At the time I designed this layout (at least 15 years ago*), I'd read somewhere that the elements of fire and water "fight," but when they "get it together," they are considered The Sacred Marriage. And that earth and air also conflict, but when they work it out they are The Earthly Marriage. This led to my investigating in experimental readings for myself what the other elemental relationships might be about, and how they all might inform Tarot readings.
I found that working with elemental relationships in a Tarot reading does not so much reveal the nuts and bolts of an issue, but it's color, or flavor, or intensity. That is, how it is being or will be experienced -- which has as much to do with outcomes as card and position meaning. Of course, this does not replace or exclude traditional card meanings or intuitions, but rather supplements and clarifies them. In some instances, I have also found the elemental relationship key to an otherwise dense card in a reading. In a way, I see elemental relationships as helping to ground a reading in our real, physical life, in our experience. Helping us to be more fully "in our element."B. FOCUS OF THE READING:
Although you can ask a specific question when using this layout, I've found it most useful to leave it open-ended. A good question to ask could be: "What do I most need to pay attention to at present?" But this layout also works fine with very specific questions.
This layout also tends to have a present time focus, with the near future usually showing, if at all, in the card in the fifth/central position. But I've also found that intuition can sometimes do an end run around almost any layout's general limits. :-)C. LAYING OUT THE CARDS:
After shuffling, lay out the cards as below:
* * * * * * * *D. THE ELEMENT FOR EACH CARD POSITION:
The qualities listed after each card position may be useful in interpreting the individual cards, and the reading as a whole.Card 1/AIR
(Will; what one is thinking or planning; ego consciousness)Card 2/FIRE
(The part of the life-plan coming in now; inspiration; urge; High Self; instruction; collective consciousness)Card 3/WATER
(Emotion; intuition; this life's past; past lives; collective unconsciousness)Card 4/EARTH
(What is materializing; body; health; resources; unconscious/subconscious on a personal level)Card 5/SPIRIT
(Probable outcome; may be connected to Card 2; what may be coming in)E. DETERMINING THE ELEMENT FOR A TAROT CARD:
The most common correspondence of the Minor Arcana (Ace through King) with the four elements in The Tarot is: Wands with fire, Cups with water, Swords with air, and Pentacles with earth.
To determine the elements of the Majors, you can look to the common astrological correspondences for the cards. I.e., fire for Aries, Leo and Sagittarius; air for Gemini, Libra and Aquarius; water for Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces; and earth for Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. Planetary rulers of the zodiac signs can also align with the elemental associations: fire for Mars, Sun and Jupiter; air for Mercury and Uranus; water for Moon, Neptune and Pluto; and earth for Venus and Saturn. Or, you can intuit elemental associations for the Majors yourself.
The important thing is to stay consistent across readings with whatever elemental assignments to the Tarot cards you choose.F. HOW THE ELEMENT FOR CARD POSITION AND CARD INTERRELATE:
Determine the element of the card and of the card position. For instance, Knight of Wands in position 1 is "fire in air." Based on this determination, each card in the reading will fall into one of the three categories below, indicating how the card's energy is being or will be manifested and/or experienced.
"Flipside" as I use it below can apply to reversed cards. I do not work with reversals, so for me "flipside" applies when I get a sense that a different side to the elemental relationship may apply.
1. Fire card in Water position; Water card in Fire position; Earth card in Air position; Air card in Earth position = PAINFUL AND/OR OVERLY INTENSE (flipside: very difficult but clearly productive)
2. Air card in Fire position; Fire card in Air position; Water card in Earth position; Earth card in Water position = SUPPORTIVE (flipside: possibly agitating)
3. Fire card in Fire position; Water card in Water position; Air card in Air position; Earth card in Earth position = IDEAL PLACEMENT (flipside: possibly low energy)G. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER:
See the list under "D" above for help with what each card position may be about within the reading.
Let the elemental relationships (determined under "F" above) between cards and card positions, supplement and/or clarify the meanings and intuitions that surface for each card.
Does your feeling or awareness of the reading as a whole change as you introduce the elemental relationships to it? Is there one predominant elemental relationship?
As with all readings, keep notes of the date done, the cards pulled, your responses, and any other pertinent information.H. CONCLUSION:
I will admit I had forgotten about this layout (blush!) and only rediscovered it on looking through my old Tarot files for ideas for this blog. I am very glad I came across it, as I did a reading for myself after revising this article and it was tremendously helpful. I'd love to hear how this reading works for you, if you try it. And whether you try it or not, I hope you always find the way to be "in your element."
P.S. of January 27, 2006: A visitor from Hudson Valley Tarot site, tried this layout and posted the results to her site. Please visit and enjoy it! You'll also get to see some of the images from the unique Maat Tarot, as well: Reading With Maat Tarot
.*An article on which I've based this post, was published back then in "The Winged Chariot," a lively but sadly long defunct print Tarot newsletter, edited by Tracey Hoover.
[The Four Element graphics used in this post, top down: Fire, Water, Air and Earth, are © Robin Wood 1997, and are Used with Permission]
* * * *Please see the top of the sidebar for my background with the Tarot and a recommendation to beginners.
‘til next time, keep enjoying The Tarot,
[aka: Patricia Kelly]
****If you wish to copy or use any of my writing, please email me for permission (under “View my complete profile”)**** SEE ALSO: Roswila’s Dream & Poetry Realm
for some articles about Tarot.****