Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Discussions of the arcane symbols of Tarot and other decks
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Symbols appear on each and every tarot card - visual signs that convey meaning. Some of them are highly individual and personal, others time-honored and traditional. Some are easy to understand, others difficult and multivalent. In this forum, we want to study symbols from different decks, traditions and cultures together using books, websites, lwbs and our own intuition.
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theFeeLion
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Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by theFeeLion » 20 Jul 2017, 09:01

Time to open another can of worms...

(Please move this if necessary, I figured there may be a bit of history involved with this question which is why I put it here)


Why are wands typically fire and swords typically air?

For me it makes much more sense for their associations to be reversed.

The way I see it is: swords are forged in fire, you don't need intelligence to use them, you are more likely to need anger. Think of phrases like "in the heat of battle"

Wands are made from wood, wood that once waved around in the air. To use a wand you need intelligence and knowledge to get the results you desire.

I know there are many traditions that speak of a sword of Truth. There are just as many references to 'the fire of truth'.

It's almost as if the two suits have been shoehorned to fit into wands/fire swords/air moulds (why does that word look like I spelled it wrong?).

Can someone please explain this to me?
Come faeries take me out of this dull world. For I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame. - W B Yeats

May you touch dragonflies and stars, dance with faeries and talk to the moon. - Unknown

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by 2dogs » 20 Jul 2017, 09:14

I think it's that fire represents energy, growth and will in the way burning wood will give out heat and light and young trees grow vigorously. And air represents thought and the mind which cuts through confusion and hurts people :cry: .
If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler. Alfonso X (the Wise)

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by 2dogs » 20 Jul 2017, 09:34

If you insist though, AT lists 20 decks that agree with you here - http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/ch ... ions.shtml - including the Renaissance Tarot you just bought, so looks like you're on a winner there ;) .
If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler. Alfonso X (the Wise)

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by Thirteen » 20 Jul 2017, 14:35

The associations are "pagan" (neo-pagan) where the ceremonial knife *usually* stands for air and the wooden wand for fire. There are, however, plenty of arguments for either:

Swords as fire: argument is that they are forged in fire, and so ought to be fire. They can also withstand fire, unlike wood that just burns up. The argument against this is that metal goblets are also forged in fire, likewise coins, so why not make them fire, too, if being forged in it (and withstanding it) is the qualification? On the other hand, none of these but staffs can be used to create a campfire. So, goblets hold water, coins hold value, staffs/wands hold "fire," that leaves Swords as "Air."

Swords as Air: argument in favor is that Air in Tarot is all about using words, and when you use a sword you "fence," argue, communicate, maybe cut or hurt like words. Putting down a Sword usually meant negotiation or peace talks. Swords also "swish" through the air. Argument against is that swords don't work as well as quills if we're going in that direction. Usually swords are mute killing instruments, as compared to useful, peaceful staffs and wands. As for that "swish"...what about wooden arrows?

Wood as air: Argument is that trees produce oxygen. And wind blows through their branches. Argument against is that when the tarot was created trees creating oxygen wasn't known, and wands (staffs) are dead wood anyway. Meaning good for creating a fire, not air.

Wood as fire: Argument is that fire represents passion and temper, and the "stick" was the common weapon of people impassioned or in a temper. Also it looks more like an actual, um, phallaic organ than a swords and fire relates to passionate sex and male orgasm. It burns and when folk imagine wands, they imagine fiery magic coming from it, not a blast of air :D Argument against this is that any weapon is a weapon of passion, and magical swords are usually on fire, too.

There are a ton more arguments, but you can see, I think, why it makes sense to most tarot readers to have Swords Air and Wands Fire. If the opposite makes sense to *you*, however, there are many on your side and those include tarot deck creators. So you can have a deck that agrees with you and read Wands as Air and Swords as Fire if that works better for you. It's enough of an ongoing argument that, unlike arguing that goblets aren't water, you won't have much trouble with getting a deck that has the assignments the way you want them. 8-)
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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by theFeeLion » 20 Jul 2017, 21:40

That is certainly something for me to chew on for a while...

I guess that one of my problems is I can see more than one element in each of them. Although it's a lot easier for me to distinguish which to choose for earth and water; earth being material things that money buys etc and cups being not about what they are made from but what they hold ie water.

