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Melanchollic  Melanchollic is offline
Join Date: 25 Apr 2007
Location: Lost in Translation
Posts: 832

Originally Posted by conversus

I'm usually NOT a fan of GD associations, but i seem to be stuck with the notion that the :

Batons = Fire
Cups = Water
Epees = Air
Coins = Earth

In your method as it continues to be discovered among us will I be helplessly lost if I continue to make the following associations? [Or, can I count on a bit of flexibility?]

Swords = Air = Spring/Dawn/Youth/The First Quarter of the Postman's Delivery hours.

Batons = Fire = Summer/Noon/Young Adulthood/The Second Quarter...

Coins = Earth = Autumn/Sunset/Middle Age/The Third Quarter...

Cups = Water = Winter/Midnight/Old Age/The Fourth Quarter...

My humble opinion on this long debated and controversial matter is this -

You can use any suit emblem for any element you want, if -

  • Your perceived meaning of a given suit matches the meaning of the element you've assigned to it.

  • Your understanding of the actual meanings of the classical four elements is correct.

That second point is where the popular "common" tarot/element correlations fail. Most popular tarot writers don't seem to understand what the elements are (were?). Nor do a lot of popular modern astrology writers. When I point this out, I often get a response like, "Well, the elements have been 'modernized', because science and psychology has expanded our understanding of them.", or "They've evolved!"

Well, while the classical elements, via the humors & temperaments, were our earliest system which categorized human behaviors, thus our earliest 'psychology', I have some reservations about how much of 20th century psychology has actually expanded the rational understanding of the human mind. Certainly some progress has been made, but, in my opinion, a good chuck of it has merely been an attempt to rationalize certain 19th/20th century social ideologies.

As for science, the classical elements have nothing to do with the 'scientific method' that arose in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even less to do with our modern 'elements', save that they commandeered the name for quite a different set of attributes.

The modern misconceptions about the meanings of the elements certainly isn't an 'evolution', but simply lack of knowledge, as any brief review of 'highlights' from the 2500 year span of writings on the subject will quickly reveal. The tradition of course mainly puts its authority in Aristotle's Generation and Corruption, which is where I recommend anyone curious about the real meaning of the elements begin.

While we can't say Aristotle's theorem is scientific, it is flawlessly rational. The man did perfect the study of Logic, after all. It is precisely here, under the cutting edge of logical reasoning, where the 'popular' elemental meanings fall apart. Plainly said, they don't make any sense. When viewed as a comprehensive system, as it was in pre-modern times, that connects everything in the cosmos - planets, biological systems, human behavior, etc., the 'popular' version is shoddy nonsense with no logical thread holding it together.

This, of course begs the questions, "What the heck are the correct meanings of the classical elements?" So without further adieu, we present for your entertainment pleasure:

The 'Els' in a Shell

by Mel
(with a little help from Aristotle, Hippocrates,
Empedocles, Galen, Avicenna, Hildegard of Bingen,
Albertus Magnus, Ramon Lull, and Paracelsus )

The first rule to understanding the classical four elements is this -


That's right! The four classical elements are not fire, air, water, and earth. They are however called Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. Got it? The names of the classical elements, Fire, Air, Water, Earth are not literally describing actual fire, air, water. earth, but certain metaphysical qualities, which from the time of the ancient Greeks have described specific tendencies in the way energies operate in the cosmos, and how these energies manifest in the mundane world. So, when an astrologer or alchemists or Medieval physician spoke of the Moon as 'Watery", or someone having a 'Watery" Phlegmatic constitution, they weren't thinking of actual physical water at all. They were talking about a specific range of qualities or behaviors.

Rule #2 - Understand the elements, not as nouns, but as ADJECTIVES or ADVERBS.

Each of the four Elements is a combination of two Powers. The Powers, like the Elements are not talking about actual substances, but are 'code words' for a collection of related qualities that share certain behaviors, and should be thought of as adjectives and adverbs too. The four Powers are:

Heat - Causes things of the same kind to join, so each seeks it's own and things that are different separate, hence it is the source of separation, differentiation, discrimination, dissociation, and opposition. Heat is expansive, outward directed, energetic. It is speed. It is the cause of change, analysis, judgement, justice, honesty, critical thinking, skillfulness, diligence, authority, selfishness, intolerance, willfulness, and dominance.

Dryness - Dryness is contractive, gives shape and is formative. It causes rigidity, solidity, purpose, and practicality. It is unreceptive, inflexible, commanding, arguing, strict, concrete, of long duration, and grounded.

Cold - Unites things. It is mixing, joining, synthetic, relating, loving, undiscriminating, indecisive, slow, nurturing, sympathetic, cooperative, and sluggish.

Moisture - Has a lack of self-determination, and conforms to its surroundings. It is receptive, adaptive, form receiving, flexible, fluid, short of duration, mercurial, unreliable, indefinite and lacking self control. It is agile, gentle, obedient, conforming, passive, yielding, accommodating, weak, sensitive, understanding, kind, empathetic, and compassionate.

Fire = Dryness + Heat

Air = Heat + Moisture

Water = Moisture + Cold

Earth = Cold + Dryness

  • Fire - Elemental Fire is a combination of Heat and Dryness. It divisive and rigid, quick reacting and long of duration. The Fire type would be ambitious, dynamic, decisive, independent, impulsive, short-tempered, proud, dictatorial, and unforgiving. Which suit emblem best fits this description?

  • Water - Elemental Water, being Cold and Moist is uniting and flexible, slow reacting and short of duration. The Water type would be accommodating, tolerant, frugal, and inoffensive, but timid, sluggish, uncreative, unresponsive, unmotivated, and rather emotionally indifferent. Which suit emblem best fits this description?

  • Air - Elemental Air is Hot and Moist, flexible, fluid, but separating and expansive, quick reaction, but of short duration. The Air type is friendly, sociable, pleasure seeking, light-hearted, careless, inconsistent, restless, scatterbrained. Which suit emblem best fits this description?

  • Earth - Elemental Earth is Cold and Dry. Relating, purposeful, slow reacting and long of duration. The Earth type is introspective, hardworking, studious, penetrating, reflective, and visionary, but critical, solitary, depressed, withdrawn and unforgiving. Which suit emblem best fits this description?

~ FIN ~


The 'Corrected' Suit/Element Correlations

As to my personal reasoning behind my attributes, beyond it making the most sense to me, there is some historical precedents for them.

The earliest known written connection between card suits and the four elements is in La Signification de l’ancien jeu des chartes pythagorique (1582) by Jean Gosselin.

Tiles ...............Batons..........Earth

Clover .............Coins.............Water

Hearts .............Cups.............Air

Pikes ...............Swords..........Fire

This is from Michael Hurst's website:

Scroll down to 1582.

These are also the correlations used by J.C. Flornoy, as elaborated here:

We also have a direct period associations to at least three of the tarot suit emblems in a 15th century woodcut, published by Nicholas Le Rouge, Troyes, c1495.

The associations here are:


AIR..........Sanguine.......Monkey......Leisure (hawking)

WATER.....Phlegmatic....Sheep.........Money (coin purse)


"Let nature be thy guide"
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