Why I Associate Wands with Air and Swords with Fire in My Tarot Decks
In the Mother Tarot and Dark Days Tarot decks, the suit of Wands is associated with the element of air and the suit of Swords is associated with the element of fire.
Many decks follow a different structure in that they associate the suit of Wands with fire and the suit of Swords with air. My choice to design my decks in the way that I did was influenced by my intuitive preference and the style of witchcraft that I learned.
I learned it this way first.
I learned the basics of a certain style of solitary witchcraft before I picked up a Tarot deck. I first studied through Ariel Gatoga’s, A Witch's Primer free online course wherein I learned to associate blades with fire and wands with air. So when I picked up a Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck (the world’s most well-known deck), I was confused when the cards associated wands with fire and swords with air.
I created my decks based on what felt right to me.
Some time ago, I came upon this thread and quote explaining swords/fire + wands/air associations that resonated with me:
"Some people ask me why I associate the wand with air instead of fire. There are two core reasons. One is that I feel that a ritual tool should not be something that can be destroyed by the element it represents. Put a wand in fire and it burns to ash.
The second reason, and more importantly, is its intimate air association. Trees (from which wands are made) 'breathe' in carbon dioxide and 'exhale' oxygen. So they make the very air we need for life!"
I see blades such as swords as forces of protection, power, destruction, transformation, and bravery, all things linking more intimately in my mind with fire than with air. Swords are also forged in fire and cannot be consumed by fire. In fact, swords become more powerful when heated, or in the “heat” of battle or conflict.
I see wands as extensions of choice, thought, focus, and creativity—all things more easily tied to air than fire. Wands are made of wood from a living, breathing tree.
Why does the Rider-Waite-Smith deck associate wands with fire/swords with air?
Rider Waite was a ceremonial magician, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn member. The Golden Dawn was a highly secretive 19th-century occult society heavily influenced by Freemasonry. Researchers Janet and Stewart Farrar speculated in their book, The Witches’ Way, that Waite switched the elemental associations in order to discreetly differentiate between members and nonmembers.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck is said to be based on the Tarot de Marseilles, a fifteenth-century deck with simple woodblock illustrations. It is unclear in this deck whether swords and wands are associated with air or fire, meaning these associations can be added by practitioners.
Here is an interesting video tutorial by Ariel on YouTube featuring the Tarot de Marseilles and an explanation of the suits and elements at around the 19:10 time mark.
When you think of astrological fire and air signs, do you think of blades or wands?
When I think of fire signs I think of will and leadership (Aries), pride and strength (Leo), and energy and independence (Sagittarius). Each of these themes align more closely with blades than wands, as blades are symbols of power, overcoming, triumph, responsibility, and sometimes de(con)structure.
When I think of air signs, I think intellect. Gemini is clever and inventive, Aquarius is visionary and original, and Libra is diplomatic and expressive. I link these energies more closely with wands as symbols of creativity and manifestation. A drawing pencil, sprig of herb, writing quill, wind instrument, etc.
Some say that relating the suit of swords to the fire element is too violent.
And to that, I respond: is our world not full of obstacles to overcome, challenges to take on, hardships and losses to endure? Chaos is constant in the universe, and as a tale of of the human story, the Tarot would be incomplete without a suit that “cuts” and represents challenges.
If we equate the challenging suit of swords with the mind or intellect, then we present the mind as the biggest challenge we face. As someone with mental illness, I have an intimate reason to agree with this sentiment, but the mind is so very many things, not a problem to dominate throughout life.
I don’t see the mind as the challenger so much as the conductor, just as a wand would be the conductor of my intent (mind), which is different from will (gut). I equate the suit of swords to the body’s ability to consume and use energy. This is why the King of Swords in the Mother Tarot represents the digestive system.
Can I read both ways?
There is no “correct” way to associate the elements in Tarot, and there are more than two ways creators have made elemental associations in their decks. It's a preferential and intuitive knowing that's individual to each deck creator and practitioner. And it's okay to like more than one set of associations.