym to improve your fitness. Receiving this card in a spread position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take’ is a message that you should make personal sacrifices to gain some benefit in the longer term.
The TdM version of the card has an interesting feature given that the TdM is not an esoteric deck. The ground disappears where the head is giving the impression that the figure is hanging in some sort of hole or abyss. This could be interpreted to mean that the material world has given way to the world of the intellect through the experience of suspension. Well, criminals hanged upside down will certainly have time to reflect on their sins!
We move from the mental realm into that of the spiritual as we move from Death through to The Tower..
Continuing the major arcana meanings with a look at the Hierophant to Strength. You can find Part 1: Fool to Emperor here as well as links to other major arcana meanings. As before, I am not including reversed meanings as I demonstrate a technique for reading any reversed card in the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With W.I.N.D.’
In this section, when we move from the Chariot to Strength, we move from the physical aspects of our life journey to the mental realm.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Hierophant
Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Eternal Gods Zodiac Attribution: Taurus Keywords: Teacher, Learning, Institution, Dogma
The Hierophant represents learning the lessons and morals necessary to live a worthy life. These lessons were originally safeguarded by the Church so the Hierophant can represent secret knowledge (different from the hidden inner knowledge of the High Priestess). In the more secular world we live in today, the Hierophant can signify any teacher or teaching.
This card also represents the Church so can indicate rigid dogma. I have found the Hierophant could also mean any large institution you need to deal with.
In my personal experience as a therapist, I have embodied the energy of the Hierophant as I often have to provide education, training and information as part of my role. Any teacher or educator uses this same energy. If you are learning a new skill or acquiring knowledge you are also feeling the energy of the Hierophant as the pupil receiving the knowledge.
Both the RWS and Tarot de Marseille (TdM) images of the card are very similar. The TdM version, Le Pape, is the Pope so represents the entire Church (he has the Cross on both hands) and is the source, and gatekeeper, of all the knowledge needed to live a moral and worthwhile life.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Lovers
Golden Dawn Title: Children of the Voice Divine Zodiac Attribution: Gemini Keywords: Choice, Lasting Consequences, Motivation, Love, Action
The iconic RWS image of The Lovers represents the Christian view of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is making the choice between eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and giving some of the fruit to Adam or remaining in bliss in the Garden. This card is all about being motivated to make life altering decisions with major long term consequences.
We all make these choices. Any time you have made a decision with major implications (choosing a career, going to university, getting married, buying a house for example) you are employing the energy of the Lovers.
The TdM version of the card is very different. Le Amoureux (the Lover), along with Cupid overhead, is a more direct representation of love. Here, the Lover is choosing between his (possibly pregnant) partner, who represents a new path, and his mother which represents the past. Love and motivation are the key aspects here with each decision creating lasting consequences.
When the Lovers, or Lover, card appears it is a message that you must carefully decide where you go from here because each option will have a major, lasting impact on your life.
Major Arcana Meanings: The Chariot
Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Triumph of Light Zodiac Attribution: Cancer Keywords: Victory, Willpower, Determination, Focus
The Chariot is the last step of the physical aspect of life’s journey and represents accomplishment through willpower. When you are working towards something and there are many things you need to pull together and rein in to achieve success, that’s the energy of the Chariot. Unlike the Emperor, who represents conquering through a combination of physical effort and sheer energy, the Chariot represents the sustained willpower you need to achieve victory.
Organising a large event with many aspects requiring your attention? That’s the Chariot (combined with the Emperor). Trying to meet a work deadline but there are a variety of distractions? Call on the willpower and focus of the Chariot.
This focus and sustained effort is something we frequently have to accomplish in the physical world.
The RWS Chariot is a superb representation of this concept. The Charioteer is embedded in a solid block of stone with no physical control over the two sphinx except for his sceptre. And the two sphinx are opposites; the white (Yin) energy and black (Yang) energy. How does the Charioteer move his chariot? He can only use the strength of his sustained willpower and personal charisma to cajole both the stone to lift up and the Sphinx to use their supernatural powers to work together and pull the chariot.
