The Complete Guide To Using Elemental Dignities In A Tarot Reading!

by Douglas Gibb on November 12, 2009

Three Tarot Card Combinations: How To Read Tarot Cards In Triads - The Elemental Dignities Compendium

This is a collaborative work between Catherine Chapman of Tarot Elements and myself, and is part of the Elemental Dignities Compendium series.

…from the Marriage of Heaven and Earth. The Tao produced one; one produced two; two produced three (Tao Te Ching).

Have you been confused by Elemental Dignities? There was a time when I was; most of the information available lacked clarity. This is the article I wished I’d read when I was learning Elemental Dignities.

This article will provide you with not only a complete how-to guide when applying Elemental Dignities to Triads but it will also provide you with a complete listing of all possible three card combinations and possible interpretations.

What you need to know before we begin!

Catherine and I will be showing you how to read Elemental Dignities as taught by the Golden Dawn. There are many systems out there that teach you how to read Elemental Dignities, but for the most part, they’re “variations” on the Golden Dawn system.

It’s important that you realise that Elemental Dignities is a fluid system and it will naturally change, adapt and develop the more it’s incorporated into the Tarot reader’s personal repertoire. This happens naturally. For instance, Catherine’s method of applying Elemental Dignities is different from mine; as mine will be from yours! However, for the purpose of this article, we wanted to teach you the Golden Dawn system, which, in our opinion, is the most practical, eloquent and robust system available.

Therefore, we want you to remember that:

  • Fire and Air are active Elements.
  • Water and Earth are passive Elements.
  • Fire and Water are enemies; they weaken each other.
  • Air and Earth and enemies; they weaken each other.
  • All other combinations are friendly with each other.

Please refer to the above list throughout this article as the whole system depends upon these rules.

  1. This how-to guide is Golden Dawn based.
  2. By learning how to use the Golden Dawn system you will be in a much better position to understand all the other “variations” that teach Elemental Dignities.
  3. The more you use the Golden Dawn system the more it will adapt and morph into your own reading style; becoming a valuable component and powerful tool in your Tarot reading arsenal.
  4. Have fun :D

The mechanics of applying Elemental Dignities to Triads

In this article you are going to learn how to read Elemental Dignities in three card combinations, or triads.

I’d like you to grab your favourite Tarot deck, deal out three cards, and follow along.

Key information to reading Triads:

  1. The centre card is the most important card.
  2. I want you to remember, above everything else, that when reading Elemental Dignities in a triad the centre card is the most important card.
  3. The centre card is modified by the two flanking cards next to it.
  4. A centre card can either have its “meaning” strengthened by the flanking cards, or weakened by the flanking cards.

Once you fully understand that the centre card is the most important, the rest of the system falls into place. If you remember nothing else, remember that the centre card provides us with the “meaning” but the flanking cards modify the importance of that “meaning”.

Deal out three cards. I’ll do it too

Each of the examples that are presented below, build one on top of the other. Take your time working through these examples, and most of all, have fun.

In Elemental Dignities the centre Tarot card is the focus card

Focus on the Centre card! In a triad, the centre card provides the Tarot reader with the “meaning”.

In Elemental Dignities the centre card of a triad is the focus card while the outside cards modify it

The left flanking card is modifying the centre card. It will either strengthen the centre cards “meaning” or weaken the centre cards “meaning”.

In Elemental Dignities the centre card of a triad is the focus card while the outside cards modify it according to their nature

Again, we can see another flanking card modifying the centre card.

In Elemental Dignities the centre card of a triad is the focus card

Here we can see that both of the outside cards are responsible for modifying the centre cards meaning. This is the basic dynamic that is created when reading triads using Elemental Dignities. In a triad, the centre card has all the “importance” while the flanking cards will tell the Tarot reader just how important that centre card really is.

The flanking cards cancel themselves out

In this picture we can clearly see what happens when the two flanking cards are Elementally contrary to each other – they now don’t have any modifying effect over the central card. The central card stands alone.

Using Elemental Dignities can provide a Tarot reader with really useful information, but the most important bit of information Elemental Dignities provides is knowing which cards are highly influential and which cards aren’t.

For example, in one Tarot reading, the Tower card might play a pivotal role in the client’s life, whereas in another Tarot reading its influence might be largely unnoticed by the client. According to The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series), “…a card is strong or weak, well-dignified or ill-dignified, according to the cards which are next to it on either side.”

The centre card is the most important card; the flanking cards modify its “meaning” and “influence” in a Tarot reading.

Let’s look at some examples

For this example we will use the 10 of Swords. Traditionally, this card in known as the “Oh dear” card; often signifying the complete end or ruin of something the client considers important. What the following examples will show is how, in certain cases, the 10 of Swords has very little influence over the “client’s life” while in other cases, it has a large influence over the progression of events. Elemental Dignities lets us know how influential its “meaning” in a Tarot reading really is.

The Golden Dawn didn’t use a positional layout as such. They relied upon the Elemental Dignities of the cards to determine which cards were important and which cards were less important; or even superficial.

With both modifiers having cancelled each other out, the Ten of Swords stands alone, unaffected by either modifier

Here we have the 10 of Swords as the centre card. The two flanking cards are the 6 of Cups and the 9 of Wands. We already know that the 10 of Swords provides us with the meaning of the triad, and the flanking cards determine how influential that meaning will be within the Tarot spread; but what does this triad tell you?

Firstly, it shows the 10 of Swords is unaffected by the two flanking cards. These two cards are Elementally contrary to each other. In other words, they are enemy elements and are busy warring against each other. As a result, their ability to modify how much influence the 10 of Swords has is zero. When you see a triad like this, remember the centre card is not being influenced in anyway whatsoever. In a Tarot reading, this would signify that the 10 of Swords stands alone.

To paraphrase The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series), “… but if a card passes between two which are naturally contrary, it is not affected by either much, as a Sword between a Cup and a Wand which latter, being Water and Fire, are contrary and therefore weaken each other. Here the question being of the Sword, this card is not to be noticed as forming a link between the Cup and Wand.”

Weakened by the earth of the left modifier, the Ten of Swords is restrengthened by the fire to the right making it fairly strong

Here we can see that the centre card is in a fairly strong position. Although one of the flanking cards is weakening its influence in a Tarot reading, the other card supports the centre card. This card acts like a bridge, supporting and strengthening the 10 of Swords. To paraphrase The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series), “If the card of the suit of Air falls between a Disk and a Wand, the Wand modifies and connects the Air with the Disk, so that it is not weakened by its vicinity, but is modified by the influence of both cards; therefore fairly strong.”

In a Tarot reading we would therefore place significance on the 10 of Swords; we would recognise that this has some influence on the rest of the cards and the client will certainly be aware of the 10 of Swords influence. However, it’s only fairly strong so other cards may come along that steer things in a more positive direction – away from ruin!

In total support by fire in both moderators, the Ten of Swords is strong

In this triad we can see the 10 of Swords being supported by both flanking cards. This tells us that the 10 of Swords has a strong influence over the client’s life and will no doubt be affecting most areas of their life. The flanking cards are also Fire which is an active Element. With all three elements being active, we have a very strong combination.

n total support by fire in both moderators, the Ten of Swords is strong

In this triad, the 10 of Swords is weakened by the two flanking cards. The picture that Catherine and I are using illustrates how the 10 of Swords has very little influence.

In a Tarot reading, this combination would tell us the 10 of Swords is not a significant influence and should be read as such. In many of the Tarot readings that I do, some of the more traditionally powerful cards are little more than “background noise”. The rules of Elemental Dignities allow me to make this kind of judgment with confidence.

Another way to illustrate this weakening is with the central card, the Ten of Swords completely levelled in comparison to the modifiers. No card is above another in this combination

To further illustrate the concept of “background noise” we have used another picture which visually reduces the size of the 10 of Swords. This is to emphasis how Elemental Dignities can give us access to information that we could otherwise miss.

Although it’s still the 10 of Swords, with all its associated Divinatory definitions, its influence has been so greatly weakened that those “meanings” will not be noticed or felt by the client.

