The universe shuffled in a deck of cards

Attributions of wands/air and swords/fire

Here is the basic story, what do you think?

In 1910, Arthur Edward Waite published his book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot and his “Rider-Waite” Tarot deck. Waite was a Kabbalist and a member of the Golden Dawn magical lodge. His was the first deck to give all seventy-eight cards unique illustrations, and the first to draw associations between the Tarot and the Kabbalah. The Rider-Waite deck became he most popular and influential Tarot ever created, and its influences are seen in the vast majority decks available today.

However, Waite’s membership in the Golden Dawn included an oath of secrecy, so he hesitated to reveal too much in his deck or accompanying book. He decided to switch two of the elemental correspondences in order to preserver his oath. He couldn’t very well change the association of Cups to Water, since that’s a pretty obvious one, and Pentacles are mostly depicted as coin - and again the association between money and Earth is straightforward and obvious. But Swords and Wands are abstract tools, that were not in common usage at the turn of the last century. The Golden Dawn associated Air with Wands and Fire with Swords, so Waite reversed these two and filled his deck with Fiery Wands and Airy Swords.

If you’re a Tarot reader who has used Waite’s deck or a Waite-derived deck, it’s hard to break the mental picture of Air/Sword and Fire/Wand. Every Wand in Waite’s deck has little flames, salamanders, and orange colors, and every Sword has prominent clouds, sylphs, and a lot of light blue. Perhaps because most Witches read the Tarot, most associate the sword, or athame, with Air.

On the other hand, the original associate used by the Golden Dawn and others makes a good deal of sense. The Sword is the stronger and more destructive tool, and Fire is more destructive than Air. The Wand is the tool of the intellectual magician, but the Sword is the tool of the willful warrior (Fire is associated with will). Once you get to know the tools, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that a person wielding a Sword means business (has will), but a person holding a Wand might still be just thinking it over.

 - The Way of Four Spellbook, Deborah Lipp


One other point: in the presentation of the symbols of the elements, we attribute the Wand to Air, and the Sword to Fire. This is the tradition which we follow – but others attribute the Wand to Fire and the Sword to Air. The Wand/Fire, Sword/Air attribution was a deliberate ‘blind’ perpetrated by the early Golden Dawn, which has unfortunately not yet died a natural death; it seems to us contrary to the obvious nature of the tools concerned. However, many people have been brought up to believe that the ‘blind’ was the genuine tradition, so that by now, for them, it feels right.
~ J. & S. Farrar, A Witches Bible Complete, Part 1: The Sabbats, pg. 161


The only notable exception to Golden Dawn practice is the reversal of the ascription of two magical weapons back to the traditional grimoire ascription of the Sword to Fire and the Wand to Air. In addition, several well known and acknowledged 'blinds' have been silently removed, as we no longer live in the prudish atmosphere of Victorian England.
 - Complete Magician's Tables


As described in most books on the Tarot, the element associated with wands is fire. Some traditions associate wands with air, but this was due to historical inaccuracy from a source within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the early 1900's - unfortunately, this mistake stuck in some traditions, even after official documents from The Golden Dawn - showing the actual attributions of wands/fire and swords/air - were released for general publication
 - Don Mcleod

    • Neither

      By Neither

      Logic for wands/air and swords/fire:

      • Fire needs air in which to burn or it will snuff out
      • wands grow in air, swords are created in fire (burned by wood)
      • one can direct the fire with the air element, control it
      • wands are about passion and drive and creativity
      • Fire has the power to create or destroy. Sword is about destruction. One needs will to create.
      • Passion is a driving force in in one's life. Many times a sword is drawn and driven in the name of passion.
      • The sword is mental, a brain function that can be seen as transmitting information by an 'electrical' charge.
      • wood is related to breathing, air of breath
      • An archetypal wizard-with-wand tends to solve problems first mentally rather than attacking it physically with a sword

      Logic against wands/air and swords/fire

      • Swords are cold steel (air is cool)
      • you can be consumed by passion (fire burns wood), though makes fire sound extremely dangerous
      • fire lights darkness (unknown)
      • Swords are about cutting -- making decisions, paring away what is inaccurate or no longer useful -- and yes, piercing to the "heart" of a matter, using intellect to finding the core issue at hand. Then again cutting with a sword is harsh and swift.
      • wands may look more phallic than swords

      The meaning of most cards from the sword-suite sound like they are associated with fire:

      • Ace of Swords: Battle
      • Two of Swords: Choice. When one makes a choice, one goes with passion or uses intellect
      • Three of Swords: Jealousy, heartache
      • Four of Swords: Rest
      • Five of Swords: Cheating
      • Six of Swords: Movement forwards. Fire!
      • Seven of Swords: Theft. Theft is related to fire.
      • Eight of Swords: Trapped by thoughts and perspective. Self-imposed boundaries. Too much Air.
      • Nine of Swords: Cruelty
      • Ten of Swords: Ruin, despair, backstabbing.

      For me, Swords, in their entirety, are fiery objects. When the coldness of the steel or the sharpness of the blade only is considered, then it is precisely only that aspect - which is Air-like - which is being considered.

      Likewise, Staffs, as entire objects, are Wisdom-filled aery objects. When considering their smaller versions as Wands and the way these can be used in focussing or directing energy, then it is this fiery aspect only being considered at the time.

      If the image obtained is of a Fiery Sword, then it is this whole aspect which, in my opinion, needs to be included. That some decks have followed Golden Dawn or Waite elemental attributions remains those decks' allocations - not a reflection of the essence of the elements nor of the implements.
       - jmd