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The Minor Arcana Suites and the Elements

To best understand the workings of the Tarot, one should have a comfort level with the underlying aspects of the divination technique. While it is workable to memorize meanings of the cards, one does not have a full appreciation of their workings if the archetypes and metaphysical symbologies are not understood. There are symbologies of numerology and elements present in the minor arcana. This set of notes will focus on the elements and their associated genders.

There are four traditional elements in the Western metaphysical world. These are: earth, fire, air and water. These elements are the basis of most every magical/metaphysical working and belief. So, it is not surprising that the elements are also present in the Tarot. The Major Arcana provides an insight into archetypes that is interpreted through the elements by using astrological associations. The elements are directly embrace the Minor Arcana, with each suite representing an element.

All creation starts from a single source, a seed. This is true in the use of the elements. The entirety of the universe represents the oneness of the elements. All the metaphysical expressions of the universe are presented by one, or a combination, of the elements. As thinking creatures, the idea of an infinite oneness is not palpable to us. It is said that to name a thing is to both know it and change it. At the risk of changing the oneness, mankind does name it, divide it into parts to create a thing that seems finite and understandable.

The oneness of the Universe is then divided by two. A duality is created. The female division provides the creative potential of live and the male division provides spark that moves the creation forward. Below is a chart of symbolic roles:

 

Female

Male

Lasting

Short-lived

In Charge

For Show

Covering and Hiding

Revealing and Exposing

Eternal

Cyclical

Passive

Active

Inner

Outer

Dark

Light

Roles of the Genders

While it may seem that the genders contradict each other, they are actually complimentary. If a system is completely female, it becomes stagnant fuel/potential with no movement. If a system is completely male, it burns itself out with no fuel available to maintain the spark. A mixture of the two is needed to provide the fuel (female) and the spark (male) to the light of life. 

To properly read the both the minor arcana, and their associated Court Cards, one must have a grasp of these mystic associations of "male" and "female" energy. Male energies are fast and sudden. The price for the bursts of energy are paid through short duration and non-lasting effects. Given their shorter life cycles, male energy is associated with completion and readiness to let go or move on. We shall see later that the elements of fire-wands and air-swords are male centric. Both forces of fire and air require much energy to maintain. When the energy is removed, the elements are still and inert. A forest fire or hurricane are elemental examples.

Female energies are slow and steady. This does not make female energies weak. Their slowness allows for constant application of power. Much effect can be gained with little effort. Due to the slowness of the female energy and its inability to quickly shift focus, the effects can be seen as "controlling" and "domineering". When grossly stereotyped, the mystic female energy is that of the smothering mother rather than the femaleís "right to change their mind". Again, as we shall see later, the elements of earth-pentacles and water-cups are female centric. When placed in or on an object, these elements require little or no energy to maintain their resulting force or enveloping qualities. The sand dunes of the desert, or the valley carving stream, are elemental examples.

The genders are next split in two, creating four states of being in the elements. The split represents a duality of Inner and Outer. A male and female pair embraces an energy that is expressed inwardly, in ways associated with the single system or individual. The other male and female pair embraces an energy that servers or focuses on those things outside of a single system or individual. So, there is defined a "female-male" element, a "female-female" element, and so one. This is a very important differentiation, and should be understood.


Divisions of Universal Oneness

Traditionally the elements interact with each other using rigid rules: Fire and Water are enemies, therefore weaken each other Air and Earth are enemies, therefore weaken each other. The interesting point with this rule is that elements of the same "gender" donít work together. Water and Fire are both female in orientation, and their combination leads to a passiveness that does not prosper. Likewise, Air and Earth are both male in orientation, and their combination burns out and does not prosper.

Below is a chart outlining the qualities of the elements:

Element

Gender

Focus/Direction

Duality

Expression

Traditional Meaning

Fire

Male

Inner /Self

Female/Male

energy, creativity, passion, and spirit

actions

Water

Female

Inner /Self

Female/Female

emotions, relationships, love, and intuition

emotions, feelings

Air

Male

Outer/Others

Male/Male

the mind and intellect, communicating, and conflict

indication of trouble and problems

Earth

Female

Outer/Others

Male/Female

represent money, material matters, and physical well-being

material things

Now that we have an understanding of the origins of the elements, each element will now be correlated to their Tarot suite, and the suite will be examined in detail. After much discussion, now the Tarot suites are presented:

Suite

Element

Gender (Main)

Gender (Secondary)

Wands/Rods

Fire

Male

Female

Cups

Water

Female

Female

Swords

Air

Male

Male

Pentacles

Earth

Female

Male

Table of Suite Correspondences

SOME NOTES:

The outline presented here is the mainstream traditional view of the genders and the suites. It should be noted that there is another group of opinion that the Wands and Swords are switched. That is, that Wands are associated with Air and Swords are associated with Fire. If this is done, the rest of the material presented holds true. The switch is based on metaphysical philosophy, and offers an example that there are no set rules. Astrology breaks down the Elements once more into three modes of operation: Cardinal, Fixed, and Mutable. As the four elements are split into three modes, the basis for the twelve astrological zodiac houses is formed.


