Are is probably one of the most mysterious of the four traditional western elements. It is an invisible force that for most of human history we had little to no understanding of. In the Tarot, the suit of swords is often most associated with air dealing with concepts of ideas, plans, thoughts, and challenges. In medieval times the air was often thought to be the carrier of plague and disease that was carried on the wind in foul miasmas.
Within the Tarot, we see little representation of air but in the cases we do see it visually depicted it urges us to heed its symbolic meanings. Clouds, wind, and storms can all be found within the images in the traditional Raider Waite Smith tarot, and if you know how to unlock these symbols it can bring a whole new level of understanding and meaning to your readings.
Although today, thanks to the wonders of science, we know that clouds and smoke are basically collected masses of particles, be it carbon or water, suspended in the air, however in ancient times, these two things were visual representations of air, it gave air shape and form and allowed people to to actually see the great invisible element. Clouds appear in many of the cards within the Rider Waite Smith tarot deck. Each ace portrays a hand protruding from a cloud holding their respective representation of the suit. We see different kinds of clouds throughout many of the different cards that represent different things so how do we know what each of these brings to the table in a reading?
Clouds often appear as a sign or a symbol of revelation, especially in the case where limbs randomly pop out of them with something in hand to give to you or a figure in the scene. These clouds often appear as fluffy white clouds you might see on a sunny day out reminding you of the positive association of the message conveyed before you. This, much like the symbolism of fog, conveys the idea of mysteries being revealed or given to you from the divine as they push through the veil between this world and theirs.
Clouds can also be symbolic of the idea of an idea or thought being formed or generated. We see these ideas astutely represented in key IV - The Lovers. In the card clouds divide the scene between that of our world, and that of the divine, but they also grow between the two figures in the scene alluding to the growing relationship betwixt them. Likewise in the Judgement card we see the clouds again divide the scene between this world and that of the divine as the angel sounds the horn of the final judgment. In this case the clouds not only act as this dividing line between worlds but as an indication of the revelation that there is more to life than that of just what has transpired and that each of us can once again be reborn much like the ancient legend of the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Storms & Wind
Storms are another manifestation of air. The wind blows, thunder and lightning light up the sky, and clouds turn from light, happy, and fluffy to dark, foreboding, and ominous.
The depiction of storm clouds within a card symbolizes rapid movement and change. It can
also symbolize a warning, that if one is not careful in making choices, making hasty decisions can lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. We can see examples of this in cards like the Knight of Swords, and the Five of Sowrds respectively. In the knight of swords the clouds are now very angular and jagged and have turned rather grey. They showcase the haste and speed behind the Knight of Swords decision making, as well as his aggressive nature. The trees in the background bend under the forces of a strong gale of wind too showcasing the power behind this card and the swiftness in which the Knight of Swords leaps into action ready for battle.
We see a similar style of cloud depicted on the Five of Swords also indicating the end of the storm and the outcome resulting in loss, degradation, and destruction. Much akin to the storm we see depicted in the Three of Swords, and more prominently in key XVI - The Tower. In each of theses cases the storm indicates to us the destructive quality of nature and air, and how in the flash of a bolt of lightning, or sudden gust of wind, it can change everything.
As you explore the Tarot and the meanings locked within the clouds of symbolism I encourage you to look for the symbol of air, and pay close attention to what it is trying to tell you. Want to know more? Check out the live mini-class that I did live over on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/w6VS6xQC9ek
Chang, T. Susan. Tarot Correspondences: Ancient Secrets for Everyday Readers. Llewellyn Pulbications, 2018.
Dean, Liz. The Ultimate Guide to Tarot: a Beginners Guide to the Cards, Spreads, and Revealing the Mystery of the Tarot. Fair Winds Press, 2015.
Gardner, Helen, et al. Gardners Art through the Ages. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991. Katz, Marcus. Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot: the True Story of the Worlds Most Popular Tarot: with Previously Unseen Photography & Text from Waite & Smith. Llewellyn Publications, 2015.
Wen, Benebell. Holistic Tarot. North Atlantic Books, 2015. Images Sourced From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Public_domain_image_resources