Aces hold a special place. They represent the step after the conclusion of a lesson, and thus, the beginning of the next stage. In the Rider-Waite deck, all the Aces are simplistic, and yet packed with meaning within their simplicity. It can be daunting for the new learner who is looking for the guiding symbols, as it seems like there is nothing really to go off for meaning, other than simply memorizing the definition.
But as readers, it is up to us to develop our own understanding. And while each Ace seems to only show us a hand at the Suit representative, there are more subtle symbols to help you develop your understanding.
The Rider-Waite Tarot shows a cloud on the right side of the card, from which a hand protrudes toward the center, holding a wand. Leaves sprout from it, and fall around dit. The hand itself has streaks of white light emitting from it. The background is grey. Below it is a green landscape with a river weaving from left to right. A castle sits atop a hill, and brown mountains are in the background.
The Spiral Tarot shows a similar depictions, in that there is a hand and a wand. But instead of the hand protruding from a grey cloud from the right, a hand comes down from a red sky, in the top center of the card. The hand touches upon the leaves of the wand, which meets in the middle. The Red sky gives way to gold, and below are green hills.
The Thoth Tarot shows a wand with ten flames radiating from it, in the formation of the Tree of Life. Each flame represents a sephirot. The wand is orange and yellow, and the background is red with green lightning bolts radiating from the top of the wand. Each of the flames are in the shape of Yod.
The Vampire Tarot shows a solitary wand, depicted as a steak, with a coffin in the background. A red sash runs along the foot of the coffin, and a candle is lit in the two top corners of the card. The background is green. The Faerie Tarot shows a winding wand growing upward, as if a sapling of a tree. The top yields 7 leaves with four dots in the center of it, and several colorful dots decorate around it. Smaller branches with leaves and dots come off it. A red squirrel perches near the top. The ground is the forest floor and colored with green and red patches, and two little mushrooms. In the background, eight trees grow.
The Impressionist Tarot takes from The Portrait of Theodore Duret by Edouard Manet (1868). The card shows a solitary cane leaning against a wall between two paintings, which fill the two top corners. It is indistinguishable from the card what the paintings are.
The Prisma-Visions Tarot shows a colorful wand emerging from a field of red, orange, light blue, and blue flowers. Before the flowers is a river, which reflects the starry night sky. In the background, black mountains rise up.
Taking Apart the Symbolism
The Aces in the tarot will always represent new beginnings. However, numerologically they correspond to the number 1. 1 is also 10 reduced. In numerology, 10 would always reduce to 1, but in the Tarot, 10 has it’s own meaning and correlation, and thus while it can be reduced, it isn’t. Thus, there is a special link between the two numbers, in that both resent and end and a beginning. The 10 represents the moment of completion and the knowledge that other steps must come afterward, that something else has to begin. The Ace, or the 1 is the acknowledgement that something has just ended, and that with that ending the subject carries forth the lessons learned from what has just been completed. It is about examining the tools you have gained so far to help you move forward from here.
The Aces are exciting but can be daunting in this regard. They are a reminder that we are never done learning, that even once we have completed the lessons of the last cycle, that we can now re-learn them but on a higher level. We are always building on our knowledge from our experiences.
The castle can represent stability and protection. They have sturdy walls that keep what needs to be kept out, out, and what wants to be held in, in. They can also represent wealth. However, when positioned at a distance, they become a goal, something that is to be strived for. In the Rider-Waite deck, the 10 of Pentacles shows the figures inside the castle walls, representing a goal achieved. Much can be derived from the position of the castle, and what it sits on.
Colors: Grey, Green, Red
- Green: Green is a color of growth and of fertility. When we see the color green in nature, we might associate it with spring or summer, the time when nature is coming into fruition and working toward a time of maturity.
- Grey: In the RW tarot, the background of the Ace of Wands is grey, as is the cloud the hand protrudes from. This represents a neutrality. This is the same in all the Aces. The energy coming forth has yet to be directed, and thus has neither positive nor negative attributes. However, it can also represent uncertainty, haziness. Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen says that ‘Light gray indicates internalized thought and reflection’ (p.453).
- Red: Red is the color of the fire elements, and also the color of Mars, the planet of passion, anger, sex, and movement. The color in the Ace of Wands shows the energy that is stirring within the Ace, the fieriness of the Wands, the creativity and passion behind the idea readying itself to burst through. This color is found in the Spiral Tarot.
The element of fire is the burning passion within us, and shows creativity, but also emotions—the hot ones. This is the color of passion, of fiery love, of sex, anger. This is where creation is born, from the combined creativity and passion, which creates drive.
The leaves have two meanings in the Ace of wands:
The first meaning is that of growth, of life. When branches provide green leaves, it means that they have the energy and passion to back up the growth and expansion of the tree.
The second meaning corresponds to the Qabalistic Tree of Life, and the Hebrew letter Yod. The Yod is the first letter in the word for God, Yahaweh: YHVH. It represents beginning, but more specifically, the beginning in the presence of divinity. This divinity is the message that the energy of the Ace of Wands is coming from something higher than the mundane. All the Aces have Yod present with the exception of the Ace of Pentacles, which deals only with material matters.
