Discovering the suits: The Wands in tarot

Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc

By Sarah Taylor

HE-llo, bayyyyyyyyyybeee! — Van Halen

Last week, I started out our exploration of the tarot suits with Swords. As I pointed out, Swords are not the conventional place to start, but given that exploration involves analysis, and analysis is thought, then Swords were fitting as our first subject.

Ace of Wands - RWS Tarot deck.
Ace of Wands from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck. Wands are the suit associated with creativity and fire. Click on the image for a larger version.

This week, it is the turn of Wands — traditionally the first suit in the tarot’s minor arcana (the 56 cards of the tarot deck that are based on a traditional pack of playing cards). There is a good reason why Wands come first, which is to do with the quality of experience that they represent. Nevertheless, today’s choice is useful in another sense: Your writer is coming down with a cold, feeling unduly sorry for herself, and is going to be invoking a fair whack of Wands energy to ensure that this article reaches you as coherently as possible.

Back to why Wands come first in the minor arcana. If the suits reflect the process of manifestation — bringing something into tangible reality — then Wands are the kicking off of that process. They are the least tangible of the suits, and considerably harder to describe than the others in terms of the quality they embody. But let me give it a go. We’ll start with the other suits first as a recap.

Cups are emotions — they are the feelings that we get about something, and they direct us ‘towards’ or ‘away’ depending on what is being felt. For example, if we feel love, we are attracted to the object of our love; if we feel fear, we are repelled from the object of our fear. (Though I am at pains to point out here that whether this means that we ultimately meet with or avoid that object, is another matter entirely. The human psyche is a complex creature.)

Swords are the thoughts that emanate from our emotions. Have you ever woken up in a bad mood and found yourself thinking darkly about how crap life can be, how winter should really be on its way out now, how you’d prefer to stay in bed? That’s an example of thought predicated on emotion. Both are interdependent, driving each other — as do all of the tarot suits.

Finally, Pentacles are the physical manifestation of your thoughts and emotions. You get out of bed, grumbling inwardly about how cold it is, so preoccupied with this thought that you stub your toe on the way to the bathroom. That is the interplay of Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.

Wands are more challenging to hold and to understand because they are intangible by nature. They can and do become tangible as we move through the suits, but they are different from the other suits in one key way: they are neutral. Wands energy is not concerned with how we feel, how we think, how we experience our reality because, in its purest form (embodied by the Ace of Wands), it precedes all three. Wands energy is simply there for the harnessing.

To get an idea of Wands energy, sit still for a moment. Now direct your mind towards getting up out of your chair, as if you’re just about to stand up. But don’t stand up. Can you feel the potential of what you were about to do? It’ll be situated in your gut — it is visceral. That is Wands energy. It has no particular opinion on anything; it is objectively available.

Now, let’s move it on up through one suit and combine it with Cups. If you’ve ever fallen in love, you will have experienced this pairing. This is the feeling where you are engulfed in emotion, yes, but where you are also buzzing and crackling. That buzzing and crackling is Wands energy directed emotionally. It can be so powerful that it fills you: I can attest to not feeling the same need to eat when I’m in this heightened state. I’m being fuelled by something else too. Add mind (Swords) and you have the experience of having a plethora of positive thoughts about yourself, your beloved other, life in general. Add tangible reality (Pentacles) and perhaps you notice the sun shining more than you might have done before; you smile at people and they smile back at you (and if they don’t, either you don’t notice or you don’t mind). You have created your reality based on how you chose to harness the Wands potential available to you. Powerful stuff indeed. And, whether consciously or unconsciously, we’re doing it all the time!

Knowing this, here are all of the Wands cards and the quality of how they can manifest in our physical world.

Ace of Wands – This is the energy that I described to you in the paragraphs above. It is the purest potential of the Wands suit, and when it comes up in a reading it is drawing your attention to a situation where you are able to draw on it and harness it in a meaningful way. The Ace of Wands is the ‘gift of oomph!’. Use it wisely if you want to make the most of it.

Two of Wands – A man stands with two wands, holding one — his powers of manifestation — while the other one remains behind him as potential, sitting in the realm of spirit (like a guardian angel at his shoulder). In his other hand, there is a globe. This is about bringing the world into being, and creation as an act shared by man and his connection to spirit / his higher self.

Three of Wands – This is the moment when we release what we have created into the world, knowing that we have done all that we can, and that we have controlled all the we are able to control in the process. Now it is a matter of seeing how our ships fare on the ocean (of fiery consciousness), and what will return to us.

Four of Wands – You’re being invited to take part in something of which you have, until now, only been an observer. A gateway of four wands stands between you and the life and community that are waiting for you. Will you step up and step through?

Five of Wands – This is energy that is potentially collaborative, but imbued with conflict (conflicting interests) and a lack of organisation and direction. I love Amanda Painter’s observation that it looks “like a bunch of guys on booze or acid attempting a barn-raising.” Apt.

Six of Wands – When this card comes up, you are being singled out for recognition in some way, and deservedly so. Out of the conflict of the Five comes the victory of the Six — in spite of all indications to the contrary, something worthwhile has been brought into being, although, as we are only approaching halfway through the Wands suit, it feels more like a transitional state leading on to something else, rather than the destination.

