THE FOUR ELEMENTS AND TAROT

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=========================== This essay is an attempt to describe a method of analysing a Tarot reading using the Four Elements as a basis, to determine quickly and simply the most important cards, their strength and weaknesses, and how they interact with each other to gain information that may have been apparent only thru intuition.

Tarot Readers may well have experienced the phenomenon of getting 'bad' vibes from apparently 'good' cards, and vice versa. After a few rocky starts, I found that the querents confirmed these contradictory feelings. I decided to research the hows and whys of this, and eventually I came up with the ideas presented below.

These are the Main Points:

* There are no 'good or bad' cards. * The cards are essentially neutral. * Reversed cards are included, but they do not have too much weight. * The basis of interaction is the Four Elements. * The cards interact with the Positions in spreads. * Cards should never be read singly. Preferably, this means that at least 3 cards should be read at a time. * Elemental rules are simple and logical * Works for all standard 78 decks * No need to modify one's personal interpretation of individual cards.

How many people's lives are that black and white? Remember, a reversed card does not necessary mean bad news. Using sequential spreads rather than positional spreads (the Celtic Cross is a positional spread) gives one the opportunity to be more sophisticated in the use of reversed cards.

The basis of what follows is to simply read and interpret Three Cards at a time, gradually building up in sophistication as our understanding grows. Practice is vital, so that the rules become second nature, and eventually almost sub-conscious.

STAGE ONE: TRADITIONAL METHOD =============================

We will start with a traditional reading of Three Cards.

Deal out any 3 cards right way up, and interpret them. Consider the Central card to be the Principal, with the ones either side as 'Modifiers'.

1 2 3 M P M

These cards can be transposed two more times by moving the Left Modifier to the right hand side:

M P M

2 3 1 3 1 2

As a general rule: Minor cards are within the control of the Querent Major cards are out of the querent's control Court cards personify an action or actually represent a person.

Next, transpose the cards as shown above, and see if you feel different about them. Repeat the process.

Then reverse one of the cards, and reinterpret. There are far more combinations of Reversal than transpositions.

Hopefully you should experience slightly different feelings each time. It is usually easier to avoid Court cards to begin with, but persevere.

This stage is essentially how most people would read the cards. Most people's experiences are that there is some difference with each transposition, but it is hard to quantify exactly.

STAGE TWO: ELEMENTAL RULES ========================

If you want to be more adventurous, remember that all of the Tarot cards can be categorised as either Fire, Water, Air or Earth. The rulership of the Major cards is determined by astrological rules (See Jess Karlin's 'Elemental Dignities' for more details).

These 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

All other combinations are friendly, therefore strengthen each other.

Fire and Air are active Water and Earth are passive.

Interpretation then becomes a fairly mechanical exercise:

* Which card is strongest? * Which weakest? * Is the strong card active or passive? * Is it Major/Minor/Court? * Dignity?

Once you have done this, actually apply and combine the meanings of each card with appropriate weighting. I suggest you follow the order given here, but do experiment.

EXERCISE 1 ==========

Now we will interpret the 3 Card Spread purely on elemental principles. It may help to make up some Flash Cards with only the elemental symbols on them if you wish to practise yourself.

As an example,

1 2 3 F A W

Card 2 is the Principal. It is friendly with Fire and Water, so is strengthened. It is active, therefore likely to happen. Note that 1 and 3 are enemies, so that the Principal card is even stronger, and can rise over any problems caused by the modifiers.

1 2 3 A F W

Fire is friendly with Air, but weakened by Water, so 2 and 3 neutralise themselves. However, the Modifiers are friendly to each other. As Fire is active, and Air supports, the event is likely to happen, but not without some emotional turmoil.

1 2 3 A W F

The Principal is passive, while the modifiers are active. Fire is inimical to the Principal and weakens it, while Air strengthens. Fire and Air are friendly. The conclusion is that we have an unsatisfactory situation that is unlikely to change quickly. The Principal is likely to be pulled in different directions.

(Earth has been omitted only for reasons of space.)