The TdM Chariot is similar and only differs in that it lacks the occult symbolism of the RWS version.
If you practice Magick – the changing of reality in accordance with your Will – then you are using the energy of The Chariot as much or even more than that of The Magician.
From the Chariot we then move into the mental realm of life’s journey
Strength: The Beginning of the Mental Journey
Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Flaming Sword Zodiac Attribution: Leo Keywords: Self-Control, The ID, The Will
With Strength we enter the mental phase of life’s journey. This stage represents the challenges we face in the mind as we move towards our eventual destination. With Strength we have the suppression of our primal instincts and appetites to meet the needs of our higher self. ID suppressing ego.
Exerting self control over our basic instincts and desires is a vital aspect of living in our modern society. Without this control we give into temptations that distract us from our purpose (procrastination is a good example of what happens here). Worse, failing to control our basic instincts and giving into ego could cause serious harm to ourselves and to others.
I’m sure you can mentally picture any number of situations where failing to exert self control over your ego has led you to distraction in order to satisfy basic appetites. That craving for chocolate? Wanting to do anything except get down to work? Distraction due to sexual energy?
The RWS image of Strength shows a rather loving suppression of our energetic, primitive, ego. After all, we try to suppress our ego to achieve higher purpose and prevent harm but our ego is part of us.
The TdM Strength is very similar and demonstrates the same concept.
Why is the RWS Strength numbered 8 (VIII) and the TdM version numbered 11 (XI)? This is because A.E. Waite wanted the RWS Strength to fit in with his esoteric model of how the major arcana should be arranged. So he moved the card from 11 to 8. At position 11, the TdM Strength is still in the mental aspect of the major arcana. In practice, the change in numbering has absolutely no effect on tarot readings.
In part 3 i’ll look at The Hermit through to The Hanged Man
I am starting with tarot, what do I do? This is a very common question. Based on my own early tarot experience, and what I have learned since, I am going to discuss what is really going to help you start using the tarot cards.
Most of the posts I have written assume you have already begun your tarot journey. However, on social media sites such as Quora, it is pretty obvious from the number of people asking the same question that how to actually start with tarot is a bit of a mystery.
Bear in mind that, as with everything else in this blog, you should only take what works for you and leave the rest.
OK, lets go!
Ignore the tarot myths
The absolute first thing you should do is ignore the tarot myths. I have already written a post on these, “9 Tarot Myths – False…Or True?“, which is here. This post covers some of the main myths which appear over and over again. They are all, for the most part, completely false. In 17 years of reading tarot (as of writing this post), not a single myth (with one exception) has demonstrated any semblance of truth.
But there is one myth in particular which really appears pervasive and persistent, people asking whether it’s true over and over again. I’m talking about the myth that tarot is evil.
I have also covered this myth separately in the post “Is Tarot Evil?” which is here. But I think it’s worth repeating the essentials about this myth again here. In fact, I don’t believe it’s possible to repeat the following enough.
Tarot is not evil. The Catholic Church believes that divine guidance should only come from God. So, in modern terms, the Church has spent many centuries trash talking the competition. You will hear devout Christians saying things like ‘God says tarot is EVIL and it’s the work of DEMONS‘
Oh, please. It’s the 21st century, not the medieval era.
Tarot cards are just paper and ink. The decks are printed in their tens of thousands by large publishing companies and used by millions of readers worldwide. Tarot is a huge commercial industry. Tarot today is not powered by demons but by capitalism.
Reading tarot is essentially a psychological process which involves a form of creative thinking known as conceptual blending. Conceptual blending combines the meaning and art of the card, the position in the tarot spread, and a spark of intuition to generate a message. This message is usually something that we could not have arrived at just by using rational thinking. Spirits don’t really get a look in.
I take a closer look at conceptual blending and tarot in the post ‘Conceptual Blending: How Tarot Really Works?‘ which you can read here.
I was raised Roman Catholic and in all my many, many years of reading tarot I have never experienced anything evil- EVER – connected to the cards. I have not encountered spirits, or demons. On the contrary, I have only experienced immense benefits from reading the cards.
So, unless you are a devout Christian, you can bury this myth where it belongs.
