Tarot for the 21st Century!
A Tarot card is a collection of related symbols, which together posses a philosophic theme- a continuum of possibilities. When analyzing a card, this richness of possibility makes it necessary to focus on which aspects of the card have come into play for the particular reading. One way of doing this is to use reversals, to strengthen or weaken a cards meaning based on whether the card is right side up or upside down. Another way of providing a reading, and the individual cards, with nuance and greater depth, is to analyze the relationships between the cards by the use of Dignities. Dignities can be used instead of reversals or additionally to provide further insight.
Tarot Dignities is an approach to modify and focus the interpretation of a card. There are several types of dignities, such as numerological dignities, astrological dignities or symbolic dignities. However the most common is elemental dignities. Each suit of the Minor Arcana is associated one of the four elements of western alchemy- fire (wands), water (cups), air (swords) and earth (pentacles or coins). When interpreting a card, the elemental qualities of the cards interact with each other and form a relationship. A card is “well dignified” if the relationship is positive and “ill dignified” if they are incompatible.
Wands – Masculine/ Active Pentacles – Feminine/ Active
Swords – Masculine/ Passive Cups– Feminine/ Passive
The chart above shows the masculine/feminine interplay of the suits. This is true in particular for the court cards. Each suit has a gender, feminine (yin) or masculine (yang), which describe their general energy and a mode which indicates how this energy is expressed- actively or passively.
The Wands are masculine/active, while the Swords are masculine/passive. A Wand is fiery and will grow on its own. A Sword is air and needs a hand to wield it. Pentacles and cups are feminine. A pentacle is earth and actively brings forth the life inherent within it. Cups are water, which seeks the lowest level, and whose shape will conform to the vessel that contains it, and is therefore passive.
These qualities establish a cards basic relationship with other cards in the spread. Suits that share gender are friends. They accept each other without fuss or drama.
Wands and cups as well as swords and pentacles are enemies-extreme opposites and violently opposed. They see in each other what they lack, but have no common ground. At best the relationship is dysfunctional
The two active suits, wands and pentacles are lovers as are the two passive suits, the swords and cups. These two sets are balanced by a masculine-feminine dichotomy and share a mode. They share values and support each other.
Gender and mode have little to do with an actual reading and are simply used to establish and explain these relationships as summarized on the chart below.
Swords & Wands FRIENDS Pentacles & Cups
Pentacles & Swords ENEMIES Wands & Cups
Wands & Pentacles LOVERS Swords & Cups
In a reading the relationship is with the preceding card. If the cards are friends, the relationship is neutral and the meaning is unaffected. If the cards are lovers then the meaning of the card in question is interpreted in the strongest, most dominant way possible. Similarly, should the cards be enemies then the card is weakened and has less influence on the situation. Cards of the same suit as well as cards of the Major Arcana are considered neutral.
To illustrate, a three card Past-Present-Future spread will be used: the nine of swords, three of pentacles and the six of wands. The 9ofSw is read normally, as there is no card before it. The 9 of swords indicates that the client was bound by tradition and past ideas, clinging to what is gone- never to return. When the 3ofPen is read, one would look back to the preceding 9ofSw. Pentacles and swords are enemies. Therefore the relationship between the cards is weakened, diminished and has little influence. The weakened 3ofPen is now a mere continuation of the 9ofSw. Work without progress, which serves nothing except the mere continuation of the process. Because the 9ofSw is usually seen as a negative card, and as it has diminished the 3ofSw the spread is relatively bleak. However, when reading the next card, the 6ofWds the practitioner refers back to the 3ofPen. Pentacles and Wands are lovers. Therefore, the 6ofWds is interpreted in the strongest, most positive manner. With this in mind the Future card is very hopeful. The client has begun to break with the futility of the past and present. With optimistic self-discipline the client will soon ride forth to glory. With this particular example the practitioner may wish to draw another card or two and explore additional ideas concerning how this can be further accomplished.
One should practice this technique by drawing pairs from the Minor Arcana and determining the dignities, how they affect one another. When one has had some practice with the technique one can consider all adjacent cards. Using the same cards from the above example, the 3ofPen has two adjacent cards, a lover and an enemy. The Practitioner could decide that the two cancel each other out and move on. However one could also analyze the three cards further to see how the 3ofPen has been weakened in some ways (perhaps a delay) and strengthened in others.
Life is not a series of moments and events dully marching before our eyes and fading into history. Life is rich and expansive; a luminous interwoven pattern of thought, emotions and decisions that radiate out from the present into the future as well as the past. A Tarot spread likewise, is a pattern, illustrating the present moment. It is by analyzing the relationships between the various factors influencing us that we gain personal insight and wisdom; we learn how to appreciate and navigate this continuum of life’s possibilities.