The mountains can represent a vastness in the card, giving a moment of perspective of the possibility that the card is suggesting. However, they are also the representation of a challenge. In the Ace of Wands, a castle sits not on jagged mountains, but on a hill, which is far easier to climb. However, larger mountains lay in the distance.
The presence of a river is a reminder that it’s time to move, to act. Rivers and streams are always moving, and thus represent motion.
The Wands represent the creative fire within us. They are the passion, and the drive to bring our Wills into fruition. When I personally say Will, I am referring to Aleister Crowley’s version of True Will, that which is the drive within us to keep us moving. Our Wills might alter throughout our lives, but we should always strive toward it. Crowley says that to not do so is like going against the stars themselves. The Wands are that Will, that push toward developing you in your truest and brightest essence in this world.
Putting It All Together
The Aces are the beginnings that we face, and the Wands are the representation of our creativity, our passions, and our True Wills coming forth to manifest. This energy is something from a higher nature, from a higher self as represented by the Yod. It might be an energy which manifests in a financial or business situation, but it is an expresison of a True Self, and thus, is of something higher than the material world.
The Ace of Wands is the conception of a new idea wanting to come forth, the development of a goal, seen in the castle. The river reminds us that it is now also a time of movement, to put this idea into action. This isn’t a difficult goal to attain, though of course there will be some work to it (seen in the hill), and maintaining that goal might be difficult as indicated by the mountains behind the castle.
Divinatory Meaning and Key Words
The Aces as a whole are the budding of a new idea. They are the spark of inspiration that makes you go, “Yeah, that’s right, that’s the thing right there.” They are the seed gathering up the energy to push through the husk, the chick pipping in their shell, the lightbulb lighting the dark. The Wands bring forth creative energy, passion, and thus, can result in entrepreneurship. While the Coins generally deal in matters of finances and business, the Wands’ version of entrepreneurship is the passion behind it, the thing that gets an individual excited about what they do. This might just be the creative endeavors we put toward our work, or where we funnel our own personal fires.
The Ace is the representation of new ideas. From nothing comes the idea, and from that idea, manifestation will happen, but first the idea must develop. It is where energy stirs and the plans begin to be made for a change in future, the opportunities for which are seen in the distant castle of the card. This is where things begin to alter.
Keywords: new plans, new ideas, stirrings of inspiration, new beginnings, new business ventures.
Read more on the Minor Arcana
The Decks Used
Faerie Tarot by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc, 2008. Hertz is a French artist, and the creator of several other beautiful tarot decks. The Faerie Tarot was ‘inspired by the flora and fauna of the French countryside,’ and ‘invites you to see the world in a delightful new way…blending fantasy, whimsy, and nature.’
Impressionist Tarot by Arturo Picca (artist) and Corrine Kenner (author), published by Lo Scarabeo in 2015. This deck takes works of classic impressionist paintings and recreates them to fit the meanings of the tarot. It pulls from works of Edonard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gough, and Paul Gauguin. A truly beautiful deck, especially for those who have interest in the art world.
Prisma Visions Tarot by James R. Eads, 3rd ed., published in 2016. The deck itself is beautiful, though perhaps not for the beginning tarot reader. The suits all fit together to create a master picture displaying the energy and progression of the suits. The figures and images flow from one card to the next, showing movement within the stationary cards.
Rider-Waite by A. E. Waite. The deck used in these photos is currently out of print. I won’t say much about this deck, as it is fairly standard and probably one of the most produced decks. It serves as a standard for many tarot readers and artists, depicting classic images relating in part to the original playing cards that tarot developed from.
The Spiral Tarot by Kay Steventon. With turn-of-the-20th-century style art, this deck takes from the classic Rider-Waite deck and brings it up to the late 1800-early 1900’s, a time of industry and contemplation for the western world as it moved forward into a more technological era. I am a little biased toward this deck as it’s been my main deck for 15 years. The cards are thick with additional symbolism that can be tricky to pick out of the traditional Rider-Waite, and adds layers of Greek myth throughout the Major Arcana.
Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley (designer and author) and Lady Frieda Harris (artist), published by U. S. Games Systems, Inc., in 1978. This deck takes from most esoteric imagery, and requires the reader of the deck to have deep, initiate knowledge of the symbolism used. There is nothing within the cards that is without meaning. However, on a more surface level, the deck draws from Egyptian symbolism and from the style of the Marseille Tarot (mostly seen within the Minor Arcana). For those looking for deeper understandings of the universe, I recommend this deck. I would caution that this deck is highly advanced, and might be avoided for the budding reader.
Vampire Tarot – by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. in 2000. As mentioned above in reference to the Faerie Tarot, Hertze is a French artist who gained her notability through the publication of her tarot decks. The Vampire Tarot was a bestselling deck upon its release, and plays on more gothic symbolism, providing more jarring interpretations to allow for the accepting of negative forces within the world to compliment the positive forces. The deck brings together myths and legends in the form of vampires, which ‘gives tarot readers a macabre passport’ into the world of divination.