Choosing your deck When Starting With Tarot
After ditching the myths, the first thing you need to do when starting with tarot is get yourself a tarot deck. I have written a post on how to choose a deck, “Choosing And Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck“, which you can read here.
However, the key thing to know is you should really get yourself a copy of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot deck or a deck that closely follows the essential aspects of the RWS. Why? Most beginner tarot books use the RWS to teach. Also, the vast majority of decks published today follow the RWS in terms of meanings so it will be easy to move from one deck to another.
The Rider Waite Smith Tarot is the 800 pound Gorilla
The Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tarot, first published in 1909, is a fully illustrated deck with artwork on every card. This made it very accessible to the general public and this deck is the reason why tarot is so hugely popular now.
The RWS is available in many different editions today, the differences mainly being one of colour. Some popular editions are shown here:
So yes, i’m recommending the RWS. Some people will say you should get a deck that you really like, even if this is not the RWS. This is true to some extent but I firmly believe that you should get a deck you like that follows the RWS closely. Even if you don’t like the RWS, there are many decks that are very close in terms of imagery so find one that suits your taste.
Art is subjective so a deck that everyone on the internet is raving about may not appeal to you. Finding a deck you like means you will be able to forge a much stronger connection to it than with a deck you dislike. Choosing a deck closely based on the RWS will make learning tarot easier.
Avoid Art Decks & Minimalist Decks If Starting With Tarot
Many decks are supposedly based on the RWS but some are closer to RWS imagery than others. Two types of decks for tarot beginners to beware of are art decks and minimalist decks.
What’s an art deck?
Well, my definition of an art deck is one which claims to be based on RWS meanings but strays very far from RWS imagery in terms of it’s artistic depiction. These decks can certainly be beautiful but they are hard to learn with for beginners because they bear no resemblance to the RWS. Here’s an example:
On the left we have the 3 of Cups from the Smith Waite Centennial deck. On the right is the 3 of Cups from the Hush Tarot. The Hush Tarot card has no resemblance to the RWS 3 of Cups at all! The Hush tarot is an excellent deck for an experienced reader and I do use it. However, if you are starting out with tarot and trying to learn RWS symbolism using an art deck such as the Hush Tarot, you will experience only frustration and a headache.
Learning tarot with an art deck is certainly possible from an intuitive point of view but you will will find it difficult to use other decks.
What’s a minimalist deck?
A minimalist deck is one that has either very little detail in the artwork or the artwork is sparse. Being able to use your intuition is very difficult if there is so little detail to latch on to.
Here is the RWS 7 of Pentacles. On the right is the same card from the hugely popular Wild Unknown Tarot. The RWS version has lots of details that you could latch on to and spark your intuition. The Wild Unknown version has the same underlying meaning but the artwork doesn’t give you much to work on. Minimalist tarot decks are best kept for when you are more experienced as card meanings in these decks play a more prominent role in readings than intuition.
Starting with Tarot: Use the Cards everyday
Now that you have (hopefully) found a deck you like that follows the RWS, the next thing to do is form a connection with the cards.
How do you form a connection with a tarot deck?
When you are starting with tarot use the cards regularly, preferably daily. Use them as often as you can because you need to form an intuitive connection with the cards. For this you do not need to know the meanings of the cards. It won’t hurt to learn the meanings as you go along but getting an intuitive feel for the deck is more important at this stage.
What Is Intuition?
Intuition is a combination of our experience and knowledge. When you get an intuitive feeling about something, your subconscious is accessing this storehouse to give you that gut feeling that says ‘pay attention to this.’ Therefore, it is always a good idea to take heed of those instinctive feelings. Intuition kept our primitive ancestors safe from danger and we can use this instinct now. Think of it as our psychic ability.
How To Use Intuition When Reading The Cards
When you are looking at the card, try to keep your attention somewhere between the card and the question you have in mind while also bearing in mind the particular position in the tarot spread (if you are using one.) This usually takes a few moments but don’t be afraid to take some time – reading tarot isn’t a race.