With the neutral element of water in both modifiers, the Ten of Swords is moderately strong

In this triad the 10 of Swords is flanked by two Water Elements. Although the Water Element is friendly to Air, it’s not a strong combination. It’s rather passive. In this case, although the 10 of Swords still has influence, its influence is only moderately strong. With this particular type of triad, we would still need to factor the 10 of Swords into the Tarot reading, but without placing too much significance upon it. The 10 of Swords is there, the client will be aware of it, but it won’t completely overrule the other cards.

Further examples of reading in Triads from the Golden Dawn

  • 9 of swords 10 of swords 5 of swords: Very strong and potent in action. Very evil.
  • 10 of wands 10 of swords 2 of wands: Not quite so strong (as the top one). Ruin checked and perhaps overcome.
  • 5 of swords 2 of wands 9 of swords: Moderately strong. Rashness which brings evil in its train. Evil.
  • 9 of disks 2 of wands 6 of disks: Fairly strong. Good. Considerable gain and victory.
  • 10 of cups 2 of wands 6 of cups: Weak, evil. Victory which is perverted by debauchery and evil living. But other cards may mitigate the judgment.
  • 9 of swords 10 of cups 5 swords: Medium strong. Evil. Sorrow arising from pleasure and through one’s own pleasures.
  • 10 of swords 6 of cups 9 of disks: Fairly strong and good. The sword and the disk being opposite elements counteract each other. Therefore is it as if they were not there.

These examples are from The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series).

Summary

In summary, we have four distinct types of triads:

  1. We have those that are very strong and support the centre card, giving it “influence” over the reading.
  2. We have those that are very weak and weaken the centre card, which “weakens” that cards influence over the reading.
  3. We have “bridge” triads where one flanking card weakens the centre card while the other one supports it. In this case, the supportive card acts as a bridge to the centre card “so that it is not weakened by its vicinity (to the enemy Element), but is modified by the influence of both cards; therefore fairly strong.” The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series).
  4. We also have those types of triads were the flanking cards, being contrary to each other, neutralise their influence, leaving the Tarot reader to disregard those cards and to focus completely on the centre card.

The Golden Dawn would use Elemental Dignities to help them figure out which cards were significant, and which cards weren’t. They provide lots of valuable information, particularly if you read the Tarot without a traditional Tarot spread layout.

One way to practice using Elemental Dignities is to read a linear spread of cards without positions. Start by dealing them out in a straight line and group the cards into triads. Read the triads from one side of the spread across to the other, developing your narrative as you go, until you read the final group of cards.

For additional practice you might also like to pair the Tarot cards afterwards.

The following example will take an 18 Tarot card linear spread and read them using Elemental Dignities in triads. We will also explore which cards are significant, lack influence, act as “bridge” triads, or are neutralised according to the rules of Elemental Dignities.

Example Tarot Reading

Catherine and I wanted to illustrate how easy it is to develop a narrative in a Tarot reading. Using only triads and Elemental Dignities, we have created an 18 card Tarot reading without a question or positions, to show how you can develop a story from any group of Tarot cards, and most importantly, with relative ease.

Liner Tarot Spread

We have 18 Tarot cards that can be read in 6 groups of three. We start at the left hand side of the spread and work our way towards the right.

Three card combinations - Aeon, The Emperor, Eight of Swords

The first three cards are Aeon or Judgment, Emperor and the Eight of Swords.

Elementally, they are Fire, Fire and Air. The centre card is the Emperor which provides us with the “meaning” behind this triad. The two flanking cards tell us how influential or not, the Emperor is. In this case, one flanking card is Fire, while the other is Air. Elementally the Emperor is very significant and is highly influential in this reading.

This combination of cards indicates a change in status; is he being allowed to express himself in his role properly? He looks to be in a position of authority; probably a manager within his respected career. Regardless, with Elemental Dignities, we can see that this person in his role as “Emperor”, takes himself and his authority very seriously. What is he trying to prove?

Catherine: So here we have a man who’s looking at a new beginning, there’s been a closing of a chapter in his life and he’s ready to move forward but he’s hindered; something is trying to hold him back from moving on. What we do know from the Elemental Dignities is this reading is all about him!

Check out these Three card combinations - 10 of Disks, Four of Wands, Ace of Swords

Here we have the Ten of Disks, Four of Wands and Ace of Swords.

Elementally, they are Earth, Fire and Air. In this combination, we can see that the two flanking cards are enemies of each other. This means that they have little or no influence over the centre card; the Four of Wands.

In the Tarot reading, this would indicate a change in his residence (moving home) as a result of promotion. It looks like he has worked hard to get this promotion and now he’s not going to let anything stop him celebrating.

Catherine: He seeks happiness and family security so perhaps the new beginning is a second chance with a relationship or marriage. There are a number of options available to help, but it seems he’s fixated with the glory, but not so keen on the work! As with the Emperor in the first Triad, there seems to be a lot of bravado to this man.

Six of Disks, Five of Wands, Art or Temperance

Here we have the Six of Disks, Five of Wands, Art or Temperance cards.

Elementally we have Earth, Fire and Fire. This is a strong combination with the centre card being well support. This combination shows how influential the centre card is in this reading.

In a Tarot reading, with the flanking cards making the 5 of Wands highly influential, we could say that the client’s career looks like it’s highly pressurised. I would also suspect that the client would have had to take a long and difficult route to get where he is today.

Catherine: His lack of solid action has now resulted in dissension and arguments, he has perhaps outwardly displayed the actions of a man seemingly doing his level best to succeed and this is probably what is causing the problems – all chat and no action!

Four of Swords, Lovers, Eight of Disks

Next we have the Four of Swords, Lovers and Eight of Disks.

Elementally, we have Air, Air and Earth. In this combination we can see that one of the flanking cards is acting as a “bridge” to the central card; ensuring that it’s strengthened against the Earth card. This would indicate that the centre card has some influence within in the Tarot reading. In fact, this triad is fairly strong.

This indicates the client needs to make a decision. Has he been bullied? Is he torn between emotional and financial considerations? Is his lover sick and he needs to make a decision between making a good impression at work, or being with his lover? Regardless, hesitation between his private life and his public life is now a “fairly strong” component in this reading.

We are possibly beginning to get a glimpse into the client’s character at this stage: someone who has the capacity to be ruthless and single minded.

Catherine: And so he’s faced with a choice – the continuation of the relationship, or not. He may well find a period of separation is forced upon him, to reflect; but one thing is certain – he needs to do a whole lot more to make things better. There’s a whole learning curve ahead of him, which includes the need to behave with more decorum and putting his money where his mouth is.

Two of Wands, Death, Two of Swords

The Two of Wands, Death and Two of Swords make up the fifth triad.

Elementally, we have Fire, Water and Air. Again we have another “bridge” triad. However, in this example, the centre card is the Element Water. The Element Air provides a “bridge” between Fire and the central card – Water. This results in a slightly weak combination. The influence of this triad will still be felt within the reading, but not significantly.

This perhaps indicates that November will bring around a change to both the client’s working and personal relationships; it looks like the client will decide to stay where he is, continue working and sacrifice his private life for his working life. However, the Elemental Dignities involved in this triad show how this won’t really cause him too much of a moral dilemma. How do we know this? The centre card in this triad isn’t particularly strong, which means that it isn’t particularly influential.

Catherine: A final separation looks likely, or a change in attitude and circumstances. It’s interesting that on either side we have a two, often indicating a coupling; he could be seen as the Two of Wands – still with his fighting talk and wanting to drive this forward, but still being ineffective; with his partner as the Two of Swords, tired of it all perhaps and in need of her own rest? maybe she has even put down her armour, there’s a certain acceptance for her that perhaps nothing will change.

Five of Cups, The Star, Chariot

The last triad is the Five of Cups, The Star and the Chariot.

Elementally, we have Water, Air and Water. The two flanking cards support the centre card which provides it with influence over the reading. However, there is still a rather passive feeling taking place so one might get the impression that this triad represents things that are going on in the background.

It would show that emotional pain has occurred while acquiring this promotion; the client’s close relationships have suffered. It’s also probable that his working relationships have suffered as well. Has he made too many personal sacrifices to get where he is today? Interestingly, because of the rules of Elemental Dignities, we know that this won’t stop him from continuing to make those kinds of sacrifices in the foreseeable future.

