What Will We Discuss Today?
Today, we will discuss the Aces of each suit and, by extension, the meanings of the suits. I will include a selection of many versions of each card to hopefully give you a better idea of the card’s underlying meaning than any one deck will provide.
What Are the Aces?
The Ace of each suit is the first card, and represents either a beginning or an epitome. I associate any Ace card with the rune Dagaz (ᛞ). Despite the fact that Dagaz is the last rune in most Elder Futharks, it is also the rune of beginnings and dawn. Many tarot decks will depict a sunrise or sunset behind the Aces.
Each Ace is generally depicted with a hand coming from a cloud to hold the symbol of the suit. The symbol is frequently displayed as overflowing: The Wand is often covered in leaves, the Cup is spilling over, and in many decks the Sword even wears a crown of laurels.
The Ace of Cups
The suit of Cups shares its energy with the runes of ᛖ (Ehwaz), ᛚ (Laguz) and ᛈ (Perthro). Cups is associated with Water, both Laguz’s river energy and Perthro’s drinking well energy, but it is even more strongly associated with emotions (a frequent meaning for Laguz) and love. There is no rune of love, per say, but the partnership that Ehwaz represents is a good representation of the kind of love that Cups engenders.
Looking at the Ace of Cups, we see a Cup held aloft by a divine hand while a bird, often a dove, descends to drop a disc into it. The water overflows into the sea below.
I read this card a lot like ᚹ (Wunjo), with a little of ᛚ (Laguz) for flavor. This is primarily a card of joy, but it is also a card of being swept away by the current. Remember the story of Utgard-Loki when looking at this card, and of the horn which he offered to Thor. The other end of that horn was connected to the ocean. Thor drank as deeply as he was able and he was not able to drain the horn/Cup.
The Ace of Pentacles
The suit of Pentacles shares its energy with ᚠ (Fehu), ᚷ (Gebo), and ᛟ (Othala). Pentacles is the suit of wealth and the suit of the land. Just as the rune poems talk of Fehu in terms of the troubles brought about by wealth disparities, the suit of Pentacles also shows wealth disparities, including the gifts that Gebo talks about the rich giving to the less affluent.
The Ace of Pentacles focuses on the divine hand holding a coin, but underneath, in the background, you can see the garden of a wealthy lord, where many of the cards will be depicted as working.
I read this card the same way I would read ᛃ (Jera) followed by ᚠ (Fehu) in a rune reading. This is the beginning of the hard work, but that hard work will lead to prosperity and riches. It frequently represents a new job or the planning stages of a project.
The Ace of Swords
The suit of Swords shares its energy with ᚦ (Thurisaz), ᛉ (Algiz), and ᛏ (Tiwaz). It is a suit of conflict, protection, and justice. When there are Swords in a reading, it usually refers to things from which you need to protect yourself, or things you need to cut away.
The Ace of Swords shows a divine hand holding the Sword upright, as in the Corona (crown) guard. The Sword is often literally crowned at the top, representing leadership both in its oppressive and its necessary aspects.
I tend to read this card similarly to ᚨ (Ansuz). This card talks about communication and mental clarity. Just as Ansuz is a rune of Odin, giver of victory, this is a card of victory. There is also a slice of ᛊ (Sowilo) energy (if you’ll pardon the pun) to this card: this is a card of cutting through the undergrowth to see what is on the other side.
The Ace of Wands
The suit of Wands shares its energy with ᛊ (Sowilo), ᛇ (Eiwaz), and ᛜ (Inguz). It is the suit of the sun and sky, connection with the natural world, and fertility of the land. There is a hint of ᚦ (Thurisaz) to this suit as well, given the amount of interpersonal conflict demonstrated on Wands cards.
Looking at the Ace of Wands, the picture varies much more than the other Aces from one deck to another. I have chosen the Druidcraft Tarot because I think that this Ace shows the meaning of the suit better than many other decks. The Wand is up in the sky, with the sun behind its tip. Leaves dangle from the Wand, because it is natural wood which has not been worked.
I usually read this card just like I read ᛊ (Sowilo): The sun has risen, and now you can see. A new day has dawned. You have a new idea or understanding. Don’t just sit there, move! Skoll will devour the sun before you know it!
A Controversy We Don’t Need to Worry About
There is a controversy in the Western Mystery Tradition about whether Swords and Wands represent Fire or Air. This is important because Tarot is so frequently associated with the medieval magical tradition from Plato and Aristotle all the way down to Dr. John Dee and Sir Isaac Newton. The four elements (sometimes five in a modern context) are very important to this tradition.
The Norse magical tradition does not descend from Plato, so we don’t need to worry about this. In the beginning, there was The Ginnungagap, and on either side of it were the flaming land of Muspelhem and the frozen land of Niflheim. All of creation came from the interaction of fire and ice in a void, according to Norse Mythos, so we just do not need to care about the platonic ideals of the elements as we read the tarot.
In my understanding of Tarot, the suits of Cups, Pentacles, and Wands represent Land, Sea, and Sky, derived from the Celtic tradition rather than the Italian or Norse traditions. In this understanding, Swords would then be the suit of War, both waging it and fleeing from it. Though I am trained in the Western Mystery Tradition through my third degree in Wicca, I am not blind to the flaws in trying too hard to make too many systems overlap one another.