Promoting the study and application of elemental dignities in tarot readings was one of the reasons I began writing my tarot blog. I was fortunate enough to be personally tutored on them and even with that assistance there were times when it proved a little difficult. During my time of study it became apparent that what I needed was a visual guide to all of the possible combinations of elemental dignities – every single one of them, in one place.
What I needed was a visual Elemental Dignities Dictionary that contained keywords or short guides to all the combinations possible – something I could easily look up and reference. It was something that would have benefited me as a beginner and as I progressed with my learning. I thought about creating the Elemental Dignities Dictionary for a long time, but always shelved the idea because of the enormity of the task.
Bringing the Elemental Dignities Dictionary to Life
During recent conversations with Douglas Gibb at Tarot Eon, it became apparent that he’d had similar ideas, that a visual guide to learning the various elemental dignities combinations was necessary to help others learn to recognise the elements and apply them in their tarot readings; to further assist in established and future tutorials and how-to lessons on his tarot blog, Tarot Eon; and of course the lessons and tutorials here at Tarot Elements. Two heads are better than one they say and before long we had decided to create and produce this work as a joint effort, for the benefit of our readers and our tarot blogs and the continued promotion of elemental dignities in tarot readings.
The Elemental Dignities Dictionary is presented in the following order:
Douglas and I did have some slightly different ideas about the definitions of some of the combinations. We did agree however that the Elemental Dignities Dictionary should work exactly like a dictionary or reference guide – you won’t find any theory or lessons contained within them – they are a purely complimentary work to our tutorials and lessons, and of course, to your own studies. Think of the Elemental Dignities Dictionary like the Tarot Card Meanings section – a place where you can begin your studies, add definitions and layers without being confined to my own way of thinking. The benefits of keywords as I point out throughout the site is that you may ‘grow your own’ tarot card meanings and divinitory definitions that mean something to you personally; the Elemental Dignities Dictionary will provide you with the same flexibility in your ever growing tarot vocabulary.
On various elemental dignities combinations and throughout the entire work, you will be able to see where Douglas and I had a different definition for that combination. We thought it would be a great idea for our readers to be able to see those differences and read them there and then, so underneath my own elemental dignities definitions, you will be able to read Douglas’ take on that particular combination, and vice versa.
A Visual Guide to the Elemental Dignities Dictionary
The following graphic is to help you gain an understanding of the visual approach we have taken and used throughout the whole of the Elemental Dignities Dictionary. The 3D shapes contained within the coloured squares represent the Platonic Solids as defined by Plato to represent the Four Elements of Nature. All elemental dignities combinations will be shown in this format, for consistency:
I’m really excited about this project. The Elemental Dignities Dictionary is the learning tool I know would have made things a lot easier for me when I was learning to read and apply elemental dignities, and would have helped me to apply this branch of tarot study a lot quicker.
I hope you enjoy it and learn a great deal from it.
Elemental Dignities Dictionary Two Card Combinations
A good place to begin learning elemental dignities is with two card combinations. The collaboration between Douglas Gibb and myself to create the Elemental Dignities Dictionary was essentially to show our readers and tarot students that it’s in this very dynamic that you can begin to see the elements interacting with each other and the effect they have on each other. I like to call this process a ‘re-balancing of the energies’ in a tarot reading. By examining this interaction and then applying it to your tarot cards or reading, you are in fact working with the tarot in such a way that positional tarot spreads quickly loose their positions, and more importantly their importance.
Douglas and I wanted to create a resource that would make that process easier for our readers, and tarot students everywhere. Beginning with two card combinations, we set about defining what the process meant to us personally, and the many uses of two card combinations. It quickly became apparent that we needed to show how two card combinations can benefit a tarot reader and so, before we get to the Elemental Dignities Dictionary itself, we’re going to go through those benefits with you and then provide an example tarot reading so you can see two card combinations in action.
For those of you unfamiliar with elemental dignities and the guidelines for their use, we have included them in this post along with some tips for reading with them.