As you contemplate the card and the question pay attention to any details on the card that seem to leap out at you or catch your attention. This is your intuition speaking. As you notice these details you will start to have ideas about what the card is telling you. Make up a story about what the card is telling you.
When you are using your intuition, a card can provide a message that has nothing to do with its actual meaning. And that’s totally OK!
Just go with the flow.
Learning to use your intuition with tarot is quicker than learning all the card meanings but it still takes time and practice. For another method of reading tarot intuitively see the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which is here.
So, what’s a good way to regularly practice using the tarot cards intuitively?
Using The Cards: The 1 Card Daily Draw
The easiest way to use the cards daily is to do a 1 card draw each day, either in the morning or the evening. This is how it works.
Each day, at the time that suits you, shuffle the deck and draw 1 card. If you draw the card in the morning spend some moments looking at it. Then keep the card in mind as your day progresses. See if any situation that occurs during the day seems similar to something represented in the card.
If you draw your card in the evening, again spend some moments looking at the card and see if anything in the picture reminds you of something that happened during the day.
By doing these daily exercises you not only become familiar with the cards but you begin to intuitively associate certain situations and energies with particular cards.
Even though I have been reading tarot for many years I still do a 1 card daily draw for myself in the morning. Tarot reading is a skill and I use every opportunity to practice, practice, practice. On the day I began writing this post I drew the following card:
The King of Cups was an interesting draw, Kings are in full control of their element – in this case moods and feelings – and use their expertise in an outward manner. In this case, the King of Cups symbolised my goal of influencing the feelings of the people reading this post! The symbolism that caught my eye here was the tight clenching of the cup (control) and the hand holding out the undine (a water elemental) representing a controlled outward expression of his abilities.
The Daily 3 Card Spread
A quicker way of intuitively connecting with the cards is by doing a daily 3 card reading. This way you learn about more cards daily. You can always do this and also do a 1 card draw.
For my daily 3 card spread I use Situation, Challenge, Advice as the spread positions to get a sense of the day ahead. This is really useful if I already know about the plans for the day ahead, say at work.
If I know there are particular problems that need to be resolved that day I might instead use Root of Problem, Advice, What I resolve to do.
Speaking of tarot spreads…
Learn Some Tarot Spreads
When you are starting with tarot, as well as connecting with the cards, it is really important to learn some tarot spreads that cover a few common topics. It is the tarot deck plus the spread that really give tarot it’s ability to answer questions.
A tarot spread is essentially just the question broken down into the specific elements of that question you want answers to – these are the spread positions. I gave some examples above of some simple 3 card spreads but there are countless other spreads.
Some people will say you don’t need a spread. Even if you don’t use a spread, you usually have something in mind when you put down the cards like ‘What do I need to know about today?’ But, a tarot spread really helps you to find specific answers to your question. I strongly recommend using a spread.
There are tarot spreads for any topic you can think of with any number of cards from 1 to 78 (the full deck!)
When you are starting with tarot it’s probably easier to learn a few small spreads with, say, no more than 5 cards. This just makes doing the reading easier without the mental overload of using a large spread.
Here’s an example of a 5 card problem solving spread that I sometimes use:
The positions are:
Top left The Challenge or Obstacle
Bottom left Complications
Bottom right What is hidden
Top Right Idea, person or thing that can help
Centre Action to take
What About The Celtic Cross Spread?
The Celtic Cross spread appears everywhere, in practically every beginner tarot book. It made it’s first public appearance around the time the original RWS tarot was first published and has become ingrained in tarot consciousness.
I don’t believe it’s actually a good spread to learn when you are starting out. For a start this is a whopping 10 card spread – that’s a lot of cards to process. Also, the Celtic Cross is a general purpose spread. Trying to use it to answer every question you have is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It’s just painful.
It’s much easier to use a spread that answers your specific question. A good tarot spread book I recommend is ‘Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower Your Readings‘ by Barbara Moore. There are many tarot spread books but I believe this is one of the best. Keep it handy when you are starting your tarot journey.
Even better than choosing a spread to fit your question is to custom create a spread to exactly answer your question. Some people feel uncomfortable at doing that but it’s easy and a good skill to learn as you are starting with tarot. I explain how to create your own tarot spread – and how to read a spread – in the post ‘How To Read Tarot Cards – 10 Steps For Great Readings‘ which is here.
