An introduction to the concept of dignity would probably benefit those who are unfamiliar with this way of changing card meanings. Dignity systems do not rely on the orientation of cards, but on influences of surrounding cards. Usually this means the cards to either side or in adjacent spread positions, though in my system I have expanded this to include any related positions, regardless of placement in the spread. (So a "present emotion" card will be affected by the card next to it, as well as all "present" cards and "emotion" cards elsewhere in the spread. A "future actions" card would have no effect on a "present emotion" card.)
To determine the various influences, positive and negative, I use a standard system of elemental dignities in which Fire and Water weaken each other, Air and Earth weaken each other, cards of the same element strengthen each other, and all other combinations have no effect. This is a highly flexible system and it is not suit-specific, so it works just as well for those who attribute Wands to Air instead of Fire, for example. It also allows Major Arcana to exert influence, according to their elemental correspondences. (Many readers disagree on what these are, so you will likely have to develop your own set of correspondences from Zodiacal and planetary attributions.)
The number of cards of each element has an additive effect; an Earth card is made weak by one Air card acting upon it, and even weaker by two. The two Air cards will each be reduced in strength by the Earth card, but not to a large degree, because they reinforce each other. Some cards, by their nature, are more susceptible to dignity than others; the Water element as a whole and the Queen of Cups in particular are sensitive to external influence, due to the receptive qualities of the Water element. Earth cards are less susceptible to dignity because of the element's inherent solidity.
Under my system, an ill-dignified card loses energy, positive or negative, depending on the card. The Nine of Cups, for instance, is generally a very positive card and ill-dignity would make it less positive. A negative card like the Nine of Swords, on the other hand, would not be so detrimental when ill-dignified. Conversely, when well-dignified, a card gains strength in its natural polarity. A well-dignified Nine of Cups is a welcome sight... but a well-dignified Nine of Swords is likely not! In my system, "well-dignified" does not necessarily mean "positive", and this may seem strange, but it makes sense given the above definitions.
The actual interpretation of the change to the card's meaning due to dignity remains up to the reader. Standard reversal meanings, particularly drops in strength and blocks for time and distance, are common sights in my readings. As always, though, let your intuition be your first and foremost guide.
The dignity system goes into greater detail for influences on court cards. For example, using traditional elemental attributions, the Queen of Wands (Water of Fire) is not weakened as much by a Cups card as the Knight of Wands (Air of Fire). The King of Wands, Fire of Fire, would be most detrimentally affected. Note that this works in reverse also, and the Queen of Wands will not impact upon the strength of the Cups card to the degree that the King would. The conflicts between speed and caution (Wands and Cups), and the opposition of ideas and reality (Swords and Pentacles), are also illustrated by the system of elemental dignites.
The dignity system actually helps explain the meanings of cards in general. The Queen of Cups is hopeless when it comes to leadership or money, but when she must work with Cups cards, her watery influence gives her extra strength. The King of Wands has a strong spot in matters of inspiration and can bring about the action portrayed on the Wands cards when no one else can. This kind of analysis can even be extended to the Major Arcana. "Analysis by element" is a fruitful exercise that can clarify mysteries in traditional attributions of the Major Arcana. For example, why is the Chariot a Water card? I'll let the reader puzzle over this - you may be surprised by what you discover!
In conclusion, my elemental dignity system has two major purposes. It can both elucidate the meanings of the cards in general, and in spreads. This is a very powerful function that reversals alone cannot accomplish. This system will not work for everyone, but if you would like to try using it, feel free to make whatever changes you feel will allow my system to work better for you. Give it a try, and I think you'll find that dignity systems will both elaborate on your readings, and on your everyday experiences with the Tarot.Copyright 2000 James Rioux