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Tarot: Reading the Court Cards


 INTRODUCTION
COMMON ISSUES
ELEMENTAL ENERGIES AND THE SUITES
MALE AND FEMALE ENERGIES
METHODS OF READING COURT CARDS
A CONCLUSION



TABLES :
Suites - Their Element, Expression, Ruling area, and Zodiac Signs
Court Cards – Their Elements, Type of People, and Special Meanings
Court Cards – Physical Characteristics
Associations of Court Cards with Zodiacal Signs

INTRODUCTION

The court cards are often the last item a student of the Tarot grapples with. The titles are familiar, their faces have been seen for years in regular playing decks. The Page (Jack), Knight, Queen and King have been our companions through many a game of poker, spades, or hearts. Then why the confusion and trepidation when faced with reading the royal cards?

The root of reading confusion is the multitude of ways to read the court cards. My answer would be the same if one asked how to read the minor or major arcana cards: find a way, "program" the cards, and stick with the method. Deviate when needed, but have a method and practice that will provide focus during a reading.

 

COMMON ISSUES

The first requirement of finding a method to read the court cards is both simple and difficult. One can see them as psychological or zodiacal representations of people, an energy of a given situation, or a representation of one’s self in the reading. The issue is this: ask three people what their zodiacal and psychological associations are, and you will probably receive three answers. Some of issues one will face are:

Given there are sixteen court cards, and only twelve zodiac signs, who is left out? The common practices are to not associate a zodiacal association with either the Page or the Knight. I follow the Golden Dawn’s methods, and leave the Pages without zodiacal association. Instead they are associated with the four quadrants of the polar regions.

To associate a zodiacal element to a court card, one must decide which element goes with which suite. Some people feel wands are fire, and swords are air. Others feel swords are fire and wands are air. I side with the previous association. There is no "right" selection. Your choice should be based on your training and own experience/opinion.

The court cards can be held strictly to physical types and genders, or they can be loosely read for all people. For example, one may feel that a Queen of Cups always represents a female with golden brown hair and blue eyes. Additionally, one may also feel that the Queen of Cups is always a Pisces. These are common, but not "right" associations given later in this document. Personally, I would normally think a Queen of Cups as a Scorpio women with dark hair and dark eyes. I would suggest that one take the latter method: loosely reading the cards for all people. Queens and Kings may represent men or women. Someone may be very business-like one day: Queen of Pentacles; and be very practical the next day: Queen of Wands.


ELEMENTAL ENERGIES AND THE SUITES

An understanding of the psychological aspects of the court cards is dependant on an understanding of the elemental energies, and the suites they work through.

Pentacles: Earth

The element of Earth is expressed through the direct experiences of our five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. This suite is one of action and reaction. When I sell somebody an item, they will give me money. When I eat ice cream, it will taste good. When I drink too much, I will have a hangover. The functions are uncomplicated. When somebody lives at an Earth level, life could be as slow and steady as the seasons turning and the crops growing. Paganism feels very much in touch with these cycles, and celebrates them on Full Moons and quarters of the year.

Wands: Fire

The element of Fire adds passion and energy to the foundation created by the element of Earth. The natural rhythms of the planet are usurped by outside influences. The result is new creations and ideas. The goals created are not dependent on the timing of the planet. As events are accelerated, the natural balance is sometimes overthrown. The result is competition, seen most vividly in the sixth through ninth cards. The passion of the Wands is a force largely devoid of emotions. It is neither cold hearted nor full of anger. The volcano is an analogy in that it can destroy existing land, plants, and animals as it creates new land. There is no motivation of destruction. Transformation, a function of death and birth, is a balanced force of nature.

Cups: Water

The element of Water adds emotions to the tarot. Water is a substance that flows to the lowest places, and it can be calm or stormy. Water can be represented by shallow puddles or by bottomless oceans. Emotions take on all of these qualities. The shape and status of water is dependent on its container and temperature.

