The Tarot deck is a deck of seventy eight (at least seventy eight, sometimes more, but any less and the cards aren’t Tarot). The seventy eight cards are split into two, the twenty two cards of the Major Arcana and the fifty six of the Minor Arcana. The fifty six cards of the Minor Arcana are also split into two. The sixteen court cards and the forty numbered (or pip) cards.

Today, this post will be all about the pips, (although the suit and element also strongly pertain to the court cards, they will be dealt with in another post on another day). The suit, the element corresponding to that suit and how they work together.

Remember, we are all made up of all of these elements – there is breath in us (air), there is wet in us (water), there is heat in us (fire), and we are substance (earth). The Tarot reflects this.

The deck used throughout this post is the Hansen Roberts Tarot published by US Games Systems inc.



In a Tarot deck derived from the Waite Smith Tarot, there is no escaping from the interplay between the suits and the elements, particularly in the numbered cards and the court cards.

The suit of swords corresponds to the element of air.

“I think.”

The swords are proactive and direct and cutting and often restless. Air can’t rest on the earth and take solid form and rest.

The element of air has an ethereal quality – in itself it can’t be seen. It can only be seen through its effect e.g. we see the trees move in the wind, but we don’t see the wind. We hear words but can’t see the breath that powers them. We feel cooled by a breeze but don’t see it. We detect scents in the air, but can’t see the air.

Swords tend to relate to the cerebral. Matters of the mind. The effects of our state of mind and the actions it prompts us to take, the words it prompts us to say and the feelings that come out of the thoughts.


Think of clear quartz, shades of grey, silver, the blues of the sky in all of its moods, gunmetal, pewter, the glint of steel in the sun, 20/20 vision and an eagle’s eye view.

Ideas, academia, words, angst, energetic connection in direct, cutting, clearcut, crystal clear focus.

Swords, like the wind, can be cutting and direct such as in the ace, or coming at you from all directions so you don’t know where you stand (as in the five of swords). You can take advantage of prevailing winds (such as in the six of swords), or be beaten into submission by a strong headwind (such as in the nine and ten of swords). You may need to take advantage of a lull in the winds (as in the two and four of swords), or to regroup and think again about the plan of action (as in the three of swords). It is a wise person who decides that some winds are not worth fighting (the seven of swords), or there’s a danger of being able to move neither forwards nor backwards because battling against the blast all seems too much (the eight of swords).

Air, despite seeming such an ethereal, flimsy and intangible element has the power to manifest great effects.

A word without air isn’t spoken.

“There are times when the unseen can be even more dangerous than what our eyes behold.”                                                               Erin Forbes, Fire and Ice, The Elementals

So the suit of swords deals with thought and what it manifests. It can’t be seen but it can produce dramatic consequences. Great works of fiction, discoveries and critical insights, wars, arguments, discussions, transcendance and the ability to travel the astral plane. Thought produces emotion and will. Applied thought, emotion and will bring about material manifestation.


The suit of cups corresponds with the element of water.

“I Feel.”

It deals with things that flow and pour, can dry up or overflow. Emotions and what evokes them – such as relationships, beautiful art. It deals with our ability to move with grace and ease over and through and around life’s gifts and challenges.

The cups hold liquid. Receptacles that can be filled to any level, spilled by accident or left dried out and parched in the sun – I’m full of love, my tears flowed like a river, I have nothing left to give my well is dry.

The cups receive.

Water is easy, it flows to the lowest point. Sometimes it flows with great force, sometimes it is languid and slow moving. The only time water moves against gravity, against the flow as a body, is when the moon exerts its pull.


Water’s caress can be gentle and loving (as in the two of cups and the six of cups), it can flow out unexpectadly and leave us feeling folorn and bereft (as in the five of cups), it can fill us to overflowing, bubbling euphoria (as in the ace of cups and three of cups). It may threaten to drown us, forcing us to move on (as in the 8 of cups). The tide may come in unnoticed as we sit, self absorbed, navel gazing (as in the four of cups). It slakes our thirst and satisfies us (as in the nine of cups and ten of cups), or its currents and eddies may confuse us, leaving us unsure where to look next (as in the seven of cups).