Uses For Two Card Combinations
There are many situations where you can use just two tarot cards, but we wanted to focus on just a couple of them here. The first one you will all no doubt be familiar with, while the second one is less known but is a very powerful way to enhance your tarot readings.
Daily Tarot Card
Also known as the card for the day, or single draw. The Daily Tarot Card is of course just one card, but if you were seeking some extra clarity you would naturally draw another card from your tarot deck. You now have a two card combination – perfect for allowing elemental eignities to assist you in your divination. Once you have those two cards, you can check the Elemental Dignities Dictionary below for guidance of the elemental dignities in your reading.
You can try this now by drawing a single tarot card and then adding an extra card to see how your interpretation might change. Perhaps you drew an unpleasant fire card and then drew a water card; this would then temper and reduce the effect of the fire card, showing you that this may not have been as unpleasant as you first thought. To explore this further, please see Part Two in my Elemental Dignities Mini Series, Two’s Company.
Card Pairing simply means putting two cards together that were in separate locations in a tarot spread so you may interpret them for extra clarity and meaning. Any spread with a physically opposite card or counterpart can be paired. For example a V shaped Tarot spread consisting of five cards will show you that four of those cards are sitting opposite each other in the spread and can then be paired together and read using the tarot card’s divinatory meanings and also by using elemental dignities. Begin with the two outermost cards and work your way to the centre, i.e, pair cards one and two; then cards three and four etc. The remaining card would naturally be the main focus of the reading and consequently cannot be paired.
A choice between lovers spread shows perfectly how card pairing can enhance your reading interpretation, and is the reading that Douglas and I chose to illustrate the technique and benefits of using card pairing in your tarot card readings. It’s important to remember that when you apply card pairing, you’re looking to add to the reading, so it’s perfectly alright if you glean other information or see things from a different angle when pairing. I find that keeping the elemental dignities loose, you can allow your intuition to guide you – remember the elements are natural and so is your intuition. Elemental dignities, like the tarot itself, is a tool or method to help you divine the message from the cards, and while there are guidelines about their use, you shouldn’t be ruled by them.
If you’re unfamiliar with elemental dignities, the guidelines you need to be aware of are:
- Fire and Air are friendly and active
- Water and Earth are friendly and passive
- Fire and Water are enemies, they weaken each other
- Air and Earth are enemies, they weaken each other
- Fire and Earth strengthen each other but are neutral
- Water and Air strengthen each other but are neutral
For an understanding of how the elements work in your life, please see my introductory article The Four Elements and the Tarot Aces. For a quick guide, think of the elements as the following:
- Fire – careers, drive and ambition
- Water – love, emotions and psychism
- Air – thoughts, ideas and problems
- Earth – money, possessions, support
Playing Catchphrase With The Elements – Say What You See!
It’s great fun to play with elemental dignities – you can treat them just like you would a regular two card combination, by just playing ‘Catchphrase’ with them and ‘saying what you see’! Just two elements, no tarot card definitions, and just run with what you feel. For example air represents thoughts and ideas; water represents love and emotions. Together you might say:
- thinking of love
- discussing relationship problems
- resolving emotional issues
If you remember to keep it light, use short keywords and not worry about the guidelines too much, you can have a lot of fun just playing ‘Catchphrase’. Douglas and I both agree that having fun is the best way to learn, and is the quickest way to remember too!
Using The Card Pairing Technique
Douglas and I were keen for you to see the benefits of card pairing, so we asked the tarot a hypothetical question based on an imaginary scenario to clearly show how elemental dignities and card pairing can work together. We have both interpreted the same cards, independently, and published our readings for you to see how we applied these techniques; but most importantly for you to see that it’s really alright for you to arrive at a different conclusion than we did – in fact we hope you did! You have your own tarot vocabulary, these techniques together or separately, will assist you in expanding it.
An Example Tarot Reading
Imagine your client comes to you with a rather pleasant dilemma – she cannot choose between her two lovers! There are many spreads that could help with this type of problem, but a really good one is a Two Options Spread. Not confined to lovers, it can be adapted by altering the questions to suit your client’s needs. You may of course add extra positions and questions, should you decide to.
