The Four Elements in the Tarot


Among all the possible astrological and geomantic interpretations and connections of cartomancy, one of them is the one that links the cards to the elements, in this case, cartomancy being a most widespread divination method in the Western world, of the five elements earth, water, fire, wind and ether or spirit. In this regard we will find some variants, as well as we will see that the fortune tellers prepare their workplace with the elements present, to guarantee that the random answers are in the best possible environment.

The pre-existing ideas, both in philosophy, in Kabbalah, and in alchemy, about the four elements, whose interrelation gives rise to creation and life, will make it essential that, for any self-respecting art, these can be found intervening In its development. Four is also a number of constant esoteric nature: the four seasons, the four directions, the four letters of the divine name, the four ages of man, the four evangelists... If we review a little history, we will see that the elemental correspondences In esoteric matters they have existed since the beginning, especially in astrology, which is the mother of all the others, on which it constantly influences.

In the old Aretino Tarot from the 16th century, although supposedly earlier, there were cards that properly referred to the elements, from 20 to 23, which corresponded to Fire, Water, Earth and Air. However, none of the surviving tarots in practice have returned to reflect them so directly. The existing elements on the Wizard card are also considered to represent the four elements, of which the character makes use.

Despite the fact that the greatest importance is given to the Major Arcana due to its expression of Gnosis and its visual symbolism, the truth is that the division of card suits or minor arcana, which in many modern tarot cards seem dispensable, has always been carried out in four groups: clubs, spades, cups and golds, or in other games, clubs, spades, hearts, and diamonds, and that these four have always been automatically associated: hearts with love or relationships, diamonds with money, spades with sharp issues, and those who " is thrown", and the clovers with luck or the firmness of the earth. These same images are evoked in the cups, the gold, the swords and the clubs. And these four characteristics are identified, very soon, with the four elements: water, earth, air and fire.

-In the minor arcana.

As already indicated, the first and most common relationships of the elements take place with the minor arcana. Therefore, in many tarot cards of the last century, which ignore or do not appreciate the existence of the minor arcana, this would apply to us. In the cases in which there are minor arcana, they would be organized into two groups: the "active" group and the "passive" group, sometimes also called hard and soft, or masculine and feminine. The active suits would be Swords and Wands, while the passive ones would be Cups and Pentacles.

This has to do with the distribution of the elements: the Swords are related to the air element, and the Wands with the Fire element. Both elements are related to changes and movement, and therefore, with the will. Air is related to thought and words, and therefore the Tarot Swords transmit messages, letters, conversations, discussions, agreements and disagreements. Fire is related to passions and spirit, which is why Wands symbolize passion and decision making.

As for the liabilities, they are those that water is related to adaptability to changes and emotions, therefore, with interpersonal relationships, gifts, friendship and family, in which one is immersed. Regarding the earth, which symbolizes the material, the golds will refer to property, money and home.

Specifically, in the Tarot de Marseille and its relatives, each suit of the deck can be distinguished as a positive-negative / even-odd evolution, whose treatment will be extended in future articles, which helps reading, and which, in elementary interpretation, would highlight the characteristics, for better or for worse, of the elements: citing a few examples, the four of cups (water passive element), with a normally balanced meaning, which is manifested - also at a psychological level - in the stability of the distribution of the cups Within the framework of the letter, it could indicate that "the waters have calmed down", that is to say, that the situation of tranquility and even boredom takes place as the culmination of an interpersonal relationship brought to fruition, to spiritual peace; or that it is necessary to restart a relationship, activity or point of the trip, like the coming and going of waves, to avoid getting stuck. However, the five of cups, with the fifth cup inserted between the other four well arranged, would indicate a disruption of that stability, and in its association with water, it is a wave, a bubble, something that breaks those waters in apparent tranquility. ; Therefore, it is not a very bad letter, but it does announce an unexpected and annoying event, such as an argument or interference from an outside person. If we exemplify with an active card, the four of wands (fire element) will indicate stability in a recently started project, a good decision; however, again in the five of wands we will have an obstacle, a bad decision, an error.

In the case of the Rider Waite Tarot, Egyptian tarot and its followers, the images are manifested even more visually: the four of cups represents a lonely individual receiving the fourth cup: he is calm, waiting for company, but well served; and when we go to the five of cups, we find a hooded figure, in mourning, who sees how three of the five cups in the scene have been spilled, and in the distance a bridge, a city, since it is far from being able to communicate with anyone. If we see the pole of clubs, in the four of clubs two figures (and further in the background) celebrate under a structure of four poles with flowery garlands on top: it is the celebration of the first construction, of the first success; the five of wands, however, shows great confusion, where the sticks are intertwined and the five individuals who carry them do not have a guide.

Likewise, it is considered that the cards can represent the response to different profiles of people who intervene in the consultant's circumstances or solutions: the passive suits will be female individuals, while the active ones will be male. It can also be interpreted, regardless of gender, that the individuals identified by cards of the cups suit will be emotional and intuitive people, and those of golds, workers, savers or wealthy; the wands would indicate energetic, enthusiastic and even a little violent people; and swords, to rational people, with great communication skills. This is given with special emphasis on the characters of the deck: jacks (childhood, adolescence and youth, and frequently women), horses or knights (character of the court, and therefore, the consultant himself or people related to the consultation , with whom there is a direct relationship), queens and kings (adults, seniors or with a certain authority).

