Elemental Dignities Mini Series

Elemental Dignities Mini Series

The Elemental Dignities Mini Series is a short tarot tutorial designed to be interactive and immersive to help you see elemental dignities in action. There are a few short rules that direct the interaction of the elements in this system and building on one tarot card at a time, you will be able to witness this interaction. Using free association, tarot card meanings, numerology and the astrology associated with each card you will see the depth of tarot reading that can be obtained by applying elemental dignities to one, two and three tarot cards.

There are a number of ways to approach elemental dignities and this tutorial follows the Paul Hughes-Barlow approach. Paul runs the expansive and well respected tarot website, Supertarot, and personally mentored me in his adaptation of this Golden Dawn system of tarot reading. For a deeper look at elemental dignities, and to see how the Golden Dawn practised this type of tarot reading, head to my Elemental Dignities Dictionary for a full colour explanation of their system and what all those elements mean in one, two and three card combinations. The Elemental Dignities Dictionary is an exclusive and one-of-a-kind exploration and presentation of elemental dignities anywhere on the internet.

The Elemental Dignities Mini Series was first presented as a three part series over three individual posts but has now been combined into one easy to access page with navigation links to enable swift movement throughout the post.

Elemental Dignities Mini Series Index


Pick a Card, Any Card…

Go on then, grab your tarot deck, shuffle and deal one card. Mine’s the 9 of Wands. What’s yours?

Take a good look at it and take note of what jumps out at you.

What does it say to you? What do you think when you look at it? Does the picture speak to you? Or the keywords? Are you thinking about the element it’s associated with? You should be, but we’ll come to that later.

Let’s look at my card – the 9 of Wands. If I answer my own questions, what is it saying to me when I look at it?

elemental dignities mini series nine of wands

Keywords and Attributes

If I free associate, I see strength in its formation; being armed at the ready; all the battalions are ready to move; feeling proud; standing tall; being illuminated; there’s a softness to this strength; it’s non-aggressive; shining a light in the dark; the light at the end of the tunnel.

Keywords
Determination; strength of character; courage under fire; a test of personal strength.

What else can this card tell me? If you’re reading from the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck, then you can look at the astrological association, and the 9 of Wands is associated with the Sun in Sagittarius. Power and mobility.

Numerologically speaking, we can also add some universal keywords to the number 9 – strength, compassion, completion, optimism, suffering.

So far we have some decent information from one card, and we haven’t explored it with any great depth, but we can glean a bit more if we look at the elemental association. Wands are associated with fire and as such are well, fiery! Active, energetic, courageous, determined. When the going gets tough, the wands keep going! In fact, it can be said that this card is a good representation of the esoteric meaning of fire. So standing alone, we know what this card means, but what would this card mean if we’d asked a question? Let’s take a look.

Applying a Question

I had a job interview today, how do you think it went?
I would say it went well. The interviewer was impressed with your strength of character, your confidence, but could also see that strength held no arrogance. You came across as capable, that you would cope under pressure and be relied upon to get the job done.
What do the next three months hold for me?
I feel you may be facing some difficulties ahead that will test your mettle. You may find that you have a quick succession of problems, most likely work related. Despite feeling you have no control, please dig deep as you have the personal resources and resolve to not only get through this, you also have the ability to become stronger once this period passes.
My partner wants to take our relationship further, I don’t feel ready yet. What’s the best way to handle this?
You have to do what’s right for you, and if you’re not ready for this relationship to go to new depths, then you must communicate that to your partner. There is no doubt he may be upset and even persist in his desire to get what he wants, but this is where you must show strength. Be firm but gentle in your response to him. You’re not indicating an ending to him, just that you want things to continue in the steady way it has previously.

So in three very different situations we can see how one card can have very subtle differences in definition. Next, we will throw another card into the mix and see how that affects our questions, how the cards interact with each other and see what new information we can discover.

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Two’s Company

In Part One of this Elemental Dignities Mini Series, Pick A Card, Any Card… we looked at one card – the 9 of Wands.

Here in Part Two, we’re going to add another card and see what difference it makes to the 9 of Wands. So, tarot deck at the ready, time for another card..

