I’ve been getting into Tarot cards lately, and I’ve always been into Harry Potter, so it is only natural that eventually I was going to combine the two. The first thing you need to understand is that when I decide to pick up a new hobby, I commit. So when I decided to take up Tarot, knowing that it was an activity with a whole lot of history behind it, I did what any nerd would do and got a book. Specifically, Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Tarot Journey to Self-Awareness (A New Edition of the Tarot Classic). It is from this book that the connection between the elements and the suits of the Minor Arcana were laid out for me in depth, for all that I was passingly familiar due to Annie’s interest in Tarot cards. (Which I admit spurred some of my interest in learning to interpret them myself). I have to say, that while I found the book helpful, I wasn’t exactly impressed with the painfully binary treatment of gender or the dubious historiography, and its treatment of science made me cringe a few times. I think that there is a great deal of wisdom as the title implies, but I found certain sections disingenuous at best and harmful at worst.
This post isn’t a book review though, so let’s skip to the part where I talk about Harry Potter eh?
At this point, I’m still not super familiar with Tarot, and while I’m nowhere near an expert on the cards, I do like to think of myself as an expert on the Hogwarts houses. As I’ve mentioned to many people before, the examination of the world of Harry Potter has been extremely integral to my personal spiritual upbringing and frame of reference. Harry Potter filled the spiritual gap in my life when I was younger, and the framework of the Harry Potter universe (or at least my interpretation of that framework) has very much shaped the ways in which I interpret the world around me. I tend to somewhat automatically sort and shape all my actions and interactions into categories aligned with each Hogwarts house in the way that I imagine those who have a deep spiritual connection to the elements and to the Tarot do with those archetypes. So when I say that I want to examine the ways in which the cards, the elements, and the houses interact. I am doing so from a perspective that is, at least in the case of the Hogwarts houses, deeply and personally informed.
That said, I do not see any clear, one-to-one correlations, only the ways in which certain aspects of each archetype interact and how they overlap.
But Talia, What Do You Mean by “Elements”?
So, before I completely lose all of you and to make sure that we’re on the same page, let’s talk about the elements. When many people think about the elements, they think about the periodic table. And while obviously that’s not wrong, it’s also not what I’m talking about. When I say “elements” I’m talking about the four (or five, depending) classical elements. Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. (OK, now you might be thinking about Avatar the Last Airbender, but it’s not exactly that either, though it’s really not that far off). The fifth element, that not as many people are familiar of is the Spirit or Ether. (If you’re thinking about the Infinity Stones right now you’re also not exactly right, but I appreciate your nerdiness). I’m marrying a scientist, and my mother has a PhD in biology, so trust that I know that, scientifically, the classical elements aren’t actually what modern science calls elements. But (for the purposes of this post) what modern science calls elements doesn’t matter, because right now we’re speaking the language of modern witchcraft, and in modern witchcraft to refer to the elements is to refer to archetypes or categories of experience, rather than indivisible chemical substances. Though, if we did want to bring science into things, it’s worth mentioning also that the four classical elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire correspond to the four naturally occurring states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma. These categories that the physical world fall into serve as a symbolic language, with which to categorize and discuss our emotional and spiritual experience.
What Do the Elements Have to Do with Tarot Cards?
Just because I’m really into Tarot cards lately doesn’t mean everyone is, so to give you the quick and dirty version, a traditional Tarot deck has 78 cards, which includes 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Major Arcana represent archetypes of human existence and are a super huge deal, and they include all the big players that people tend to associate with Tarot cards, like the Fool, the High Priestess, Death, the Lovers, etc. The Major Arcana are awesome (in both the original and the colloquial sense of the word) and they represent the Spirit/Ether, but since that doesn’t really have a parallel with the four Hogwarts houses they aren’t the point of this post, so I’m going to stop talking about them now. (Sorry Major Arcana I love you and I’ll write a post about you soon!)
The Minor Arcana are where we get to talking about the four classical elements because they are the ones with alignments (and ~controversy~). The Minor Arcana is 56 cards, divided into four suits, with each suit containing four court cards and ten numbered cards. What the court cards are called generally varies, but the traditional names for them are King, Queen, Knight, and Page. The four suits are Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles (originally and occasionally still Coins). Cups are aligned with Water, Pentacles with Earth, and Wands and Swords swap Fire and Air depending on who you talk to. There are complications abound, but I’ll get into the necessary ones in the next section, and elaborate on others in further posts (and y’all can do your own research in the meantime and we can swap notes later 😊).
What Do the Elements Have to Do with Hogwarts?
Now, there is a traditional understanding of how the elements correspond to the different Hogwarts houses. This understanding, which is officially recorded on the Hogwarts Houses page on the Harry Potter Wikia, is that Gryffindor corresponds to Fire, Hufflepuff corresponds to Earth, Ravenclaw corresponds to Air, and Slytherin corresponds to Water. This understanding is echoed throughout the fandom, appearing in fanfictions galore, but I want to challenge it, because, when considering how these elements align with the Tarot, I disagree.
