Earth. Air. Fire. Water. The four elements play crucial roles in the symbolic construction and interpretation of tarot, especially in the minor arcana where each suit is represented by a specific elemental affinity. Each element comes with its own temperament and ways it translates into different aspects of your life. As you go forth and try to familiarize yourself with the elemental associations, it is important to go through the process of how you arrive at each conclusion or categorization about each element. For example, why is the suit of wands or fire associated with career, dreams, and drive? Why is the suit of cups or water associated with relationships and emotions? When you make your own connections and relate those insights to your personal life and experience, it is much easier to internalize the knowledge and make it your own.
What you need for this exercise:
- Space. Where you will be required to draw a huge rectangular box. This could be done in your notebook, a loose sheet of paper, or a large poster paper or board. Whatever works for you, really. As long as you have a rectangular shape that has four corners (this is called the four corners exercise, after all!) and allows you to take notes–you’ll be fine. It might not work as well on the laptop, unless you are capable of producing any types of graph via a computer software. If that’s the case, by all means, do whatever that’s comfortable.
- Something to write with, duh. Whether it is your vintage fountain pen or a Harry Potteresque quill–get your favourite utensils out!
- A basic understanding of the elemental associations in tarot. Some key words will definitely help you contextualize and engage with this activity better. If you are starting fresh, here is a quick reference guide to help you:
- Fire is typically associated with motivation, passion and creative self-expression. It is therefore often linked to one’s career and passionate pursuits.
- Air is typically associated with information, logic, and intellect. It is therefore often linked to language, expression of ideas and opinions, and psychological processes.
- Earth is typically associated with security, foundation and prosperity. It is therefore often linked to money, health, and society.
- Water is typically associated with emotional exchanges, intuitive insights and the subconscious. It is therefore often linked to relationships, imagination and spirituality.
- A sense of adventure and a pinch of poetic spice in your soul. You’ll be working with metaphors, so gear up your right brain!
As mentioned before, you will be working with symbolism and metaphors. Here is a mini warm-up activity that will get your creative and poetic juices flowing. Check out the following few prompts to help you get into the figurative zone:
- I’m on fire when ___________
- What grounds me in life is ___________
- What does it mean when you “get wind of something”? How is the word “wind” used to convey this?
- What is the social significance of sharing sharing a drink with somebody?
The Four Elemental Corners
Alright…time to get down to business! The first thing you have to do is to create something that looks like this (or you can also click here to download a printable worksheet containing this chart):
Next, go through your daily activities and routines and examine their elemental nature. Write down a list of minimum 10 things that you do each day. Ask yourself: Is this an “earth” activity? Why? You would then position that activity on the chart according to its elemental association.
Some activities are easily categorized into an elemental corner. For example, maybe you wake up early in the morning in order to go to the gym and exercise. Exercising helps you stay connected with your physical self and keeps you grounded for the rest of the day. Therefore, exercising is an “earth” activity since It makes you feel healthy, empowered and secure. You have to feel your feet on the ground first before you can venture into anything else. Since it’s an earth activity, you put it directly next to the Earth Corner.
Some activities, however, may have a combination of two or more elemental associations. For example, after you finish all your morning routines, you sit down to work on your short story. This engages you creatively and satisfies you emotionally. Creativity is associated with the creative and expansive nature of fire, and happiness is associated with the subtle and nourishing flow of water. So you place this activity in the middle of the Fire Corner and Water Corner, but closer to the Fire Corner because you feel that creativity is more predominant as you engage in story writing.
You would continue to figure out the elemental associations for each activity until you run out of space. Or you set a timer for 15-20 minutes to help you concentrate your thoughts in a short burst of time. However long you want to do this is up to you, you can set a timer or no timer at all. The purpose of this activity is mostly to help you make connections between how you live your life and the elemental associations behind each activity you engage in.
After you have completed the exercise, go through the following questions and prompts and reflect on your progress:
- Looking at your elemental corners chart, which element do you find yourself gravitating towards the most? What does this reveal about you as a person and the activities you tend to enjoy?
- How easy or difficult was it to categorize everything? Was there a particular item that you struggled with and didn’t know where to place? Why do you think this was the case? On the contrary, what were the “easy items” where you immediately knew where they belonged? What does this reveal to you about how you think and who you are as a person?
- How has this exercise deepened your perspective and understanding of the four elements in tarot?
So that’s it. How did it go? I hope you enjoyed this exercise and I hope this exercise has helped you reach a better understanding of tarot’s four elements, or that it has given your brain some new “tarot food” to chew on. Either way, please let me know how it goes in the comments below!
If you are interested in reading more about viewing tarot cards through the lens of storytelling as well as cultivating an intuitive tarot practice, check out my e-book: Tarot Beginnings: An Introduction to the Story and Study of Tarot.