Considering the Elemental Dignities among three cards can show which cards are supporting and reinforcing and which cards have friction or conflict, adding new depth to a reading.
I wrote about using Elemental relationships between Tarot cards and astrological signs in the Weekly Tarot Zodiac entry for my women’s spirituality organization. Where the idea of Elemental Dignities really becomes useful, though, is when we’re working with three (or more) cards and the relationships between them.
For WTZ entries such as next week’s, instead of looking at the Elements of three different cards, I look at the Elements indicated by the Wild Card, the astrological sign, and the card drawn for that sign. Understanding the relationships between the Elemental Dignities of these three pieces helps me know how the current situation and the natural tendencies of a person’s sign are likely to interact with the wild card’s influence.
The Major Arcana cards don’t necessarily have an Element associated with them, but even there the Elements give me more context in which to read the Majors. For Aries, for example, the context of Fire and Earth guided me to read the card Awakening (Judgment) as suggesting certain kinds of renewal.
When all three pieces feature the same Element, that obviously means that Element is having a very powerful influence on the person’s life right now. It’s worthwhile to be cautious about this occurrence, though, as it can mean an over-abundance of that Element. My WTZ reading didn’t have any of these, but Virgo with the Hermit was close, so I included a reminder not to go too far into the Hermit’s withdrawal, suggesting instead that readers balance that with the “Explorer” part of the wild card.
When two pieces have one Element and the third piece is a friendly Element (remember, Water and Earth are friendly to each other, Air and Fire are friendly to each other), all the pieces are usually working fairly well together. For Cancer, a Water sign, to draw an Earth card in combination with the Earth wild card indicates that it should be fairly easy for Cancer to use her natural inclination to work with the experiences these cards portray.
When the three pieces are split between two Elements which are neutral to each other (Earth and Fire or Water and Air), there is a tendency for the “odd one out” to be downplayed or de-emphasized relative to the others. For Sagittarius, with the 5 of Earth and the wild card Explorer of Earth being neutral to the Fiery qualities of Sagittarius, I read that as two pieces of advice for Sagittarius individuals to try to limit their innate tendency to try to change things, suggesting instead that they work on remaining present with the situation they experience even while it is challenging or difficult.
There can also be a split between two Elements which are unfriendly to each other (Earth and Air or Water and Fire), which usually indicates friction or an inability to get different parts of a situation to work in harmony. The wild card for this week is an Earth card, and Taurus is an Earth sign, but Taurus drew the Elder of Air, which I interpreted as Taurus’s earthy tendencies creating difficulty moving into the role of a wise elder.
Elemental Dignities are especially interesting when the three pieces are from three different Elements. This means that among the three there will be pairs that are both friendly and unfriendly! For example, with the wild card Explorer of Earth, the Air sign Gemini drew the card Elder of Water. Here the Earth and Water are friendly, the Water and Air are neutral, and the Earth and Air are unfriendly.
These combinations hold fascinating potential. One of the first interpretations I try to apply to these situations is that one piece forms a “bridge” or “hinge” between the otherwise unfriendly pieces. In this case, the Elder of Water may mediate between Gemini’s Airy tendencies and the Explorer’s Earthy stolidity. Exactly how that mediation takes place depends heavily on the cards themselves; sometimes it can indicate that the one in the middle is being pulled in two different directions, and sometimes it can be a suggestion for a way forward to combine the best of both worlds. Either way, the idea of Elemental Dignities helps me connect the pieces when there are multiple Elements floating around in a particular reading.
For more information about Elemental Dignities and examples of three-card combinations, see the excellent resources at Tarot Eon.
Are Elemental Dignities something you use in your readings? How do you find them helpful? Would you like to learn more?