Swords: Air

The element of Air adds intellect and conscious thinking to the tarot. The element of air is the most removed from the element of Earth. Fire is dependent on Earth for fuel. Water is dependent on Earth for a place to rest. Air can exist without Earth. This nature analogy can be extended to the realm of our being. One can make decisions, and have thoughts, that are not based on reality, or grounded in practicality. The thought that begins as a breeze quickly becomes a tornado, or escapes into the emptiness of space. Air is the most difficult element to contain, control, and quantity. The more we try to control our thoughts, the wilder they become. Meditation brings our thoughts back to a stable form. The purest forms of meditation seek not to contain, control, or quantify thoughts. Zen meditation instead acknowledges a thought, and allows for its natural departure. There is no counting of thoughts, no tally sheet of grievances and hurts.

 
MALE AND FEMALE ENERGIES

To properly read the court cards, one must have a grasp of the mystic associations of "male" and "female" energy. Male energies are fast and sudden. The price for the bursts of energy are paid through short duration and non-lasting effects. Given their shorter life cycles, male energy is associated with completion and readiness to let go or move on. The elements of fire-wands and air-swords are male centric. Both forces of fire and air require much energy to maintain. When the energy is removed, the elements are still and inert. A forest fire or hurricane are elemental examples.

Female energies are slow and steady. This does not make female energies weak. Their slowness allows for constant application of power. Much effect can be gained with little effort. Due to the slowness of the female energy and its inability to quickly shift focus, the effects can be seen as "controlling" and "domineering". When grossly stereotyped, the mystic female energy is that of the Jewish mother rather than the female’s "right to change their mind". The elements of earth-pentacles and water-cups are female centric. When placed in or on an object, these elements require little or no energy to maintain their resulting force or enveloping qualities. The sand dunes of the desert, or the valley carving stream, are elemental examples.

 
METHODS OF READING COURT CARDS

As mentioned previously, the court cards can be read one of four ways: an event or movement, physical aspects of people, zodiacal aspects of people, psychological aspects of people, or psychological aspects of a situation. Additionally, there are some common traditional meanings to be considered.


Court Cards as Event or Movement

The Page and Knight court cards are often read as events or movements. A common reading for the Page cards is that of a message. In my own readings, I draw another card after a Page to discern the message carried by the Page. The Knights can be read as types of movements. Traditionally, a Knight of Wands is change of residence, a Knight of Cups is change in relationships/emotions, a Knight of Swords is change of fortune or thinking, and a Knight of Pentacles is a change of money. When there are many Knights in a spread, this is a sure indicator that changes are on the way, and there will be change in more than one area of the querent’s life.


Court Cards as Physical Aspects of People

A common method of reading is to decipher based on what one sees. Under this philosophy, one matches the physical characteristics of a court card to that of an actual person. If the Knight of Wands is pulled, and it has blond hair and blue eyes, the reader would say "there is someone in your life with blond hair and blue eyes". This ties readings to the pictures in a particular deck, or to memorized characteristics of each card. I do not encourage this method of reading court cards. However, I would not rule them out. One should always read intuitively, and reading physical aspects is a valid method when it ‘feels right’.


Zodiacal Aspects of People

Another common method of reading a court card is as a person with that court card’s zodiacal association. If a Knight of Wands comes up, one reads the card as somebody born during the zodiac sign of Sagittarius. The problem with this method is diversity of systems defining zodiacal associations. I have seen no less than four different ones, and I could probably find a new one for every other Tarot book I open. In this document, I present the associations from James Wanless’ book "New Age Tarot: Guide to the Thoth Deck".


Psychological Aspects of People

The method of reading the court cards as psychological aspects is based on an understanding of the elements and nature of the elements’ genders. When these are grasped, a psychological aspect of a card can be synthesized. Each type of court card is associated with an element. Pages are paired with Earth, Knights with Fire, Queens with Water, and Kings with Air. Thus, a Page of Wands would be "Earth of Fire". When one sees the "element A of element B" formula, several methods of evaluation may be used. The first is to visualize what happens when the two mix. In our example, a female card is indulging in male energies. The result would be earth existing in fire: lava rocks or charcoal. Charcoal would be a better choice. It represents change, although it is slower than other methods of combustion. In contrast, The Knight of Pentacles would be "Fire of Earth". It would be read as a male card indulging in female energies, and its physical representation would be that of lava. The element mixing and gender interpretations should be personal, and the images derived are based on the individual’s background and understanding of psychology of elements and genders.


