The Elemental Dignities Dictionary – Three Card Combinations

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

This is a collaborative work between Douglas Gibb of Tarot Eon and myself, and is part of the Elemental Dignities Dictionary series. It 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.

If you would like to head straight to the Elemental Dignities Dictionary now, just click this link and like magic you’ll be there!

Douglas 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. We have used The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series) as our reference work and means to stay true to their original system. All paraphrasing and Golden Dawn quotes come from this book.

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, Douglas’ 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 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!

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, 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.

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

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

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

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:

“…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 can 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.

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?

First, it shows the 10 of Swords as being 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 that 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:

“… 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.”

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:

“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 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.

In this triad, the 10 of Swords is weakened by the two flanking cards. The picture that Douglas 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.

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.

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

These examples are taken from The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn (Llewellyn’s Golden Dawn series), and are a great way to examine how they read Elemental Dignities. Bear in mind these examples are also blended with the divinatory definitions of the Tarot cards:

  • 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.


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)
  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

Douglas 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.

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.

The first three cards are Aeon (Judgement), the Emperor and the 8 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.

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!

Douglas: 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 in 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?

Here we have the 10 of Disks, 4 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.

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.

Douglas: 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 not going to let anything stop him celebrating.

Here we have the 6 of Disks, 5 of Wands, Art (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.

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!

Douglas: 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 to where he is now.

Next we have the 4 of Swords, the Lovers and 8 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.

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.

Douglas: 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.

The 2 of Wands, Death and 2 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.

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.

Douglas: 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.

The last triad is the 5 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.

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.

Douglas: 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.

Summary of the Tarot reading

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.

Catherine: 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.

Douglas: 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 “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.

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!

The Elemental Dignities Dictionary – Three Card Combinations

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

How we’ve ordered the Elemental Dignities Dictionary

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

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

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.

Fire – Fire – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Water – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Air – Air – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Earth – Earth – Earth

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.

Douglas: 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.

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.

Fire – Fire – Water

Water – Fire – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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.

Fire – Fire – Air

Air – Fire – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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.

Fire – Fire – Earth

Earth – Fire – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Water – Fire

Fire – Water – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Water – Air

Air – Water – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Water – Earth

Earth – Water – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Air – Air – Fire

Fire – Air – Air

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.

Douglas: 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 crises.

Air – Air – Water

Water – Air – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Air – Air – Earth

Earth – Air – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Earth – Earth – Fire

Fire – Earth – Earth

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.

Douglas: 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.

Earth – Earth – Water

Water – Earth – Earth

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.

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

Earth – Earth – Air

Air – Earth – Earth

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.

Douglas: 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.

Split Double Elements Combinations

This is where you will see the extremes of strengths within elemental dignities, in the split double elemental combinations. 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.

Fire – Water – Fire

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.

Douglas: This can indicate emotional unrest; being challenged to rethink who you are; trying to reestablish communication with the family; despite needing to change ones life in order to survive, this person hides away – physical symptoms related to stress are inevitable.

Water – Fire – Water

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…

Douglas: 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”.

Fire – Air – Fire

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!

Douglas: 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.

Air – Fire – Air

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!

Douglas: 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.

Fire – Earth – Fire

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.

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

Earth – Fire – Earth

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Air – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Air – Water – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Earth – Water

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.

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

Earth – Water – Earth

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.

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

Air – Earth – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Earth – Air – Earth

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.

Douglas: 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 if other cards intervene; a change in lifestyle that never gets of the ground without outside help.

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.

Fire – Water – Air

Air – Water – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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.

Fire – Water – Earth

Earth – Water – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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.

Fire – Air – Water

Water – Air – Fire

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.

Douglas: Despite things going wrong, you are able to keep a level headed approach; your will-power will still drive 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.

Fire – Air – Earth

Earth – Air – Fire

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!

Douglas: 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 your good enough to realise your dreams but always feeling like your better than everything in your current situation; a kind of strange arrogance.

Fire – Earth – Water

Water – Earth – Fire

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.

Douglas: 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 the indecision.

Fire – Earth – Air

Air – Earth – Fire

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.

Douglas: I feel someone is being bullied; being pressured into making decisions they don’t want to make; I feel other peoples 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 this are high; someone who stays with an abusive partner; passing a test, only to find out that it was worthless in the end.

Water – Fire – Air

Air – Fire – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Fire – Earth

Earth – Fire – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Water – Air – Earth

Earth – Air – Water

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…

Douglas: 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.

Water – Earth – Air

Air – Earth – Water

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.

Douglas: 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.

Air – Fire – Earth

Earth – Fire – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Air Water – Earth

Earth – Water – Air

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.

Douglas: 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.