SUMMARY ======= So far, the above has been an exercise rather than an actual spread. I have avoided mention of any individual card or meaning deliberately. Anyone using a standard Tarot deck of 78 cards should be able to follow this system. There is another advantage in that one's own interpretation of each card does not have to change, however idiosyncratic they may be.

Interpretation of the Court Cards also becomes much easier, as all one has to do is see what the two Modifiers are hinting at, using the rules delineated above.

If anyone would like to use this spread, it could be when the querent needs to achieve something at almost any cost, and so it would define the action necessary to achieve it. Obviously morals may not have much to do with this, so careful thought is necessary before acting.

STAGE THREE: POSITIONS ======================

This brings us to the problems associated with this 3 card spread: although an action is defined, there is no context, no background, it appears to be happening in a vacuum. The cards are not interacting with the environment, and as we are trying to interpret Tarot in terms of the Querent, who is part and parcel of the environment, after all, we have to do something about it.

Logically we have to place the 3 cards in an environment. Following our theme of the four elements we will put the Triplets in an elemental position, rather than naming them as 'Love', 'Past', 'Work' etc.

We then use the same rules to reinterpret the cards. As an example, we will follow the First Example in Exercise 1, interpreting it beginning with the Fire position, then Water, Air and finally Earth:

FIRE POSITION: Fire deals with actions.

1 2 3 F A W

With these 3 cards in the Fire position, we see immediately that the original interpretation will stand, but we have more detail. 3 is now very weak. The emotional content is all but eliminated. The Querent will definitely act on his/her idea, with little compassion, possibly brutally. There is no financial incentive, nothing to ground the situation, as there is no balancing, passive Earth. Sudden actions, a situation that does not last.

WATER POSITION: Water indicates emotions, feelings, and is passive.

1 2 3 F A W

Using the same order of cards as for the Fire position, we have a completely different situation.

Modifier 3 is now the strongest card. Modifier 1, an enemy of Water, is very weak. Air is friendly to both cards and the Water Position, however Water is passive. The Querent is dreaming about a situation: it may never happen. The lack of Earth indicates little practicality.

One could interpret this as an effeminate or ineffectual man, or a woman who is able to put her ideas into practice, but she may lack confidence in her abilities, depending of course on what the actual cards are.

AIR POSITION: Air is traditionally an indication of trouble and problems.

1 2 3 F A W

The Principal card is in its own place, very strong, and the Modifiers are both friendly to Air. So far, so good. The problem comes from the Modifiers being enemies to each other, weakening themselves. We may have a situation where the Querent is trying to rise above conflicting emotional experiences that is paralyzing him/her. Of course s/he may just be intellectualising about the situation, avoiding the conflict around, hoping it will go away.

This is a good example of how even when an element is in its own position, it may not have a good prognosis. EARTH POSITION Earth is practical, dealing with money, security and work.

1 2 3 F A W

At last we have the opportunity to see what Earth can do, even though it does not appear in the cards.

The Principal, Air, is very, very weak; in the enemy camp, so to speak. Fire and Water are friends of Earth. The Querent is within a maelstrom of conflicting actions and emotions, possibly at work. Office politics is rampant. The Modifiers support the environment, rather than the Principal, or at least, they are not in a position to aid Air. There may be a total lack of forethought in any action. Actions may be motivated by power and greed. This may also indicate a situation where someone is not being as practical about their career or work choice.

The above is a good example of the influence a missing element may have in a situation, and can be a good indicator of how the Reader can advise the Querent based on _what is missing_ rather than what is there in order to create some balance.

SUMMARY =======

Hopefully, I have been able to show a simple method that can be applied to many situations. The amount of information that can be gleaned just using elemental principles can be quite remarkable. Also, any omitted elements can give clues to the Reader as to what is missing. An ideal situation would be where all four elements are present; actions involving the missing elements may be used to create balance.

I have deliberately kept the above simple to give you the idea. You do not have to build things up in the order I suggest.

Approach with an open mind, and you may be surprised with the results.

Graham Nickells

Copyright 1996, Graham Nickells

Waite- Smith cards copyright U.S. Games Systems



This page is Copyright 1996/97 Michele Jackson