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Elemental Dignities

This post was written by Barbara Moore
on July 19, 2012 | Comments (3)

How do you use them?

The most common way I’ve seen Elemental Dignities used is in triplets. The reader lays out three cards. The center card is the main card and the two flanking cards affect the middle card. I’ve also read that EDs are said to affect cards that “near” other cards in a spread, although I’ve never seen that in action nor have I been able to make sense of that application in my own readings.

I recently learned, from a student of mine, Merissa Lovett, of a very clever technique. She also lays down three cards. The first one is the main card. The second card influences the first. The third card shows how to reconcile the first two.

How do you use EDs? Or, if you don’t, have you ever tried? What didn’t you like about them? What do you like? If you’ve never tried, below is a short explanation so you can give it a go.


Elemental Dignities (from Tarot for Beginners)

Applying elemental dignities to a reading is simple. When interpreting a card, consider the cards that are next to it. Using the elemental relationships described below, weave the effect into the meaning of the card.

For example, let’s say we are looking at the 3 of Cups (a spontaneous, unexpected joy or pleasure). Next to it is the 5 of Wands. Technically, it doesn’t matter if it is 5 or any other number. What matters is the suit. In this case, it is Wands, or Fire. Wands/Fire is the opposite of Cups/Water, therefore weakening the card. The spontaneous joy or pleasure will not be quite as joyful or pleasurable as it could be; it is weakened or diminished by the presence of Wands/Fire.

One way to think about elemental dignities is to think of a card as a word and the card next to it as a modifier. The modifier can indicate an intensification of meaning like underlining or adding an exclamation point does in writing. A modifier can also diminish the impact by adding “kind of” or “meh” to the sentence.

  • Cards of the same element strengthen each other greatly.
  • Wands (fire) and Swords (air) are both considered active and support each other.
  • Cups (water) and Pentacles (earth) are both considered passive and support each other.
  • Wands (fire) and Cups (water) are opposites and weaken each other.
  • Swords (air) and Pentacles (earth) are opposites and weaken each other.
  • Wands (fire) and Pentacles (earth) have little effect on each other.
  • Swords (air) and Cups (water) have little effect on each other.

When an element is strengthened, it does not always mean that it is a positive situation. It means that the experience is stronger or intensified, whether positive or negative.

Fire and Air are considered active. This means the energy is active, it moves, it creates, it acts; it also indicates swift movement. That is, if this energy is present, it is moving around making things happen and happen quickly.

Water and Earth are considered passive. That is, the energy is passive, it is still, it is reactive, it is shaped; it also suggests slower movement. Passive energy waits for something to happen, hence the idea of slowness, and then reacts.

When either Water and Fire or Air and Earth are present, the result is a weakening of both. They are opposites, fighting against each other, causing conflicting energy that will be evidenced in the situation.

The combinations of Fire and Earth or Air and Water are considered neutral. They have little or no effect on each other.




Reader Comments

Written By Ty Bevington
on July 19th, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

This is probably the most succienct explanation of the dignities I’ve ever read! I’ve already printed it out to add to my tarot book of shadows and will email the link to a number of fellow readers. In one page, you’ve really made it simple. Thanks, Barbara!

Written By Charles
on July 19th, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

I work with Elemental Dignities a lot. ED is not dependent on position in a layout, and does not take reversals into consideration, so it works really well with pairs of cards. I also work a lot with 3 cards, viewing them as two overlapping pairs, but not in an order left to right or whatever.

I think ED is sort of a 3rd dimension that overlays a flat card layout. But you can add even more dimensions, using an elemental layout. You can set up a 4×4 card layout, lay the cards top right to lower left. The cards are interpreted in rows according to the order of elements, so the top row is Fire, 2nd row is Water, then Air and Earth. Similarly, the columns are Fire/Water/Air/Earth from right to left. You can read the EDs on top of their element in both rows and columns. Then combine the two, so top right corner is Fire of Fire, to the left of it is Fire of Water, etc.


  1. Elemental Dignities « WiccanWeb  on September 30th, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

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