Catherine: Do our couple split up? I think they do despite the Star and the Chariot. I feel these two cards show a movement forward, but the key is the Five of Cups and thoughts of what might have been. So a tough time for our couple and perhaps a series of reconcilations that really go nowhere.

Summary of the Tarot reading

The client is someone who has a history of working hard and making sacrifices to progress in his career. We can see that his personal relationships have come second place to that career. The longed for respect that he desires at work is now beginning to transpire, but the question is, at what cost?

Most likely, this person sees his many personal sacrifices as “doing what was necessary”. Overall his career continues to do well while his personal relationships continue to deteriorate.

Using just Elemental Dignities we are able to build a comprehensive story of the client’s life. We discovered, through the rules of Elemental Dignities, just how much these “sacrifices” have simply been background noise to his overall ambition for career related success and respect. We know that this person is unlikely to regret making those choices and will continue to believe that he is “doing what is necessary.”  However, we can also speculate, given the changeability of the Elements, that this “background” noise will no doubt get louder as time goes on.

Catherine: So we painted a picture of man, full of his own self importance and despite wanting to make good his relationship issues, just not having what it takes to stop talking and actually start doing! His glossing over of the work involved and his own role as leader and not partner in this relationship will seemingly continue to hinder the forward progress of this relationship.

It would seem that this relationship has an off-on element to it that won’t change for the foreseeable future; something that his partner seems less willing, or able to live with. There’s already an air of defeat to the cards towards the end of the reading with his partner seemingly ready to call it a day; while the egotistical nature of the man refuses to let him see the reality of his situation, just the gloss on the outside. To him, it’s how it looks, now how it is.

Overall then, Elemental Dignities are able to tell us how much significance to place on the centre cards when constructing our story. By practicing this technique, and incorporating it into your Tarot readings, you will have a powerful tool in which to provide complex, accurate and in-depth Tarot readings.

The next section of this article will now list all possible Elemental Dignities in triads. Enjoy!

How we’ve ordered the Elemental Dignities Compendium

We thought it would make more sense to order the compendium in terms of its groupings. These are:

  • Single Element Combinations
  • Double Element Combinations
  • Split Double Element Combinations
  • Triple Element Combinations

Within each section, we have listed the entries in colour codes to maintain ease of searching for an individual combination. The sequential order of the elements, and therefore the listings run as follows:

  • Fire
  • Water
  • Air
  • Earth

Both Catherine and I hope you find this useful and would love to hear how you get on practicing Elemental Dignities in triads.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium – Three Card Combinations

Single Element Combinations

In a single element combination, the central card is extremely strong – supported on both sides by the flanking cards, these combinations produce the most brilliant, or devastating effects. Regardless of whether or not the client will like the outcome of these particular types of triad, they do contribute very powerful indicators of what will happen in the future.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Fire / Fire

This triad is extremely powerful; promising dramatic and swift change within the client’s life. It also indicates passion, creativity, and something coming out of nowhere. The affects of this “change” can either be something welcomed by the client or not – it all depends on the centre card.

Catherine: This combination can be exactly what you need when you’re back’s against the wall and you need to muster all your strength to get out. Likewise, it can be destructive – like a wildfire out of control and all consuming.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Water / Water

This triad hints at powerful and deep healing. Psychic ability, intuition and a deep sense of “knowing” are also indicated. At the same time, this triad can indicate infatuation, obsession with the past, apathy and depression.

Catherine: Drowning in a sea of love…. this can be one of the most wonderful ‘loved up’ feelings in the world; it can also render you useless! So much passivity can keep you locked in the feeling with no way out.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Air / Air

Mental clarity and problem solving can be indicated by this triad. There are usually “ethical” concerns when this triad appears; as well as social and political ambition.

Catherine: Such focused mental clarity can be your saviour when you need to think clearly, but it can also be ruthless in its speed and delivery. Such a lot of air is very cleansing, which provides the focus and heightened mental activity.

This is a great triad if you’re looking for safety and security. There is a real sense of firm unshakable foundations to this combination. However, there is also a lack of movement and action which could become frustrating. Again, the centre card would indicate if this is something that the client would welcome.

Catherine: The grounding and safety provided by all this earth is very satisfying leaving you feeling secure. Don’t expect any action though, this all earth combination isn’t going anywhere, it will feel like home though.

Double Element Combinations

In double element combinations, the centre card is always supported by at least one, if not both of the flanking cards.

Some of these are examples of “bridge” triads. This means that one of the flanking cards weakens the centre card. When this happens, the supportive card acts as a bridge to restrengthen the central card. This gives the centre card a degree of influence to still affect the Tarot reading. Whether that affect is good, bad, strong or weak, depends on the Triad in question.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Dictionary - Fire / Fire / Water

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Fire / Fire

These triads are moderately strong. The central card will still have a slight influence over the client’s life. This triad brings images to mind of eagerness and enthusiasm for a project just begun but…, resistance to that project. As with most things, despite what we want to happen, things inevitably slow it down; whether that is the client’s inner emotional resistance, or the environments apathy. Overall, things move forward, but expect resistance.

Catherine: There’s a real desire and impetus to move forward and get things moving with this combination, but it’s really being dogged by an emotional tug, perhaps a conflict of interests; guilty feelings of putting work before love maybe? However, it’s still action over emotion.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Fire / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Fire / Fire

In this triad we have three active Elements. The centre card is Fire which promises movement and it’s certainly well supported by the two flanking cards. Overall a strong combination where an authority can “only just” guide events. Also a plan, idea, goal or political manipulation which is acted upon with 100% commitment.

Catherine: This self belief, whether right or wrong. Acting on an impulse that feels right, convincing yourself with brilliant logic you can’t fail – the perfect sales pitch.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Fire / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Fire / Fire

This triad is fairly strong. With the centre card being Fire, we need to expect forward movement. One of the flanking cards provides a solid foundation for this action to take place while the other card adds even more energy into the mix. Overall, this indicates that the client’s life will support a strong move towards furthering their goals. Realism and the ability to “keep it practical” might ensure its long term success.

Catherine: Perhaps the most balanced combination; a call to action coupled with sensibility and a measured dose of realism to keep things in check. Movement, action, responsibility.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Water  / Fire

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Water / Water

This triad is moderately strong. The centre card is supported by another Water Element which adds to its overall influence in a Tarot reading.

The desire to enjoy the moment wins over the need to move things forward.

Catherine: This is actually more hopeful than it looks. Yes, it’s overly passive and emotional, but a small flickering flame of desire burning underneath the surface hasn’t been extinguished. Things may not be moving yet, but there’s hope.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Water / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Water / Water

This triad is fairly strong. Although all three elements are friendly with each other, there isn’t enough strength in this triad to “make things happen”.

Overcoming illness, problem solving within relationships, communicating emotional needs and an ability to discuss the arts – abstract thinking (which isn’t always a good thing when it lacks grounding in any kind of “reality”) can take centre stage here.

Catherine: This is still too passive and emotional, but the air is ensuring we haven’t taken total leave of our sense, yet. There is still reason and logic amid the fog.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Water / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Water / Water

The centre card in this triad is strong and will be influential within the Tarot reading. The overall passive nature of the Elements involved means that nothing is happening as such.

Self indulgence; two people that indulge each other; the need to “binge” drink; a certain level of self control during the working week is overcome by a hedonistic lifestyle at the weekends.

Catherine: Guilty pleasures, hedonism and having fun. There’s sensory delights for the inner being in these combinations. It’s also very comforting, like being soothed when hurt. There’s pandering perhaps, but enough grounding to not let things get too carried away.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Air / Fire

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Air / Air

This triad has three active elements which makes the centre card strong and influential.

A need to act is delayed through hesitation over the options; a ruthless ability to act without considering other peoples feelings; travel; making a drama out of a crisis.

Catherine: There’s no lack of clarity here. We have drive and ambition and the mental focus to see not just the bigger picture, but to execute any plans with exacting force and precision. It’s also ruthless.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Air / Water

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Air / Air

The centre card in this triad is moderately strong and being an active Element, is most likely to happen.

There is the need to understand the past; a belief that rational understanding is the only understanding necessary; can be a good listener, yet doesn’t like ideas conflicting with theirs; an indulgence in food; a need to make an “example” of someone; guilt; a need to create an emotionally supportive environment, either at work or in private.