Draw one for yourself, what did you get? This time I drew the Lovers.

Using our example of yesterday, a quick analysis will look like this:

Keywords and Attributes

Free association
Togetherness, partnerships, the bringing together of opposites, family life, 2.4 children!
Keywords
Love, partnerships, marriage, a union, a choice.
Numerology
6 – movement, balance, solutions, harmony, healing, empathy.
Astrology
Associated with Gemini, the Twins. Quick witted with a sharp mind. I know a couple of Geminis and they can be indecisive too – stuck in two minds? I think so. At least they have the power to reason though, a saving grace for all you Geminis out there.
Element
Air – the intellect, logic, reason. We have a lot of a lot of mental activity going on with this card despite its stand out theme of love and union.

What we need to do now is look at how the Lovers affects the 9 of Wands. Side by side, they look like this:

elemental dignities mini series two card reading

Your first thoughts would be to see how the divinatory meanings interact each other, so using our lists above, we could say that we’re now looking at a strong relationship, not just a union, but one of tremendous strength; that these two people bring out the best in each other and are very supportive of each other. A match made in heaven it would seem. To add more depth to this analysis though, we need to look at how the elements are interacting with each other. Before we do that, there are a couple of rules we must take into consideration when we work with elemental dignities.

Elemental dignity rules:

  1. Fire and air are friendly and active
  2. Water and earth are friendly and passive
  3. Fire and water are enemies, they weaken each other
  4. Air and earth are enemies, they weaken each other
  5. Fire and earth strengthen each other but are neutral
  6. Water and air strengthen each other but are neutral

For now, we’re just concerning ourselves with bullet point one – fire and air, as these are the elements of our two cards.

Being friendly to each other, they’re supporting each other, strengthening each other. In plain English, it simply means that both cards have remained relevant to our reading, their divinatory meanings have been reinforced by the other. There is also another attribute applied to this pairing of elements – they are both active. Again, simply put, it means the message of the cards is actually happening now, or is going to very quickly.

Applying Elemental Dignities to our Questions

Let’s go back to our questions from Part One of this Mini Series, and see how they are now being answered by the tarot with two cards.

I had a job interview today, how do you think it went?
I would say it went well. The interviewer was impressed with your strength of character and your confidence. You came across as a team player, but also as a dynamic person capable of leading the team, bringing them together and coping well under pressure.
What do the next three months hold for me?
I feel you may be facing some difficulties ahead that will test your relationship. It’s coming under the spotlight and you may find that things will change very quickly. You need to try and remain grounded during this time so that you can respond to these quick developments as opposed to reacting. Passion can also be destructive. Despite feeling you have no control, please dig deep as you have the personal resources and resolve to not only get through this, you also have the ability to make your relationship stronger once this period passes.
My partner wants to take our relationship further, I don’t feel ready yet. What’s the best way to handle this?
You have to do what’s right for you, and if you’re not ready for this relationship to go to new depths, then you must communicate that to your partner. There is no doubt he may be upset and even persist in his desire to get what he wants, but this is where you must show strength. Be firm but gentle in your response to him. Your relationship with him is very good and will be able to withstand this period of uncertainty you both face, so long as you both try and keep your feet on the ground and remain focused on what’s important here. Though things are moving too quickly for you, if you can ride this turbulent period, you will come through this to find a calmer, more settled time will follow.

A Quick Recap

So to recap, adding an extra card made quite a difference to our questions. Elemental dignities added a layer to the reading that we wouldn’t have seen before, in that both cards were equally important, their meanings became blended and interactive. Note that no positions were applied to the cards, they were allowed to tell their own story. The active nature of both cards also showed us that any issues or outcomes would occur quickly, along with the appropriate resolutions. It’s also possible in these situations for things to blow over just as quickly as they began.

Look at the two cards you have drawn from your tarot deck and follow the simple rules shown above. Can you see any immediate changes to the meanings of those cards? Did you draw cards with elements different to mine? Did you draw cards with elements that are enemies and you’re a little confused? Then great! Part Three of this Elemental Dignities Mini Series, Three Is A Magic Number, has some real magic in action, and shows you how those enemies can actually enrich your readings…

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Three is a Magic Number

So sang De La Soul* – little did they know how right they were – at least in the esoteric world.

