Three is a Magic Number

So sang De La Soul* – little did they know how right they were – at least in the Tarot world. Now before you wonder if I’ve really lost the plot and started writing a music blog instead of a Tarot blog, stay with me for Part Three of the Elemental Dignities Mini Series.

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.

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 4 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 rebalance 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 stabilizing 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 5 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 Four 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. Lyrics and further details of the song can be found here.


Posted by

I use tarot to help me navigate life and understand myself better. As well as tarot, I enjoy using aromatherapy & herbalism to improve my health & well being. My spiritual seeking lay with Gaia, the environment & what my senses engage around me.

15 thoughts on “Three is a Magic Number

  1. WOW, thanks Catherine. That’s a real eye-opener – absolutely fascinating! That really is magic.

    1. Thanks Lori,

      I wanted to demystify Elemental Dignities in such a way as to be easily integrated into other peoples Tarot readings. If they’re learned in a step by step manner, then in time they will become an automatic part of your tarot readings. I will be adding more posts to this section in the coming weeks and months which will examine Elemental Dignities further, with the spotlight on actual three card spreads.


  2. Here I am, back for part 3 with a trio of cards. Today’s card is the Sun, a major and like the other two cards, it is also associate to fire.

    Looking at the card two exuberant angels (children with butterfly wings) frolic joyously at bottom; behind them is a hill with what looks like the body of a snake around it. The sun itself features prominently, bathing all in its rays of light. It is surrounded by a rainbow border; and the sun’s rays additionally divide the border area into twelve sections. These sections contain zodiacal images; so this card is related to the entire zodiac, and the houses, and therefor the governance of people. Behind the rainbow is actually a swathe of green that I never noticed before, a color that conveys lushness. Overall this card suggests happiness, satisfaction, comfort, and the natural order of things in a positive way.

    Princess of Wands – 9 of Wands – Sun

    Here we have a whole lot of fire! The center card which is the basis of reading a triplet is fire, and it has fire on both sides, so it will be very strong. Here is more of that explosive strength again; fire isn’t always a good thing, and some people might see this combo as having too much action, too quickly. All this fire means a lot of activity; very bright, very hot, very fast. The problem is that the fire can consume itself and burn out too quickly if there’s nothing to stabilize it. There aren’t any non-fire cards present, which could mean a querent diving right into something without thinking it through, or without concern for others (or even self), or without analyzing it. Just an instinctive “get to it!,” only to become wearied in short order.

    “I had a job interview today, how do you think it went?” Bam, out of the park! This job will be yours for the taking, I think; and I’d expect it to be a good opportunity for you. Or so it seems on the surface. The problem is a risk of burnout on the job. You have the enthusiasm to get started, and they may see you as someone who will bring new life to a team whose energy is currently waning. Maybe this job will provide an opportunity for growth by providing leadership abilities. The problem is that you may risk expending yourself too quickly in order to establish your foothold on the job. Advice might be to do a “reality check” and see how you feel about the job; don’t blindly rush into it.

    “What do the next three months hold for me?” I think you will shortly experience something new that is very jarring as it happens so drastically (or quickly). 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 approach will aid you best. You have the resources to deal with this, BUT you need to remember to use them! Your tendency is likely to act blindly, because you favor taking action. Stop and look; feel; think! This will allow you to look for a better outcome.

    “My partner wants to take our relationship further, I don’t feel ready yet. What’s the best way to handle this?” Passion seems to have taken precedence over a more stable romance; but this passion has become too intense right now. There is potential for stability, if you are open and honest about your feelings. There may be sleepless nights as you try to single-handedly wrest your relationship into shape. This suggests that working together to explore your options might be a better approach — although you may find yourself needing to take the lead and direct your conversations! If you want a balanced approach, then set aside the raw passion (hard though it may be) and HAVE those discussions; give yourself some room to determine how you feel, whether you’re in love with your partner or not.

  3. I have to say really well done Jason, an all fire combo can be a tricky affair but you’ve handled it like a pro 🙂

    Of course you’re right to point out the missing elements, they have far more influence than we would even consider. In fact, when we first learn about ED’s, we don’t think about them at all! But why would we, we’re focusing on the three cards present, not the ones missing. I’ll cover that in a later post, but excellent work on picking that up.

    I like your take on the Sun card, with the governance of people and bringing a natural order – I shall be nicking that if you don’t mind 😉 I’m not convinced that this card though, despite being a Major Arcana, has the power to control this all fire combo. For me, the control, if any, will come from the 9 of Wands. It has that military feel to it and something else that I will write about later – a sub-element. Though not shown, this card I feel, has a very earthy quality to it and is perhaps the anchor required in this combo. I also get a feel for the Knight (King) of Disks with this card too.

    Your answers to the questions are great and there isn’t anything for me to add to them – you have a good understanding of ED’s already. This has been an excellent exercise for us both Jason – I have a few posts that will come out of our interactions, and some new insights on the cards too 🙂 I look forward to interacting with you again on future ED triplet posts.