Catherine: This could be mentally ruthless but for the soft side of the water. Keeping in touch with your feminine side or allowing yourself to relax a little and enjoy softness. There’s sentience to decision making, with perhaps all sides being considered fairly.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Air / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Air / Air

The centre card is moderately strong implying that the idea could be acted upon.

An attempt to inspire the people into action is succeeding; a feeling of being trapped and the use of will-power to break free. An attempt to re-write the book; an overly high self-regard; “things will change and I don’t care who gets hurt or what gets destroyed;” someone who detests the family business.

Catherine: There’s a real danger here of dissension or getting carried away with your thoughts. Reality tries to ground you but the mental fuzz is a strong pull. It’s an odd combination as reality, often based in logic, is having a tough time being heard amid the mental fracas.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Earth / Fire

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Earth / Earth

The centre card is fairly strong in this triad and adds significance to the reading.

A business that is slowly building a reputation based on credibility and creativity; a place of safety where risk can be managed and controlled; the need to control their environment, perhaps even indicating obsessive compulsive behaviour.

Catherine: It’s safe at home, but sometimes we need a little fire to give us a shove. This combination would be good when plans are new and only just beginning; the fire providing a little tease in moving toward excitement.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Earth / Water

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Earth / Earth

The centre card is strong, indicating a need to enjoy life; to indulge in pleasures; to appreciate nature; responsibility is starting to pay.

Catherine: This could still be seen as hedonistic, the earth as the body is sensual. There is an awful lot of sensibility here too. Sentience and sensibility – a nice combination for a comfort zone, but not really going anywhere, but sometimes that’s okay.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Earth / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Earth / Earth

This is a “bridge” triad and the centre card is moderately strong.

Feeling isolated, perhaps even outcast from the social group to which the client belongs; an outsider; an original thinker; trying to change the world; denying the way things really are in favour of an ideal; a well established business or reputation that doesn’t need to adapt to survive; no risk taking in this triad but then again, there is real-world success already.

Catherine: The pulling away and holding of these two elements can create tension, or inner conflict. This can represent someone set in their ways with a fear of stepping into the unknown, no matter how much sense it makes, it’s safe and familiar right here.

Split Double Elements Combinations

This is where you will see the most extreme examples of cards either having a lot of influence or non at all. There are no bridging elements to support a weakened central card – the central card is either weakened or supported. The degrees of which depend upon the nature of the elements flanking it.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Water / Fire

The centre card is weak and therefore the influence that this card will have on the Tarot reading is small. This can indicate emotional unrest; being challenged to rethink who you are; trying to reestablish communication with the family; despite needing to change one’s life in order to survive, this person hides away – physical symptoms related to stress are inevitable.

Catherine: If the fire was aggressive, this could be unpleasant for someone emotionally. Likewise though, it could represent the final stages of overcoming emotional issues.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Fire / Water

The centre card is weak and its influence in a Tarot reading is so small that it’s almost worth ignoring it. However, the Element Fire is a fighter, and movement is still indicated; the amount of which is tiny because it’s so weak – however, this combination fights to be accepted. This is about trying to belong; either within the social group that the client is in currently, or by finding a new “tribe”.

Catherine: This reminds me of my own mantra “down, but not out” – you can almost hear a feint heartbeat from the fire, it’s no doubt in awful trouble, but fire has terrific spirit…

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Air / Fire

The centre card is strong in this triad and is well supported. Whatever Air wants to happen, Fire will make sure it happens. This combination indicates a sudden change in career; a complete lifestyle change; the ability to reinvent your life.

Catherine: Setting those well thought out plans into action; I even feel this combination describes a Roman Senator whipping the crowd up into a frenzy with a great oration!

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Fire / Air

The centre card is strong and has influence over the Tarot reading.

This combination indicates a business man who, once hearing all sides of the debate, makes the final decision; a decision maker in general; a position of authority; able to change the course of other people’s lives.

Catherine: Now is the time to stop talking, stop planning and get out there and do it! Mental brilliance with a readiness to step up and step out! Having bright ideas and being excited about them!

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Earth / Fire

The central card is fairly strong.

Despite outside pressure to change, things stay the same; peer pressure that has no affect.

Catherine: Earth is acting a little like a party-pooper with the fire, rather like a parent putting their foot down with an over-excited child. You can’t hide the fact though that the earth does provide a great base for the energetic fire so long as they’re singing from the same song sheet.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Fire / Earth

The centre card is moderately strong.

This combination hints at a fitness instructor trying to motivate people that have no interest in fitness and are being forced to attend the class; someone with ambition who’s trying to help others; a niche interest that a small amount of people could eventually become passionate about; courses and activities designed to increase confidence.

Catherine: And in reverse? It’s like the younger generation trying to convince their elders to lighten up and get with it! Again, a solid base with a great energetic start for any new venture or project.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Air / Water

The central card is moderately strong.

Trying to make sense of the past; other people trying to make the client “own” their emotional baggage; unconscious projection; the ability to think coldly when everyone else has allowed their grief to overpower them; trying to keep two lovers apart.

Catherine: Cutting through a clouded and emotional issue. Making sense of how you feel, and feeling okay with that. This could also be therapy, counselling or just talking it through and clearing the fog.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Water / Air

The central card is moderately strong.

This combination hints at someone being overcome with emotions; losing clarity; acting on emotions; the unconscious swallows the conscious mind; psychic visions; confusion; no wanting to face up to the harshness of reality.

Catherine: In reverse? Is this losing control of your logic to your emotional self? The water divides the air, laying down a fog and bringing in confusion. Clarity is still there, only it’s in danger of being covertly overtaken if the emotions get a foothold.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Earth / Water

The central card is strong and influential.

Is someone pushing those closest to them away? Hiding behind work; money comes before love.

Catherine: No man is an island, they say; but earth looks like one here. Where reason and logic may fail to win over the indulgent, emotional self, earth has the strength and fortitude to set itself down like an anchor, redressing the balance.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Water / Earth

The central card is strong.

This is water adding an important emotional dimension to life; what was once a cold, harsh and uncaring place has changed into something more supportive, nourishing and loving; relaxation and fun are indicated by this combination; time spent with relaxing with your family and friends.

Catherine: This is water telling the earth to relax; enjoy yourself, you’ve worked hard and put down some strong roots and foundations – now’s the time to rest a little and recuperate, tomorrow is already on its way.

the Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Earth / Air

The central card is weak and will have very little influence in a Tarot reading.

Someone who is afraid of change; a technophobe; someone who doesn’t like new ideas; someone who doesn’t like to think about abstract reasons for “why”; someone who is much more comfortable being practical rather than philosophical; someone who needs to “see” it to believe it; a need to stop things getting out of control; taking charge of people who don’t understand how something works.

Catherine: Oh, someone’s trying to put their foot down! It won’t work though. The air will just rise above it and regroup, indignant of the bossiness and weight of the earth. Check your plans are built on strong foundations.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Air / Earth

The central card is weak.

A need to assert authority; trying to convince people that there’s a better, more efficient way of doing things; an idea that could make a lot of money if other cards intervene; something that could turn out to be very profitable; a change in lifestyle that never gets of the ground without outside help.

Catherine: The foot stomping works in this combination – earth has the upper hand and the air is stuck. A situation you may find yourself in may feel like suffocation – but remember, even Joshua broke down the walls of Jericho.

Triple Element Combinations

In triple element combinations, the central card can be weakened by an adjacent enemy element. It will be restrengthened by a neutral or friendly element in the other modifying position. This acts as a bridge or link between the two elements at odds with each other. The restrengthening depends wholly on the relationship between the central card and the supporting modifier.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Water / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Water / Fire

An outside factor steps in to take control of a situation that is going nowhere; a lack of direction despite clear goals; an inner resistance to success; the need to understand why the goal is a good one before being able to follow through on the plan; someone who won’t be hurried.

Catherine: With the best will in the world, you just can’t help but feel that this situation is not going to resolve itself. The fire’s not helping and the air has little effect on the water leaving this combination looking rather like someone who knows what they should be doing, but would rather indulge themselves than sort things out.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Water / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Water / Fire

The central card is moderately weak.

