The Four Elements in Astrology

I tend to preach a fair amount about the classical Four Elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I think it’s a really important system in metaphysics that can be extremely helpful in getting a handle on various other symbols.

For example, if you know that two Signs of the Zodiac are both Fire Signs, and you know the basics of what Fire is all about, symbolically-speaking, then you’ll understand that these Fire Signs will share some common traits. They’ll also have their definite differences – Aries is not the same thing as Leo, and neither is interchangeable with Sagittarius – but it’s a fair bet that these Fire Signs will be concerned with the energetic level of existence, and they’ll share themes of a Fire-y nature, such as passion, will, adventure, charisma, possibly anger issues, maybe lust issues of some kind, and the management of life-force itself.

Elemental associations for the Signs are pretty well-known, sometimes even to non-astrologers (they may not know exactly what these associations mean, but it’s not uncommon for a non-astrologer to at least be able to report the fact that their natal Sun lies in, say, a Water Sign…).

Here’s how those associations play out along the Zodiac:

Sign

Element

Aries

Fire

Taurus

Earth

Gemini

Air

Cancer

Water

Leo

Fire

Virgo

Earth

Libra

Air

Scorpio

Water

Sagittarius

Fire

Capricorn

Earth

Aquarius

Air

Pisces

Water

As is usually the case, though, the Houses are less acknowledged and understood. Just like the Signs of the Zodiac, the 12 Houses are also assigned associations with the Four Elements. You might notice a pattern developing here:

House

Element

First

Fire

Second

Earth

Third

Air

Fourth

Water

Fifth

Fire

Sixth

Earth

Seventh

Air

Eighth

Water

Ninth

Fire

Tenth

Earth

Eleventh

Air

Twelfth

Water

The same sequence of Elements that repeats itself three times over as it runs alongside the Signs – Fire, Earth, Air, Water – does the same exact thing next to the Houses. If you can memorize that F-E-A-W sequence, you’ll have a handy mnemonic device for keeping all of these Elemental associations pinned down…and you’ll also then have a pretty great wellspring of basic meanings to draw from as you do your chart interpretations.

It can be really informative to get a sense of which Elements are emphasized in a given person’s chart, versus which ones are kind of thinly represented.

Heavy emphasis on an Element can indicate great skill with the business of that Element…but it might also flag the possibility of over-reliance on that Element. If you have a platoon of Planets placed in Water Signs and Houses, you might be terrific at the stuff of Water, such as emotions and romance and mystic/psychic phenomena…but you might also tend to be a dreamer, a space cadet, an addictive or escapist type, or a slave to your feelings. And you might have a tendency to try to force everything into a Water-y context, even when that’s not an especially helpful thing to do.

On the flip-side, when an Element is underrepresented in a chart, it can signal a decided unfamiliarity with that layer of life, a discomfort with it, and maybe blind-spots in your ongoing experience of the world. A person with few Water placements at all may have trouble understanding their own emotions or dealing with the emotions of others. This person might also be clueless about romance, or they might lack imagination.

Here’s a simple exercise you can try out so as to see if Elemental analysis resonates for you as a valid technique… Look at your own chart. Make a table, and then tally up your own Planetary placements one at a time. For each Planet you’re tracking, tally its Sign and House Elements. For example, if you have your natal Venus in Cancer in your Eleventh House, then this Planet is in a Water Sign and an Air House. Run through the Planets and record each result. When you’re done, take a look at:

  1. What’s the Elemental breakdown for the Signs in your chart?
  2. What’s the Elemental breakdown for the Houses in your chart?
  3. What’s the Elemental breakdown when you add them all together?
  4. Do the results feel like they map accurately onto the you that you know?

For that last question, just take an honest look at yourself. Say that through this exercise, you discover that your chart shows that you have a preponderance of Air energy and maybe very little Water. A breakdown like that could easily translate to you being very intellectual in your approach to life, while possibly being a bit emotionally detached (that is, you lead with your brain, not your heart). So you’d then need to really examine the question of whether or not that description does accurately apply to you…

You shouldn’t feel pressured to make this the cornerstone of your practice or anything…but working with the Four Elements can add a lot to chart analysis. It can also be especially helpful when you’re in the beginning stages of learning: Astrology is complex, and getting a lock on four symbols (the Elements) is much easier than learning 12 (the Signs), another 12 (the Houses), or all 24 of those at one go.

Fire, Earth, Air, Water…Fire, Earth, Air, Water…Fire, Earth, Air, Water…

Tarot: Which Suit Goes with Which Element?

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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?

