We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Court Cards: Oh, The Confusion!
Tarot court cards, the Minor "people cards," can be confusing to many tarot readers because they can and do represent so many different possible interpretations. Well, so can most of the cards, but court cards are unique because they can represent a certain individual; or they can imply a particular facet of a person, either someone else or the querant; or they can be recommending a certain kind of action; or they might be telling the querant they are displaying a certain type of behavior; or....well, you see? It can be difficult to know what to make of these folks when they show up in a reading.

So, I decided to tackle this subject by way of a series of posts, much like my series on the Aces. (You can find them here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV) There are entire books written on the subject of the Tarot Courts, which gives an idea how rich the subject can be. The funny thing about these cards is that while they are clearly stereotypes of certain people, which makes them barely two-dimensional: rendering them rather flat and static, but when you get to know them as characters in the Tarot story, they truly do develop into people with more three-dimensional characteristics.

There is a historical reason for this. In the early French playing card decks the courts were actually associated with genuine figures of power such as King Charles, Caesar, Judith, Rachel, and Judas Macabee. (No, not Iscariot, different Judas) The figures' identities were not consistent from cardmaker to cardmaker, so it appears the designation may have been left to individual preference. Associating the courts with real historical figures personified them in a way that a generic "King" or "Queen" does not because the qualities of the real person become associated with the particular card. But this naming of court cards was peculiar to the French and not practiced in other European decks and the practice ended after the French Revolution. Wealthy royal families who commissioned tarot decks often had their own images painted as certain figures in the cards, too, so those would have clear association with a particular person as well. In the Vacchetta deck, The Tarot of the Master, the Queen of Swords (shown above) is vividly associated with the Biblical figure of Judith who has clearly succeeded in beheading invading General Holofernes. You can see his decapitated body in the background and yep, that's his head in the bag she is carrying. She kicks ass.

The court card associations with genuine people help in some ways, but are limited in others. If we associate the King of Cups with Charlemagne we will probably miss out on some of the other qualities not associated with that card. Too, if we too closely associate the courts with specific people in our own lives, we can also limit who or what the card may be representing. So while associating specific people to the court cards helps us to gain a more fleshed-out idea of who they are, try not to get locked into just those associations.

Well, how do we know who is who? I'll elaborate more in subsequent posts, but basically there are four courts in each suit. Most decks follow this pattern: Page, Knight, Queen, and King. The Thoth and its variants follow a different structure: Princess, Prince, Queen, Knight. Still other decks, like the DruidCraft use Princess, Prince, Queen, King. Basically they are all similar, though, because the Page/Princess represents the person who is just learning to apply the lessons of the suit, the Knight/Prince is where the hands-on learning and action commence, the Queens are the delegators, management group, and the Kings are the ones who have pretty much mastered the qualities of the suit. Sexist? Yeah, no doubt. It helps to keep the feminist hackles from raising when I remind myself that these are cultural stereotypes and yes, yes we do live in a patriarchal culture. Given the historical time period the cards were invented, too, those were the clear social status levels as well.

It still bugs me, but the saving grace here is that courts, no matter which sex is represented on the card, can represent either gender. You don't have to be a woman to be a Queen nor a man to be a King. Because the courts represent qualities and characteristics, personas and attitudes. In some situations you may show up as a Page, for example, such as when you embark on a new course of study or training wheras in another part of your life, say at work you may find yourself a King if you are a manager or supervisor of people and within your personal relationships you may display more qualities of a Queen. So, they really aren't gender nor age specific.

The biggest struggle in interpreting these cards is not really about their characteristics. Those can be learned and understood much as you learn the meanings of the other cards. What stumbles readers is the question: Is this someone who plays a significant role in this situation or is it a facet of myself that I need to understand? The answer to that is reading specific and dependent on the spread, the position and, very importantly, the question that was asked of the cards. If I am asking about a relationship or social issue I can expect the other people involved to show up in the reading. If I am asking about my own self development, it's more likely the court represents a facet of myself. So then, if I am asking about a social issue having to do with my dealings with others and a court card appears, how then can I know if it is referring to me or to someone else? That depends on the position in the spread. Easy ones are positions like: "What does the other person think of me?" Queen of Swords. Ok, so the qualities (good and bad, ahem...don't forget the negative ones when it's referring to you) of the Queen of Swords is the impression this person has of you. This is good to know if you were aiming to project more of the Queen of Wands' style but have come across as the Queen of Swords instead. More complicated interpretation is needed when a court appears in a position like, "Outcome of the situation." It could be a person that will figure prominently in the resolution of the issue at question, but often I see it as the qualities in the querant that will be strengthened or that will be necessary to come to the fore. In these positions the court card can be read as advice. Ask yourself, "What would the King of Pentacles do in this situation?" Reflecting on that question gives you an idea how to proceed, what attitude to assume, which qualities in yourself you need to rely on and use to your benefit.

Courts CAN be tricky because they will often show up where you least expect them and their advice isn't always clear. Getting to know them as people in their own right helps tremendously. So in the following posts I'll introduce you to the Tarot Court as I have come to know them. Your own relationships with them will likely be a little different than mine, as you will have different associations with them and different interactions. Just as with the real people in our lives, we may have different views of them than other people do depending on our experiences with them. So it is with the Tarot Court people, too. Don't rely on other people's relationships with them, develop your own. Only then will they speak directly to you rather than through an interpreter. Consider my character sketches as my introduction of someone I have come to know, but with whom you will come to know in your own way as well. You may find the person to be all I said they were and then some, or you may disagree with my assessments. That's terrific. You do that.

The Tarot of the Master is produced by Lo Scarabeo in Italy, but is distributed in the US by Llewellyn. Copyright 2002.


  1. Anonymous1:32 PM

    I struggle with court cards, so I can't wait to hear what you say about them.

    I'd love a tarot based on music. Maybe I should make one.

  2. You should! The various styles of music are just rife with associations to tarot meanings.

    A lot of people struggle with court cards. Sometimes they show up in positions where they just don't seem to fit and they just sit there, mute, and you go, ok wtf are YOU doing here? :D

  3. Anonymous3:33 PM

    Yo Ginny,

    I like your style...really enjoying this article.
    Did my first official tarot reading the other day....it was so powerful. 7 of the 9 cards that came up were Major Arcana. I was jazzed. It was so full of meaning. The next day did another, a heaping pile of confusing courts. Made it through and it came out clear enough, but this article was just what I have been looking for.

    Brad-Portland, OR

  4. Hey Brad, thanks! Yeah, those courts, they have so much to say it can be difficult to hear what they ARE saying. Sometimes if you really and truly cannot "get it" it can help to draw a clarifying card on a court. But usually you can get it from the surrounding cards, but Lord help you if the surrounding cards are also courts! Then everybody's talking at once and it's hard to hear anything! LOL

  5. Anonymous10:22 PM

    LOL :) I hear ya...or am unable to quite catch all of it...umm, yeah, you get what i'm saying.:)

  6. I know I'm late since you published this post like, literally years ago, but I'm so glad I stumbled onto your site! I'm living for this historical context -- so valuable and v unique compared to other tarot blogs I've found in my research. Thank you!!


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