Nothing is moving forward; feeling under pressure to make more of a success out of one’s self – because of the “good education” that one has received; making decisions to please others; ignoring one’s own needs in favour of living up to another’s idealised image of what you should be.

Catherine: With the fire again not helping, the earth has to do it all. Acting like a benevolent friend or Samaritan, the earth is propping up the water providing stability at a time when it was under-fire.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Air / Water

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Air / Fire

These triads show how the flanking cards cancel each other out, leaving the central card with a neutral influence.

Despite things going wrong, you are able to keep a level headed approach; your will-power drives things forward; the opportunity to exploit the current situation will never be better; wanting to do everything and be everyone to all people; it’s hard to be yourself with so much going on around you.

Catherine: Poor air! Who needs enemies when your friends are fighting! This is like having a great idea and no-one’s buying, the board can’t agree and so you may have to go it alone; depends on how much you believe in your idea.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Air / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Air / Fire

The central card is fairly strong.

Can’t see the forest for the Trees; being focused on the little details at the expense of the bigger picture; being trapped into a way of life you have always known; not understanding why things need to change; loving and hating life both at the same time; never feeling like you’re good enough to realise your dreams but always feeling like you’re better than everything in your current situation; a kind of strange arrogance.

Catherine: Poor earth has such a bad rep for being dull, but you can’t help but see how it’s being antagonistic to the air who just wants to get moving! The fire has put its cards on the table in favour of the air and despite it understanding that earth wants to keep things on the level, it’s working with the air to see it through – the air is doing it anyway!

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Earth / Water

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Earth / Fire

The flanking cards have cancelled each other out in this triad. This looks like a case of divide and conquer to me. The central card has taken control over the immediate civil unrest and imposed a type of “law and order”. Another way of thinking about this combination is to imagine a political debate where all parties argue their point but nothing gets resolved, and in the meantime, other people suffer. The central card controls this type of indecision.

Catherine: Poor earth, got everything ready, got the food and drinks in and his party’s having a row! You’d think this would be better, wouldn’t you? Earth has enough backbone to sustain itself here and if this is you, then know you can too.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Fire / Earth / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Earth / Fire

In this triad, the central card is fairly weak.

I feel someone is being bullied; being pressured into making decisions they don’t want to make; I feel other people’s feelings aren’t being considered in this triad; despite all this pressure placed upon them, they hold true, as best they can, to their beliefs – although the emotional costs of doing so are high; someone who stays with an abusive partner; passing a test, only to find out that it was a worthless victory.

Catherine: This combination looks like self-sabotage to me. On the one hand it’s friends with the fire but doesn’t get on with the air. The fire and air, which could gain strength from each other, are squarely put asunder by the earth. It’s rather like having the impetus to move forward, then you talk yourself out of it. There’s definite movement and progression, but you have to wonder for how long.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Fire / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Fire / Water

The central card is fairly strong; a counsellor keeps the marriage afloat; pain, anger and confusion; betrayal; a choice in careers which is unsuitable; profoundly creative and inspirational as a result; an inability to have close relationships.

Catherine: Air seems like a knight in shining armour here – helping the fire overcome the emotional tug from the water. There’s logic and reason still in a situation that could easily find itself out of control with no winners. The fire is responsive though to the support from the air. This one feels like a pep-talk from my Dad the first time I had a broken heart.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Fire / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Fire / Water

The central card is moderately weak in these triads.

Someone who is trying to accept the situation for the way it is, not the way they want it to be – but finding it very difficult. Feeling confused and unsure, but finding an experienced guide to help. Someone recovering from addiction and attending a support group.

Catherine: Solid, stable, reliable earth. Often misunderstood and maligned and yet always it wants to support, and do the right thing like a wise elder. Once again its strength sustains another element, it’s a familiar role. No matter how strong you think you are, sometimes you just have to take another’s hand.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Air / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Air / Water

The central card is fairly weak.

Despite wanting to see the world, guilt over leaving others behind prevents the client from committing to an extend trip abroad. A fascination with Ships, boats and the sea. Someone who wants others to understand them but feeling isolated and removed from that emotional support and understanding.

Catherine: You can see how frustrated the air is feeling – at odds with the earth and getting only dreamy 1960′s Hippy love from the water. It’s pretty stuck and not able to think its way out of this little scene just yet, though it will, eventually, and maybe with a little help from its friends…

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Water / Earth / Air

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Earth / Water

The central card is moderately weak.

Someone who constantly criticises someone else’s lifestyle. Someone whose career is a “profession” but who wishes for a simpler life. A realisation of who they are, and who they want to become; and the conflict between the way things are now, and the way they want them to be. The ability to see the big picture and plan well into the future – yet, unable to put that plan into effect.

Catherine: Where the earth and water were separated in the previous combination by the air, in this one they’re together again like long parted lovers, at home and at ease with each other. The air can try and spoil this party, but hey, no-one’s really going anywhere anyway. This combination is a little self-indulgent and a little dangerous – ignoring your problems won’t make them go away, distractions don’t last forever and at some point you have to face the music.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Fire / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Fire / Air

The flanking cards cancel each other out.

Despite all the problems, despite all the obstacles, despite the amount of things that go wrong, Fire fights on. The central card in this case has influence.

Catherine: Earth and air are at it again, these two just don’t get on causing friction wherever they meet. The fire is more than capable of standing alone, this is less about ego and more about an inner spirit, the flame that never dies. Fire alone against the world? No problem.

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Air / Water / Earth

The Elemental Dignities Compendium - Three Card Combinations - Earth / Water / Air

The two flanking cards in this triad cancel each other out.

The use of intuition finds the solution to an impossible problem; psychic development; acting as a mediator in the work place; being seen as a good listener and wise counsellor.

Catherine: Will water cope on its own while these warring parties continue to square up? Water isn’t known for its strength but for its adaptability and flexibility, it can cope in its own ways. It will be a long shot, but that’s all we sometimes need for we can often surprise ourselves when we have no other choice but to adapt to our situation.

Further reading

The Golden Dawns system of Elemental Dignities, as explained in The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series), was used to read Tarot cards in triads and pairs. In Two Card Combinations – Elemental Dignities Compendium both Catherine of Tarot Elements: The Elemental Dignities Dictionary – Two Card Combinations and myself explained how to use the Elements to read two card combinations in pairs. We would highly recommend that you read that article for further information on the rules of Elemental Dignities, card pairing, and the rules involved in card pairing as well as a complete list of all possible two card combinations.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found some of the content useful. I’d love to hear how you find working with Elemental Dignities. Do you already use Elemental Dignities in the way Catherine and I have outlined? Is this your first time? What ever your thoughts, ideas, experiences or suggestions are, I’d love to hear them. I’ll see you in the comments :D

This article is part of the Elemental Dignities Compendium.

(Theoretically) Related Posts:

43 comments… Let's discuss

Irmata November 13, 2009 at 5:27 am

Nothing constructive to add, other than I’m really looking forward to being comfortable enough with “just reading” so that I can start really applying all the good “extra bits” like elemental dignities! There’s so much to consider when it comes to adding layers of meaning to interpreting a spread, it makes me giddy :D Your website is such a great resource – thanks, Doug!

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 13, 2009 at 11:41 am

Hi Irmata,

Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words :D

I’m really looking forward to being comfortable enough with “just reading” so that I can start really applying all the good “extra bits” like elemental dignities!

Reading with Elemental Dignities can be intimidating and it certainly makes sense to want to focus on being completely comfortable with reading the Tarot before you begin adding any additional techniques to your repertoire.

However, whenever you’re feeling ready and you want to begin using Elemental Dignities, I would recommend a simple way to practice them.

Read the cards normally first…
Deal out three cards
Focus on the middle cards
What does that card mean with reagards to a “prediction”?
Now use the rules of Elemental Dignities
Remember, its only the middle card that Elemental Dignities affects
Use Elemental Dignities at this point to see how influential, or not, the middle card is
Reinterpret the middle card based on its “influence” over events
Build on that kind of practice until a level of comfort using Elemental Dignities exists
Then try using more cards

The key to using Elemental Dignities is that it doesn’t change the Divinatory meaning of the cards. All it does is let you know which cards are significant and which cards aren’t. Elemental Dignities can help us figure out whats going on when things don’t initially make sense; they let us know which cards don’t have much influence over a reading which allows us to confidently ignore certain cards during the initial construction of a “narrative” and focus on the most influential in the Tarot reading.

