Why I Associate Wands with Air and Swords with Fire in My Tarot Decks
I would like to begin by saying I think it's important to read with multiple decks depending on the situation. As an eclectic witch, or one who pulls from various kinds of witchcraft, pagan, and wiccan religions, I see the value in exploring wands as both air and fire and swords as the same.
To all of us, they lean a certain way but they are both and can be read as both. Nature is fractal and multilayered. All of the elements can be related to all of the tools in some manner and they all interact, as they do in nature.
In the end of all debates regarding this topic, it always comes down to personal preference. Especially as a solitary practitioner of witchcraft.
The popular Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot associates the Suit of Wands with fire and the Suit of Swords with air.
My decks, the Mother Tarot and Dark Days Tarot, are different in that they (mostly) associate Wands with air and Swords with fire, but again, these suits interact and blend in many ways.
My choice to design my decks with these pairings was based on my initiate ideas about witchcraft (old habits die hard) and my honest intuitive preference.
I first learned about witchcraft through Ariel Gatoga’s podcast, A Witches Primer (which is now a free online course). I learned to associate the athame* (a small ceremonial blade) with fire, and wands with air.
I later learned that this kind of magic resembles the teachings of Gerald Gardner, the creator of the Gardinerian Wiccan religion. Because I learned these practices first, I now hold space for many Wiccan beliefs out of learned and ingrained instincts.
Ehen I picked up a Waite Smith Tarot deck later in my studies, I was confused when the cards associated Wands with fire and Swords with air.
I had to create my decks based on what felt right to me.
I see blades, swords, etc., as forces of protection, power, destruction, transformation, and bravery, all things linking more intimately in my mind with fire than with air.
I see wands primarily 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 that creates oxygen for breath. They are more gentle than blades, as air can also be thought of as more subtle and gentle than flame in some ways.
I also see wands as both fire and air because those elements feed each other so intimately, and magic involves will in addition to intellect. Magic and sparks are easily associated, and wands are used for "conducting" magical intent, much like fiery electricity is conducted.
I see a lot of arguments against the fire/sword association because the element is deemed more negative, and because I hold space for traditional witchcraft beliefs that honor the powers of destruction as ultimately transformative, necessary, and healing modalities, I see this as a limitation in thought and reason.
Forces of destruction and suffering are a natural and constant part of life, and because the Tarot honors life in its totality, these challenges/"negativities" belong in its system.
Negativity is a subjective concept. And any seasoned deck collector and Tarot practictioner will admit that the Suit of Swords is overall more challenge-focused than the four other other minor suits in a great many decks, and swords are arguably the most primarily defense-oriented tool as well.
I do, however, also vibe with the sword/air correspondence. As a magical tool, a blade feels very legitimate as a tool to "cut" the air when casting a circle or representing, and a blade linking with a sharp intellect makes sense. A sharp intellect can confront the challenges inherent in the Suit of Swords.
When it comes to associations, swords could relate to fire and wands air, or the other way around with ease, and while I am trained and ingrained in the former, I chose to blend the elements in my decks to accommodate both ideas.
Researchers Janet and Stewart Farrar speculated in their book, The Witches’ Way, that Rider Waite—ceremonial magician, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn member, and publisher of the Waite Smith Tarot released false information in order to prevent the public from practicing magic correctly.
The Golden Dawn was a highly secretive 19th century occult society heavily influenced by Freemasonry. It’s members were curious about pagan witchcraft and adopted it for themselves, but they were not the originators of earth-based religion, nor were they the original Tarot creators.
During the Roman Empire and Middle Ages, the word pagan meant “from the sticks,” and referred to rural people who were not Christian. Today Paganism encompasses a number of modern sects and beliefs including witchcraft, and is associated with the use of tools like astrology and divination.
The origins of the Tarot are unknown, but many say that divination cards were brought to Europe by the Romani people of northern India before becoming widely popular.
The Waite Smith deck is based on the Tarot de Marseilles, a fifteenth century deck with simple wood block illustrations. It is unclear in this deck whether swords and wands are associated with air or fire, meaning these associations could have been added by later practitioners.
There are more than two ways creators have made elemental associations in their decks. The 1907 Eudes Picard Tarot associates swords with water.
Can I read Tarot cards both/all different kinds of elemental associations?
Yes! The easiest way to practice opening up to new elemental layers of thinking in magic is to seek unconventional decks and lean into the individual design of each. Just as I can switch from using a Tarot deck to an oracle deck, I can switch from Dark Days or Mother to a Waite-Smith deck with a little resituating. These experiences develop me as a philosophical witch and citizen of the multiverse.
Lots of deck creators make “non-traditional” associations when designing their cards, and I count myself one of them, although I'd like to again dress that I layer the elements in both the Sword and Wand suits. I imagine those who are attracted to my decks also feel attracted to the associations I have made, and may be apt to lean into eclectic witchcraft from time to time.
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*Please note: Athames are small and are used for ceremonial purposes. Swords are symbols of responsibility, bravery, power, and self-defense. When reading with Dark Days or Mother, allow the “sword” symbol to encompass blades of all kinds.