-The fifth element?

Many schools of cartomancy consider that the fifth element, the spirit, is the diviner, the querent or both, since it is the spirit that prompts the cards/elements to manifest themselves. However, there is also the conception that, although the minor arcana symbolize the four natural elements, it will be the major arcana that symbolize the fifth element, ether or spirit, since their messages are always much deeper, obviously psychological, as well as more forceful. This indeterminacy, however, would cause the existence of 22 spirit cards, 22 interpretable energies at the same level, which is why it is much more common for the major arcana to also be associated with the four elements seen above, but with the particularity that they have, in turn, greater astrological, zodiacal and planetary implications.

-In the Major Arcana

However, perhaps due to these different interpretations, we find different versions of the arcana and their corresponding elements. On the one hand, we will have those who organize them into groups of five or seven cards, following their order in the deck, and those who do so for their symbolic characteristics, as described above: water with interpersonal relationships, earth with the material, fire with the will and air with communication.

Fire element: The Magician, the Priestess, the Empress, the Sun, the Tower, the Force

Air Element: The Hermit, the Wheel of Fortune, the Fool, Justice, the Star.

Water Element: The High Priest, the Lovers, the Chariot, the Moon, the Hanged Man, the Judgment

Earth element: Death, Temperance, the Devil, the World, the Emperor

Some believe that, in reality, the World and the Wheel of Fortune would contain the four elements in themselves, and should be removed from this classification, and could also be the fifth element, and interchanging some other arcane so that all the groups are five cards. that correspond to the five elements.

Another possible classification is based on the associations with the astrological houses, and consequently, the elements of the ruling signs and planets.

In this way, the "passive" arcana related to the earth signs will be The High Priest (Taurus), The Hermit (Virgo), He and The Devil (Capricorn), for their zodiacal houses, and The Empress and The World, governed by by Venus and Earth.

Those of water The Chariot (Cancer), Death (Scorpio) and The Moon (Pisces), by their zodiacal houses, and planetarily, The Hanged Man (Neptune) and The Priestess (Moon), and according to some The Judgment (with Pluto) .

With regard to the "active" arcana, those of air, Los Enamorados (Gemini), Justice (Libra) and The Star (Aquarius), and planetarily, The Magician (Mercury) and The Fool (Uranus).

Finally, those of fire would be The Emperor (Aries), Strength (Leo), Justice (Libra) and Temperance (Sagittarius); and by ruling planets, The Wheel of Fortune (Jupiter) The Tower (Mars) and The Sun (obviously the Sun). According to some, Judgment could also be ruled by Pluto as Fire.

This division of Pluto between Fire and Water, and coincidentally with Judgment, is due to the fact that it is a planet, like Uranus and Neptune, added late to the issues, and considered an "intense but changing" planet, it has two traditions that they associate it, due to its "personality", to one or another element.

-The elements, present in the toss.

Many tarot readers consider the presence of the four or five elements necessary while a reading is being carried out, so that they isolate the energies of the cards, or precisely so that they attract the energies of the consultant and balance them. Among the most common practices is to have a rug where there is a pentagram or at least the evocative symbols of the elements. Likewise, there are those who place a candle that symbolizes fire, a feather or a stick of incense that symbolizes air, a full glass that symbolizes water, and a quartz or stone that symbolizes the earth.

Where they are placed will also matter. Fire and water would be placed on both sides of the consultant, and air and earth on the sides of the consultant. This arrangement is based on a traditional parallel view of the elements in the pentagram. However, these positions could rotate as long as said positions were maintained, and there is also, it must be said, no rule.

Likewise, these positions can be justified, once again, by the considerations of active and passive elements. The active elements would be located to the right or to the left of the participants in the session, depending on whether or not one wanted to consider the active participation and intervention of one or the other: thus, if the consultant's participation were direct, intervening, it would be convenient for the elements of air and fire will be placed on his right (or on his left if he is left-handed), while if the person is willing to receive the answers passively, the elements of water and earth will be placed on his left.

In conclusion, without mysticism, the most correct thing to do is to indicate that, as it is currently understood, the Tarot can reflect the world and personality, psychology, and this can only be made up of a combination of elements that in turn , serve as an example for the manifestation of one or another attitude towards life.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Mosquera, J.M. Llonch Segarra, S. Ludus Triumphorum. La Historia del Tarot. Asociación Española de Tarot Profesional. Lulu. 2017

-Place, R.M. The Fool's Journey: the History, Art, and Symbolism of the Tarot. Ed. Talarius, New York, 2010

-Semetsky, I. Re-Symbolization of the Self: Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic. Sense publishers, Rotterdam, 2011.

Related articles:

>Marseilles Tarot: medieval symbols of the main colours

>Marseilles Tarot: medieval symbols of the minor colours

>"Egyptian" tarot cards.

>R. Falconnier's Egyptian tarot (I)

>R. Falconnier's Egyptian tarot (II)

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