Start a Tarot journal
I wrote about the importance of tarot journals in the post ‘Reading Tarot For Yourself – 7 Things To Avoid‘, which is here, but I want to quickly mention it again.
When you are starting out with tarot it’s a really good idea to keep a note of the intuitive impressions you are getting from each card. You then have a record of what you have already learned. And, as I wrote in the post above, keeping a journal to note down your tarot readings will help you remember those readings so you can reflect on them later. This also makes for a great learning tool as you can look back on what each card in a reading meant for you.
Get a beginner tarot book
In this blog i’ve often said that learning to read tarot intuitively is important and something that can get you reading tarot quite quickly without needing the card meanings.
But the card meanings are the backbone of tarot – it’s intuition plus card meanings that give tarot it’s power. So, after you have been reading using intuition for a little while, absolutely go and start learning the meanings. The card meanings add garnish to the intuitive reading and can actually spark your intuition in themselves.
When you are starting with tarot, try reading the cards intuitively first. Only after you have done this and gained some meaning from the cards should you reach for the tarot book.
You might be tempted to try learning all the card meanings first. Well, that’s how I started out when I was learning tarot. It was pretty difficult; using the card meanings alone without developing your tarot intuition results in some pretty unsatisfactory mechanical readings. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone new.
There are many good beginner tarot books available on Amazon. There are so many that I can’t really recommend a single one as being the absolute best. As a rough guide go for a book that has at least a 4 star average rating and at least 100 reviews (many have over a 1000 reviews). You won’t go far wrong with that.
Ignore The YouTube Videos That Promise Quick Results
When you are starting out with tarot it is tempting to go on YouTube and see if you can quickly learn the tarot. There are videos that promise you can learn all the cards in 2 hours. Or that you can read like a professional tarot reader in 1 hour.
It’s nonsense. As I mentioned, just learning the card meanings is going to lead to some terrible readings if you don’t learn to use your intuition as well. Reading tarot is a skill and, like all skills, to get good at it takes practice and time.
You will likely forget half the cards meanings after 2 hours of rote learning.
If you want to learn tarot, then take the time to learn to read tarot. Your effort will be rewarded, shortcuts don’t work and will just end in disappointment.
Everything I discussed above should get you going at the start of your tarot journey. It does take time to become familiar with the cards but it’s worth it.
Once you start to feel confident with reading the cards for yourself, the next step would be to practice reading for other people. There is a lot of content in this blog to help you with reading the cards, both for yourself and other people, so have a wander around.
One of the things you may be wandering is whether you need to use reversed tarot cards in your readings. I mention this here and not in the main advice because you do not need to know tarot reversals to get started with the cards. Some people use reversed cards, others don’t. If you choose not to use reversals nothing bad will happen; the 78 upright cards provide all the information you will need.
If you want to learn an easy way to read reversed cards see the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With W.I.N.D.‘ here. If you want to know about elemental dignities – an alternative to tarot reversals – see the post ‘Using Tarot Elemental Correspondences In Your Readings‘ here.
And above all, enjoy yourself as you explore the tarot.
You can gain so much more from your readings by using the tarot elemental correspondences than by just using intuition alone. The 4 tarot suits plus some of the major arcana are associated with the 4 elements of Earth, Water, Wind and Fire. In this post I discuss which suits are associated with which element; what this elemental correspondence means for each suits’ area of influence; and which of the major arcana are associated with the elements. Finally, I discuss and demonstrate how to use these tarot elemental correspondences in a reading.
I have described how to easily do an intuitive reading using the Awake Dream method in the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which you can find here. Even if you never go on to learn the meanings of the cards you can add greater depth to your tarot readings by learning how the elemental energies affect each other.
This post is intended as a next step to using the Awake Dream approach with greater depth by using the tarot elemental correspondences.
What Are the Tarot Suit Elemental Correspondences?
