The Element of WATER
ANIMAL WISDOM TAROT
Calm or turbulent, healing or destructive, Water is a mystery that can both give life and take it away. Water flows and dissolves. It is adaptable, transforming from liquid to solid to gas through a variety of forms: mist, steam, sleet, snow, ice, fog, and rain. Water falls from the skies and from our eyes. Indeed, salty tears hint at our inherent connection to the vast ocean of life. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the element of Water is so often associated with our feelings — from the depths of grief and sadness to the ebullience of delight and joy.
In Tarot, Water is traditionally held by the suit of Cups, representing love and emotions. This is fitting, for Water invites us to deepen — to sink into our feelings, to flow with our intuition, to explore the shadowy realms of our subconscious, to unlock the secrets of our passions. There’s always a creative element in Water, and often a reflective quality too.
In The Animal Wisdom Tarot, Cups are represented by Shells. Like Cups, Shells hold the Waters of Life and a unique energy of transformation. Intuitive and sensitive to the flow of emotions, the sea creatures and marine mammals that make up this suit are expert guides to exploring the mysteries of inner realms. Shells guide our attention to feelings, dreams, beauty, and matters of the heart.
To further explore the many qualities of Water — not only in life, but in Tarot — let us consider the progression of Shell cards in this deck:
1. Nautilus, Ace of Shells
We begin at the beginning: buoyed in womblike, nurturing Water. Nautilus uses its shell both as protective home and as vehicle, to propel forward and dive. Floating, drifting, swimming and descending, Nautilus engages Water as a medium through which to travel. Water not only allows fluidity of movement, but also heightened sensitivity and spatial awareness. One aspect of Water’s healing nature is to soothe — visually as well as physically. As we gaze at undulating or rippling waves, we are calmed. As water washes over us, we are cleansed. Water deepens our consciousness, reminding us of the connection between self and spirit. Like Nautilus, Water encourages us to find home within.
2. Dolphin, Two of Shells
Ascending from watery depths, we leap upwards and outwards. Dolphin sprays and splashes with joyful exuberance. Water buoys our spirit and awakens us to the pure pleasure of movement. Dolphins race through the sea — spinning, leaping, and riding waves. Clearly, this card reveals a playful aspect of Water, and yet there is depth as well. Immersion in Water is a reminder to feel from within, to explore one’s inner ocean with depth and sensitivity. In this way, Dolphin emphasizes the healing clarity of Water, a nudge to see through stuck emotions and dissolve old holds. Thus we may dance like Dolphin, shining our joy, emanating love.
3. Otter, Three of Shells
Three otters lounge on their backs in sun-dappled water, contentedly eating from shells. The otters, pictured in happy repose, convey a sense of comfort and ease in relationship to Water. Consider how Otter glides through water — slick and slippery, turning round in loopy circles, diving down to find food, enjoying the delight of play. Water celebrates lively, spontaneous fun, and the traditional Tarot energy of merriment and festivity is very present in this card. However, we may sense abundance as well, for Water surrounds Otter, offering life, food, home. In this card, Water reminds us to center ourselves in a playful, lighthearted way. By letting go of the need to impress or look elsewhere, we open to our own inner joy.
4. Crab, Four of Shells
Four of Shells sinks us deeper into the emotional aspects of Water. The hermit crab must choose a new shell as its body grows. But scuttling naked between two shells, Crab is vulnerable. The energy conveyed by this card is similar: when confronted with drastic change, we may feel naked and vulnerable. Fear can cause us to be paralyzed — and we do nothing. Thus, a sense of stagnation. Notice the shadows of water around the foreground shell to convey lack of motion — a sign that not moving forward leads to stagnation of self. We need to flow, to embrace the healing waters that swirl around us, offering gentle encouragement and motivation. Water prompts us to expand ourselves by risking vulnerability.
5. Jellyfish, Five of Shells
Deeper still we move — down, down to our emotional depths. There is often a sense of grief or remorse with the Five of Cups. Here we see three shells facing downward, while two float right side up. It’s the classic “Is the glass half full or half empty?” card — and a reminder to not lose ourselves or drown in tears. In this card we see light behind Jellyfish, for even in the depths of despair, there is hope. The theme of vulnerability from the last card persists, for Jellyfish, too, is sensitive to the healing nature of Water, and reminds us to trust — just as all jellyfish must trust wind and ocean currents for movement.
6. Manatee, Six of Shells
Manatee — big, bulky, slow-moving, calmly content — glides gracefully through sun-drenched Water. The Six of Shells offers a happy, placid view of Water, and a welcoming invitation to explore the vastness of our emotional realm. Manatees generally float close to the surface, so there’s an open, spacious, yet comforting aspect of Water reflected in this card. The greenish blue tone hints at Manatee’s love for eating sea grass, gaining nourishment, and feeling safe in shallow waters. Here we embrace the peaceful, nurturing side of Water: a sheltered medium for plants to grow, a blue-green heart space within ourselves, a life-giving element which supports our journey.
