Understanding the Tarot Court

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2004-04-01
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd
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Just who are those kings, queens, knights, and pages in the Tarot deck? Generally considered the most difficult part of the Tarot to interpret, they actually represent different characters or personalities that are aspects of ourselves. They also serve as teachers or projections of our own unacknowledged qualities. Two esteemed Tarot scholars unmask the court cards with details not found in any other book. Discover your significator and your nemesis. Compare the differences among the cards in well-known decks. Match the court cards with the zodiac signs, the Myers-Briggs personality types, and the Jungian archetypes. Learn a variety of spreads that reveal childhood issues, career destiny, and a storytelling spread to spark the creative writing process.


The Many Faces
of the Tarot Court
The Tarot court cards represent four sets of royal couples with their
retinues, each in their own domain, which, in playing cards, was
marked by a heraldic device (which eventually became the suit emblem). In
playing-card terminology, the court cards are also called royalty or face cards
and, in seventeenth-century England, they were known as "coat cards" because
of the elaborate coats or robes in which the figures were depicted. Some
modern Tarot authors call them people cards in an effort to democratize
them. In France and Italy, they are called figura or "figure" cards. Thus, the
Tarot court are figures representing four different ranks of power and influence,
in four different suits, elements, or domains. Since their heads or faces
are usually prominent, and may be in profile or straight forward, the way they
literally face can play an important part in interpretation.
There are many different ways to interpret the court cards. Determining
which perspective is applicable in any given situation is part of the art of reading
the cards.Most of this book is devoted to illuminating these different perspectives.
Frequently more than one perspective will offer insights in the same
reading, so it's good to get into the habit of scanning the possibilities.
In a reading, a court card may mean:
• A person in the your life, identified by his or her physical attributes,
his or her profession, or the role he or she plays in the situation being
examined (the Queen of Swords may represent a diplomatic, objective
woman who acts as counselor or mediator, for example)
• An aspect of your personality, style or attitude, or a role you are playing
(the Knight ofWands may express your impetuous, impulsive side)
• A relationship between the querent and another person (the Page of
Pentacles is financially dependent on the king and so may represent
dependency in a relationship)
• A spiritual influence at work in your life (the Knight of Cups may
be a surge of emotional energy, producing excitement and romantic
• An event or situation (the Page of Swords may be a message or piece
of news about an important legal or business matter)
These interpretations of the court cards will be discussed in detail in subsequent
chapters of this book. Other interpretations are possible as well. In
fact, the possibilities are vast because the court cards have been interpreted in
many different ways throughout the centuries. This book emphasizes interpretations
that center on the idea of persona, whether one's own or that of

Suit and Rank
It is important to get to know the basic court figures and the terms we will be
using for them in this book. The minor arcana cards are divided into four
suits that usually correspond to the four elements. The court cards are divided
into four ranks, originally indicating a relative position in society. The
result is a 4 x 4 matrix of sixteen cards. However, the names, correspondences,
and characteristics of suit and rank vary greatly from deck to deck. In
some decks, especially pagan-oriented ones, wands (or batons) are associated
with the element of air, while swords are fire. In the Brotherhood of Light
Egyptian Tarot
, coins (pentacles) are air, wands are earth, and swords are fire.
There are even a few rare decks where cups are air, and swords are water. This
book will use the most common system, in which wands are fire and swords
air, as its default, without intending for it to be seen as the only or best system.
Feel free to use whatever elemental system you prefer.

Suits / Elements

wands / fire
The suit of wands is also known as batons, staves, rods, scepters, or clubs. Its
element is fire, and it represents the desire for growth, and subsequently signifies:
the inspiration that moves things, the desire that leads the way, the future-
oriented aspiration that initiates action.Wands have a purpose behind
every action, and find value primarily in the meaning of an experience while
lacking appreciation for the form.Wands indicate the desire for self-growth
and creativity. They want to expand awareness, as well as set everything on
fire with their enthusiasm.
When you get a wands card, you might want to ask yourself:What has fired
your interest? Do you have a burning desire to do something? Are you feeling
burned out? Are you seeing red? What is erupting within you?
Wands generally signify:
• Projects • Innovation • Risk
• Energy • Taking action • Self-growth
• Spirit • Inspiration • Thesis
• Creativity • Initiation • Enthusiasm
• Desire • Passion • Perception
• Action • Movement • Optimism

cups / water

The suit of cups is also known as chalices, vessels, bowls, containers, or hearts.
Its element is water, and water takes the form of whatever it flows into. Therefore
cups are amiable but, at the same time, diffused. Cups represent going
with the flow and seeking to merge. They receive the impulse from the fiery
wands and respond to it. They represent love, relationship, and imagination,
and provide nurturance and a sense of connectedness. Cups can open you to
your inner feelings and the connections you have with others. Choices at this
level seem instinctual.
When you get a cups card you might want to ask yourself: Am I going with
the flow and where is it taking me? What emotions are flooding (drowning)
me? Am I out of my depth? Am I all washed up? Am I being wishy-washy? Is
this my cup of tea? What's coming in with the tide?
Cups generally signify:
• Feelings • Heart • Relationships
• Emotions • Moods • Unconscious
• Imagination • Intuition • Psychic powers
• Romance • Dreams • Visualization
• Receptivity • Reflection • Inner processes
• Mirroring • Containment • Sink-or-swim feelings