Our client today is called Jennifer and she is having a hard time deciding between Vincent and Stuart. So in laying out the cards in the Two Options Spread below, we can have a closer examination of these men in her life and how they see each other. The purpose of this example reading is to show you how card pairing adds an extra layer to the Tarot reading. For the sake of space and simplicity, I will only be employing the use of keywords; what’s more important here is showing you the technique.
Jennifer clearly sees Vincent as a challenge; he no doubt is a driving force behind her, but you can’t help but feel her defiance with him. He on the other hand has stars in his eyes for her; he is happy and contented. The pros of the relationship are obvious; they do make each other happy. The cons, well, perhaps Vincent is a stickler for the rules, perhaps this is connected to her irritation with the Seven of Wands. Perhaps he is also married. Is he so fair and level headed that it annoys her? The outcome of their relationship could be seen unfavourably with the Tower reversed, but I prefer to see that card positively when reversed – Vincent has turned her world upside down and on its head! But the question remains: is it too much for her?
It would seem that Stuart is in touch with his feminine side and Jennifer loves that about him! He can connect with her on a very personal level but while he’s as equally happy with her as Stuart is, the Six of Cups indicates some nostalgia or sentiment on his part. Is there something under the surface he hides? The pros of the relationship lie in his empowerment of her, she’s in control and he gives that to her. Stuart is a sensitive soul and I feel that’s where the problem lies – for Jennifer, he is too sensitive, perhaps she prefers a man with more brawn. They might be better as friends than lovers. The outcome for this relationship shows a continuation of that steady and reliable nature, Stuart would never leaver her; but she will always be searching for more and wondering “what if…”
Pairing The Cards
- The Seven of Wands and the Princess of Disks:
- Being at odds with herself; fighting to find herself.
- Fire and Earth:
- Confirming the push and pull; the fire trying to run wild while the earth grounds it.
- The Ten of Cups and the Six of Cups:
- Contentment and rose coloured glasses! Is she hankering after a lost love?
- Water and Water:
- Is deeply sentimental; it’s emotional and very lost within itself.
- The Nine of Cups and the Two of Wands:
- She has everything and yet it’s not enough.
- Water and Fire:
- Look in danger of destroying each other; but it’s more like a temper tantrum that will subside.
- Justice and the Ace of Cups:
- She’s looking for ‘the one’ and is going to great pains to decide.
- Air and Water:
- Can whip up a storm in a heartbeat suggesting intense thoughts of love.
- The Tower reversed and the Hermit:
- She wants to break free but doesn’t feel she can; while she’s undecided, her life is passing her by and she doesn’t notice.
- Fire and Earth:
- The push and pull continues.
This last elemental pairing is the same as the first suggesting she’s locked in this cycle and doesn’t seem to be able to break it. The past repeating itself, again and again.
Example Tarot Reading Summary
Poor Jennifer! Blinded by love and driven by an unconscious and apparently unfulfilled need to find happiness even though on the surface at least, she has it. The repeating of the elemental dignities in the first and last pairing was very telling in this tarot reading; what may have been interpreted as no clear winner in the fight for her affections, actually showed up a deeper issue at hand: her own inner psychology that is never seemingly satisfied, and probably very willing to sabotage her efforts of happiness when she finds it.
Card pairing in this tarot reading added an extra layer of meaning and allowed me to reinterpret the cards while keeping within the flavour of the original interpretation. The benefits of card pairing, we feel, are clearly shown in this tarot reading. But don’t take our word for it – get out your tarot deck and using our example of the Two Options Spread as your guide, have a go at card pairing, right now! Don’t forget to let us know how you get on.
The Elemental Dignities Dictionary – Two Card Combinations
Listed below are the 16 permutations of two card combinations. You will find that there is a slight repetition with them; for example: fire/water – water/fire. Douglas and I agreed that there were indeed slight differences to their meanings when transposed. Wanting the Elemental Dignities Dictionary to be totally complete, we agreed to include all possible options, even where they would apparently seem the same.
