Most tarot decks from the late 1800s onwards assign each suit an element which describes the ‘feel’ or function of the suit. Usually, (not always), the elements and suits are:
- Trumps/Major Arcana – the universal forces which act upon us
- Swords – Air – that which occurs in the mind and speach
- Cups – Water – that which occurs in the emotions and flows from the heart
- Wands – Fire – the passion, action and drive that come from a fire in the belly
- Coins – Earth – that which brings comfort, sustenance and bodily health
A very simplified way to remember this is spirit provides the conditions for thoughts to be generated and communicated. This will evoke an emotion which may or may not lead to passionate action initiating the production of a thing which is of use to a person on a very fundamental earthly level.
As we become familiar with the tarot and the way it presents in readings, it becomes apparent that the elements can merge, overlap and present in what, at first glance, seem to be wholly inappropriate places – such as coins in a relationship reading (wholesome sex perhaps), or wands in a reading regarding connecting with spirit (a dynamic, proactive connection maybe), swords pop up all over the place, all of the time as thought, state of mind and communication feature so widely in life. Cups in a reading regarding finances (perhaps mourning the loss of income or feeling satisfied with the outcome of a transaction). And then to muddle the issue further, the major arcana cards are wont to show up in an entirely mundane capacity – often, saying what you see in the image hits the mark on these occassions.
But the diagram above does give a good rule of thumb as to the suits, their associated elements and the manifestation/root of them.
*some Spanish decks switch elements on swords and cups. Swords become water and cups become air.
*Switching the suits of fire and air so that swords become fire (forged in fire), and wands become air (branches grow upwards into the air), is not unheard of.
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