Let me know when you’re ready to start learning Elemental Dignities and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have :D

Reply

Zorian November 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

This has got to be the most comprehensive and the most well written data on elemental dignitaries ever!!! Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. ED’s have always been a major issue for me. Even though I used to use Thoth as my primary deck for an entire year and a half, and read with ED”s, with most other decks, I found using the same manner of ED’s all the more confusing. But now, courtesy your amazing post, I applied all that I learned to a few readings.. and the results were AMAZING

Thank you again for sharing this with us!

Zorian

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 14, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Hi Zorian,

Thanks for dropping by :D

I’m really glad and happy that you found some of the stuff that Catherine and I wrote on Elemental Dignities useful.

Thank you for your kind words :D

Reply

Sarah November 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Doug and Catherine,
I can’t thank you enough for this thorough and meticulous teaching. What I see is that the ED’s can be used even before divination as a framework for the “story” — and from your and Catherine’s interpretations, there never is just one story!

Question — in a spread, such as Celtic Cross, do you recommend reading triads in threes, 123, 456, etc. with 10 at the end. Or is it helpful to do a make a triad for every card at the center – 234, 345, etc. – to see how each of the cards is influenced?

Thanks again.

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 14, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for stopping by :D

What I see is that the ED’s can be used even before divination as a framework for the “story”

I really liked the way you’ve said that. Yes, I think that ED’s are an excellent way of providing the framework for a story. The key to what you’ve said is that there never is just one story! When using ED’s it’s possible to construct multiple stories – each one having a baring on the client’s life to one extent or another.

Question — in a spread, such as Celtic Cross, do you recommend reading triads in threes, 123, 456, etc. with 10 at the end. Or is it helpful to do a make a triad for every card at the center – 234, 345, etc. – to see how each of the cards is influenced?

I would begin with the 123,456 approach. This will keep things nice and structured to begin with. Once you feel comfortable with using ED’s in this manner, then by all means start experimenting. Elemental Dignities is something that grows with each Tarot reader – hence all the variations you can read about.

By getting totally comfortable with the 123,456 approach you will be in a much better position to discover alternative ways of using ED’s to gather more information for your clients.

I hope you found my answer useful and I’d love to hear how you get on with this and any insights you might learn along the way. :D

Reply

Theresa November 18, 2009 at 4:29 am

Hi Douglas! I love what you and Catherine are doing – your posts are really helpful and inspiring! I agree with Zorian – this is THE most comprehensive writing out there on the Elemental Dignities. For those of us who don’t normally read with them, this stuff is convincing enough to give it a go. Thanks! Can’t wait to see what else you guys conjure up….

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Hi Theresa,

Thank you for kind words :D

Catherine and I tried, to the best of our abilities, to explain Elemental Dignities in as straight forward a way as possible – just writing the post forced both Catherine and I to re-examine our methods which was exciting, awesome and a lot of fun :D

I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

Can’t wait to see what else you guys conjure up….

LOL pressure is on ;)

Reply

Helen November 18, 2009 at 6:22 am

So glad to have found the GD’s attributions to the Magician, Empress, Moon WOF, Tower and Sun – so much easier than Book T’s Planetary ones – Thanks for bringing this to my attention – maybe I’ll use elementary dignities more now ;) who knows!

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 18, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Hi Helen,

I’m glad you found the information useful and I’d love to hear how your future exploration of Elemental Dignities goes :D

Reply

Charles February 7, 2010 at 6:26 am

Hey, that is exactly what I’m looking for. The GD material I found still has planetary attributions to some Major Arcana, and no elemental attribution. What document did you find this in?

Reply

Lionel November 23, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Wonderfully clear and comprehensive guide. You both are raising the bar for thoroughness and thought with this post.

The GD system here seems like a good tool for readings where people are ‘stuck’ on what to look for next, or trying to find ways to understand a card in the context of confusing combination. I myself find the GD system of elemental configuration a bit too simplistic – life is often messier than clear ‘friend/enemy’ and ‘weaken/strength’ relationships, and so are elemental configurations.

Saying cards ‘don’t matter’ in relation to a central card in a triad spread because they lock each other out of affecting the central card seems suspect for some readings – How could two of cups/three of cups/four of wands (W/W/F) not synergize much differently over two of swords/three of sword/four of pentacles? How could that central card not be informed greatly in either case? When you say practice will really bring this system out for each individual, I think you’re right – people will moderate the simplicity of the system and really give it life!

Seeing your and Catherine’s individual responses to each triad is a *Fantastic* resource – Seeing the differences and parallels gives any serious student huge food for thought! I recommend everybody to write down their own interpretations of each triad and then read this compendium – I’m going to do it myself and I hugely look forward to it!

Like any other good tool, this approach to dignities will be most useful when applied with consideration alongside the intuition and specific cards in the spread.

Thank you SO MUCH for such a potent and clear learning resource!

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 25, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Hi Lionel,

Both Catherine and I wanted to make this as clear as possible and I’m glad that you liked the article.

When you say practice will really bring this system out for each individual, I think you’re right – people will moderate the simplicity of the system and really give it life!

Both Catherine and I found that we read Elemental Dignities differently, so it was a really interesting exercise for both of us to re-examine the Golden Dawn system once again.

Seeing your and Catherine’s individual responses to each triad is a *Fantastic* resource – Seeing the differences and parallels gives any serious student huge food for thought! I recommend everybody to write down their own interpretations of each triad and then read this compendium – I’m going to do it myself and I hugely look forward to it!

I’m really glad you found that section of the article useful. I’d love to hear how you get on with the exercise.

Like any other good tool, this approach to dignities will be most useful when applied with consideration alongside the intuition and specific cards in the spread.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s very important to let intuition take the lead with Elemental Dignities – in fact, I would say that that is essential.

Thank you for your kind words Lionel :D

Reply

Ginger November 24, 2009 at 12:29 am

Hi Doug
Long time no see…trying to reduce stress…and sometimes that means just chillin…instead of interneting…LOL…As you know I love the elemental dignities stuff…I think it adds so much to a reading.
I said one time before I need a “regular” tarot deck instead of the “themed ones” I’ve been using…I love the themed ones but just feel like I need a “general one” to call my own. I have hunted around and I’m buying the Radiant Rider Waite….as my “traditional deck”…its been calling to me. I am going to focus on using only it…as a tarot deck for a few months….to really learn it and become familar with it….along the way I’m going to keep playing with the elemental dignities also…..I know it sounds weird but I was sort of stressing myself out with too many choices….so I think this approach will work well…..and one of the good things about tarot…is once you know it…lol…as much as you can…then you know it…it doesnt keep changing like new oracle decks….lol. …BUT I’m NEVER giving up my Faery Oracles….LOL….

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AJ November 25, 2009 at 3:39 am

Hi Ginger. Me too… I feel like I need to find a tarot deck to focus on. I bought so many decks lately and I feel a little overwhelmed… LOL

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Sheri January 26, 2010 at 1:30 am

I’ve been using the same Rider Waite deck I bought a year ago and I’m still learning it. Because I’ve had it alone for so long my readings are getting very accurate…to the day accurate. I am trippin’ over that…lol!

Reply

Douglas Gibb January 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Great news! :D

Reply

Ginger November 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Yeah A.J. I’ve been thinking about this a lot….not only spending a lot of money on decks but just not enjoying them much…..so really what’s the point? A bit of self control (lol) and concentrating on a deck is proving to be very relaxing…..not to say I won’t ever buy another deck…but simplifying…..it feels “right”.

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 25, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Hi Ginger,

I think you’ve made the right choice. Buying the Radiant Rider Waite deck is a great all purpose Tarot deck and I’m sure you’ll love using it over the next few months.

By spending a couple of months with one deck only, you’re really giving yourself an opportunity to develop a strong intuitive bond with it. This will end up paying you back many times over, especially with difficult Tarot readings, learning Elemental Dignities or any other activity you would like to use the deck for.

The key to picking a new deck is to ask yourself, “does this deck feel right?” When the answer is yes, then you know you have made the right choice.