Fire / Fire
Totally active and supporting each other. Immense energy that can be good or bad. Can be the impetus to push through difficulties and yet could also be so destructive if not directed. Think of a wild fire.
The inspiration to act; intense and ruthless; rapidly moving forward; a good chance that things will move towards there end – for good or bad. A lack of consideration is given to feelings. There’s also a possibility that this energy dies down as quickly as it started.
Fire / Water
Traditionally cancelling each other out, a passive and active element at odds; the fire wants control and sees the water as emotional. Think taking control of the emotions; the Temperance Effect; even ‘quit being a drama queen’.
There’s a slight weight and foundation to this combination, implying the possibility that things can continue forward. In representing a person’s psychology – emotional confusion; a lack of certainty and commitment; manic depression.
Fire / Air
An active and supportive combination. Air feeding that fire will only make it stronger. A brilliant idea that will take off immediately; quick thinking or quick succession of ideas; moving forward quickly.
The initial inspiration to act is quickly met with problems. Luckily, these problems seem solvable. This combination suggests a brilliant plan will work. It also suggests an intense, but easily distracted person; mental tension; lack of sleep; tiredness and exhaustion.
Fire / Earth
A neutral combination not normally seen as affecting each other, but where the earth feeds the fire, the fire can warm the earth. Think of seed germination; moving up a gear and moving forward.
An active and passive Element will have a neutralizing effect. This means that this combination doesn’t necessarily imply things changing. However, I get the sense from this combination that a lot of effort has been used in creating a good start, but now the same energy is required to keep things going – and things are going nowhere. A running with the red queen effect.
Water / Fire
Traditionally seen as opposing elements, cancelling each other out, but they have their uses – they can level unpleasant cards. The water tries to temper the fire, reminding it to ‘chill out.’ I feel like there’s a strange attraction between these two elements. Can also be seen as passive/aggressive.
This is a very uncomfortable combination. It’s almost as if someone is being asked to do something against their will. Apart from the reluctance to act – to ‘change’ a very comfortable lifestyle – it does hint at a moral strength of character; a type of integrity.
Water / Water
Totally in support of each other, but far too passive to be of any active use. Think ‘still waters run deep’; totally and utterly in love to the point of being useless! Deep psychic connections, awakening intuition.
This combination, although pleasant, often indicates that people are living in the past. There’s an unhealthiness to this amount of feeling. I’ve seen this indicate a profound state of depression and lethargy. On a more positive note, this combination indicates psychic abilities.
Water / Air
Traditionally neutral to each other, but water can evaporate and penetrate the air. Fog consists of moisture, think of mental confusion, being over emotional. Thinking with your heart and not your head.
There is a real sense of “talking about one’s feelings” with this combination. It’s almost as if the person is in a position to finally talk about ‘past troubles’; think of this situation as similar to someone seeking out a ‘talking therapy’. On another level, there is a need to conceal one’s feelings from others – trying to put a brave face on things when inside there is emotional turbulence.
Water / Earth
A passive but supporting combination. The earth is providing ground for the water to move on, but it also contains it. Gaining control over your emotions; support from a friend. Think ‘lean on me.’
This is a good combination in certain circumstances. Essentially, it indicates that emotional dreams have a chance of becoming reality. The Water (Emotional dreams, wishes) eventually finds support. This combination would also indicate that the client’s emotional assessment is accurate.
Air / Fire
A very active combination with air feulling the fire. With nothing to contain it though it can run wild. Think acting on your ideas; having the self-belief to continue; being inspired and motivated.
This combination suggests that that a plan can indeed work. It shows the forming of the plan, then its execution. It also suggests that a problem has been solved, allowing for matters to continue forward. This is a good combination if ‘impulse control’ is what’s required.
Air / Water
A neutral combination traditionally not affecting each other. Too much air on water though and you have a storm! Think of love letters; expressing your love; psychic channelling or communication.
This combination suggests that the initial control has been lost to sentimentality, and possibly past regret. There is a need to express feelings, rather than discuss them.
Air / Air
A highly active combination in total support of each other but potentially detrimental. This is all about thinking, thoughts, mental processes – but in excess. Think ‘running away with your thoughts.’