Recommended Reading:

The Golden Dawn’s system of Elemental Dignities was used to read Tarot cards in triads and pairs. In Elemental Dignities Dictionary – Two Card Combinations, both Douglas and myself explain 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, 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 get on with Elemental Dignities. Do you use Elemental Dignities in the way Douglas and I have outlined? Is this your first time? What ever your thoughts, ideas or suggestions are, I’d love to hear them.

The Elemental Dignities Dictionary Index


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.

19 thoughts on “The Elemental Dignities Dictionary – Three Card Combinations

  1. I don’t use elemental dignities much myself but this was a great article explaining their use.

    I have one question though. The elemental dignities that are talked about are Fire, Earth, Air and Water – what of for example The Wheel which in Book T is assigned Jupiter? Or the Sun or do you attribute Fire to that one? The HP who is assigned the Moon? The Empress Venus?

    I have always had to refer to what these planets represent – (hence I don’t use dignities much lol).

    I would much prefer them to have an Earth, Fire, Air or Water element – make life easier. 🙂

    1. Hi Helen – thank you for your comment 🙂

      The Wheel and the Sun are both assigned the element fire. The High Priestess is the element water, and the Empress is earth.

      These are the attributes that I use when applying elemental dignities to the Major Arcana. However, the actual association between element and the Major Arcana differs depending on the system you use. It’s really just a question of finding a system you like and using their attributions. I use the Golden Dawn and a complete list of the 22 Major Arcana can be found here.

      I think the Golden Dawn system assigned both the Tarot and astrology to the Tree of Life, hence the phenomenal amount of attributions that are often used in occult style decks.

      Hope you found this useful – thanks for stopping by 🙂

      1. Well that would make life much easier – thanks for the link, but I must be blind because I couldn’t find the list – I’ll try googling Golden Dawn and see if I can find it there.

      2. Thanks Catherine but I found them on Raven’s Site, the only ones I had to change were Empress, Magician, World, WOF, HP and Tower – The GD attributions make it far easier to use than Book T’s planetary attributions.

      3. Hi Helen – glad you’re doing well, I’d love to hear how you get on with Elemental Dignities – so please stay in touch 🙂

  2. I don’t really know much about elemental dignities at all, so I am going to sit down with all your articles and see if I can undertand how it works! It looks interesting & you and Douglas explain things very well, so I think even I will be able to understand it!

    1. Hi Valerie – thank you! There are a lot of elemental dignities articles on Tarot Elements and Tarot Eon that you will find really helpful when you’re ready to take the plunge – don’t keep it all to yourself though, share your journey with us 🙂

  3. You know, I would love to be able to purchase this collection of articles in a full-color booklet form. 🙂 Just planting a seed, my dear!

    In the meantime, I’m off to practice. Be back later.

    1. Hi Barbara – you must be reading our minds – it’s in production 😉

      Hope you have fun in the meantime 🙂

  4. 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!


    1. Hey Zorian – thank you for such a wonderful comment! I’m glad the post helped you with your application of Elemental Dignities – I use the Thoth regularly and it works really well with ED’s. It’s a wonderful deck with an unfair reputation – hope you get re-acquainted with yours.

      I’d love to hear how you get on with future adventures into ED’s – so keep those comments coming 😉

  5. Thanks Catherine and Doug for such an informative post! Although I don’t read with the Elemental Dignities, you have piqued my interest with your former posts and this current one intrigues me even further. I think you guys are making me a secret convert. 🙂

    1. Hi Theresa – thank you for such a warm and lovely comment. If you ever need to bend my ear over ED’s, you know my email address – fire away 😉

  6. Thank you both so much! What a fantastic post. I love the bright and well done images in your blog, it always impresses me and really makes the content ‘pop’! I first commented on Doug’s blog, but I had to say thank you here too.

    This is by far the clearest and most comprehensive learning tool for the GD system of elemental dignities I’ve ever encountered. I agree with your advice that the more you try this out, the more it will grow into one’s personal style – by itself it is deceptively simplistic! For instance, I can’t personally imagine a card being ‘unaffected’ by its neighbors in all combinations – life and tarot are messier than that 🙂

    Your and Doug’s individual read on the elemental combinations are stunning. I will be writing out my own interpretations on each triad and then contrast mine with yours – And i invite anyone else reading to do the same! The differences and parallels in your interpretations show so much depth to anyone looking to better understand this topic.

    Thank you SO MUCH for such a good post, you’ve both really been raising the bar with such high quality work!

    1. Hi Lionel – thank you for such a wonderful comment! Reading both Doug’s and my own interpretation has been a big hit with readers. We did it primarily to give people an idea of how they can interpret elemental combinations, but also to show how there’s no right or wrong interpretation, that whatever feels right to the reader in that moment is the right one. Elemental Dignities can be an academic subject, we wanted to let our intuition, and our imaginations run riot to show people they can too, but most importantly, that you can have a great deal of fun when you apply EDs to any reading.

      Thank you once again for such a lovely comment, I’m delighted you enjoyed the post and got such a lot from it 🙂

Comments are closed.