Seven of Wands – Sometimes we fight in contrast with our own best interests, and here we are resisting the creative drive coming from beneath because of what we fear it will bring with it. This is understandable: There is a good (if perhaps no longer useful) reason for defending ourselves, but in the process we are also blocking vital energy. This, to me, feels like an invitation to stop fighting and see what it is that emerges.

Eight of Wands – This is zingy, zany energy that is akin to a jolt of electricity. It is what becomes available to us when we lower our defenses in the Seven. It is highly creative if we can direct it. It is currently in full flow. Will it scatter us and our intentions, or will we rise to the task of using it as productively as possible?

Nine of Wands – Something that has bitten us on the arse in the past is coming into consciousness in the present, and we are wounded and cautious. Once bitten, twice shy. The thing is, if we could only see the reality of our situation — that the wands are in line, behaving themselves — then we could align with them by putting our wand in the space that is waiting for it.

Ten of Wands – Oppression. This is a burden that we have chosen to take on ourselves. In the words of Joseph Campbell: “Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.” Perhaps the toil is necessary; perhaps not. If we choose to move forward, there is help available up ahead.

Page of Wands – Young and somewhat admiringly awe-struck of his wand (teenagers, eh?), the Page represents a person or situation as-yet-untested, but which holds the qualities of his/her/its suit. The Page of Wands is rather dandy: Jaunty hat perched on his head, he looks fashionable for his era, and his clothes are colourful and seem to be of some substance. Appearances are paramount here — all on the outside. What he holds has yet to be internalised and integrated.

Knight of Wands – The Knight of Wands takes this idea further. He is not only firmly focused on what he holds: He is a crusader in its name, travelling to find something that, ultimately, he has had all along. The Knight is fiery energy in motion, not easily tamed — although the beginnings of this tempering can be seen in the fact that his horse is resting ‘on the bit’. Neither steed nor rider is out of control. (Look at the Knight of Swords for a figure who is verging on pure impulse for contrast.) The pyramids form a backdrop that is somewhat mystical, in keeping with a quality that is not fully knowable even while we are in its presence.

Queen of Wands – An intriguing mix of masculine and feminine, the Queen of Wands, like the King, understands that seeking ‘out there’ must come to an end if one is to fully align with what the Wands offer. Being still, above all else, enables it to be felt and channelled effectively. The sunflowers show that her powers are in service to life, nourishment and beauty. The lions — and cat as domesticated lion-in-miniature — remind us that, while Wands energy can be hugely creative, it can never be fully tamed. The Queen, like the King, understands that the middle ground between subservience and control is where we achieve our best creations.

King of Wands – Meanwhile, the creature in the King’s card is the salamander: Creature of fire, small — perhaps overlooked — but potent. It is also free to roam, just as the King understands that all acts of true creation make room for the unexpected to enter. He sits on his throne, but he is ready to move in an instant. This takes me back to the exercise I suggested in order to feel the Wands energy inside you: It is as if he is primed to make the most of whatever opportunity might present itself. Unlike the Knight, who is a bit of a hot-head, the King’s shoes and collar are green — cool, temperate. He reminds me of the sunflower that the Queen holds: Natural creativity, unforced, that is there to grow and bear fruit if nurtured correctly.

As you have gathered by now, Wands are fiery — and fire, neutral as it is, has the ability to give life (the Sun) and to destroy it (a volcano). Wands are tricky to harness, and most of us are only beginners, much like the Page standing in wonder at it all. But awe can only take us so far. Awe and fire are what you find when you see a kid with a box of matches. And what we tend to do in that situation is to whip the matches away as quickly as possible — and with due reason: One moment a spark; the next a conflagration that spares nothing. The baby is thrown out with the bathwater. The learning opportunity here is to burn away what isn’t necessary, and scorch the rest into life, just as a forest is renewed when the fire is a healing one, the conditions just right, the burn taking up a natural place in things, moving the cycle along.

So how do we aspire to journey from the naivete of the Page, through the zeal of the Knight, so that one day we can stop the outward search, internalise it and assume the mantle of Queen and King in our own lives?

The first step that we take is to learn to become conscious of Wands energy. This is when we recognise the Ace in the moment of its being handed to us. We can recognise that Wands are the initiation into the creative process, where everything that we feel, think and do is an act of creation. In any given moment, are we the kid with the matches, or are we prepared to learn what it is to work with it more responsibly? No doubt we’ll sustain a few burns on the way — most of them hopefully minor — but the gift that Wands offer to us seems to me to be far too valuable to continue to use in ignorance.

At some point, as with all the suits, we are offered the chance to grow up and strike a new relationship with our drive, our thoughts, our emotions, our physical reality. When we do, that is when we are working alongside our fire, using it knowledgeably, effectively, prudently, and, when necessary, forcefully — guided all the time by our connection to the flow of wisdom within. It is then that we have travelled from being The Fool to embodying The World.

7 thoughts on “Discovering the suits: The Wands in tarot”

  1. In the cold and dark of winter, it seems like many a small spark of flame is blown out and extinguished before it can take light. Perhaps this also is a vital function of Fire and Air.

  2. What a beautiful, uplifting piece, dear Sarah. Thank you. You may be feeling low – but you’ve got a lot of that wands oomph! in you. And I feel a wands energy stirring in me, too. Take good care of yourself. xxx

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