Elemental correspondence just means that each tarot suit corresponds with one elemental energy which gives that suit its particular characteristics. This really only applies to tarot decks based either on the Rider Waite Smith or Thoth tarot systems.
You can read more on the various tarot systems in the post ‘Choosing and Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which can be found here.
So, what are the correspondences?
Wands and Fire (Or Air)
The element of fire commonly corresponds with the suit of Wands. Fire is energetic and provides heat to move you forwards. Wands therefore represents enterprise; drive; ambition; inspiration; spirit; and career. In fact wands covers anything that could be associated with the spark that drives us forward in life to achieve goals.
I put Air in brackets above because in some decks Wands are associated with Air. Likewise, the suit normally associated with Air, Swords, is then associated with fire. These decks are less common but there are a few currently in publication.
If you have a deck where Wands = Air then know that the qualities of the suit remain the same. Simply think of Wands as needing Air to grow rather than creating fire. Associating Wands with Air does mean that in those decks the imagery will be different from the more common Wands = Fire. This can put some people off.
If you are looking to buy a new tarot deck, make sure you know which suit is associated with which element so you don’t confuse yourself when reading.
Cups and Water
The suit of Cups corresponds with water. Water flows slowly or quickly and can be calm and still or stormy and tempestuous. Therefore, Cups is associated with moods and feelings as well as with intuition and psychic ability. Cups represents both the positive moods – such as love and happiness – but also the negative ones as well such as loss and laziness.
Coins/Pentacles and Earth
The Earth element usually corresponds with the suit of Coins/Pentacles. Earth is stability and enables growth and productivity. This means that Coins/Pentacles is associated with abundance; consistency; reliability; wealth; production; work; the material world; money; health. In negative terms this also means that Coins/Pentacles also represents worry; lack of resources; failure in the material realm; focus on the material to the detriment of the spiritual.
Swords and Air (Or Fire)
Swords is normally associated with Air although, as I mentioned earlier, it sometimes corresponds with Fire depending on the deck creator’s design. Air is rationality, ideas, thinking and can be calm but also turbulent and clouded. Air represents the intellect, rational thought, ideas, communication. It also represents peace, sorrow, conflict, aggression, defeat, anxiety and catastrophic thinking. The suit of Swords has a reputation as the painful suit.
Elemental Correspondences in the Major Arcana
Only 3 of the 22 Major Arcana, or Trumps, are associated with the elements. These are:
The Fool Associated with Air.
The Hanged Man Associated with Water
Judgement/The Aeon (Thoth Tarot) Associated with Fire
What about Earth? Well, you, the reader, represents the earth element so the element does not appear in the Trumps.
If you are wondering why the elements have been distributed like this here is a brief explanation.
The Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a late 19th century magical order, open to both men and women, whose aim was to help man become more. Notable members included W.B Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Tarot formed an important element of the occult practices within the order. Amongst other esoteric knowledge attributed to the major arcana, the 12 signs of the zodiac; the 7 planets of horary astrology; and the 3 elements mentioned above were associated with the cards. There are only 22 Trumps which means one element, Earth, was left out.
The creator of the RWS Tarot, A.E. Waite, and Aleister Crowley, intellectual mind behind the Thoth Tarot, were both members of the Golden Dawn. These two tarot decks are responsible for the mass popular appeal of tarot to this day and so many of the decks available today incorporate the elemental, zodiac and planetary associations of the Golden Dawn.
Yep, tarot today is hugely popular because of 19th century occultists. It is worth briefly pointing out that A.E. Waite was a practicing Christian so any idea that the most popular tarot deck in the world is a work of evil and attracts demons is complete nonsense.
Using Elemental Correspondences in Tarot Readings
We can use the elemental correspondences for more than just giving the suits their characteristics.
Crowley’s Thoth tarot was not designed to be used with tarot reversals. Instead, the Thoth uses the idea of elemental dignities to determine the strength or weakness of certain cards. However, you don’t need to use the Thoth to make use of elemental dignities. If you don’t like using tarot reversals, elemental dignities could be a good alternative to add depth to your reading.
What Are Elemental Dignities?
