Nuit © Paige Sullivan 2010
#8 Introduction to The Minor Arcana: Beginning with the Air Element
Up until now, we have focused on the Major Arcana in tarot (sometimes referred to as the fifth element, ether, representing stages in spiritual development or ethereal/cosmic influences at work). The themes of each annual edition of We’Moon are based on that. In this month’s We’Moon Tarot Forum, we are beginning to focus on the Minor Arcana, as well: the four suits which represent the four essential elements of life on earth—air, earth, water, fire—and their counterparts in the human realm of mental, physical, emotional/psychic, and energetic qualities.
“ ‘Arcana’ simply refers to the secret teachings which, in the tarot, appear in the form of images, “Vicki Noble writes In the Motherpeace Round Tarot booklet that accompanied the original deck created by her and Karen Vogel in 1981 ( the same year that the first We’Moon was published). She describes the Major Arcana as “the 22 titled cards which are numbered with Roman numerals from 0 (the Fool) to XXI (World). They teach about transformation and evolution of the human soul. Presenting each phase of development in an isolated, archetypal form, they are numbered in a meaningful order to suggest cycles of change, and they can be studied in sequence or as single excursions into the psychic realms of hidden or arcane wisdom…”.
She goes on to describe the Minor Arcana as the “little cards” of the tarot, defining and describing the “microcosm” or personality in relation to the “macrocosm” or universe. Precursors of modern-day playing cards, the Minor Arcana are divided into suits symbolizing the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. What card players know as Clubs were originally Wands (fire). Hearts were Cups (water), spades were Swords (air) and diamonds were Discs or Pentacles (earth). Each tarot suit contains ten numbered cards in sequence and four ‘court’ or character cards. ... Instead of the hierarchical ordering of the medieval playing card characters— Kings, Queens, Jacks (or Knights, added later in tarot decks), we are replacing the face cards with empowered women at different stages of the life cycle.”
Daughter of Swords, Priestess of Swords and Shaman of Swords
© Motherpeace Tarot 1981
In the Minor Arcana cards of feminist Tarot decks created by our We’Moon contributors—that we are showcasing to illustrate various interpretations of the cards—the name of the Air element suit varies. It is known as the suit of Swords in traditional tarot decks (or Spades in playing card decks. . .dating back to the Italian Renaissance). The Motherpeace and the Tarot de St. Croix decks continue that tradition, using Swords to represent the air element. In the Daughters of the Moon and the Rainbow Earth tarot decks, the air element suit is called Blades, and Stories, respectively. The Dark Goddess Tarot deck sticks to the elements, themselves, as the names of suits. Given that We’Moon is a handbook in natural rhythm, grounded in earth-based women’s spirituality, the We’Moon Tarot deck will follow suit, using the actual earth elements as the names of the four suits in the Minor Arcana.
Ace of Stories © Rainbow Earth Tarot
2 of Swords © Tarot de St. Croix
Three of Blades © Daughters of the Moon 1991
Four of Swords © Motherpeace Tarot 1981
We begin our exploration of Minor Arcana choices for the We’Moon Tarot deck with the Air element in connection with the Star card theme of We’Moon 2017. The stars, shining through the vastness of time and space have inspired peoples all over the earth throughout time to connect the dots in their own way. . . to tell the stories of their people, to pass on cultural values, spiritual perspectives, and generally to give a big-picture view of their everyday lives.
Cosmic Whispers © Emily Kell 2014
Remembering Eternity © Autumn Sky 2012
The air element, in its most basic physical form, is the breath of life; in its most abstract form, it is the vehicle of human consciousness. It represents the power of the mind—to think, to create, to discern patterns, to understand, to reflect on and learn from experience, to envision and to remember. Like breathing in and breathing out, the air element is literally a vehicle of inspiration and creative expression. It includes both the holistic right brain capacity of the muse, the arts, intuition, imagination, mindfulness, wisdom— and the linear left brain capacity for rational thought, logical observation, interpreting meaning, intellectual abstraction, scientific evidence, knowledge.
But the spaciousness of the air element that enables abstraction, and the broader perspectives of open minds . . has a flip side. In human nature, the air element can also engender dissociation between mind, body, heart, spirit and soul within us, and between self and other in the world at large. This is particularly true in patriarchy where differences (even among the different elements in nature! ) are generally viewed in a hierarchy of good and bad, power-over and under. . .as if everything and everyone is caught up in a closed loop of adversarial relationships, endlessly competing for dominance and personal gain in a world order gridlocked in a zero-sum paradigm. How the power of the mind is used determines whether the air element acts as a vehicle for helping or harming, for creation or destruction—whether in holistic balance or out of synch with the many-faceted elemental weave of human experience.
The Son of Swords © Motherpeace Tarot 1981
Of all the suits in the Minor Arcana, as the traditional symbol of Swords implies, the Air element is particularly prone to these warring dynamics. This Son of Swords was intentionally left out of the line up of empowering face cards in the Motherpeace deck we started out with (see the Shaman, Priestess and Daughter of Swords, above). While we do not wish to draw attention to patriarchal images or energize the mis-use of power that is so prevalent in today’s world, it is nonetheless necessary to deal with that reality—in the We’Moon Tarot, as in real life. And behind the deceptively peaceful and pretty mask of the goddess Harionago, in our example of the 5 of Air, above (as described by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince in her Companion book to the Dark Goddess Tarot), is “the Japanese Spirit of Mischief and Mayhem: the situation is without honor. Engage at your peril.” How do we disengage while still being present with what is happening? …how to transform the energy rather than avoid adversity, the shadow side, what we don’t want to have to look at?
3 of Swords © Tarot de St. Croix
Three of Swords © Motherpeace Tarot 1981
3 of Air, Blue Dakini © Dark Goddess Tarot
The Illustrations of the 3 of Swords/Air/Stories, above, give a sense of the range of meanings any one card in the deck can have. How we deal with heart break, heavy conflict, attacks and defense…is up to us. Can we use the power of the mind to subdue the power of the ego, the monsters within and without that otherwise control us? Can we ground and listen deeply to one another in a group (as in the 3 of Stories here)? …or center our energies to facilitate a deep common focus (as in the 3 of Blades, in the above sequence)? The underlying question at hand is: how to create a We’Moon Tarot deck that empowers positive choices in our responses to whatever happens—without focusing on the negatives involved?
Tune in to next month’s We’Moon Tarot Forum for further exploration of the Air element suit in the Minor Arcana, and how to deal with the hard cards?!
See previous We'Moon Tarot Blog posts, HERE.
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The STAR card & the Air Element
We are now in the count-down of final Major Arcana cards in the Tarot deck that the annual themes of We’Moon are based on. ...