Tarot: The four suits

Week 2 of the Alternative Tarot Course looks at the four suits; Wands, Cups, Pentacles and Swords.

I’ve read a lot about the suits but I thought it would be helpful for me to brain dump, or free write, what the suits mean to me.  Partly as clarification for myself but also because being able to explain something to another person really helps you understand what you do and don’t know.

There is no one ‘good’ suit.  Like most things in life, it is about balance and moderation.  Too much of most things can be harmful.  It also depends on what else is around – the way the different suits and their corresponding elements interact.

Wands – Fire

This is the suit I have less of a handle on which I think is appropriate as it is about things which aren’t tangible.

It is a suit of energy, of passion, of ideas, of inspiration.  Things which aren’t yet real.  Beginnings.  It is what fuels us.  That spark of excitment when you get an idea.  And like fire, it can be creative or destructive.  It can fuel or it can burn out.

Cups – Water

This is the suit of emotion, love, relationships, the inner world. The depiction of the water or the cup can represent how you’re doing emotionally -is the water stuck, flowing freely etc?

For example, the five of cups is sometimes shown as someone upset looking at spilt cups but not seeing the river behind them. They are focussed on their pain so tightly that they miss the positives.  The mother of cups in the wild unknown deck has her wing above her cup. she is protecting her emotions but she isn’t stiffling them.

This suit is also associated with creativity and expression through arts, music etc.

Pentacles – Earth

The nitty gritty, day to day stuff.  The things you can actually grasp.  Like money, resources, jobs but also less tangibly, health and the body.

The eight of pentacles is all about craft and honing your skills and using your hands (whether that’s literal or not) to create real things.

Concerned with the material world, this is sometimes called the coin suit instead.

Swords – Air

Thoughts. Where the cups are the inner realm, swords are the mental realm. They are knowledge, truth, communication.

They are often linked to construction and destruction.


Looking at how the suits play with each other has been a really helpful part of my readings over the last year.  I always look to see if a particular suit dominates and if so, what other cards are in the mix.  How do they interact?

As an example, you may have a wand and a cup, fire and water.  Now fire and water can interact in different ways; fire can heat the water or water can put out the fire.  In terms of the suits, this could be read as the wand adding energy and excitment to the emotional cups card, or is the cup too emotional and that’s causing the idea to fizzle out?  This was something that took a bit of thinking out for me and whilst it isn’t always relelvant to a reading, it is a useful tool.

You might also notice more than one element portrayed in a tarot card, if so, look at how they are interacting in the image.  This can tell you a lot about a card and its meaning.


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