The issue with fire and air really started when I was deciding what representations to use for my alter space. I didn't want to have open flame for the fire side of my room (curtains + flame = fire hazard! Not something I want while massaging) I also had an issue with burnt incense as air (I now have fans and a feather).
Come faeries take me out of this dull world. For I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame. - W B Yeats

May you touch dragonflies and stars, dance with faeries and talk to the moon. - Unknown

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by Thirteen » 21 Jul 2017, 00:11

theFeeLion wrote:
20 Jul 2017, 21:40
The issue with fire and air really started when I was deciding what representations to use for my alter space. I didn't want to have open flame for the fire side of my room (curtains + flame = fire hazard! Not something I want while massaging) I also had an issue with burnt incense as air (I now have fans and a feather).
There is certainly Wiccan/Pagan traditions who have the Athame (knife) as fire and the Wand as Air, and those that have the Athame as Air and Wand as fire. Your tradition is your tradition, and as you can see, in tarot there is the same dilemma over which is which. But a lot of Wiccan/Pagans forego the traditional representatives of the elements, putting quills (old time pens) upon the altar to stand for Air (and words, and communications) rather than the knife, and something of red color (like red stones), or a jar of pepper flakes or just a picture of fire rather than a wand or candle. Heck, some put down some sunglasses or suntan lotion. 8-)

Because these are representations standing for the element. And that means that it doesn't matter whether said representations are *literally* the element (an actual flame for fire, or actual smoke for air). And this is why the reality of tarot symbols, their elemental make-up, doesn't matter. A sword is iron, that's earth. It's fire that tempers the iron. it's water that cools the iron. It's air that blows on the fire to heat it up so it can melt the iron....

This isn't about what a sword is in the real world any more than it's about Pentacles being actual coins. If that were the case, why would Pentacles stand for health and physical well being? As some very sick rich people will tell you, money can't buy you health. These are metaphors. And you can decide that you like the Sword, metaphorically, for fire, but that doesn't mean that you have to figure out why a sword should stand for fire even though it can't be set on fire. A real sword is steel. And that's not fire any more than it's Air. So...think metaphorically.

OR...you can also find decks where different symbols are used. Ones that do make more sense to you. Like quills for air. I had a sitter who hated the swords suit. I used the tarot of the Moon Garden for her because in that deck, dragonflies were the "sword" suit—and a very airy symbol they were, yet still dynamic and aggressive :D
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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by theFeeLion » 21 Jul 2017, 00:30

Thank you for putting my wandering mind in its place Thirteen! :D that was very much needed. It's too easy for me to make it difficult for myself, so sometimes I just need someone to say "oi! Why are you going way off over there? It's THIS way" to which I usually say "oh, why didn't I think of that before!" :lol:
Come faeries take me out of this dull world. For I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame. - W B Yeats

May you touch dragonflies and stars, dance with faeries and talk to the moon. - Unknown

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by 2dogs » 21 Jul 2017, 01:09

I don't have an altar but put elemental objects in a couple of big pots in which bay trees grow outside - stones, shells, feathers, pine cones.
If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler. Alfonso X (the Wise)

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by Nemia » 21 Jul 2017, 01:31

A really powerful symbol is always more than just an equation, let's say apple = fruit of Tree of Knowledge. Powerful symbols are loaded with associations and correspondences. So we look at the Wands and everything is there in a wand: wood grows from the Earth, needs Water and Air, and burns with Fire. Coins or Disks or Pentacles are made from stuff in the Earth, are purified and processed with Fire, cooled to keep their shape with Water and change under the influence of Air.

The four elements themselves are interdependent. You can't make fire without oxygen from the air etc. They interact all the time.

So for me, the division in the tarot suits is just a model, a symbol that helps us to grasp the main characteristics of each. If artists change these associations, I'm absolutely fine with it, I just want it to be done consequently and with attention to meaning.

Let's say the Lo Scarabeo Celtic Tarot. Swords are Fire in this deck but the iconography is the same. On the 8 of Swords, you have a lady trying to wriggle from her bonds, surrounded by eight swords, while a fire rages in the background. For me, this doesn't add anything. If the artists wanted to use new associations, imo they have to think to the end how fire applies to the 8 of Swords. Just giving the poor lady a sexy red dress and flames in the background is not enough, at least for me.

the elements are associated with zodiac signs, and that association is much older than the neo-pagan correspondences (whether Neo Paganism influenced the Golden Dawn or the other way around, I really don't know). And the zodiac signs are associated with characteristics and temperament, in accordance with Aristotles' famous theory of the humours. If you look at the Air signs together, what do they have in common? Gemini, Libra and Aquarius are quite different, but they all have this clear rationality. And that was transferred to the Swords suit, together with the traditional image of the sword as troublemaker.

I have a number of little shrines for the elements and see that in our culture, as soon as the number Four appears, the four elements appear, too.

Look at Hogwarts. Hufflepuff is Earth, Gryffindor Fire, Ravenclaw Air and Slytherin Water (even their common rooms are located accordingly - Slytherin's under the lake).

Look at the Marvel Comic's Fantastic Four. You see four elements.

It's everywhere, really. And each element itself is all four elements, but one dominates.

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Re: Something that has been rolling around in my head...

Post by theFeeLion » 21 Jul 2017, 02:38

Nemia have I told you yet you're awesome? And that post was awesome too :D
You pointed out a few things I didn't know, and highlighted a few that I thought but didn't acknowledge. Thanks heaps! :mrgreen:
Come faeries take me out of this dull world. For I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame. - W B Yeats

May you touch dragonflies and stars, dance with faeries and talk to the moon. - Unknown

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