Alchemical Study Group - The Elements


I'm starting this thread up because I feel a way is needed to understand one of the core subjects in The Alchemical Tarot--the Elements--that are not talked about in other places in a whole rather than small bites.

There was an interesting question asked by sapienza to me why I placed the Elements in the order I did, and why I differed from the order Robert M. Place put them in.

kenny said:
Water is the lowest element and Fire the highest. Between them, and in order, are Earth and Air.
sapienza said:
In this deck Place orders the suits Earth, Water, Air then Fire though.
kenny said:
He puts them in order of material -> spiritual if I recall correctly; however I'm placing them in a different order.

My reasoning behind my ordering of the elements is based upon the Square of Opposition. As water flows down it is placed at the bottom of the square. Fire rises--or at least its heat does--and so it gets placed at the top.

These two Elements are the 'pure'--or something like that--hence the downward triangle for Water and upward triangle for Fire. Between these two are the 'children'--again not the correct term--and these are Earth and Air. As Earth has the downwards triangle with line I placed that after Water. Air then follows as it has an upward triangle with line.
sapienza said:
Thats an interesting way of looking at the elements, thanks for sharing. It makes the symbols (ie. the triangles with and without the lines) make a bit more sense actually.

I have also seen another order of Elements (on a 17th century picture about energy centres) which places them: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air (upward, downward; downward line, upward line).


I came back to post some more information about Elements. Sadly I'm off for the next couple of days and have packed my reading material--including my books on alchemy. So I'll have to leave this discussion to others and I'll join in when I get back!


[size=+1]Basic primer to the Elements[/size]

There are five elements: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Quintessence

All matter emerges from varying portions of the four roots of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.

The signs indicate the primary (Fire and Water); the secondary (Air and Earth), the expanding, outward reaching, (Fire and Air); and the inward, downward Water and Earth.

These Elements are animated through the interaction of two great powers (Yin/Yang, Queen/King).

The Elements are not static and could transform into each other: Water freezes becoming like Earth, yet it can become Air when evaporates.

At the centre of each element is a heavenly Element which was created out of the First Matter by the Creator--it is this heavenly Element that that I believe the Aces signify, the pure essence of the suit.


From the little I've read about the elements, there are more than one ways to look at their relationships and 'order'. There's an interesting discussion on the elements and alchemy here. The order Kenny mentions would be seeing them as progressing from lower to higher, or from Cold to Hot. The other would be the rotation of the elements.

Do you think the King and Queen are related to what the text I linked to above refers to as Strife and Love following Empedocles?


Thanks for the link to that article elvenstar. It looks really interesting. I just have to find some time to read it and then I'll come back with comments. I must say in the past I've always gone with the same order for the elements.... Fire, Water, Air, Earth. (which is the opposite of the way I see the order of the elements in Astrology). Working with this deck and seeing that Robert Place orders them differently has been good because I've started playing around with it myself. Now I'm actually more comfortable with the order Earth, Air, Water, Fire. It just feel right to me. I'm looking forward to reading that article though. Thanks again.


There's another article/lesson here on elements:

Thanks for the article elvenstar I'll read it later.

The order Earth, Water, Air, Fire is to do with the base elements being at the centre of the circle leading to the more subtle as they go out.


From the Book

The Minor Arcana of the Alchemical Tarot is composed of four suits--coins, vessels, swords and staffs--each of which has 10 pip cards and four court cards. Each suit, number and court person has its own associations and symbolic meanings. In addition, each card bears a different alchemical image, thus adding depth to the interpretations possible. Suit and numerical/court meanings are traditional. In the Alchemical Tarot, coins are comparable to the pentacles suit of the Rider-Waite deck, and vessels to cups. In the court cards, a lady has replaced the page.


Coins: The material world, acquisitions of weath and possessions; our connection to the Earth and Nature; matters pertaining to the physical plane; the element of earth.

Vessels: Emotions, love, pleasures in life; matters pertaining to the unconscious, intuition and inner planes; the element of water.

Swords: Reason, energy, logic, will, courage, boldness; matters pertaining to survival in the world, and to struggle; the element of air.

Staffs: Inspiration, energy, hope, optimism, enterprise, ambition; matters pertaining to the "spark of life;" the element of fire.

Always Wondering

Kenny said:
Basic primer to the Elements

There are five elements: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Quintessence

At the centre of each element is a heavenly Element which was created out of the First Matter by the Creator--it is this heavenly Element that that I believe the Aces signify, the pure essence of the suit.

Is this what Quintessence is?



Always Wondering said:
Is this what Quintessence is?

Quintessence is the fifth element which binds all others together into a perfect whole. It is the spirit, chi, life force.


In Alchemical Psychology Thom F. Cavalli, Ph.D. has created this Elemental Association table

[size=+1]Thom Cavalli's Elemental Association Table[/size]
Element Chemical   Physical      Humours    Psychological Imaginary
Air     gas        space-time    hot-moist  thinking      sylphs
Water   liquid     energy-motion cold-moist feeling       mermaids
Earth   matter     energy-space  cold-dry   sensate       gnomes
Fire    combustion time-motion   hot-dry    intuition     salamanders

There are parts which are different than what you normally expect in tarot (Intuition for Wands rather than Vessels) but it might give this deck another interesting twist.

I have not finished the book yet but am highly recommending it to all.