Reading the Tarot Pips – Part 1: The Elements

Quick note, I’ve decided to expand the number of parts to better organize everything. This post will now be split into eight parts. The introduction post has been changed and has more details.

There are five elements which make up the entirety of the universe (or at least the part we’re concerned with for now); Spirit, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.

An element doesn’t encompass just what its name implies, but all things which have similar qualities. Earth doesn’t refer just to dirt, but to rocks, clay, and even wood and plastic. Air isn’t just oxygen, but all gases. Water refers to all liquids, be it soda pop or gasoline. Lightning would be considered Fire.

The elements don’t just refer to physical things either. All things, even abstract things, are defined through the five elements. Thoughts, which can’t be seen or felt, yet exist, are considered Air. Emotions, which can be strong and violent, yet are shaped by their environment and ever-changing are defined by Water. A stubborn person who refused to change their views could be said to be very Earthy.

But at the same time there is no such thing as a pure element. There’s always some impurity, even if it’s very small, and all things contain all five elements. Even an actual fire, which would be almost completely made up of the element of Fire, contains Spirit, Water, Air, and Earth within it.

And a thing doesn’t necessarily need a dominate element either. Mud could be in a state that makes it as much Water as it is Earth.

It may be helpful to explore the elements as the phases of matter. Fire is plasma, Water is liquid, Air is gas, and Earth is solid. However this is not to say that science has just renamed the elements. Fire is not plasma, it’s Fire. The element of Fire contains qualities that are inherent to fire itself, but not necessarily inherent to the physical state of a plasma.

The elements are also each given a gender, either Masculine, Feminine, or Hermaphroditic. Fire and Air are the male elements. Water and Earth are the female elements. Spirit is hermaphroditic.

This is not gender as currently defined by gender and anatomy though. A campfire doesn’t have a penis, no more than drinking water has a vagina. Rather the genders are defined by those qualities that are inherent to the gender.

This is where the feminists get involved and a whole lot of bullshit ends up being created. This is because said feminists are idiots. A mature and intelligent person can understand the abstract idea of gender and realize that it differs from the physical, biological definition.

As with the elements, there is no such thing as a pure gender. All gender exists as an impurity, and so even the most masculine of things will be somewhat feminine. And as stated above, we’re dealing with an abstract concept of gender, and this has no relationship to a person’s sexual organs. A woman can be far more masculine than most men in her personality, spirituality, and even her physical make-up. And men can be very feminine. Most people won’t be near the absolute end of either spectrum, but rather they lean a bit more to one side or the other.

The term hermaphroditic is also a bit confusing in terms of the biological definition. A biological hermaphrodite can not function reproductively as a male or a female. For our purposes though, the term means the exact opposite, where a hermaphrodite is able to function as both a man and a woman. Biologically this doesn’t occur among mammals, but it does commonly occur with other forms of life, like plants.

We look at things from the perspective of the Masculine and the Feminine because it’s a duality, and the universe, at least the part we’re concerned with for this lesson, exists as a duality. In the beginning there was nothing, and then there was something, and this created the first duality, that of nothing and something, and the entire universe expanded from that duality. So the universe is a set of dualities built upon the alpha duality.

But as we’ve talked about, there are three genders, not two. That’s because the universe really isn’t a duality, but rather a triplicity. But we’ll get more into all this with the part on Kabbalism. For now all we need to concern ourselves with is the dual nature of things, the Masculine and the Feminine.

The Masculine part of the universe is the active side. It’s the part that is forceful, violent, destructive, and creative. It is the exertion of will. It creates and destroys. It is the doer of the universe. Things move and change through the Masculine side.

The Feminine part of the universe is the passive side. It’s the part that conforms to what’s happening. It’s the part that things are done too. It doesn’t exert force upon the rest of the universe, rather force is exerted upon it.

Within the elements, we consider Fire to be the father, Water to be the mother, Air to be the son, and Earth to be the daughter. Here is a very simple alchemy experiment to illustrate the relationship:

Go to a river or a pond and fill a pot with water. Faucet water won’t do, it needs to be natural, dirty water. Take the pot the stove and turn the flame up all the way. We now have our mother and father elements sexually involved. Fire is the active force in this. It’s aggressively attacking the pot and causing the change to occur. Water is the feminine part of these process. It’s just sitting there and being effected by the water. Eventually the water will be evaporated, and we’ll be left with the children of this union. First is the mist that rose up out of the pot, the Air. This is the active force, it got up and left, and so it’s the masculine of the two. The other child is the bits of dirt (or sand, or whatever) left within the pot. This is Earth, the daughter, which just passively sits there and does not move or cause change.

