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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 advances)
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 another.
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 suit.
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
Posted April 30, 2011
I Also Recommend:
Many who have undertaken the study of Tarot have found the most challenging cards in the deck to be the Court cards, the kings, queens, knights and pages of the four suits of cups, wands, swords, and pentacles. Do they represent aspects of the seeker's personality? Or are they other people impacting the seeker's experiences and emotions? Still yet, do the Court cards represent the subtle shadow self of the individual? The exercises and explanations in Understanding The Tarot Court by Mary K. Greer and Tom Little attempt to answer these questions and more.
The book is intended not as an introductory lesson but for those advanced students of Tarot who already understand basic card meanings and symbolism who are looking for more progressive tutoring in specialized topics. Still, the book opens with a basic explanation of the suits and their generalized meanings. A valuable exercise demonstrates how to read a card by intuiting several keywords and determining one's own interpretation of the card. Greer and Little often remind their readers that while countless compendia of card interpretations exist, all provide slightly different explanations, and the authentic, effective Tarot card reader intuitively determines each card's unique meaning during a specific reading.
To better understand the Court cards, the Court is explained in both familial and societal settings. An intriguing aspect of the book is the incorporation of psychology and the mention of the Myers-Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator in determining the meanings of the cards. Jungian psychology and a discussion of archetypes add an entirely different dimension to the interpretations. Combined with the astrological meanings behind the cards, one has a plethora of tools at his disposal to adequately interpret the Court cards.
The authors move on to the more mystical aspects of the Court cards, incorporating detailed explanations of the Kabbalah, Neopagan Cosmology, and numerological meanings. All of these aspects and possible interpretations are tied together using several Tarot spreads, and the position of the individual Court card within the spread will help the reader understand whether the card refers to the seeker himself or someone else within the seeker's life. Should you want to design your own Tarot deck, the authors also offer an entire chapter of recommendations for establishing your own Court.
Although Greer and Little encourage individual, intuitive interpretations, they do offer their thoughts on the meaning of each individual court card as a starting point. The interpretations, along with the exercises, are illustrated using several popular Tarot decks for a variety of meanings. The information is at times overwhelming, and the attempt to incorporate such a vast expanse of knowledge and history into a relatively short book can leave the reader feeling anxious. To best learn from this book, use it as a reference tool, referring back to it time and again when working through individual Court card interpretations. Especially useful are the appendices and bibliography, citing many more useful sources of information.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2011
This book allows you to determine your own interpretations of the Court cards and how you want to use them in your readings. It is good if you want to do your own personal exploration of these cards (there are a lot of exercises to allow you to do this) but not if you are looking for a quick and easy way to apply them in a reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 31, 2005
Having trouble understanding those pesky court cards? This is the book to buy. There's enough material here to give you a comprehensive understanding of the courts. It will not be a book that you quickly outgrow. And there is a bibliography!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.