Silver linings:
The layered symbolism of clouds

by Corrine Kenner

"He that pryeth into every cloud may be struck with a thunderbolt." — John Clarke's Paroemiologia (1639)

I live on the wide-open plains of North Dakota, where we don't have to look up to see clouds; they are constantly in our line of sight. The prairie is perfectly flat, and there aren't many trees or buildings to block our view. We are simply surrounded by sky.

At first glance, you might think that living in an empty landscape would be dull — but the view here is more varied than any other place I've seen. On any given day, as cumulus clouds roll along the horizon, it could look as though there are mountains in the distance. Layered stratus clouds, especially at sunrise and sunset, remind me of far-away forests and wooded hills. And on nearly cloudless days, when the sky is merely punctuated by wispy cirrus clouds, it's not hard to imagine that I'm at sea, sailing toward new people and new lands. The prairie is surrounded by a constantly changing landscape of clouds.

Of course, when you're surrounded by anything all the time, you don't think about it very much. I never spent much time ruminating about clouds until last week, during my Wednesday-night "Imagery and Intuition" teleclass through The Tarot School. As it turns out, we are surrounded by clouds in the tarot cards, too ... and they are symbols that deserve to come to the foreground once in a while.

Clouds, of course, are a mixture of the four elements that play a prominent role in the tarot's Minor Arcana: air and water, along with a measure of fiery energy and dust from the earth.

Clouds come in many shapes and forms. There are storm clouds, fair-weather clouds, clouds of change and clouds of war. Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman, the creator of the Sacred Rose Tarot, is a fellow student in the class; she said she likes clouds of incense the best. I myself seem to be most familiar with clouds of confusion.

The Tarot School's Wald Amberstone, who leads each class, helped us pull our heads out of the clouds to discover layers of symbolism in the sky. Some of it was truly thought provoking.

    In real life — and in the cards — clouds affect our moods. Clouds can make us feel whimsical and dreamy, or they can be oppressive, frightening, and threatening. Clouds can be mysterious, or clouds can be lazy. It's actually very easy to determine the symbolic mood of a card based on the clouds in the image.

    Clouds frequently symbolize the element of air, which is associated with higher thought, intellectual ideas, and abstract thinking. (That's one reason you see so many clouds in the Swords cards.)

    Rain clouds sometimes symbolize doom, gloom, and disaster, and clouds can obscure our vision and dim our optimism. However, every cloud really does have a silver lining: rain can be cleansing, too. Rain can bring healing. And rain can also guarantee fertility and health.

    In a similar vein, storm clouds may symbolize the lightning flash of inspiration, or the thunderclap of an unavoidable realization.

    Clouds are symbols of change. Clouds constantly come and go, and they tend to move fast. When you see a cloud in a tarot card, you're looking at a symbol of something that is transitory and short-lived.

    Clouds are ephemeral. They leave no trace, and they have nothing to do with the past. That's an especially powerful symbol for people who are plagued by guilt about events in the past; no one can be blamed for the clouds in the sky.

    Clouds are veils. Clouds hide objects in their depths, and clouds hide objects behind and beyond their scope. A cloudy reading could be a sign that a client is clouding his or her real question or concern.

    Clouds separate the world above from the world below. By studying the clouds in the tarot, we can raise our consciousness and peer into a world beyond the clouds.

    The clouds in tarot cards also remind us that the world above and the world below actually make up one world. The symbolism behind the clouds can help us examine our lives from a higher perspective.

    In legend, clouds served as vehicles for angels; in a tarot reading, clouds may be a harbinger of angelic messages to come.

Now go look at some clouds!

Corrine Kenner is the author of the Epicurean Tarot deck, Tall Dark Stranger: Tarot for Love and Romance, and the forthcoming Tarot Journaling and Crystals for Beginners. She is currently working on a book about fortune-telling with tarot cards.

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Card image is from the Universal Waite Tarot Deck, Copyright US Games Inc.