Previously we have seen how one extra card can change the dynamics in a simple two card reading. In Part Two of the Elemental Dignities Mini Series, Two’s Company, I added an extra card to the mix to stir things up a bit. This time I’m going to add a third – let’s see what happens.

The Magic of the Number Three

Consider the number three for a moment. It’s the first of the numbers to actually form a solid shape, the triangle; and so is seen as the first number to represent a completion, a manifestation. It can be seen as birth, life and death; the past, present and future. You will already be very familiar with the number three – the Christian Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost; the Wiccan Maiden, Mother, Crone; in the Hermetic tradition, Thoth is Trimegistus – Thrice Great.

The list goes on for much longer than that, and it’s a cool list, but much too long for this post. It’s one that deserves its own mention separately, so perhaps I will write all about the number three in another post. For now though, let’s concentrate on what happens when I add that third card to the pair of cards previously drawn for this illustration.

Keywords and Attributes

The third card I have drawn for my reading is the Four of Disks. Very briefly, the attributes and associations are as follows:

Free Association
Protection, isolation, capabilities, strength, office blocks, strength coming from inner balance.
Keywords
Stability, strong foundations, personal power.
Numerology
Form, completeness, foundations, progress.
Astrology
Sun in Capricorn – Strength or power in your career or ambitions, advancement.
Element
Earth – practical matters, physical things, money.

At first glance, it could be said that this card has brought a stabilizing effect to our reading, earth after all can have an anchoring effect on the other elements. We need to look at this closer though, as you may be surprised at what we will discover now.

elemental dignities mini series three card reading

Applying Elemental Dignity Rules

So, remembering from Part Two of this Elemental Dignities Mini Series, the relationship looked very good with the addition of the Lovers to the 9 of wands. Adding the 4 of Disks to this though, elementally has the opposite effect. What?! I can hear you from here.. Remember the rules we apply to reading elementally:

  1. Fire and air are friendly and active
  2. Water and earth are friendly and passive
  3. Fire and water are enemies, they weaken each other
  4. Air and earth are enemies, they weaken each other
  5. Fire and earth strengthen each other but are neutral
  6. Water and air strengthen each other but are neutral

In this section, rule four applies directly to the Lovers and the 4 of Disks – elementally they are inimical to each other, that is they don’t sit well together, having a weakening effect. So how does that affect what looked like a brilliant triplet?

Quite simply, elementally, the 4 of Disks has shown the failings in this relationship – the foundation on which it has been built is weak and unstable. The Lovers and the 4 of Disks have effectively cancelled each other out! Does that mean we shouldn’t read them? Or pretend they’re not in the reading? Of course not. They’re in this reading for a reason, they have a purpose in their presence. What we have done with elemental dignities is re-balance the cards and their messages – prioritised them in a way.

Having now shown the relationship to be found wanting, the only thing keeping it going is the energy the couple themselves are putting into it (9 of Wands); with the Lovers now reduced in importance, there is a lack of air feeding that fire (its purpose). Remove the stabilising force, the foundation of the relationship (4 of Disks) and we have a fire that will burn out and not continue. With the long term in mind, our couple really are in trouble. While that sounds fatalistic, there are a couple of things to remember with reading this way. Let’s look at this a little closer.

Working with Elemental Dignities

Together, the 9 of Wands and the Lovers supported each other and no matter what else is added to them (4 of Disks), that can’t be removed from fact. This couple are a tight union still. If we look at the 9 of Wands and the 4 of Disks, rule five applies: they strengthen each other but are neutral to each other. That means that the strength and power signified by the 9 of Wands has been supported by the 4 of Disks; and likewise for the 4 of Disks, the 9 of Wands is supporting the stability and structure there. Now, before you shout contradiction at me, please read on…

What we have shown in this triplet of cards is a problem at the base level of the relationship. Our couple initially looked in trouble when we added the 4 of Disks, but when we look at all the relationships between the elements in this reading we can then see how the energies become subtle interactions – shades of gray as opposed to black and white. So, what does that mean when we look at these three cards, read with elemental dignities? My own interpretation is as follows:

Now working with a triplet, the central card is my focus – the Lovers. Undoubtedly about a relationship, its strength is obvious. The 9 of Wands provides that strength. Together, the Lovers air element feeds the fire of the 9 of Wands. These two are whipped up into a frenzy of red hot passion that runs deep. This isn’t just sexual, this couple have a deep respect for each other and a belief in their relationship that would appear unshakable. Enter the 4 of Disks and it’s now obvious that despite that strength, there is a fundamental flaw in the relationship. Being the 4 of Disks, it’s at the base level – indicating that something at the core will rock this boat in the future. This could be something like differing religious views; it could be an inter-cultural relationship that’s not supported by either family; one of our couple may want children, the other doesn’t. Either way, something big at the base level has the potential to cause huge problems, a break up even.

In their favour, our couple have the fire, determination and the deep love and respect to want to maintain what they have. At this point, it remains unclear whether they will. What the tarot has shown them, and indeed elemental dignities, is the potential problem area in their future. Learning about this now would give our couple the foresight to prepare for this and take the steps necessary to ensure their relationship’s longevity. We wouldn’t have learned what we did without elemental dignities, its use has proved invaluable in this scenario.

Applying Elemental Dignities to our Questions

But what about the other questions in Parts One and Two? Let’s have a quick look at them now, with the 4 of Disks added, and elemental dignities applied:

I had a job interview today, how do you think it went?
I would say it went well. The interviewer was impressed with your strength of character and your confidence. You came across as a team player, but also as a dynamic person capable of leading the team, bringing them together and coping well under pressure. However, I don’t feel that this is the right place for you to work at. There may be issues for you working in such a large corporation, you may find yourself unable to settle there and consequently not stay for long, leaving by your own choosing for more suitable employment.
What do the next three months hold for me?
I feel you may be facing some difficulties ahead that will test your relationship and certainly your home life. It’s possible a home move will be disrupted, or indeed a home move may be forced upon you. Either way, you can expect changes in this area that will force a rethink from you. You need to try and remain grounded during this time so that you can respond to these quick developments as opposed to reacting. Passion can also be destructive. Despite feeling you have no control, please dig deep as you have the personal resources and resolve to get through this.
My partner wants to take our relationship further, I don’t feel ready yet. What’s the best way to handle this?
You have to do what’s right for you, and if you’re not ready for this relationship to go to new depths, then you must communicate that to your partner. There is no doubt he may be upset and even persist in his desire to get what he wants, but this is where you must show strength. Be firm but gentle in your response to him. Your relationship with him is very good but this issue is showing a fundamental difference between you that I don’t feel will be resolved so quickly. A degree of flexibility is required from you both to see a continuance of your relationship on an even keel. This issue has the potential to cause a division so deep as to be fatal.

In Conclusion

So, in conclusion to Part Three of this Elemental Dignities Mini Series, I have shown how the dynamics of a reading can change when you read three cards in tandem – a triplet. Introducing elemental dignities to the reading also adds another dimension and layer you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. When working with triplets, it’s important to remember that your immediate focus is always on the middle card. Elemental dignities then balance or prioritise the surrounding cards, enriching the portrayal of the reading and giving new insight that would have otherwise been missed.

In the example above, the strongest card was the 9 of Wands (fire) as it was supported by the Lovers (air) and neutral to the 4 of Disks (earth). This explains why the focus is on the strength portrayed in the example scenarios, and why a seemingly good card actually threw up some problems.

Learning to understand the interaction of the elements in your readings will also enrich them. By simply following the rules listed above, you can quickly work out which cards are helping or hindering your client, or indeed yourself. Ease yourself in gently, simply looking at 2 cards to begin with will help you see the interactions taking place. When you feel ready, add a third card and see what happens. Just look at the cards for a little while before you do anything else, forget the divinatory meanings for a moment, and look purely at the elements and what they’re telling you. Once you’re happy you’ve applied the rules correctly and worked out the strongest card, you can then bring the divinatory meanings into play and see how your reading alters your original interpretation.