Hey – you, too, can learn Tarot!  Check out the Tarot Toolkit Online Course:

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The Four Elements in Tarot

IMG_4638The more I study both Tarot and Astrology, the more I lean hard on the Four Elements system. I find it to be tremendously helpful in decoding all the messages that come through, and keeping things consistent from reading to reading, and from one discipline to the next.

On the down side, it’s made me more fixated on having card imagery that either openly embraces the same Elemental correspondences I use, or that at least doesn’t contradict them. So, like, I’m now at a point where I feel that a Queen of Cups card, for example, should be overtly Water-heavy in its visuals. Queens are Water, and Cups are Water (as I use the systems, anyway), so if a Queen of Cups card is just a lady on a throne holding a wine goblet, that starts to feel like it’s not Water-y enough for me. I kind of need to see actual Water, and oceanic trappings and such. Similarly, I need to see some Fire in the Wands cards, Air with the Swords, and Earth with the Pentacles/Disks.

Shown here are a few Queen of Cups cards that feel suitably Water-y to me, drawn from the Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal deck, the Shadowscapes deck, and the Fey Tarot

The Unforeseen Dangers of Renaming Suits in Tarot

IMG_4223When you start collecting Tarot decks, you quickly realize that some deck creators like to get all jazzy with their nomenclature. Some will rename the Majors or the Court Cards. Some rename the Aces. And lots of them will rename the Suits.

And this can be totally cool…even if it means that you have to put in a bit of time and effort so as to relax your death-grip on the terminology that you’d learned first.

But then sometimes there’s an added degree of difficulty… Like here. My sister loaned me her copy of the Wooden Tarot. And it’s all stark and eerie, which I like. But the Suits are all renamed from traditional designations. For instance, the Earth Element Suit is called Bones. But I also really like this other deck called the Shaman Tarot, and that deck also has a Suit called Bones…only there, Bones = Fire, not Earth. So this morning, I’m wrapping an Ace Bandage around my brain, and trying to explore the Wooden Tarot a bit more. Has this ever happened to you??!

Tarot Tip: Reading Space

IMG_3844Obviously, it’s not always possible to trick out a given area before you get busy with your cards. For example, if you’re reading for someone in a coffee shop, you can’t really violate local fire codes by setting up handfuls of candles and incense, and you can’t demand that the local populace shut its collective pie-hole for half an hour so that you can have the requisite ambience you desire.

But when you do have control over a space, it can be incredibly helpful to set the stage for a reading beforehand. Changing the atmosphere to signal to all involved that you’re entering into a window of time that’s removed from your usual mundane concerns can really help you to lock in to the reading, and to get that intuition blazing.

As mentioned, candles and incense are great aids, and you can also use crystals, feathers, essential oils, herbs, leaves, shells, bones, trinkets, figurines, masks, artifacts, pictures, arts and/or crafts – really, anything that helps you to feel more Tarot-attuned is “right,” and experimenting is beyond recommended. Try devoting a specific area to your readings, and then see if doing that and adding a few extra touches helps to tighten up your work.

Time in which to sign up for the Tarot Toolkit online course is rapidly disappearing – sign up now!

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Tarot: the Suit of Pentacles

PentaclesIn Tarot, the Suit of Pentacles is associated with the Element of Earth, and it has to do with the physical layer of reality. Among its many concerns, you can find issues involving health and the body, career and finances, possessions, the home… This is the slowest-moving of the Suits, the most practical, and possibly the most obvious and mundane. It also asks us to find the profound lurking just beneath the surface of things that we may be tempted to write off as commonplace and unremarkable, such as our daily chores and errands. Pentacles concerns may take on extra significance in a society as focused on material wealth as ours seems to be. Then again, we undeniably exist in the tangible portion of reality, so we do need to cultivate our Pentacles awareness to some extent if we hope to lead balanced lives… 

If you’re looking to learn Tarot, you still have time to register for the Tarot Toolkit online course!

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Tarot: the Suit of Swords

SwordsThe Suit of Swords in Tarot is most often connected with the Element of Air, and with the mental plane of existence. It deals with symbols and language, communication and ideas, logic and intellect. Swords are the electrical impulses of the brain, slicing through reality at the speed of thought. It’s maybe not so surprising, then, that this is the most pitiless, most sorrowful Suit of them all…because isn’t it our minds that so often prove to be our undoing? This is the Suit of self-sabotage and second-guessing, of anxiety and insomnia. Then again, no symbols in Tarot are all-good or all-bad, and this is also the Suit of brainstorms and problem-solving…code-breaking and maze-running. This is where we decipher the secret patterns of the Universe, and wring meaning from the cosmos, where before we’d seen only an incomprehensible dazzle… ⚔

⚔ Care to learn Tarot? The Tarot Toolkit online course may be exactly what you need!

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