Learning how to read Elemental Dignities can quickly become a frustrating process. This is essentially due to the lack of readily available, useful information. As a way to help provide a good quality resource on this subject, Catherine Chapman of Tarot Elements and I have methodically listed every possible two card combination with their associated description.
In this article, Catherine and I have also presented an example Tarot reading which highlights the differences between reading the cards traditionally and reading the cards Elementally. We’ve purposelessly limited the techniques used when interpreting the Elemental Dignities within the reading. This was done to specifically focus on one technique; this technique requires nothing but the ability to combine two cards.
Why Are Two Card Combinations Useful?
In an article I wrote called, A Guide To Tarot Card Combinations, I mentioned that the ‘card a day’ method for learning Tarot cards can impact negatively on confidence. The best way to learn Tarot cards is to deal out combinations of cards and interpret them, independently of any desire to do a personal reading. However, if you find the ‘card a day’ method useful, why not adapt it a little. Rather than deal out a card a day, deal out two cards instead of one and create a two card combination. This will help you practice Elemental Dignities. It will also help provide greater clarity than the standard ‘card a day’ method and this can be especially useful when the first card is rather ambiguous.
However you chose to practice two card combinations, the main usefulness of learning Elemental Dignities is to add greater depth and clarity to a Tarot reading.
One of the techniques used in Tarot that explicitly relies upon two card combinations is called, “card pairing”. This is a technique that is used to help read a particular Tarot spread known as The Opening Of The Key. I learned this spread through the study of the Golden Dawn, but quickly discovered that card pairing can be used for any Tarot spread.
The mechanics of card pairing simply requires the Tarot reader to take the two end cards in a Tarot spread and pair them. For example, in a ten card Tarot spread you would start by taking card number one and card number ten and pair them. From this position, you would pair cards two and nine; three and eight; four and seven; five and six. In other words, you pair from the outside of the spread and work your way towards its centre.
The Golden Dawn describes how to interpret the paired Elements as, “…on pairing the cards each is to be taken as of equal force with the other. If of opposite elements they mutually weaken each other.”
The basic rules behind Elemental Dignities are:
- Fire and Water are enemy Elements; they weaken each other.
- Air and Earth are enemy Elements; they weaken each other.
- All other combinations are friendly towards each other.
- Fire and Air are active Elements.
- Water and Earth are passive Elements.
The basic descriptions of the four elements:
- Fire – careers, drive and ambition.
- Water – love, emotions and psychism.
- Air – thoughts, ideas and problems.
- Earth – money, possessions, support.
It’s important to recognise what is meant by the terms, “enemy” and “weaken”. These terms do not completely alter the divinatory definition of the Tarot cards. Rather, if the two Tarot cards are Elementally enemies of each other, there is a neutralizing effect that takes place. In other words, this hypothetical two card combination wouldn’t play a pivotal role in the overall ‘story’ during a Tarot reading. Their influence, for good or bad, is reduced (neutralized) and the Tarot reading should reflect this as such.
Having fun with Elemental Dignities
The best way to learn Elemental Dignities is by having fun. Not only will you enjoy the process that much more, but you will also be relaxed enough to allow your intuition to flow; being relaxed, having fun and feeling creative is the most conducive state of mind to be in when learning Elemental Dignities.
Start by dealing out two Tarot cards, ignore the divinatory definitions and simply read the Elemental interaction taking place between them. If you keep things relaxed, fun, and enjoyable, you will be surprised at how quickly your intuition will start to flow.
Example Tarot Reading
The best way to illustrate card pairing is by doing an actual Tarot reading. Below is an example Tarot reading, and the spread chosen is called the “Two Options” Tarot spread. I will start by interpreting this spread based solely on the Tarot card meanings; then I will use card pairing as a way of adding greater depth and clarity to the reading.
There are many Tarot spreads that could be used to help with a client’s dilemma, but a really good one is a “Two Options” Spread. The great thing about this spread is its versatility. There’s no need to feel constrained by limiting yourself solely to the way Catherine and I have used it; it can be adapted by altering the questions to suit your own, or your client’s needs. You may like to 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. By using the Two Options Spread below, we have a closer examination of these men in her life and how they interact and feel about each other. The purpose of this example reading is to show you how card pairing adds an extra layer to the Tarot reading. Column one represents the first man, Vincent, and column two represents the second man, Stuart.
The Classical Interpretation
The client clearly likes both men; however, Vincent is seen as a challenge (7 of Wands) whereas Stuart is seen as having (Princess of Disks) something long-term to offer. On a slightly more negative note, Stuart is seen as less important (Princess of Disks) where as Vincent is seen as a sources of daily concern, problems and worry – the kind that fuels obsession.