    *Jason and I had a private email exchange regarding the pros and cons of an all fire triplet. Jason had a much more positive view of it than I did. While I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, there are times when you need that amount of energy, but there are also time when it could be dangerous to your situation. The important thing as a Tarot reader, pro or not, is to see that in the cards and the situation, and apply it accordingly. But more on that in another post.*

  4. Interesting in’t it? I studied those three cards, (9W,VI,4P) and it screamed at me. CO-DEPENDENCY!!! I was like, shhh….

    Concerning a relationship, I felt the major issue was one of guarded interaction. Fire on the defensive meets reserved earth. She is afraid to say anything because he always gets his panties in a bunch. Most likely because she provides the security, while he is going through some sort of learning process. Nevertheless, their souls were destined to favor the same path for a while. Love is undeniable here.

    With regard to a job interview, minus the 4P. They liked his experience, but need to see something more before he is offered the job. Definitely the right place for him at the time. Certainly a callback that affirms his dedication, (preferably in a tone that reflects the energy of the Knight of Pentacles), is in order.

    I personally don’t attach elemental significance to Major keys. For me, the minors are the pigment while the Majors are the base. But it seems to work for you quite well. I’ll have to give this some more thought.

    What’s so interesting is that I can see your insights existing simultaneously in the very relationship that I just described. I love your alchemal approach to the elements. I fear I’m rambling again. Again, very nice work here.

    Love and light,

    1. Hi Bulal,

      Thank you for another interesting and reflective comment!

      Interesting in’t it? I studied those three cards, (9W,VI,4P) and it screamed at me. CO-DEPENDENCY!!! I was like, shhh….

      That’s a great interpretation – I love to hear what other people make of card combinations – and I just might be nicking that one 😉

      I personally don’t attach elemental significance to Major keys. For me, the minors are the pigment while the Majors are the base. But it seems to work for you quite well. I’ll have to give this some more thought.

      I know there are some people who view the Majors only as the fifth element, akasha, or spirit; and while I agree with that, I also feel for the application of Elemental Dignities, they need to be associated with one of the ‘four elements’ so we may assess the energies present and read the EDs according to the standard guidelines.

      It’s an interesting idea though, with the Majors as the base and the Minors as the pigment – a great analogy by the way – do you view the Majors as exempt from the standard guidelines and application of EDs? That would be an interesting exercise to carry out – think I will try that this afternoon, thanks for the inspiration 🙂

      What’s so interesting is that I can see your insights existing simultaneously in the very relationship that I just described.

      Awesome!! I thought your interpretations were excellent too – they really expanded this reading, thank you!

      I fear I’m rambling again. Again, very nice work here.

      You ramble away Bulal, your comments and thoughts are always very thought provoking and inspiring 🙂

      Warm wishes,


  5. In my view, the elements provide context to the way we experience the Majors. Inasmuch as, the Lesser cycle of the Major arcana are presented to us in their elemental form within the Minor arcana. Where the Lesser cycle is microcosmic and the Greater cycle is macrocosmic, with regard to experience in general, The Wheel is to the Fool as Judgement is to The Wheel. Furthermore, while the Lesser cycle penetrates the elements, the Greater cycle permeates them. And finally, concerning substance, anything beyond abstract conjecture simply isn’t plausible right now. It would seem, however, that the proportional density of said substance is relative to it’s numerical identifier.

    I am currently preparing an article for Douglas that, I promise, will lend more depth to this hypothesis. As you know, there really is no right or wrong way to interpret the Tarot. What’s important is how well your method works for you. I love your use of elemental dignities. This basal approach preliminary divination provides great structure to readings. Whether attaching elemental significance to the Major arcana or not. It is a great practice to get into. Without consideration for elemental dignities, it would be difficult to discern the best course of action in any given situation.

    Great chatting with you. Looking forward to doing so again soon.

    Your friend,

    1. Hi Bulal,

      Thank you for another wonderful comment! I’m really looking forward to reading the article that you’re preparing for Douglas at Tarot Eon – your ideas are always very thought provoking; and while I agree with your thoughts on the Major Arcana in relation to the elements, and their significance and importance in the Tarot hierarchy, I also feel it’s very important to keep a close eye on this potentially expanding distance.

      In and of themselves, the Major Arcana provide a much deeper personal exploration when they present themselves in readings. However, I feel it’s equally important to allow the Major Arcana ‘out to play’. Even leaving elemental dignities and reading in pairs or combinations aside, any Major Arcana card can have a lighthearted side not confined to its historical expectations.

      These are great discussions Bulal and I look forward to expanding them further with you, particularly your interesting ideas on the Major Arcana and the elements. I like the imagery I get with your word of permeating and I can’t help but be led to think of embodiment. There are one or two of those Majors though that I have reservations with their associated elements, but that’s a discussion for another day.



  6. Catherine,

    This is great work! I am so glad that you are putting together so many aspects of tarot. What you are doing here is helping people understand many of the most confusing aspects of tarot divination in an easy and remarkable way.

    Hugs to you,


    1. Hi Storm – glad you enjoyed the post! I love writing about ED’s – there’s so much it can add to a reading – and there’s still so much more left to write about 😉

  7. Hi Catherine, love your cards
    you know a friend that reads the tarot gave them to me, but she does not have the
    manual so i am studying with the correspondance of the classical tarot. If u sell it let me know or please give me a tip so I can learn faster
    Thanks a lot

Comments are closed.