Now that we know our boys from our girls, and we know what that means, we can get on to the elements themselves. As stated before, all things in the universe are defined by the five elements, be it a physical object, an emotion, an idea, a non-corporeal spirit, or even the empty space where nothing exists at all. When thinking about the elements, try to think of all of the things that exist within each element, and why it would be associated with that element. When thinking about something, try to think about it in terms of what element(s) it is mostly made up of.

The list of things that would be associated with any one element is infinite. For a practitioner to have a proper understanding of an element, they need to be able to understand the element. It isn’t a matter of memorizing a definitive list, but rather a process of coming to a deep understanding of the elements so that the practitioner is able to figure out any relevant elemental associations as needed. What follows shouldn’t be taken as a complete list of an elements qualities, but rather a short list detailing the most prominent and conspicuous traits. It is meant to act as a springboard so the practitioner can develop their own understanding of each element.

Spirit is the all encompassing element. It was the first element, and it exists within all things. It is the most abstract and most difficult element to understand. Lucky for us, we don’t have to, at least the purposes of this lesson. Spirit does work its way into the tarot, but its not really associated with the lesser arcana. That isn’t to say that it isn’t associated with the lesser arcana at all (each piece of the tarot connects to every other piece and all things are important to every card), but for what we’re trying to accomplish here, it isn’t necessary to understand just yet.

So we move on to Fire. As stated before Fire is an active Masculine element. Fire is passion (not to be confused with love). Fire encompasses all passion, be it artistic passion, desire, lust, hatred, ect. It is a driving force that moves towards some goal in the most powerful and forceful manner possible. Fire burns, as does passion. It’s also associated with masculine creativity. This is a singular creativity that doesn’t require a partner. Painting a picture, building a building, making a blog post, ect. Anything that makes something that wasn’t there before. And at the same time Fire encompasses destruction. Creativity and destruction are tied into a cycle, to engage in one is to engage in the other. And due to its non-corporeal nature, Fire is associated with the spirit world. Some other attributes of Fire include force, bluntness, truth, and determination.

Water is a passive Feminine element. Water is associated with feminine creativity. This is creativity via a union of two partners. Sexual reproduction, among other things. Because of this Water is heavily associated with both love and romantic unions, but it also encompasses all other emotions. Water also suffers from a passive conformity. The shape of Water is dependent upon the container it is placed in. Where as Fire forces its shape and will into its environment violently, the element of Water is changed by its environment and conforms to it. But at the same time this makes Water very flexible and adaptable, and also changing. Because of its changing nature, Water is associated with the future.

Air is an active Masculine element. However it’s unseen and can’t be touched, and yet it is still able to effect the world (ie wind). Because of this Air is associated with thought. Air encompasses ideas, abstracts, intelligence, knowledge, imagination, ect. It also encompasses subjects like mathematics, theoretical sciences, philosophy, ect. Much like Water, Air is flexible and can take on the shape of a container. However Air is an active force, not a passive force. It has the ability to effect the world, although this ability is limited and its form is flexible and ever changing. Because of this Air is associated both with the present and with freewill.

The final element is Earth, a passive Feminine element. Earth represents material things, be it an object such as a desk or a computer or something more raw like stone and wood. Because of this Earth also represents materialism and wealth. Money, which is itself an abstract, along with the having of and the means through which it is acquired (mainly work), are represented by the element of Earth. Earth is also represented by a lack of abstract or spiritual thought. Earth based thinkers utilize a simple method of thinking which only takes into account the obvious, what can be seen and understood. They’re very grounded individuals that keep their heads out of the clouds and lack imagination. Earth is also solid and strong. It doesn’t move or change, and because of this it’s also stable and enduring. Earth is associated with the past because of its unchanging nature.

2 Responses to Reading the Tarot Pips – Part 1: The Elements

  1. Rebecca says:

    Conveying my thanks for your site; it’s a desert out there. Have recently acquired an interest in Tarot, god knows why exactly, but I will never now run out of things to investigate. What started out as a dilletante’s journey appears to be generating a serious interest. Your site is an oasis of knowledge,wryness and real depth. Your approach has helped me through lots of ‘Oh my god, I’m becoming a west coast flake’ nights. Yours in gratitude Rebecca

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks alot. I take very well to flattery :)

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