I wish you all the best with your new Tarot deck and hope that it helps with your Tarot journey :D

Reply

Sheri January 26, 2010 at 1:23 am

Hi Douglas!

Long time no visit. I hope you have been doing excellent!

My question is in the Fire/Water/water combination you and Catherine wrote:

This triad is moderately strong. The centre card is supported by another Water Element which adds to its overall influence in a Tarot reading.

“The desire to enjoy the moment wins over the need to move things forward.

Catherine: This is actually more hopeful than it looks. Yes, it’s overly passive and emotional, but a small flickering flame of desire burning underneath the surface hasn’t been extinguished. Things may not be moving yet, but there’s hope.”

As usual I’m confused…lol…my confusion comes when I actually ask a question and then look at the cards themselves and then try to apply what you and Catherine are saying about this combination. My question being: Will someone call and ask to get back together with someone else? 8 Wands/Page Cups/King Cups.

Looking at the cards themselves it looks very promising that he will call and the couple will get back together. But when I read what you and Catherine wrote it sounds like he’s too lazy to call because he’s enjoying the moment.

I tried another reading and asked if he cared about this person. I got Temperance/Emperor/Queen Wands. I can’t figure out this meaning either because none of the cards are romantic to me or water cards and after looking at the Temperance Card, I was wondering if you could tell me why it’s a fire card when it looks and sounds more like a water card? It’s makes it difficult to try and read that card when it doesn’t make sense to me.

I’ve been working using the Celtic Cross for people and have been excited to hear later that what I told them is actually happening!

Thanks :)
Sheri

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Douglas Gibb January 26, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Hi Sheri,

Thanks for dropping by :)

My question being: Will someone call and ask to get back together with someone else? 8 Wands/Page Cups/King Cups.

You’re right, the cards do indicate that he will get back in touch :) Elementally, it suggests that it’s going to take time. In other words, he won’t make contact immediately.

Temperance/Emperor/Queen Wands

An all fire combination can suggest great passion – fiery feelings.

The Emperor is in control.

…after looking at the Temperance Card, I was wondering if you could tell me why it’s a fire card when it looks and sounds more like a water card?

It’s all to do with Alchemy, and the alchemical processes that this card indicates. According to one theory, it’s the progression of the Lovers card (in an alchemical sense).

Let me know how your readings go :D

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Sheri January 27, 2010 at 7:49 am

Hi Douglas!

Thank you for your help. I guess that makes sense about the Temperance card. It is a fast card for me. I’m going to have to really figure out the timing on things again. For the first reading, ‘Will he call and get back together with someone?’ it was immediate. Only hours later. I wonder, is it because I am repeating the question and sometimes asking in different ways that it is effecting the timing of events? I have a friend that I told him when someone would contact him and the person did in the time frame I gave him.

Also, I’m a little confused by the base cards when adding them to a reading. I love the way you have really laid out the examples above on this lesson and was hoping you might be able to do the same for base cards. Sometimes they are easy to figure out then other times I’m not truly sure if the base I chose will even help at all. An example would be earth/earth/water with a water base. That looks to me like it won’t really help at all in a relationship question. I can only see how the base helps when there are triple dignities.

Thank you, Douglas! Since I found your site I’ve been reading with amazing accuracy. I’m shocked at myself…lol!

Sheri

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Douglas Gibb January 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Hi Sheri,

It’s great to hear how well you’re getting on :D

Asking a variation of the same question is kinda of like asking the Tarot to zero in on a specific aspect of the overall question. As a result, the timing of events can reflect this. Sometimes, the Tarot will indicate that that phase of the overall question will happen quickly, other times, slowly.

Adding a base Element to a reading can either help or hinder me. My preferred way of working with a base Element is to use my intuition. If I sense it would bring greater clarity, then I’ll use it. If not, I’ll interpret the Elements in their own right.

I think the guiding principle of using a base Element should be, “does this bring the client, and me, greater clarity?” If the answer is yes, then use them; if the answer is no, then discard the method.

I hope that helps to clarify things for you :D

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Sheri January 31, 2010 at 7:35 am

Hi Douglas,

That’s what I thought about the timing. For me it usually speeds things way up. Not always a good thing…lol.

Silly me. I didn’t think of the base element that way. I was thinking the base element could sway a question in one person’s direction. Well, I guess it can, but then that wouldn’t really be right.

Thanks for your help! I’m understanding things so much easier with your help. :)

Sheri

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colin April 11, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Hi there Douglas, hi all!

I have 2 decks the Divine tarot by artist Ciro Marchretti, and the other deck that was based on the Rider Waite, the Guilded Tarot by the same artist, Marchetti.

I love those Decks, they show me all I need to know. The divine tarot cards are different but the pictures show how the cards interact within a persons life, also Douglas I am trawling through the elements, very insightful. Great work my friend, it must have taken an age to compile all of this…. as well I was thinking also of buying a set of the Rider Waite cards as have books on them and the pictures also look insightful as well…..

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Douglas Gibb April 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Hi Colin,

Thanks for your kind words :)

Good luck with your new Tarot decks. I’m glad they’re bringing you a lot of insight and understanding :)

The Rider-Waite is a great deck and it is useful to have. However, there really is no need if you already get a lot out of the Legacy of the Divine Tarot. However, The Rider-Waite is great if for no other reason than to learn the symbolism on each card. From this point of view (studying symbolism) this deck is great. It will come into its own when other authors discuss it.

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Sheri May 19, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Hi Douglas,

I am trying to study the elemental dignities with the cards and get insightful 3 card readings. Here’s my dilemma: Some of the explanations tell you if there is movement and others don’t, for example water/fire/fire says things move forward, but expect resistance. Or air/air/fire has 3 active elements but it says the need to act is delayed through hesitation over options, but air/air/ water says the action is likely to happen. I guess what I’m saying is some things make sense to me while others don’t.

I drew – 2 Cups/7 Wands/ Death to practice with. Movement is indicated but I’m now confused by the 2 flanking cards. The definition for the 2 Cups is easy, but the definition for the Death card has, I found, another definition besides death/rebirth. The other meaning is a restructuring of a relationship with a Scorpio person or in the month of Scorpio.

Would you say that the person is in a relationship with a Scorpio person and they aren’t giving it up, they are restructuring it? Or is the the Scorpio person finding opposition from others or the other person in the relationship?

Please explain to me how the elemental dignities work in this reading. Is it that the card itself says opposition or don’t give up so the elemental reading is that card is weak but it’s fire so it fights to work things out?

Help…lol…

Thanks,

Sheri

Reply

Douglas Gibb May 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Hi Sheri,

Good to hear you are still persisting with Tarot :)

Okay, in your example you have a Fire card at the center with Water cards on either side. The Water cards are enemies of the Fire card so it weakens the influence of Fire to a great extent. Therefore the perseverance, courage and frightening Spirit of this Fire card, although still present, won’t have such a great influence over the outcome of the reading.

If we just look at the Elements, we could say something along the lines of, “A victory which is distorted by emotion and pleasure seeking”.

The whole point of Elemental Dignities is that it’s a method that helps people figure out which are the most important cards; or which cards to give importance to. In your example, the Elemental Dignities are telling us not to give a lot of importance to the 7 of Wands. Although the Fire Element is present (it can never be fully extinguished), it’s overpowered by the outside Elements (Water).

Now that we have established that the Element Fire (the 7 of Wands) is not a very influential card in this reading, we bring in the Divinatory meanings to tell the story and finish the reading.

If you feel that Death signifies the restructuring of a relationship then that is what you bring into play. However, knowing that the 7 of Wands is weak in this example, can we predict that this restructuring will happen quickly? Also, the meaning of the 7 of Wands can sometimes indicate obstacles on an almost daily level. I wonder, knowing that the 7 of Wands is weak, how these obstacles will be negotiated and its influence over the relationship?

