The elements of Air and Water are similar in several respects, which sometimes leads to confusion. The element of Air represents the flow in the conscious mind of thoughts and emotions and desires, which can stem from either external conditions or from internal sources. Thought-forms imbued with emotion or desire follow one another in ceaseless currents, unless one makes a conscious effort to still the flow. Even the notion of “dropping into the void” in meditation is a thought-form, but if one stills the conscious mind long enough, other thought-forms--subconscious material including archetypal symbols--sometimes surface from another level of the mind associated with the element of Water, which is associated with the "mental plane." The element of Water is receptive to spiritual impulses and embodies them with archetypal form. Archetypal symbols appear in vision during meditation without desire attached to them, yet they can ripple out into one’s life through the astral plane into the physical realm and take on great emotional significance, revealing the interconnectedness of the different planes, which are really levels of being. Air, also associated with breath, the essence of life, symbolizes spirit in many traditions. Of course, everything is spirit manifested in one form or another, but Air represents the active, conscious currents of spirit, which we associate with awareness and intellect.
   Emotions, sometimes negative, and desires, sometimes inappropriate, well up from the subconscious depths into consciousness, sometimes causing conflict, and Swords, the suit of the Air element, reflects this conflict and destructiveness, which can tear through the thin fabric of rationality. Yet a sword can also swiftly cut through illusions, as well as through difficult problems, and so Air is associated with the intellect.
   A Hermetic axiom is “Everything is mental energy,” so, in a sense, everything is an aspect of mind, including perceptions of the physical world, and so, too, in a sense, consciousness is symbolic. We perceive energy fields as separate objects because from an early age we are trained to do so, but the fields that we label as objects are on a basic level connected with all the other fields of energy. Language, as a symbolic system, enables us, indeed requires us, to perceive fields of energy as separate from each other, so the cup is separate from the table, and the table from the floor, and the floor from the rest of the house, and the house from the rest of the cosmos.
   The act of perception makes symbols of energy fields. What we see or touch or taste or smell or hear is translated by the nervous system into the brain, the impulses taking on a meaning that we label with words and call “reality.” The simple act of perceiving reveals a process farther removed at each stage from pure experience: direct sensation, translated through nerve impulses and chemical reactions into impressions in the brain, ultimately translated into symbolic meaning which is then remembered as experience. The image and feel of the cup, the smell and taste of the coffee, the sound of the cup hitting the saucer are the product of nerve impulses received in the brain, which then identifies and separates out the different impressions of the energy fields and gives the energy a meaning remembered as the experience of drinking coffee.
   As a species, we tend to agree that particular fields of energy have particular meanings. The very moment that a field of energy “means something” is the moment it becomes symbolic. The energy field holding the coffee becomes identified as a general type of object known as a cup. From that moment, similar energy fields can be classified as cups containing a specific purpose. From there, the object can take on a more abstract meaning. The cup can become the Grail, representing the force of spirit manifesting in matter. The form symbolically represents to the mind the characteristics and potentialities of a type of object. People, in a sense, have developed the tendency to “collapse” the energies within the perceptible spectrum of energy into a collective reality with distinctly symbolic meaning.
   What you perceive and what if really "out there" is possibly quite different. Imagine, for a moment, gazing at a knife on a table. For you to perceive the knife, light waves must hit it, some of which become absorbed and some of which are scattered. Some of these light waves cause chemical changes in your retina, which trigger cells in your optic nerve, which relay patterns of electrical charges into your brain, and there, through a process no one understands, the nerve messages are translated into an image of a knife on a table. Brain cells retain the image to create a memory that you can draw upon to compare to other energy fields. The image, a symbol of an energy field, is even farther removed from reality by words that provide a meaning that your culture agrees on. Words by themselves are simply arbritrary sounds or scrawls on paper. This tendency to symbolize continues as you apply abstract concepts to the image. The knife becomes the sword that symbolizes the intellect.
   Between what we perceive, and what the brain transforms perception into, is an infinitesimal gap that quickly deepens into an abyss if you stop relying on symbolic associations. On one level, this is an aspect of a mystical experience related to Daath, the invisible sphere on the Tree of Life between the conscious mind and the Abyss. The moment that the mind no longer perceives a separation between “out there” and “in here” is a moment when symbols no longer dominate the mind. A sense of nothingness or emptiness underlying action and form can accompany such a moment, but it can also be a moment oddly filled with an overwhelming sense of the unity of all creation. This sense is slightly shocking to the mind that is familiar mainly with the world of forms and symbols and so it rarely lasts long unless you can train your mind to extend it.
   “The mind slays reality, so one must slay the slayer” is an old mystical adage, and the element of Air in one sense is the sword that slays the sense of unity underlying existence. Conversely, it is also the tool that enables the mind to create, for good or ill, a symbolic reality that lends itself to survival on the physical plane. However, recognizing the “emptiness” of action and form and their symbolic associations is also an essential aspect of Air, an element that is, after all, invisible, empty of form.
   The element of Air on one level also represents the astral plane, the zone of dreams and daydreams and Gods and magical creatures and angels and demons, the zone where humans bring desire through imaginative form into manifestation on the physical plane. In the history of the human race, astral consciousness evolved before the conscious, rational mind and still speaks in images and symbols and visions representing the force of emotions and desires. Though overlaid by the conscious mind, the "astral" aspect of the psyche never quite disappears, containing impulses like wind--because the astral plane itself is a plane of force which can be molded by mentality and will. People use the astral plane, whether they know it or not, to focus and project desire into manifestation. The astral plane is mind stuff that lays the foundation for the physical universe; it is the zone where humans can consciously connect with entities of higher and lower spiritual vibrations. Since the universe emanates from the Source "down" through spriritual and mental levels first, the astral plane must be passed through in the other "direction" before the mind reaches the higher consciousness and connects with the essence of the Shining Ones. The astral plane is where the Shining Ones sometimes agree to meet with humans who fashion a suitable astral form for them in the imagination.
   Since the invisible natural forces that organize the cosmos are made of "mind stuff," and since our souls are also invisible but made of the same mind stuff, shamans and initiates throughout the ages have used a common method passed down through the mystery traditions that enables them to connect with intelligences of other planes. Even though it can shift with the quickness of thought and lacks physical substance, the astral plane contains life just like every other plane in the cosmos. Because of this astral mind stuff, humans are able to create a special kind of being called an elemental by fashioning in the imagination a form suitable for the normally free-flowing force to ensoul. Once domesticated, the elemental can perform certain tasks within its limited nature for the shaman or magician. Another special type of elemental containing great power is known as a God or Archangel. These mighty intelligences will sometimes manifest within an appropriate astral form, pouring their force into the hearts and minds of the worshippers and providing spiritual assistance. The shaman, magician, or priest goes about his work by building a symbolic astral image and reaches out to the intelligence through feeling, in prayer or sacrifice or ceremony, until the intelligence responds favorably with its presence or its "ray" of energy. Great healing and purification and exaltation of consciousness is possible through this connection.

CORRESPONDING COLOR: Pure white brillance.

QUALITIES: Using the conscious mind to achieve spiritual heights. Achieving greater concentration and awareness. Swiftly cutting through illusions, as well as through difficult problems.


Two of Swords.
King of Swords.
The Fool.
The High Priestess.
The Magician.
Go to the closest suit:
Ten of Cups.