swords / air
The suit of swords is sometimes known as blades, crystals, feathers, clouds, or
spades. Its element is air, and it represents intellect, rationality, logic, analysis,
and the actions that logically carry out these attributes. Swords dissect the
original idea: they think about it, talk about it, struggle with it, organize it,
and cut through anything not focused on the issue. Then they judge solely on
reason and logic. Their methods often bring pain and sorrow, for anything
that cannot stand the bright light of truth is ruthlessly cut away and destroyed.
At the same time, swords thrive on the exchange and development of
ideas, and, hence, communication. At their best they see all sides of an issue,
weigh them carefully, and form clear, articulate opinions.
When you get a swords card, ask yourself: What's the point? Whom or
what am I cutting off? Am I being sharp-tongued? What's clouding the issue?
How can I clear the air? Am I throwing caution to the wind?
Swords generally signify:
• Conflict • Thinking • Law and order
• Criticism • Analyzing • Wit and cunning
• Strategy • Planning • Communication
• Struggle • Discriminating • Discussion
• Decisions • Understanding • Mental processes
• Reason • Problem solving • Fight-or-flight mechanism

pentacles / earth
The suit of pentacles is also known as coins, disks, stones, platters, or diamonds.
Its element is earth, and it represents the fruits of your labor, the results
of your history with other suits. At the same time, pentacles are the literal
"ground" from which new ideas can grow. Pentacles make us feel secure
by means of home, money, traditions, and control or power-all things we
value and often receive in the form of rewards for the work we do. They give
us an appreciation of form and of our bodies. With pentacles, we try to
achieve mastery over matter, either through manual craft and skill, or through
knowledge of how things work.
When you get a pentacles card ask yourself: What brings me down to
earth? Am I being treated like dirt or the salt of the earth? Where's the diamond
in the dust heap? What's steady as a rock? What will ground me? How
can I stop being such a stick-in-the-mud?
Pentacles generally signify:
• Skills • Value • Grounding
• Worth • Material • Centeredness
• Tradition • Security • Health and fitness
• Sensation • Results • Physical, the body
• Actualization • Fruits of labor • Money and economics
• Manifestation • Craftsmanship • Rewards for accomplishment

The ranks vary even more from deck to deck than the suits. The standard designations,
which we will use in this book, are king, queen, knight, and page.
The king depicts mature yang, or masculine energy. He shows outer, public
mastery and expertise in his field. He is an authority figure, a commander, a
manager, a minister, a person used to respect and obedience. He makes decisions
and delegates tasks. He is in many ways like the Emperor of the major
arcana, but with a focus and aptitude limited to the domain of his particular
When you get a king, ask yourself: How do I express mastery, control, maturity,
or integrity? Am I competent? Am I overbearing? Do I run things well?
Kings generally signify:
• Prowess • Competence • Mastery and leadership
• Authority • Respect • Decision making

The queen depicts mature yin, or feminine energy. She shows intra- and interpersonal
mastery and expertise in her field. She leads by persuasion, by intuition,
and by nurturing and encouraging others. She is a facet of the Empress,
expressing understanding and creativity through the energy of her suit.
When you get a queen, ask yourself: How do I bring out the latent qualities
in myself and others? Am I aware of subtleties? How do I nurture? What am I
helping to form?
Queens generally signify:
• Understanding • Persuasion • Communication
• Teaching • Nurturance • Emotional awareness
• Creativity • Intuition • Leadership through consensus

The knight depicts immature yang, or masculine energy. He lacks the king's
sense of perspective but makes up for it in sheer energy.He can be brutally direct.
He seeks to revolutionize and create change.He is the daring adventurer,
the risk-taker, the romancer, the idealist. His essence is motion. He grasps his
suit's lessons, however extreme they may be, by putting forth his all.
When you get a knight, ask yourself:What are my ideals? My obsessions?
My goals and prizes? Do I know what I want? Am I relentless? Am I focused?
Knights generally signify:
• Energy • Passion • Motion toward a goal
• Intention • Focus • Single-mindedness
• Idealism • Vitality • Lust for life

The page depicts immature yin, feminine or child energy. She is open, learning,
curious, innocent, and ready to grow. The page loves life, receives it, and
is immersed in the essence of the suit, living it out without complication.
The page may also be a new person in your life, bringing messages and opportunities.
When you get a page, ask yourself: Am I ready to hear the message? Am I
curious? Am I open to the stirrings of my dreams?
Pages generally signify:
• Curiosity • Hope • Innocence
• Opening • Trust • Beginnings
• Novelty • Growth • Study, apprenticeship