I hope that helps answer your question :D

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Sheri May 24, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Hi Douglas,

Thank you. That explanation helped me out alot. How/when do you factor in the question asked by the client? Let’s say the client wants to know if the person they want to plan a weekend with will happen or not? I grabbed my cards and I pulled – 3 wands/hangedman/2 wands – If elementally the Hangedman is weak so his influence is small I believe that means the fire will have it’s way in this reading. If I add the meanings to these cards I need to figure out which one applies to the reading. How will I know which one to apply?
3 wands – Relationships look good; travel in connection with work; a fresh start; new job.
Hangedman – Waiting, nothing happening, ‘hanging’ around; traitor; shame; a criminal.
2 wands – Beware of a proud man; partnerships could improve (When this card comes up, expect an element of competition; factor others into the equation.)
Since the Hangedman’s influence is weak…I would say that the “waiting around” for an answer won’t take long. This person will find out quickly because of the fire being aggressive.
With the 2 wands I might say there’s something that could come up, or interfere, in this partnership…
With the 3 wands I might say the interference is travel or a job that needs to be done. OR….
I could read it as the relationship looks good (3 wands) because the partnership is improving (2 Wands)…How do I know which meaning to apply??? lol!

Thank you soooo much. I know I’m eventually gonna get this – or die of old age trying! ;)

Sheri

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Cher Green July 24, 2010 at 2:04 am

Oh, Doug, I’m still confused about how to use this in a reading. Could you please try to help me understand?

In a three card reading, I asked: What should my energies be focused toward?
Cards pulled 18Moon, 3ofSwords(reversed), and 8 of wands

Also, when doing a reading with more than three cards, say ten, do you end up with three important cards in the reading?

Reply

Douglas Gibb July 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Hi Cher,

Elemental Dignities don’t change the divinatory meanings of the Tarot cards, all they do is tell us how influential, or not, certain cards will be. Elemental Dignities are traditionally read in groups of three. In a linear spread there will never be one group of three cards that is more important than another.

You can use Elemental Dignities in a positional based Tarot spread but, you must be prepared to abandon the significance of the positions. The past no longer represents the past, the outcome card is no longer the outcome card.

When using Elemental Dignities you’re reading all the cards in relationship to each other. No cards are more important than the others … but some are more influential within the clients life.

For instance, lets say we have the 10 of Disks, 10 of Swords, 3 of Disks.

Air and Earth are enemies of each other. We know that the 10 of Swords is not very influential. It still represents ruin, but the influence that ruin will have on the clients life will be small. The Tarot is telling us not to give that 10 of Swords a lot of importance in the developing story you’re creating.

In your example, Moon, 3 of Swords, 8 of Wands:

The 8 of Wands (Fire) and Moon (Water) are enemies of each other. While they’re busy fighting each other, the 3 of Swords (who is friendly to both of them) stands alone. The Golden Dawn would say that the 3 of Swords isn’t effect all that much.

To answer your question, what should my energies be focused towards?

The Three of Swords reversed is your answer.

In a psychological reading (which reflects that type of question you’ve asked) it suggests a recovery from …? Normally, I would say a recovery from either illness or from some sort of heartbreak but I don’t have enough cards to be sure – the Moon is telling though.

It might suggest that you focus your energies away from the Moon (heightened emotional engagement in something very confusing), and the impulsive and unpredictable ( 8 of Wands) behavior that this inspires in you.

Either way, when we read the Tarot with Elemental Dignities, we are looking at how influential certain Tarot cards are.

In your case, the Tarot clearly wanted you to see that the Moon and the 8 of Wands were to have no influence on you – and that you were to focus your energies on the Three of Swords reversed – a recovery process; someone who is aloof to the turbulence of the other two cards.

I hope that helps :D

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Cher Green July 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Doug,

Thank you. Yes I think I understand now.

Basically in my example reading, the elemental dignities let me know that although the Moon and 8 of Wands are present they are not the focal point of the reading.

Would it also be fair to say that Moon (confusing emotions) is battling against my 8 of Wands (movement forward)? And, while these are occuring in the background, it is important for me to focus on the recovery rather than the chaos going on within me.

Yes, I think I’ve got it. Thank you so much. Your explaination was very helpful.

Reply

Douglas Gibb July 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Hi Cher,

Basically in my example reading, the elemental dignities let me know that although the Moon and 8 of Wands are present they are not the focal point of the reading.

Yes, because the Moon is the Element Water and the 8 of Wands is the Element Fire — the central card (3 of Swords) will not have its influence modified. The two flanking cards (Moon and 8 of Wands) will be fighting each other, leaving the central card alone. In cases like these we can think of the central card as being uninfluenced by the two flanking cards.

Would it also be fair to say that Moon (confusing emotions) is battling against my 8 of Wands (movement forward)? And, while these are occuring in the background, it is important for me to focus on the recovery rather than the chaos going on within me.

Yes. The Moon is the confusing emotions (the Moon can be thought of as heightened emotions as well) and the Eight of Wands is your need to act upon those emotions. The advice of the Tarot is not to be lead along by these powerful forces; rather, focus on the difficult, and sometimes painful (3 of Swords) road to recovery.

Reading with Elemental Dignities is a knack, and once you get the knack you’ll find that you’ll be applying it, rather unconsciously, to almost all Tarot readings you do.

Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with :)

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Cher Green July 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Doug, I’m really trying to get an understanding of this process. Our earlier correspondence helped but I’m still a little fuzzy.

I’ve posted about using the elemental dignities in a reading and went through the process of applying it to a reading. If you get time, I’d enjoy hearing your opinions and thoughts. I’m sure my followers (although few) would also enjoy hearing your take. http://tarotbycher.blogspot.com/2010/07/elemental-dignities.html

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Steve September 5, 2010 at 9:22 am

earlier i am so much confuse in ED’s Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. ED’s have always been a major issue for me…thanks alot

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maria de la luz October 4, 2010 at 1:29 am

Hi,
I did a reading several months ago. When will “X” will find a job.
7 of wands was final outcome.
I thought it would take 7 months (7 wands)
Not true.
Then I read that 7 of wands in final outcome is not that good. It leaves the protagonist in a state of unfinished struggle.

I’d like your opinion

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Tony Louis April 2, 2011 at 2:16 am

Great site and a very clear and informative explanation. Coming from a background in astrology, I tend to think of the elemental dignities in terms of the qualities of each element (hot, cold, wet, dry) and which quality predominates. It a slightly different perspective that adds a bit more nuance to the interpretation.

In the 123, 456, 789, etc., layout, I’m not clear how you connect each triad with the one adjacent to it. Since the cards are in sequence, they are all connected and each triad must have some bearing on the meaning of the next. If they are read as isolated triads, then it becomes a positional spread rather than a sequence. How did the Golden Dawn deal with triads of cards in their sequence spreads?

Again, thanks for the very helpful information.

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David November 8, 2011 at 3:48 am

Great article! Would you mind indicating which chapter has information on Elemental Dignities in the Golden Dawn book? I have a copy, but it is an electronic version, and can be difficult to search, due to its size.

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Tony Louis December 12, 2011 at 1:58 am

In the Regardie Golden Dawn book published by Llewellyn, the relevant page is 585. It is section 6.) of the chapter on tarot divination: On the Signification of the Cards. It begins: “A card is strong or weak, well-dignified or ill-dignified, according to the cards which are next to it on either side….”

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Carlo March 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Exactly just what I was looking for! The information you have here will definitely same me a lot of time.

Thank you!

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FaeryDust June 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm

thanks this was a really helpful article! I have been trying to understand these darned elemental dignities for a few years now, and have never felt clarity as i do now – crystal clear :) thank you!

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Ellen July 16, 2013 at 5:57 am

While the information is a bit overwhelming it is also exciting, inspiring, and empowering. Practice, practice, practice. So of you we’re looking at eds in a Celtic cross spread could you look at 4,1,2,6 ( the horizontal) and then 5,1,2,3 the vertical…would the centre card be the 1 position? And the 2 cross/cover card be a descriptor for the 1? Hmmm reading this back it sounds confusing….. :)

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Douglas Gibb July 17, 2013 at 12:10 am

Hi Ellen,

Glad you found the post inspiring. Using the Celtic Cross is a great idea. You could interpret the Celtic Cross in the manner detailed in your comment but it would be easier, visually at least, to rearrange the 10 cards (without changing the order) into a linear spread. That way you can read the Celtic Cross spread and ED’s. I would most likely practice the EDs first and then rearrange the cards into the Celtic Cross but you could do it the other way around if you like.

And yes, practice makes this a lot easier :D

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