Psychological Aspects of a Situation

The psychological reading of a situation is done using the same methods as psychological reading of people. The difference is that instead of the cards speaking of an individual, they are focused on an environment, event, or occurrence. The nature of the situation is clarified to the reader.


Some Traditional and Personal Readings

There are some traditional readings of the court cards. One that I am aware of, but do not personally use, is the association of the Page of Swords with a person who is spying. Another is the Page of Wands representing the birth of a child. In my own reading, I often read the Knight of Wands as representing a sexual experience. While these interpretations are often traditional, they are also personal, and may not seem to be based on any "logic". This is part of the Tarot’s charm and power.

 
A CONCLUSION

Having this "tool chest" of reading methods is of little use unless one does two things. The first is to choose a set of methods and to read by the majority of the time. This provides focus for readings, and thus provides a foundation for the Tarot’s magic. With a list of rules established, one can read with confidence. The second thing one must do is more important. Use intuition. Know when to bend, break, or even throw the rules out the window. Those who are very intuitive seem to never adopt a set of rules. If they did, they would only end up discarding them. Those of us less talented benefit from the structure of established patterns. However, one should have a goal of reading with maximum intuition, and feeling free to disregard any pre-established methods. The Spirit, be it Goddess, Angels, Guides, or personal divinity, is fully capable of divination in a spontaneous, trusting mode. To draw an analogy, true magic does not require ritual or dogma. It only requires perfect trust and abandonment to the higher powers within/outside ourselves.

 


Suites - Their Element, Expression, Ruling area, and Zodiac Signs

Suit Element Jungian Expression Rules Signs
Wands Fire Intuition Creativity and Drive Leo, Aries, Sagittarius
Cups Water Feeling Emotion Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio
Swords Air Thinking Mental Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Pentacles Earth Sensation Manifestation (money and things) Taurus, Capricorn, Virgo


Court Cards – Their Elements, Type of People, and Special Meanings

Court Card Element (within Suite) Type of Person Special Meaning
Pages Earth Children or Young Person Signifies change or messages
Knights Fire Young men under the age of thirty Comings and goings, changes in status-quo
Queens Water Married or sexually mature women  
Kings Air Mature Men  


Court Cards – Physical Characteristics

Court Card Hair Color Eye Color Special
Page of Wands Red or Blond Blue Messenger or Postman
Knight of Wands Blond Blue or Grey Change of Residence
Queen of Wands Red or Blond Blue or Brown  
King of Wands Red or Blond Grey or Hazel  
Page of Cups Brown Blue or Brown Birth of child or engagement in the arts
Knight of Cups Brown Grey or Blue Message, proposition, or invitation
Queen of Cups Golden Brown Blue  
King of Cups Fair Blue  
Page of Swords Light Brown Blue Message or types of spying
Knight of Swords Dark Dark Coming or going of misfortune
Queen of Swords Light Brown Grey  
King of Swords Dark Brown Dark  
Page of Pentacles Rich Brown Dark News and message about money
Knight of Pentacles Dark Brown Dark Coming or going of matter of money
Queen of Pentacles Dark Dark  
King of Pentacles Dark Dark  

 

Associations of Court Cards with Zodiacal Signs

Sign

Glyph

Element Court Card Quality
Aries

Fire Queen of Wands The Seer
Taurus

Earth King of Pentacles The Builder
Gemini

Air Knight of Swords The Decider
Cancer

Water Knight of Cups The High Flyer
Leo

Fire King of Wands The Seeker
Virgo

Earth Knight of Pentacles The Healer
Libra

Air Queen of Swords The Crystallizer
Scorpio

Water King of Cups The Rebirther
Sagittarius

Fire Knight of Wands The Revolutionary
Capricorn

Earth Queen of Pentacles The Suceeder
Aquarius

Air King of Swords The Thinker
Pisces

Queen of Cups

The Feeler

 

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