Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card: Step 6 – Mode, Suit, Element

21ways to Read a Tarot Card Image

This week in Step 5 of Mary K. Greer’s book “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card“, we are working with Mode, Suit and Element. This step involves naming keywords for our chosen card that are related to each of these three aspects.


There are four modes in a Tarot deck and each has its own task in describing a situation in a reading. If you know which task goes with which mode, it can greatly help you to interpret the card. Mary outlines the four modes as follows:

Court Cards – Court Cards answer the question “Who?”
Number Cards (pips – 2 through 10) – The number cards answer the question “What?”
Major Arcana – The Major Arcana answer the question “Why”
Aces – Aces answer the question “Where”

For a more detailed explanation of each aspect of mode, refer to page 49 of the book.


We are then asked to select one to three keywords for our card, My card, The Seeker, is one of the Major Arcana and asks the question “Why?”. This mode describes a lesson we need to learn and expresses archetypal energies surrounding a situation. I came up with the following three key words for The Seeker card from The Gaian Tarot, for which we are asking the question “why”: An Adventure, a Pilgrimage, and a Quest

The Seeker1

The Seeker Card from the Gaian Tarot


There are four suits in a Tarot deck, but they are known by a variety of names. In the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, the suits are:


Each of the suits in Tarot are linked to an element. For example, in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (tradition developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) , the suits are linked to the following elements*:

Wands – Fire
Cups – Water
Swords – Air
Pentacles – Earth

Wands (Fire) and Swords (Air) are considered masculine energies whereas Cups (Water) and Pentacles (Earth) are considered to be feminine energies. Masculine energies tend to be active, outer and aggressive; feminine energies tend to be receptive, passive and inner.

As my card is one of the Major Arcana cards, there is not a suit associated with it. There is, however, an element associated with it, as there is for all of the Major Arcana cards. Below is one of the common associations for the Major Arcana (and one that I personally use):

TRUMPS – Suit & Astrological Association

0 The Fool – Air (Uranus)
1 The Magician – Air (Mercury)
2 The High Priestess – Water (Moon)
3 The Empress – Earth (Venus)
4 The Emperor – Fire (Aries)
5 The Hierophant – Earth (Taurus)
6 The Lovers – Air (Gemini)
7 The Chariot – Water (Cancer)
8 Strength – Fire (Leo)
9 The Hermit – Earth (Virgo)
10 Wheel of Fortune – Fire (Jupiter)
11 Justice – Air (Libra)
12 The Hanged Man – Water (Water/Neptune)
13 Death – Water (Scorpio)
14 Temperance – Fire (Sagittarius)
15 The Devil – Earth (Capricorn)
16 The Tower – Fire (Mars)
17 The Star – Air (Aquarius)
18 The Moon – Water (Pisces)
19 The Sun – Fire (Sun)
20 Judgment – Fire or Water (Fire/Pluto – I usually use Fire for this card)
21 The World – Earth (Earth/Saturn)

As we can see from the above list, my chosen card is associated with the element of air. Air represents our intellect, our mind, our thought process. It has to do with thinking, analyzing, learning, teaching, information, logical functions as well as communication of thoughts. Mary adds that Swords (or air, in this case) can represent a struggle to solve a problem.


For the exercise, we are asked to select one to three keywords that best express the qualities of the suit. For Air, I chose: thought, communication, and learning. We are then asked to choose one to three suit and/or elemental keywords or phrases to use with our chosen cards. For the The Seeker card, I used: desire for change, learning through adventure, dropping hesitation between thought and action.

Once we have determined first the mode and then the suit/element, we can then combine them into a meaningful sentence or phrase. I came up with:

Why: The Seeker (The Fool); I am taking this adventure to learn about myself and the world around me. Or perhaps “I no longer hesitate between what I think I ‘should’ do and what I want to do. I take the first step of my new beginning.”

While I have dipped a tad into the Adept section of this chapter, I wanted to briefly show the insight that one can attain by using the methods outlined in this chapter. A good starting point might be to examine each of the four modes and then apply the keywords to the rest of the cards in the deck. Once you feel comfortable with them, then delve into the suits and elements.

This chapter is rich in information (as well as Appendix C) so you may wish to spend some extra time with it. A good project would be to determine keywords for mode, suit and element for all of the cards in your deck. By learning a set of keywords for the mode and the suit/element for the cards in your deck, you can quickly arrive at an interpretation for a card.

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*The association with a card to an element can vary, depending on the deck. For instance, in some decks, Wands are associated with air and Swords are associated with Fire.

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