Water can freeze. Forcing it to stand still. It can turn to steam, allowing it to rise above its usual dwelling place.

Think aqua marine, turquoise, sunshine glancing off a ripple, breaking waves, roiling currents, grade four rapids, babbling brooks and roaring water falls. Rain drops and the ripple effect.

The Tao te Ching encourages us to be like water. This is different to being controlled by water, or identifying as water. In other words allowing ourselves to flow is a wonderful freeing thing. Allowing our emotions to control us, stem our flow, inhibit our expansion, is not.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. ”        Jon Kabat-Zinn

The suit of cups deals with emotion, its causes and expression in all of their forms in all of their glory and all of their grief.


The wands correspond to the element of fire. The fire in the belly, the powerhouse of the spirit, the driving force, the heat of the moment, the hot passion or fiery temper.

I will.


Think reds, oranges russets and rich deep glowing golds. Think sparks and carnelian, smouldering embers, wildfires and toasty hearths. Think the sun, controlled burn, burn it down, put it out.

A spark of inspiration (the ace of wands), blowing the sparks into flames with bellows (the two of wands), feeding the lames with fuel to build a sustainable blaze (the three), enjoying basking in the warmth (the four). The mad scramble to find more fuel, disagreement on which is the best (five), a great blaze attained, steady burn victorious (six), the fight to keep it burning (seven), focused attention to keeping the supply lines of fuel open and active (eight), guarding the valuable, hard won stockpile (nine), bringing in the final stack of fuel to keep the fire burning until the soon to arrive warmer days (ten)

The wands are active and pushy, phallic and bold.

“Enlightened ones do not fight fire with fire; they realize they are it’s fuel.”      T.F. Hodge

The Wands correspond to the element of fire. They are concerned with will, passion, determination, empassioned spiritual connection and communication. They deal with business, career if it is the one that sets a fire in the belly, adventure, excitement, courage and vitality.


The pentacles correspond to the element of earth. The material. The manifest.

“I am.”

“I have.”

Think of mud pies, rich brown loamy soil, tree trunks and parsnips, mountains, nurturing mother earth, caves, tunnels, well trodden paths into the forest and ploughed fields. Think moss green, ferns and moors.


The pentacles deal with all that makes life comfortable – health, wealth, sustenance and things made to make us feel good, safe, nurtured and strong.

The money that pays for the bread that was made to sustain and nourish us and keep us strong. The cup that was made by the potter to hold coffee that was picked and processed by people – you get the picture – the currency, whether it be assets, shelter, objects, food or cash. And the physical, as in the body. Health and wealth. The bottom layers of maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


The seed to be planted, the potential (the ace), the decision where to put it, how to nurture it, whether the resources are available (the two), putting in concerted effort to create quality (three) in order to have enough (four). A change in direction, turning away from the established ways, taking a risk (five), to generate enough to share – fair days pay for a fair days work, and exchange of effort put in and tangible results (six), thinning out the seedlings so that the healthiest can survive (seven), perfecting and continually learning and nurturing and tending (eight), a well earned rest from toil after the harvest (nine), there is a time and a season for everything under the sun, retirement and the next generation taking the reins (ten).

“Touching the earth – digging, planting, harvesting – connects us literally and spiritually to those who have dug, planted and harvested before us.”            Peg Streep

So the pentacles correspond to the element of earth. They concern all that we make, create with our hands, grow in the soil to sustain and delight us. That which nurtures us and makes us feel safe. That which we exchange for the things we cannot provide for ourselves. Our bodies and our health.

“Don’t dismiss the elements. Water soothes and heals

Air refreshes and revives

Earth grounds and holds

Fire is a constant reminder of our own

will and creative power. Breathe them in,

swallow their spells. There’s a certain

sweet comfort in knowing that

you belong to them all.”                                                           Victoria Erickson

2 thoughts on “Suit and Element in the Numbered Cards of the Tarot

  1. Great article, you brought up some interesting views on how the different suits operate. I always take to heart the Elements in a read, now I have morel insight. Hope to do a blog half as you produce.


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