If we take Pollack’s description of the cards and the elements as a baseline (which I am because I have read very little literature on the Tarot that goes into this depth) than Water/Cups is much better suited to Hufflepuff. Pollack describes Water/Cups as being aligned with love, friendship, joy, and reflection, which are all extremely Hufflepuffian sentiments. Furthermore, Pollack’s characterization of the passivity of Water as consistency rather than weakness is also clearly linked Hufflepuff’s status as the house of loyalty. In such a way, there is no doubt in my mind that Water/Cups is uniquely suited to Hufflepuff.
Where, then, would I put Slytherin? Well, I first considered Slytherin and Gryffindor both, as two sides of the same coin, candidates for Fire/Wands, but upon reflection decided that Pollack’s characterization of Fire/Wands as action, movement, optimism, and adventure really was the epitome of Gryffindor. Slytherin, I instead placed within Pollack’s description of Air/Swords, which she characterized with the traits of conflict and negative emotions, combined with wisdom and the desire for truth via intellect (which I read as ambition). Furthermore, Pollack isn’t the only authority on Tarot cards, and beyond my personal feelings about this, further support for Slytherin’s placement with Swords lies within Cassandra Snow’s Queering the Tarot, which notes that, while Fire/Wands is a suit geared toward fighting, so is Air/Swords. Swords in particular is suited toward fighting with words, intellect, and cunning (a key trait of Slytherin house). Placing Slytherin and Gryffindor the way I do also furthers my argument that they are two sides of the same coin, because while Pollack and Snow both align Fire with Wands and Air with Swords, there are those who reverse this alignment.
For those of you who can deduce from what is left over, this places Ravenclaw with Pentacles/Earth. In my original analysis this happened by accident of the other houses and elements being used up, and I was slightly resentful, because as a beginner in Tarot the suit of Pentacles was an absolute dud for me, and I had trouble connecting and fitting it within my framework. I had instead decided that Ravenclaw just got spread between the other suits. This was a little rude of me, so my deepest apologies to Pentacles/Earth. It took me some time, but I eventually came around to Pentacles, and it clicked for me that of course this was the suit/element for Ravenclaw. Pollack characterizes Pentacles as having aspects of stability, business, and routine, which, yeah, fine, I’m sure Ravenclaws have those. But the best thing about Pentacles, and what really connects them to Ravenclaw, is their magical aspect. Pentacles are magic, and they represent the beauty of nature, the firm reality of the world, and one that does not lead easily to confusion or misconception. When I think of Pentacles now, I think of the most prominent Ravenclaw, Luna Lovegood. She is seen as “Loony” but in actuality she is one of the most grounded characters. She believes in what no one else does, sure, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong, it just means she sees the world in a more imaginative way. Luna is perceptive, kind, and strong in a way that never falters.
I should stop myself before this post just becomes a love letter to Luna Lovegood. (Though would that really be such a bad thing?)
What Does This All Mean?
Here I am, flouting years of tradition in the Harry Potter fandom, and to what end? So what? Why does this matter?
Well, for those of us (namely me) who have their entire spiritual frameworks built around Harry Potter and Neopagan practice, it means quite a lot to understand how the elements and how the elements fit into our lives. And for those of us (also me) who are just nerds and like talking about Harry Potter a new fan theory is always a delight, especially because even though the original source really needs to just stop and leave us alone (#sorrynotsorry if that’s an unpopular opinion) talking about Harry Potter and coming up with new frameworks gives endless gifts. There is always something new to learn by examining the text and our relationship with it and I fucking love that.
Undergoing this particular study has helped me understand more about myself, because I identify strongly as a Slytherin and I’ve held that in concert with the idea that slytherin is affiliated with Water, which makes a great deal of sense to me as a Pisces. And yet when examining the houses in this framework my affiliation with Water is put to Hufflepuff and as a Slytherin I’m combined with Air. As someone afraid of heights, this felt uncomfortable and not particularly accurate. As I began to get more introspective, I realized that I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of being unsafe. And people call me Hufflepuff all the time, which, let me be clear, is not an insult, but I have been so firm in my belief that I am a Slytherin that I did not allow myself to explore my potential traits as a Hufflepuff, because that simply didn’t fit in with the frameworks I had set up.
As you can tell, I find this topic deeply relevant, and I decided to share it with y’all because hopefully other people will find it meaningful and relevant too. Exploring the houses in this way has allowed me to see different facets of myself that I hadn’t appreciated the potential for in previous introspections, and my hope is that I can help others in similar ways, and if not I can at the very least provide entertainment. 😘
Edit: Please read my posts Hogwarts Pride: A Meditation on my Relationship with Harry Potter, Fandom, and Queer Identity from 6/8/2020 Words are Weapons: Nonbinary Trans Thoughts About J.K. Rowling from 9/15/2020 and Why fanfiction is the only Harry Potter content for me from 5/12/2021 for more updated thoughts on Harry Potter.
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