The basic idea is that when two cards are close together, their elements may either oppose, strengthen or simply support the other card. Cards of the same suit will strengthen each other, cards of the opposing suits weaken each other and cards, neither of opposing suits nor of the same suit, will support the meaning of the other.
This is more easily explained like this:
So, for example, if the 6 of Wands and the Page of Wands were close to each other, the meanings of both cards would be strengthened. If the 6 of Cups and the Page of Wands were together, the meanings of both would be weakened. If the 6 of Pentacles or 6 of Swords were close to the Page of Wands then each card would simply support the other.
All you have to do is remember the opposing elements: Fire and Water are opposites; Air and Earth are opposites.
Cards of the same suit strengthen each other, cards neither of the same or opposing suits support each other
Examples of Elemental Dignities in Readings
To demonstrate how to add depth to an intuitive reading I am going to use tarot elemental dignities in an intuitive reading using the Awake Dream method. Elemental dignities work best in spreads or readings where the cards are close together, such as the 3 card approach used in the Awake Dream way of reading.
The question I am asking is: What do I need to know about protecting my health during the current coronavirus pandemic?
Intuitively, reading left to right, suggests that moving from close contact with others to social distancing will allow me to continue to work and be productive in safety.
Adding in tarot elemental dignities can allow more nuance to this reading. Here we have Cups and Wands next to each other. These are opposing suits thus weakening each other. This could be interpreted as the need to work closely together (6 of Cups) makes working in isolation challenging (3 of Wands). Similarly, the need to work in isolation (3 of Wands) means it will be difficult to provide the service needed to other people (6 of Cups).
However, Wands and Pentacles neither strengthen nor weaken each other; the cards support each other. So, even though working alone will make the work more challenging (3 of Wands), it will still support my productivity and keep me safe (King of Pentacles). Also, being safe and productive (King of Pentacles) means I can continue to be successful (figure on 3 of Wands well dressed and standing proud). Therefore, I may need to find a way to alter my work practice to enable remote working.
Here, the High Priestess is notably larger than the figures in the other two cards suggesting this card is of the most importance. The High Priestess it telling me to listen to my gut instinct in this case.
Pentacles and Wands are next to each other and are supportive suits. The 8 of Pentacles is letting me know that working and being productive in isolation (note the town is in the far distance) will support me in remaining safe (figure standing proud in 3 of Wands). Likewise, the 3 of Wands is saying to me that remaining remote from other people (figure is standing high on a cliff) will allow me to continue my work (figure hard at work in 8 of Pentacles). Thus, the messages of the 8 of Pentacles and of the 3 of Wands support each other.
Note that the figures seem to get progressively larger moving from left to right. This is telling me that working alone is the wisest thing I can do.
See how intuition works? It’s amazing!
This is an interesting reading. Here we have 2 Wands cards next to each other which strengthen each other. We also have the 3 of Wands and 2 of Cups next to each other; opposing suits so both these cards weaken each other.
Noting that the figures in the 2 of Cups are larger than the others I take that as meaning being able to work face to face is really important However, this weakens my ability to be able to work remotely (3 of Wands). On the other hand working remotely will make it very difficult to fully dedicate myself to my work as this requires face to face working (weakened 2 of Cups).
Intuitively, in the context of the question, the 5 of Wands appears to show a group of figures struggling to keep away from each other and expending energy to do it. This reinforces the need to work remotely (3 of Wands). However, being successful in my work (3 of Wands splendidly dressed standing proud) means I may need to work with others face to face. This reinforces the need to make sure precautions are taken to maintain social distancing at work (5 of Wands). Overall, the message of the reading is that I need to work face to face with people but with appropriate safety precautions in place.
I hope in these example readings I have shown you how you can add depth to your intuitive readings by using elemental dignities. I have barely used the actual card meanings in these readings yet the readings, using tarot elemental dignities, have more nuance and provide a richer message than with intuition alone.
If you want to use larger spreads, I provide an example of how to use the Awake Dream method with larger card spreads in the post ‘Tarot for Self-Reflection and Action‘ which is here.
Try elemental dignities out and see if they work for you – you may be surprised how much of an impact using the tarot elemental correspondences have on your readings.