Rank and File in the Courts

Published by Alison Cross on

I’ve already touched on the elemental components of the Tarot Court here.

You are probably familiar with a system that allocates each of the Minor Arcana suits an element – either earth, air, fire or water.  The system that I use is:

Wands – Fire
Swords – Air
Cups – Water
Pentacles – Earth

But there are other systems out there.  Some decks include a 5th suit and therefore a 5th element (usually associated with ether or spirit) – so find one that looks like it agrees with the imagery on your deck and stick with it! πŸ™‚

Something else, worth bearing in mind, is that each of the court card RANKS also has an element associated with it:

Pages – Earth
Knights – Air
Queens – Water
Kings – Fire

Even here, there are other options – with Knights sometimes being regarded as fiery and the Kings as Airy.  Take your pick!

What this means is that each of our Court Cards has two elements at work.  In some cases these elements will be complementary and in other cases downright conflicting.

When talking about the two elemental components of your Court Card, it’s the Rank element first, followed by the Suit element (a bit like a first name and a second name….so the Page of Wands is Earth of Fire)

Using this elemental pairing information can add further depth to your Court Card interpretations:

Fire and Air are complementary/friendly
Water and Earth are complementary/friendly

Fire and Water conflict/unfriendly
Air and Earth conflict/unfriendly

Fire and Earth are neutral
Air and Water are neutral

You can actually apply these principles to your Tarot reading generally – it’s a whole discipline called Elemental Dignity and the power of cards can be increased or diminished, depending on the surrounding cards.

When I are use the suit element and the rank element, I’m not always using the Elemental Dignity method of reading whereby the surrounding cards play a role.  Mainly I just look at the elements at play in the single Court card in front of me and apply them to the situation in question.

Four Court Cards are, literally, in their element – the Page of Pentacles (Earth of Earth), the Knight of Swords (Air of Air), the Queen of Cups (Water of Water) and the King of Wands (Fire of Fire).

If you only have one element operating, how might this affect these four cards?  Might they be overwhelmed by their element? Do they lack balance? Something to think about when a double element Court card arises in your reading.

As well as four people being in their element, four of them suffer real conflict between their Rank and Suit elements:

The little Page of Swords – Earth of Air
The Knight of Pentacles – Air of Earth
The Queen of Wands – Water of Fire
The King of Cups – Fire of Water

The King of Cups, for example, may struggle to assert his Kingly energies when his compassion is roused?  Likewise, the Queen of Wands actions might belie her caring streak? When two conflicting elements vie for supremacy in a Court, what might the results be? Are they unpredictable people? People seeming to say one thing and do another?

What about the Knight of Pentacles or the Page of Swords – what might their conflicts be?

Technically, the neutral elements of Water/Air and Fire/Earth don’t strengthen or weaken….but when reading individually, why not consider how useful these elements can be together?  For example – air can really give water a bit of pizazz (think of carbonated water!) how else can air affect water? Can this be brought in to your interpretation of the Court card?  Are these people more even balanced? Less likely to experience utter meltdown because they have non-conflicting elements nor double elements?

What about Fire and Earth? Think of the useful ceramics that can be made….and how that process can go wrong! Can that add depth to your interpretation of this card?

There are lots of great resources out there to help you find out more about Elemental Dignities.  Pay a visit to Paul Hughes-Barlow’s site, supertarot. Also, Liz Hazel’s book, Tarot Decoded has  excellent information on Elemental Dignities πŸ™‚  Please feel free to add your own recommendations for sites or books in the comments section.

Card illustration:  Knight of Disks – Thoth Tarot – Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris, published by US Games.

You can buy the deck here:

You can buy Liz Hazel’s book here:

Alison Cross

The Tarot's Court Cards are my specialist area.Β  They talk to me. Not LITERALLY though ....


Inner Whispers · 7th March 2012 at 12:04 pm

Hi Ali,

I have to admit I've never been sure of this elemental dignity stuff. The way I see it, all elements can interact in both positive and negative ways. For example, earth and fire can create lovely pottery, but they can also create dry, cracked earth that is dead and barren, at least for a year. Water and fire can create steam, which is great for vegetables, not so great if you wear glasses or have frizzy hair. Air and fire can feed one another or, as in the case of backlash, cause a huge, destructive explosion. So, why should one of these pairings be considered positive, another negative and the third neutral? Just never made sense to me!

On a different note, there is a deck which actually shows these elemental associations for the court cards – you can see one example (King of Cups/Waves) here: http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/zodiac/ And another example (Page/Princess of Cups/waves) here: http://www.tarotgarden.com/database/images/z-decks/zodiaccards.gif πŸ™‚

    alisoncross · 7th March 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I know what you mean, that's why I tend not to use the full Elemental Dignity method of reading and stick to using the elemental components in isolation WITHIN the card, rather than depending upon the elements of surrounding cards.

    How successfully those elements work together for THAT card in THIS reading depends on how I'd be interpreting the card generally anyway. So if someone was aspiring to be, say, the Queen of Wands I'd point out that she may need to watch out for this conflict of feeling/doing but also point out that water, suitably contained in a pot, can be usefully manipulated by the heat of fire….and explore that way?

    For those that are considered neutral in full Elemental Dignity style of reading, I tend to see them here, using only the elements within the single card, as well-balanced characters – so Water and Air in a card would show that there is a healthy balance between how the person feels and how they think. Their emotions are not belittled by their thought processes? Something like that?

    I'm not sure that I'm explaining myself adequately! The curse of the Queen of Wands lol!

    I'll go check out that deck that you suggest. Thank you!

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