THE SUITES - THEIR ENERGY AND MODES OF OPERATION

WANDS: FIRE

Wands/Rods correspond to the male element of fire. They represent energy, creativity, passion, and spirit. Wands are also closely associated with career and work situations.

The element of Fire adds passion and energy to the foundation created by the element of Earth. The natural rhythms of the planet are usurped by outside influences. The result is new creations and ideas. The goals created are not dependent on the timing of the planet. As events are accelerated, the natural balance is sometimes overthrown. The result is competition, seen most vividly in the sixth through ninth cards. The passion of the Wands is a force largely devoid of emotions. It is neither cold hearted nor full of anger. The volcano is an analogy in that it can destroy existing land, plants, and animals as it creates new land. There is no motivation of destruction. Transformation, a function of death and birth, is a balanced force of nature.

We refer to the element of fire as the force of Spirit. This means that through the expressions of fire, the primal forces of creative expression are manifested. Fire is the desire for life, the will to be, and the act of individualizing the self from the rest of Mankind. It is the element of fire serves as the animating force behind an individualís self-assertions.

CUPS: WATER

Cups correspond to the element of female water. They represent emotions, relationships, love, and intuition. The shielding nature of a cup also associates it with things hidden, as true emotions usually are.

The element of Water adds emotions to the minor arcana. Water is a substance that flows to the lowest places, and it can be calm or stormy. Water can be represented by shallow puddles or by bottomless oceans. Emotions take on all of these qualities. The shape and status of water is dependent on its container and temperature.

We refer to the water element as the force of Soul or Emotion. Soul is, in part, the element of human nature which provides understanding and compassion for the feelings of others. People who are extremely connected to the water element are extremely sensitive to human sentiment and artistic expression. They can seep into the subconscious of others and instinctually, if not intellectually, understand the motives behind other peopleís actions

SWORDS: AIR

Swords correspond to the element of male air. They represent the mind and intellect, communicating, and conflict.

The element of Air adds intellect and conscious thinking to the minor arcana. The element of air is the most removed from the element of Earth. Fire is dependent on Earth for fuel. Water is dependent on Earth for a place to rest. Air can exist without Earth. This nature analogy can be extended to the realm of our being. One can make decisions, and have thoughts, that are not based on reality, or grounded in practicality. The thought that begins as a breeze quickly becomes a tornado, or escapes into the emptiness of space. Air is the most difficult element to contain, control, and quantity. The more we try to control our thoughts, the wilder they become. Meditation brings our thoughts back to a stable form. The purest forms of meditation seek not to contain, control, or quantify thoughts. Zen meditation instead acknowledges a thought, and allows for its natural departure. There is no counting of thoughts, no tally sheet of grievances and hurts.

The suite of Swords has traditionally had the darkest of reputations. There are more bad cards than good cards. It is my belief that this is a reflection of the turmoil people experience from the stresses of the mind. Thoughts are egocentric, and cannot join with others. When a person is operating in the realm of Air, they are furthest from the soothing womb of the Earth.

We refer to the air element as the force of the Mind. People who are strongly influenced by the airy signs can be calm and refreshing as a cool breeze. But if their temper is raised, they react with galelike force, shattering the tranquility of the world around them. Air is necessary to convey the words which one person uses to speak to another. It is in its aspect as a communicating and collectivizing agent that air has its most important function in astrology. Through air, Man can reach for ideas in the intuitive mind, and apply them in the realm of human experience. Mind is manís most important tool and the greatest danger at the same time.

PENTACLES: EARTH

Pentacles/Disks correspond to the female element of earth. They represent money, material matters, and physical well-being.

The element of Earth is expressed through the direct experiences of our five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. This suite is one of action and reaction. When I sell somebody an item, they will give me money. When I eat ice cream, it will taste good. When I drink too much, I will have a hangover. The functions are uncomplicated. When somebody lives at an Earth level, life could be as slow and steady as the seasons turning and the crops growing. Paganism feels very much in touch with these cycles, and celebrates them on Full Moons and quarters of the year.

We refer to the earthly element as the force of Form (or Body). Manís strongest instinct is the will to be and the first manifestation of that desire is to create something out of matter to prove his existence. Earthly people do this through the gathering of material possessions and the actual building of the physical aspects of Man: his industries, his homes, and his physical body. It is the element of earth in a horoscope behind the needs to be practical, cautious, and very understanding of Manís ambitions toward material security and physical pleasures.

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