The Court Card Beach Party
Before looking at specific interpretations, here is a way to "break the ice" and
get to know the court card personalities from your favorite deck. Pull out the
sixteen court cards and lay them out in front of you in rows by suit and in
columns by rank. You may want to tape the following guided visualization.
Find a comfortable position, take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths, and
ground yourself in whatever way works for you. Imagine you are walking on a
beach. Listen to the sound of the waves breaking along the shore. It is summer.
The sand is pleasantly hot and there is a cooling breeze that makes the temperature
comfortable. Feel the grains of sand under your feet, and the breeze
against your face as you walk. Smell the fresh, tangy air. You hear the noise of a
party in the distance, and soon come upon a group of people having a good
time. They are the court cards and you suddenly remember that you were invited
to this party.
As you approach them, the first person you see is someone who always
makes you feel warm and welcome. You immediately feel appreciated and
part of the group.Which card is this?
While talking to this court card you notice someone at a distance whom
you don't like, who makes you feel uncomfortable, and who you will do anything
to avoid.Which card is this?
You successfully avoid that person, but now notice someone you are physically
attracted to, feeling drawn as if by a magnet.Which card is this?
Now you notice someone of any age who is goofing off like a kid and having
a wonderful time. You feel lighthearted and playful just looking at this
person.Which card is this?
Before you can join in the fun, you notice someone you deeply admire for
his or her depth of wisdom and understanding. You can't miss this opportunity
to be in his or her presence.Which card is this? Take a moment to find
out what this figure has to say to you.
You feel an inner tug telling you it is time to return to your regular world,
but first you look down at yourself and realize that you are a court card.
Which card are you?
It is time to go, so walk back across the sand, away from the noise of the
party, until the sound of the waves and wind fills your senses. Taking a deep
breath, you quickly and easily find yourself back where you started, sitting in
your room. You are fully present in your physical body and completely aware
of your surroundings. Take another deep breath and, as you exhale, say your
name to yourself three times as you open your eyes.
Take a moment to note why you picked each of the court cards above.
What qualities of each figure made you feel as you did? Remember what the
wise court card told you.Write down any impressions or memories of the experience
in your Tarot journal.
Many Visions of the Tarot Court
Since the very beginnings of Tarot, designers have conceived of the court
cards differently, using a variety of names for the ranks and altering their sex,
age, and roles in society.Modern Tarot deck creators have experimented more
freely with the court cards than with any other part of the deck.
The two most familiar court card systems, found in the Waite-Smith deck
(reflecting the earlier Tarot de Marseille and historical decks) and the Crowley-
Harris Thoth deck, are described in detail in the next chapter. Both of
these systems have been enormously influential, and many modern decks follow
their lead.
The Motherpeace Tarot, created by Vicki Noble and Karen Vogel, was one of
the first decks to feature radically new court cards. They are called shaman,
priestess, son, and daughter. Shamans represent power and experience. They
have developed mastery and control over the qualities of their suit. Priestesses
work from the heart. They receive and channel the energies and forces indicated
by the suit, and are concerned with the sacredness of life. Sons have a
light, playful quality. They use words and analysis, and they are focused and
goal oriented. They represent the ego. Daughters are young and enthusiastic,
representing the child within us all. They experience things through their
senses and use wholistic thinking.
The Voyager Tarot, created by Jim Wanless and Ken Knutson, features the
sage, child, woman, and man in order to point out two great dualities: masculine
and feminine, and youth and age. These cards form what Wanless calls a
"family of images" that work on both the inner and outer levels. Internally,
they represent levels of self-mastery.When externalized, they are teachers or
models of success or difficulties. The sage represents wisdom, know-how, and
the expertise that comes from experience. The child represents new growth
and learning, exploration, spontaneity, openness, and curiosity. The woman
or mother card stands for our receptive, feeling qualities. She is introspective
and self-aware, sensitive, nurturing and people oriented. The man or father
card is the revolutionary. He is externally directed, action and goal oriented.
He seeks change and desires to transform things.
The World Spirit Tarot, by Lauren O'Leary and Jessica Godino, features the
sage, sibyl, seeker, and seer. They describe each of the court or "people" cards
as a "character sketch":
The seers are students, curious about the world around them.
They are young and delicate, and need nurturance and protection.
Seekers interact more dynamically with the world, questing for
answers and challenges, taking risks, and trying to get things done.
As young adults they lack experience and maturity, but not enthusiasm.
The sibyls are the mature embodiment of their suit. They
use their energies wisely and know how to govern their realms
with ease. The sages are accomplished in the world. They bring a
broad perspective garnered by age and responsibility, and they
possess great authority.1

Excerpted from Understanding the Tarot Court by Mary K. Greer, Tom Little
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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