Tarot: Which Suit Goes with Which Element?

Tarot people have a long tradition of associating each of the four Suits with one of the classic Four Elements. No one really seems to question the wisdom of doing this in general. Where the discord does creep in is at that point where you have to settle on specific attributions. Like, should Cups be Water? And if not…what Element should they be tied to? And why? It’s at this point that Tarot people seem to break apart into a small kaleidoscope of viewpoints.

The way I learned these elemental correspondences – and I believe this is the closest set of associations that we have to an overall consensus – is that Wands are Fire, Cups are Water, Swords are Air, and Pentacles/Disks are Earth. But many readers disagree. The most common alternative view to this system seems to be the one in which readers will swap Wands and Swords, so that Wands are Air, and Swords are Fire. And I’m certainly not here to try to tell anyone that this (or any other) viewpoint is “wrong.” I do believe that the artwork in both the RWS and the Thoth decks – the two most popular decks in use in the modern world – lean pretty hard toward the direction of depicting Swords as Air icons, and Wands as Fire, though, for whatever that might be worth.

As just one example – and I urge you to check out both decks for many, many more – take a look at the Thoth’s Queen of Swords here. She sits on high, adrift in the realm of clouds and sky, without a spark of Fire to be seen anywhere. I don’t see how you can get much more Air than this! But some deck-makers disagree. Lisa Hunt, for example, who has created about half a dozen popular decks, makes the elemental switch with Swords and Wands.

So again: there’s no right or wrong…just what’s right for you. Which is what I’m asking: what’s right for you? Do you think of Swords as Air, or as Fire? Or as something else? Which attributions do you use? Or do you find this Element stuff to be inane and unhelpful, and you don’t use it in your Tarot efforts at all?

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