Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card: Step 14: Dignity and Theme


This week in Step 14 of Mary K. Greer’s book “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card“, we are looking at the idea of Dignity and Theme; that is to say, how the meanings of a card are influenced by the other cards present in the reading.  A card’s meaning can be strengthened, reduced, brought into focus or opposed by the other cards in the spread.  Thus, we look for similarities and differences among the cards.

Similarities and Differences

To get us started, Mary asked us to use a 3-card spread, with one of the cards being our chosen card, and then to look at the similarities and differences between them.

The Seeker card from the Gaian Tarot image

The Seeker card from the Gaian Tarot

The cards I drew for this exercise were:  The Seeker (my chosen card, numbered 0), Nine of Water, Nine of Earth.

First the similarities.  There is a human figure in each of the three cards, who all appear female (although it is possible that the figure in the Nine of Water could be male), suggesting that these cards have something to do with being open and receptive (often considered feminine qualities).  Two of the cards are “Nine” cards, signifying that a cycle is coming to an end.  The presence of water in each of the three cards suggests that emotions play an important part here.  In The Seeker card and the Nine of Earth, both of the women are wearing blue clothing and the Nine of Earth and The Seeker cards feature a blue sky.  Blue often symbolizes emotional issues or a high consciousness – a connection in the divine. It is also daytime in all three of the cards, which may point to issues of which we are conscious.

Now the differences.  Two of the women are facing away from us and one is facing toward us.  The two with their back towards us may point to unknown (or unconscious) issues or lessons yet to be learned – perhaps even walking away from something.  The woman who is facing us seems to be able to “face” her issues head on and perhaps has reached the end of this particular journey.  In the Nine of Water card, the image is dark, perhaps suggesting shadow issues or lessons yet to be experienced.  Although the extremely bright light could represent enlightenment and mastery; and her back toward us may instead suggest that she has turned away from the mundane and is embracing spirit.  Her open arms, as opposed to the other two cards, reinforce this.


In Tarot, suits are often described as being either “friendly” or “unfriendly” with each other, often referred to as “Elemental Dignities”, which Mary discusses in detail in the “Adept” section of the chapter.  For example, cards of the same suit are always considered friendly and reinforce each other.  Water and Fire (Cups and Wands in many decks) are considered unfriendly, and weaken each other.

There are several types of dignities however, that you can take into consideration when looking at a spread:

  • Suit – Cards of the same suit intensify their qualities.  For example, Cups and Pentacles are both considered feminine and support each other.  Likewise, Wands and Swords are considered masculine and support each other as well.
  • Element– Elements are either friendly or unfriendly to each other.  Water and Fire are considered unfriendly, as are Earth and Air.
  • Number – Cards of the same number stress the characteristics of that number.  In my 3-card draw above, the 2 “Nines” suggest that something may be completing its cycle.
  • Sequence – Is the sequence of the cards in ascending order (2, 3, 4) or descending order (8, 7 6)?  This might indicate whether or not progress is being made towards a goal or desire.
  • Location – Here, Mary talks about the location of the card in the spread.  For instance, a sword in the “Mind” position can be auspicious, whereas a sword in the “Body” position could suggest challenges or difficulties.
  • Astrology – For those of you adept in astrology, you can also look at the astrological dignities between the cards.
  • Symbols – Looking at similar and different symbols, color and shapes between the cards can suggest similarities and differences in meaning.

In the next activity, Mary has us look at the dignities in our 3-card spread.  Some of the dignities that I noticed were as follows:

  • Two of the cards are “Nines”, suggesting the ending of a cycle
  • Each of the card is a different suit – Air (The Seeker), Water and Earth.  It’s interesting to note that Fire is missing.
  • The image of water is present in each card
  • There is running water in two of the cards that does not move in a straight line
  • Each card has either a friendly or neutral card next to it
  • The figure is each of the three cards is a woman
  • The figure in two of the cards has her back turned toward us
  • We have one card signifying the beginning of a cycle (0) and two cards signifying the end of a cycle (9).
  • The 0 card is the leftmost card in the spread
  • The clothing worn by two of the woman is almost entirely blue
  • Two of the women have something in their hands (The Seeker and the Nine of Earth)

One can come to many more conclusions looking at the dignities of the cards.  Just taking the numbers into consideration, what jumps out at me is that the person is beginning a new journey and there are two possible paths to follow.  Of course, the interpretation would depend on the client’s question.

In the Way of the Adept section, Mary discusses Themes and Elemental Dignities in much more detail.  I highly recommend that you read through this as applying dignities can really add a deeper level to your readings.  I will post an article on using Elemental Dignities in a future post.

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