The Four Elements

by Douglas Gibb on May 27, 2009

Thales, the Ionian philosopher born around 624BCE in Miletus, was one of the first people to ponder the fundamental substance or Element that makes up everything. Before that time, as far as recorded history knows, people generally thought of things occurring through the Will of the gods. I’m not convinced by this. I suspect that ever since humans walked the Earth, the questions concerning the origin of life, the foundation of substance, our place in the universe were all considered. However, for all that, Thales was the first that we know off who wanted to find a logical answer to these questions.

It was Thales who postulated that Water was the fundamental Element. He only thought there was one; the rest would come from others. Water is a very interesting Element in its own right, and if you’re interested in this, it’s well worth finding out a bit more on how he arrived at his conclusion.

For the purposes of understanding the Tarot, you need to know about the Elements. It’s the ancients’ equivalent of being a quantum physicist. Remember, the Elements, as far as the Greeks were concerned, are the most fundamental components that make up matter. Today, scientists are considering the idea, put forward by String theorists, that Strings are actually the most fundamental.

Super String Theory

The reasons you need to know about Elements, more so than the divinatory meanings of individual cards, is obvious. The Elements are the most fundamental forms of matter; as they form, our world comes to be. By knowing how the Elements are interacting within the Clients life, by seeing how they’re forming in the future, we can give accurate readings.

The Four Elements are Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

The Four Elements

In a Tarot deck:

  • Fire are Wands
  • Water are Cups
  • Air are Swords
  • Earth are Disks

Fire and Water are enemies:

Fire and Water

Air and Earth are enemies:

Air and Earth

All other combinations are friendly to each other.

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2 comments… Let's discuss

Nicholas December 30, 2013 at 3:14 am

One thing that I occasionally struggle with is that always think of Swords as being forged in Fire and branches (Wands) being blown by the wind (Air).

A simple mnemonic device I’ve started to use is that wood burns, therefore Wands = Fire. That alone helps me set it straight. I just wondered if anyone else struggled with ascribing Air or Fire to the wrong suit like me? And if so, how did you work through that?

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Nicholas December 30, 2013 at 8:11 am

One postscript – as I work more with Thoth, I realize that the imagery alone helps quite a bit. Coming from a RWS background, this was more challenging. But Thoth cards like the Knight of Wands, for instance, could clearly be nothing other than fire. I’m really happy that I’ve given this deck a chance. :)

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