I have felt for some time that air is a quite misunderstood element, or at least a lopsidedly represented element.

I always learnt from books that the element of air was represented by the suit of swords in the tarot (though a minority of authors say it should be wands, and a few packs show it that way). As a suit, swords have the grimmest reputation by far in the tarot, traditional interpretations running the range of strain, conflict, illness, separations, mental torture, up to all kinds of disaster and death, with some respite for solitude and recuperation, and passage out of danger. A lot of commentators since the 70s have given a lot more wiggle room to make those cards more human and workable, but it’s pretty hard to make sword cards positive without being a bit philosophical about it.

Maybe it would be better to say the suit of swords deals with conflict, its causes and issues, but the association with air is still there. In some ways it is easy to see how, for structures of thought underpin enmity and the pursuance of trouble, the perpetuation and justification of conflict. And the old chestnut of mind being “the slayer of the real” does have something to it. Anyone susceptible to worry and a bit of paranoia (and that is basically the human race) would have to agree with that once they have calmed down. Anyone who has even listened to the ideologically driven will also recognize the link between the more fixed forms of air consciousness and the sharp, pointy, metal things.

There’s no doubt that air can be trouble. But there is another side to air which is really beautiful, light, subtle and freeing.  It doesn’t suffer glamour, it sees straight through illusions, and it chooses freedom. It facilitates peace, and it is genuinely honest and principled. It is a great equalizer, and it frees from identification. Not only that, but it gives us our capacity to negate, to think and imagine differently. I think that is a capacity which can be at its greatest when its touch is lightest.

That sylph takes everything back to when all the swords were sheathed, the sky clear, and there simply is nothing to forgive. It is I think part of what people commonly mean when they refer to something as “angelic”.

That lightness, clarity and subtlety is also a quality of air.

altered public domain image, derived from the painting “Golden Angel” by Teodor Axentowicz, via Wikimedia Commons


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