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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Understanding Court Cards

Many students who are new to the Tarot often have a difficult time in learning exactly how to read Court Cards. The Court Cards are the Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages of any given suit. With four suits and four court cards to a suit there are sixteen court cards in a standard deck of Tarot Cards.

The four suits are said to relate to specific professions associated with them. For example:
  • Wands represent merchants.
  • Cups represent the clergy. 
  • Pentacles represent businessmen. 
  • Swords represent the military.
Court Cards are often used as a signifier in a reading. A signifier is a card that is meant to represent a person who is either posing the question or who is the subject of the reading. There are many different methods which have been used to determine a person's signifier, or calling card, the most traditional of which concerns itself with matching the individual's age and temperament to the Court Cards. For example, adult males are Kings, adult females are Queens, whereas young adults and teenagers are Knights and children  of either gender are pages.

Other Methods of determining a person's signifier include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Some readers determine the suit to use for a person's signifier by using the element associated with the person's Sun Sign. Using this methods Wands represent the fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagitarrius), Cups represent water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), Swords represent air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) and Pentacles represent earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn).
  • Some readers determine the suit by considering the person's temperament. Wands are driven, over achievers, Cups are emotional and empathetic, Swords are the intellectual types, and Pentacles are earthy and creative.
  • Finally, some readers take into account the individual's coloring. For example, Wands represent blonds, Cups represent dark blond to light brown, Swords represent Red heads, and Pentacles represent dark brown to black hair
  • Another method of determining a person's signifier utilizes the Magician for a Man, the High Priestess for a woman, or the Fool for anyone. In other instances, you may wish to take a more literal approach and use the Empress for a pregnant woman, the Emperor for a male authority figure, The Hierophant for a Priest or member of clergy, the Chariot for a race car driver, The Moon for a psychic, the Sun for a person with a "sunny disposition", The Death Card for a mortician, etc...However, keep in mind that you are not limited to the Major Arcana when choosing a signifier. The same creative vision can be applied to the Minor Arcana for this purpose. For example, the Six of Swords can represent a sailor, or ferry worker. The Nine of Pentacles can represent someone with a green thumb and a love for animals. In addition, depending on the deck you have, there may be cards that are not in a traditional deck.
  • In my personal practices, I simply have the person cut the cards before the reading. The card which is on the top of the deck after they are cut is drawn and used as that person's signifier. 
Generally speaking, the numbered cards (Ace through 10) represent day to day events and actions (the what), while the court cards represent the people who participate in these events and actions (the who). The Major Arcana concerns itself with the deeper meaning, or the why, behind the who and the what. In my experience, court cards can represent any of three things in a reading. They are
  1. An aspect of the seeker's personality
  2. Another individual in the seeker's life.
  3. Events or Movement
Aspect of the Personality

Either for better or for worse, people often change. Change can come quickly, or slowly over time as a person matures. The truth is a person's personality and temperament can change from day to day or situation to situation. We all probably know someone who is a wall-flower around strangers but who becomes the life of the party once he or she gets to know the crowd. Then there are those who are very outgoing online, but very shy and reserved in person. In certain instances, it is entirely possible that two or more court cards can represent aspects of one personality.

Some readers apply astrological archetypes to the cards. In the Golden Dawn System the Kings, Queens, and Knights of each suit are assigned to specific Astrological Signs and given their attributes. Such as

  • The King of Wands represents Aries, the Leader. 
  • The King of Pentacles represents Taurus, the Provider. 
  • The King of Swords represents Gemini, the Judge
  • The King of Cups represent Cancer, the Adviser. 
  • The Queen of Wands represent Leo, the Achiever
  • The Queen of Pentacles represents Virgo, the Supporter
  • The Queen of Swords represent Libra, the Worrier
  • The Queen of Cups represents Scorpio, the Healer 
  • The Knight of Wands represent Sagittarius, the Adventurer
  • The Knight of Pentacles represents Capricorn, the Gambler
  • The Knight of Swords represents Aquarius, the Trouble-Maker 
  • The Knight of Cups represents Pisces, the Lover 

In these instances the Pages are not given any astrological attributes.

Other Individuals

More often than not, court cards represent other individuals in the life of the seeker. These can be people that we presently know, people from our past, or a person who will be coming into our life--depending on the position of the card in the reading. In these cases the same astrological attributes as given for the individual can apply to other individuals in the seeker's life.

Events or Movement
Sometimes a court card can represent an event or movement concerning the issue being asked about. Traditionally, Pages are said to represent messages while Knights represent some type of movement or lack thereof. Kings are read as logical, fixed, and sometimes stagnant. Queens are read as emotional, fluid, and wishy-washy. Knights are read as being in a state of flux. Pages are read as potential, influences not fully formed.Whenever you are unsure, you can always refer to surrounding cards for more information. 

Getting to Know You

Here is an exercise that will assist you in getting to know the Court Cards better. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. In the left hand column list the 16 court cards. Now one by one, meditate on each card and write down three traits associated with that card. Finally, in the third column list the name(s) of an individual who fits that description. 

For example: The King of Cups 


  1. A man of business, law, or divinity. 
  2. Sympathetic to others, yet logical.
  3. Gives Good Advice 

  1. Bill Clinton 
  2. Dr. Drew Pinsky
  3. Judge Wapner

Carolina Dean

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