7. Sea Lion, Seven of Shells
This traditional ‘daydream’ card evokes the creative, magical aspects of Water via the power of our imagination. Consider Sea Lion’s exuberant play: gliding, diving, dancing through water — an encouragement to journey through our sea of dreams, explore the psyche, and uncover inner world treasures. Ola positioned Sea Lion mostly in the water, but partially out — a reminder that although we are immersed in the creative unconscious, we must rise above the surface, using conscious thoughts and actions to manifest our desires. Like Sea Lion, Water awakens us to the imaginal realm and encourages us to bring our artistic gifts to the world through active expression.
8. Octopus, Eight of Shells
Illumined by silvery moonlight, Octopus brings to mind the potent link between lunar energy and Water. Though pictured close to the surface, Octopus also connects us with the depths — the dark unknown of our psyche. This card hints at integration in a dreamy, elegant way. The deep, feminine, creative yin of inspiration gestates slowly, yet powerfully, beneath the surface. Water is supportive and encouraging here, a gentle agent of awakening, reminding us to assimilate our emotions, take time with our creations, dive deep and hold (via eight curling tentacles!) all our dreams until the time is right to manifest.
9. Salmon, Nine of Shells
Salmon splash and leap with vigor as they swim against a strong current, determined to return home and spawn — a compelling cycle that signals transformation. Here we see the active, fast-moving aspect of Water welcoming us back to who we are. Sunshine shimmers on the water and waves propel us onward, reminding us of the joy in homecoming. Indeed, the meaning of this card is about coming home to Self: to renew and regenerate — also, of course, a strong component of the element Water. The natural buoyancy and forward movement expressed by Water offers encouragement and support of traditional cycles and renewals — a reminder that in the end, we always go home.
10. Hippo, Ten of Shells
Following last card’s journey home, the Ten of Shells reveals home itself: a large, rounded body of water is home to several large, rounded bodies of hippos! Water offers connection and togetherness, unity and family ties. Hippos spend most of their day partially submerged, and though we may only see their sizable heads above the surface, we can sense the deep-down familial connections. That’s a secret of the Water element, isn’t it? To remind us of our connection with the psyche and, deeper still, Unconscious. There’s a sense of emotional maturity here, a well-rounded Hippo-nudge to investigate inner worlds and bring one’s unique sense of self to surface. Water reminds us that all is well, and that wherever we are, we can be at home within ourselves.
11. Penguin, Seer of Shells
Penguin, the first of the Shell court cards, introduces the frozen aspect of Water: Ice! Perched on an iceberg, Penguin peers at a fish in a shell — a reference to playful possibilities and artistic inspiration. So too, Penguin reminds us how to traverse fluidly between different mediums (flying through water, leaping onto icebergs). Water as Ice reveals how emotions may become cold and fixed. And yet, there is beauty in Ice — a crystalline surface that offers clear reflection and access to frozen worlds within. This aspect of Water need not paralyze us, but may help us to be more present, thus softening us, warming us, to truly see and accept who we are. Water can inspire great transformation.
12. Polar Bear, Seeker of Shells
Curious and contemplative, Polar Bear is at home with Water element extremes. Here in the dark, at the ice-covered top of the world, we may be surprised to find magic and beauty. Notice how other elements are present: Earth (land), Air (crystals of frozen wind and snow), and Fire (the northern lights dancing in the sky). This card suggests a journey of profound depth, and Polar Bear — seeker of the deep, explorer of inner realms — leads us onward. We naturally deepen as we engage the time-honored, solitary, spiritual quest into the vast frozen plains of our soul. Water supports (via an ice floe) and encourages, offering the grace of fluid insights and intuitive illumination. Dream-walking as Polar Bear, we may sense the promise of a mystery soon revealed.
13. Sea Turtle, Nurturer of Shells
Attuned to ocean currents and lunar cycles, Sea Turtle symbolizes ancient knowledge of underwater energies. Just as the moonlight slides through gentle waves, Water reminds us to flow easily, to follow natural rhythms and cycles, to drink from the wellspring of intuitive knowing, and to deepen our connections with the ocean of soul. This card’s double Water energy blends contemplative focus and the pursuit of deeper meaning with creativity and artistic flair. Water encourages us to follow and express our joy. By sinking down to center and availing ourselves of inner wisdom and artistry, we can love ourselves more fully and manifest our dreams. ‘Feel deep and love true’ is the message of this card — a key lesson from Water.
14. Shark, Guardian of Shells
The last of the Water cards reveals command and mastery. Shark swims sleekly and efficiently, at home and in control. Here, Water offers lucid clarity — guidance to see plainly, assess honestly, know oneself, and claim authority. Shark is streamlined, with keen instincts, especially when traversing turbulent waters. Many humans fear Shark and for good reason — like Water, it presents potential danger. But move beyond your fear and, like Shark, you may discern deeper, perceiving subtle vibrations and expanding awareness. After fear, there is clarity. In this sense, Water is a training ground, teaching us to rely on our inner rudder as we explore the shadow material of our subconscious. Shark exemplifies the final challenge of Water: to move skillfully through our emotional world with maturity, acceptance, and a deepened connection with Spirit.