Vincent clearly likes Jennifer (10 of Cups); perhaps they met through close friends. Stuart seems preoccupied with the past (6 of Cups); have Jennifer and Stuart been in a relationship before? Regardless, both men have strong feelings for her.
The pros of choosing Vincent are clear; Jennifer sees him as the best man, perhaps being with him would fulfil a certain ideal she has for herself? The pros of choosing Stuart are not so clear. The Two of Wands suggests that neither of them have found a comfortable or balanced way of interacting with each other. It’s clear that both of them will feel the need to assert themselves in order to be heard. Alternatively, Jennifer will feel empowered by the way Stuart treats her – the kind of feeling someone gets when they know they are in control; a sort of safe predictability.
The cons of choosing Vincent appears to be his character (Justice) or circumstances. Is he too concerned with rules? Perhaps Vincent is in the middle of a divorce? The cons of choosing Stuart might be that he likes her a lot more than she likes him. On the one hand, you have the balance of Vincent against the imbalance of Stuart.
The outcome for choosing Vincent doesn’t appear good. It’s possible that he would destabilise her life to the point that she feels ‘out of control'; control is something we know Jennifer values, perhaps even needs. This brings us to Stuart, a safe, if dull option. However, the outcome for choosing Stuart also doesn’t appear good. It looks like she can’t bring herself to feel (the Hermit) about him the same way she feels about Vincent.
The 7 of Wands and Princess of Disks suggests, “Jennifer is fighting to get noticed – Fire and Earth suggests obscurity”.
The 10 of Cups and 6 of Cups suggests, “They live in the past – perhaps they already have families – Water and Water indicates depth of feeling”.
The 9 of Cups and 2 of Wands suggests, “She is on the right track with one of these men – Fire and Water weaken and neutralize each other; this combination doesn’t have a big influence on the reading”
The Justice card and the Ace of Cups suggests, “She is too concerned with finding her ‘true love’. Perhaps this also indicates that she wishes she could combine the best of Stuart with the best of Vincent – Air and Water suggests intensity”
The Tower reversed and the Hermit, “Keeping her feelings concealed to avoid embarrassment – notice how the start and end of the reading have the same Fire and Earth Elemental combination. This indicates going around in circles”.
The difference between the two methods is clear. The classical method provides the bare bones of the story but the Elemental interpretation fills in the blanks.
The Elemental Dignities Compendium – Two Card Combinations
Listed below are the sixteen permutations of two card combinations. You will find that there’s a slight repetition with them; for example: fire/water – water/fire. Catherine and I did this for two reasons; firstly, we felt there were slight differences to their meanings when transposed and secondly, we wanted this Elemental Dignities Compendium to be a complete body of work. We therefore agreed to include all possible options, even where they would apparently seem the same.
Holding your mouse pointer over the images below will provide you with further information on the elements.
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.
Catherine: 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.
There’s a slight weight and foundation to this combination, implying the slight possibility that things can continue forward. In representing a person’s psychology, this combination suggests – emotional confusion; a lack of certainty and commitment; manic depression.
Catherine: 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’.
The initial inspiration to act is quickly met with problems. Luckily, these problems seem solvable. This combination suggests a brilliant plan that could work. It also suggests an intense, but easily distracted person; mental tension; lack of sleep; tiredness and exhaustion.
Catherine: 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.
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 to create 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.
Catherine: 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.
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.
Catherine: 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 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.
Catherine: 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.
Water / Air
There is a real sense of “talking about ones 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’s a need to conceal one’s feelings from others – trying to put a brave face on things when inside there’s emotional turmoil.
Catherine: 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.
Water / Earth
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.
Catherine: 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.’
Air / Fire
This combination suggests 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.
Catherine: A very active combination with air fuelling 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.
Air / Water
This combination suggests that the initial control has been lost to sentimentality, and possibly past regret. There’s a need to express feelings rather than discuss them.
Catherine: 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.
Air / Air
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.
Catherine: 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.’
Air / Earth
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.
Catherine: 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.
Earth / Fire
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.
Catherine: 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.
Earth / Water
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 secure 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 joy in what they have.
Catherine: 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.
Earth / Air
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.
Catherine: 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.’
Earth / Earth
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.
Catherine: 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.
Please feel free to share your own thoughts and observations about the two card combinations presented here. If you have any questions, ideas or suggestions about this article I’d love to hear them. Did you agree or disagree with any of the descriptions listed? Did you find this article helpful? What else would you have liked to have seen included? If you have any questions you would like to ask, either myself or Catherine would be more than happy to help.
This article is part of the Elemental Dignities Compendium.