The Four Tarot Suits and their association to Air, Fire, Water and Earth
Recently I was emailed by someone asking for clarification on the meanings of the four suits in tarot, especially their association with the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. For the sake of simplicity I shall focus on the four aces as these embody the essence of each suit. All of the Aces symbolise new beginnings connected to the specific suit.
Symbolically the Swords rule thought and our ability to discriminate. The Ace of Swords has a light side and a dark side, depicting the two options we have in any given thought process-the this and the that, the right and the wrong, the good and the bad, the positive and negative, attack or defend. The Ace of Swords is depicted upright, its point often encircled by a crown symbolising the head and the crown chakra, or piercing through clouds, showing that we can trust knowledge from our higher self and speak our truth.
Air is what we breathe and regulates the entire body. We each have an in-breath and an-out-breath, a cycle which continues until the spirit leaves the body.
When mentally challenged by opposition from others we experience anxiety, shallow breathing, panic attacks, palpitations, headaches and other conditions. This is why people often associate the suit of swords with ‘bad things,’ strife and danger.
The Ace of Swords symbolises our ability to speak our truth, integrity, honesty and clarity. When reversed it symbolises untruths, outrights lies and an inability to maintain our opinion when opposed by others.
Symbolically the Batons rule our individual nature and ability to perform physical activities. The Ace of Batons is depicted as a sprouting branch showing all of the potential for creativity and growth defined by our specific nature. For example: If we have an artistic nature then we will turn our attention to such things as painting, music and writing. If we have a practical nature then we will turn our attention to such things as mechanics, gardening and carpentry. It is said that if each man follows his true nature then he will find bliss and be truly content. Symbolic fire is the light that shines through each individual.
Fire regulates the body’s temperature. Too hot and we become feverish. Too cold and we shiver. Fire also gives us light and colour. When correctly regulated fire gives us the energy for creative pursuits, sports, exercise, sex, fun, laughter and many other activities that are both practical and give us pleasure, which is why the batons rule joy, artists and procreation.
The Ace of Batons symbolises the beginning of any new activity. It’s a real ‘yipeee!’ kind of feeling. The Ace of Batons also symbolises the erect penis. You can read more about sexual interpretations for all 78 tarot cards in my book Sex & Tarot
When reversed the Ace of batons symbolises projects failing to get going, and generally feeling dull and out of sorts.
Symbolically the Cups rule our ability to love and be loved by others. We not only need to give love but we also have to be able to accept and receive love from others in order to be complete.
Water keeps the body hydrated. It acts as a bond. Symbolically it creates bonds between people, places and things. We call these bonds love.
There are many depictions of the cup as a symbol of this love and these bonds. In the tale of King Arthur the Holy Grail is depicted as something that can only be found and touched by someone who is pure of heart. If we too are pure of heart then we can attain the perfection and wisdom of love symbolised by the Holy Grail. Another cup symbol is the baptism font in which we are immersed and bonded with the church. Think on how many times you have offered a friend a cup of tea or coffee, or to ‘go for a drink together.’ Unconsciously every time we do this we are renewing the bond of friendship, sharing in a sacred ritual that binds two hearts together. The love symbolised by the cups is for one person to another, and although they do not exclude romantic love, the types of love they depict goes far beyond romance.
The Ace of Cups symbolises the open heart and our ability to love and be loved. We are open to new friendships and prepared to receive offers of affection from others.
When reversed the Ace of Cups symbolises the broken heart or closed heart. We do not let people in emotionally due to grief or sadness, and we are unable to offer any affection in return.
The suit of Coins/pentacles is ruled by earth.
Symbolically the coin represents wisdom and wealth. The coin is a universal symbol of reward for our efforts. Wisdom is acquired through study or through life experience. This wisdom is what we trade when we work, and we are rewarded according to the amount of knowledge we have obtained in our chosen field.
Earth is the physical body. Without the physical body all of the other elements do not have a vehicle to go out and play in. Without a physical body we cannot enjoy the intellectual debate offered by the swords, the fun and laughter offered by the batons, or the love offered by the cups. The body requires food and shelter before it can enjoy the added extras that a human incarnation offers the spirit.
Very often people see the suit of coins as nothing but work, but that is simply not the case. Great pleasure can be obtained from acquiring a new skill, from being rewarded and praised for daily duties we perform, and from sharing knowledge when teaching other people.
The Ace of Coins symbolises wisdom and wealth in its purest form. It also depicts any document that has value to us. For example: The piece of paper our qualification is on, the one we proudly hang on the wall of our office. The deeds to our property. A book of notes for our latest project. Surrounding cards will help describe what type of document the Ace of Coins is referring to.
When reversed the Ace of Coins becomes greedy, and although we may have the wisdom or wealth we are loath to share it with others. It becomes ‘my’ knowledge and ‘my’ money. Often we’ve worked hard to acquire this wisdom or wealth, but if we hold on too tight others can never benefit from our knowledge and formulate new ideas. The knowledge dies along with us.
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