A highly unstable combination. This suggests illness, mental instability, and possibly a total lack of direction; the result is mental cruelty. This is an example of the mind attacking itself – having gone through all possible solutions; the cycle repeats itself with increasing intensity. This can also indicate a good time for the creative process.
Air / Earth
These two elements don’t sit well together, there’s always a separation occurring. They’re simply at odds with each other and don’t connect; the earth cannot contain the air. Think of someone losing touch with reality.
This combination suggests the need to change the surrounding environment. I can imagine long impassioned speeches, designed to motivate and inspire change. This can sometimes be seen in Tarot readings that involve the search for personal identity. It also suggests the possibility of challenging people, events and institutions. However, there’s simply not enough energy in these cards to make a difference – yet.
Earth / Fire
A neutral combination, traditionally neither affecting the other. The earth contains the fire, perhaps feeding it, but remaining in control through its strength. Think of a runner on the starting block of a race.
Firm foundations in which to expand the business. A supportive environment that actively encourages adventure, exploration, and in some cases, creativity. A good combination that promises slow steady growth.
Earth / Water
A supportive but passive combination; water softens the earth and makes it fluid and flexible. Think of a mother soothing a child; or a lover serenading his lady. There’s enjoyment here and potential hedonism; though feeling safety is providing more satiety and so it continues.
This combination suggests someone allowing themselves to enjoy what they have created. I get the impression of a controlled and strict life that is only now beginning to feel stable enough to express more vulnerable aspects of self. It also hints at someone who has succeeded financially in life and is now beginning to enjoy what was worked so hard to achieve. At the end of the day, nothing changes, but the person finally sees the enjoyment and finds joy in what they have.
Earth / Air
These two elements traditionally repel each other. The air wants to be free of the constraints of the earth. What you think and what you feel being two different things. Think ‘come here, go away.’
A need to break free from perceived imprisonment; there’s a certain amount of resentment and contempt for what this person owns – the responsibility has become too much. Perhaps this again shows a need to create something new but at the moment the ‘energy’ is too angry to formulate a constructive plan – they hate where they are in life; but they’re frustratingly dependent on it. A need to accept responsibility.
Earth / Earth
The most stable of the combinations, but if you’re hoping for movement, forget it! Solid and reliable but very grounded, like a ship’s anchor; if you need a dose of reality, this is it.
A profound stability is indicated in this combination. This could indicate years of effort in attaining a goal – finally it all comes together; complete stability. However, if change is wanted or desired, then it’s certainly not going to happen in the short to medium term.
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).
The Elemental Dignities Dictionary Three Card Combinations 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.
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, including this version as taught by Paul Hughes-Barlow, but for the most part, they’re “variations” on the Golden Dawn system. We have used The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites, and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order (Llewellyn 2016) 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.
- This how-to guide is Golden Dawn based.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The centre card is the most important card.
- I want you to remember, above everything else, that when reading elemental dignities in a triad the centre card is the most important card.
- The centre card is modified by the two flanking cards next to it.
- 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 elementaldDignities 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.
Elemental Dignities Three Card Combination 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 judgement 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: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites, and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order(Llewellyn 2016), 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:
- We have those that are very strong and support the centre card, giving it “influence” over the reading.
- We have those that are very weak and weaken the centre card, which “weakens” that cards influence over the reading.
- 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)
- 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.
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 six groups of three. We start at the left hand side of the spread and work our way towards the right.
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.
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!
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?
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 4 of Wands.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2 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.
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.
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.
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 5 of Cups and thoughts of what might have been. So a tough time for our couple and perhaps a series of reconciliations that really go nowhere.
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.
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.
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!
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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:
- Single Element Combinations
- Double Element Combinations
- Split Double Element Combinations
- Triple Element Combinations
Within each section, we have listed the entries in colour codes to maintain ease of searching for an individual combination. The sequential order of the elements, and therefore the listings run as follows:
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.
The Golden Dawn’s system of Elemental Dignities was used to read Tarot cards in triads and 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.