It can seem a little daunting when you approach a new system or idea, but working solely in triplets will help you to see how effective elemental dignities are in a reading. The important thing to remember is to have fun, so get out your Tarot deck, deal yourself three cards and see where it takes you. Happy reading!

* Originally written and performed by Bob Dorough circa 1973.

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7 thoughts on “Elemental Dignities Mini Series

  1. I thought I’d follow along with your buildup to three cards. My first card is Princess of Wands.

    I opted to use my Thoth for this exercise also. (I take a GD-approach to tarot, but I’ve mainly been using the Lo Scarabeo, which has Thoth influences.) I’m tempted to use a non-court for this exercise, but I’ll let it stand. 🙂

    The princess has the tail of the tiger around her neck, and the tiger looks uninterested to me. I understand she’s crowned with ostrich plumes? (Not sure what it means.) She carries a wand with a radiant sun, as she rises effortlessly up on a carpet of flame. The wand has rays that subtly extend across the whole card. A pedestal has burning roses — burning passion? The column is decorated with ram’s heads, which put me in mind of Aries and therefore cardinal fire.

    Exuberance, or exuberant strength, comes to my mind. A zest for life which is yet untested. Brashness, or a brash youth; a straightforward approach that uses untempered optimism. Curiosity that will only be satisfied by experience.

    “I had a job interview today, how do you think it went?” I think it went well in general. Enthusiasm carried the day and counted for a lot. It was obvious to the interviewer that you are willing to learn, although you may lack certain experience relevant to the job. The advice I might give is to avoid being too brash or outspoken; sometimes truth and directness aren’t assests to a job.

    “What do the next three months hold for me?” I think you will be approaching something new that gives you pause, due to unfamiliarity. A change in life, possibly related to career, school or a project that is very important to you. Because of this change, your footing will be uncertain. But a direct, inquisitve approach will aid you best. Keeping a positive attitude could go a long way towards progress or success.

    “My partner wants to take our relationship further, I dont feel ready yet. What’s the best way to handle this?” This card might indicate that you are not ready but are open to the possibilities. This card could also suggest that your relationship is at an early stage, where passion takes precedence over a more stable romance; growth is a potential at this point, but it’s still very early on. Being open and honest about your feelings, and willing to explore them (presumably with your partner) might help you both. In particular this would help you to realize where you stand on the relationship.

    • Wow, great post! I wasn’t expecting a response like this. Your brave decision to start this exercise with a Court Card is very inspiring because rightly or wrongly, it adds a degree of complexity to ED’s that I will be covering in a later post.

      The keywords you provided for the Princess of Wands were excellent. I particularly liked your observation of the card; the pedestal of burning roses in particular. I recently saw that as my fears burning on the altar, and as the Princess, overcoming my fears. I was then able to rise (on the carpet of flame) and embrace what I was facing. Your interpretation adds a layer I hadn’t considered previously, but will now when I see this card in a reading.

      Your responses to the questions also impressed me greatly. You made those answers very much your own, you conveyed a fluidity and naturalness in your interpretation, and I look forward to reading your responses to Part 2, Two’s Company.

      Catherine

  2. Jason, thank you for posting your take on the questions with a different card than the one in the original post.

    Catherine, I have set time assign to do the free association exercise and I never even thought about adding questions to the table. I am going to find a quiet spot on the beach by me and dive into my notebook (and then re-post). It’s worth a try to add the extra element and put the interpretation to use.

    Warmest regards, Nicole

  3. Hi Nicole,

    Glad you’re going to do the Free Association 🙂 I know I promote it a lot, but it really is the best exercise for getting to know your Tarot cards, but also when you’re reading a spread. There are times when your mind goes blank, you look at a card and you’ve got nothing! Free Association comes into its own at that point – it saved the day many a time 😉

    The questions were added because this post was Part 1 of a Mini Series on Elemental Dignities, the idea being that the reader could see how the interpretation changed with each card that was added. At this stage you don’t have to add any questions, but of course if you feel it would be helpful then go for it – there aren’t any rules, just guidelines and I’m always here if you have any questions of your own.

    Looking forward to hearing how you get on 🙂

    Warm wishes,

    Catherine

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