~ “Fucking Courts!” ~
— Moi ^_^
Yes, I still say that whenever too many court cards appear within a reading. Especially whenever I’m just doing a simple no-frills 3 card reading, and two (and sometimes all three of them) are court cards. Earlier, I used to think it’s only me who had trouble reading court cards, but it turns out, virtually everyone I’ve come across (seasoned professionals, novices, and even Tarot Authors) have issues with the courts. So trust, me, you’re not alone in your frustration regarding interpreting court cards. However, if you say you don’t need any help regarding court cards and that they’re a breeze to read through, then you’re either the great grand master of all things Tarot and should have a shrine built in your honor… or, you’re just a cocky liar, so get off your high horse already :P
Why are the courts so F*d up?
The answer to that comes from how Tarot evolved. You see, earlier on, when virtually every deck was a TDM (Tarot De Marseilles) or a TDM clone, the courts were all of a set role – King, Queen, Knight, and Page. Very simple, very feudalistic. Kings were all matured/married men (though so many married men I’ve come across are anything but mature), Queens were mature/married women (ditto), Knights were single unmarried men (read horny pigs that shag everything that moves – oh don’t gimme that look, where else do you think the whole ‘Knight in shining armor’ fantasy came from), and Pages were either children or young unmarried women (goes to show the pittiful state of a young single girl back in the day. Come to think of it, such a mindset is still followed in many cultures of the world, but let’s get back to the subject). Everything was fine and dandy, as psychology wasn’t yet created, and minors were all unillustrated pips (yes, I know there are exceptions, but work with me here) so courts totally were used to represent people (‘I see a tall dark stranger in your future’).
Then in the 19th century, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn came into the picture and began messing around with our limited feudalistic courts. By stuffing all their esoterica (that has oft been criticized to begin with) into the Tarot, they began assigning elements to not only the suits of the minors, but also to the ranks of the courts. Queens were water and Pages were earth (trust a bunch of stuffy old men to call earth a ‘step-element’ and assign it to a Page – as an earth sign, I take offense to the degradation of my element). The Knight on his fancy horse was fire (read testostrone fueled) and the Kings were assigned air for their logic and reasoning skills (as if!).
However, while this was assigned, some dude in a tacky traditional robe (yeah, str8 men have no concept of fabric and design) must have gone all, “Hey, shouldn’t fire get a ‘higher’ rank? After all, fire is the primary consort of water, and thus it would be more fitting if the Queens consort was fire instead of air.” And so all the GD honchos decided to ‘promote’ the Knight to King (they actually penciled it in on their existing decks), while the King got ‘demoted’ to Prince or Son. The Queens remained queens, and to create a more balance in the genders, renamed the Pages, Princess or Daughter (woo-hoo, a step in the right direction for women’s lib!).
Not everyone was happy with this. Arthur Edward Waite (who shall now be referred to as Uncle Art for short) and Aleister Crowley (Uncle Al), who went on to create their respective Tarot decks that laid the foundation for the evolution of modern Tarot, had their own take on the courts.
Uncle Art was a stuffy old soul (have you ever read his works? Snoozefest!) and decided to go with the Traditional style of the TDM Courts, and thus reinstating the King and the Knight back in their respective positions, and stripping away the Page off his Princess title.
Uncle Al was a… well, a ‘colorful’ character, and decided to take the GD court model a step further by retaining the Knights original title, and making him the highest station and demoted the King to Prince.
(Dysfunctional) Family Dynamics
In the TDM and RWS (Rider Waite Smith – A Tarot Deck created by Uncle Art and Pamela ‘Pixie’ Coleman Smith) decks, the court ranks are based on the royal households of Europe’s feudal period. The King was the absolute ruler of his domain, which he inherited from his father. His consort was his Queen, who most likely married the dude for political and societal reasons. The Knight is either the king’s military commander or an ambitious young vassal. He could even be the royal heir to the throne and thus proving his prowess through tournaments and battles (and sowing his wild oats into all the young maidens). The Page was either their household servant or foster child, that lived with them and attended their needs (developing a major Cinderella complex while cleaning their ‘royal thrones’ every morning).
In the Thoth Tarot (Uncle Al’s deck which he created with Lady Freida Harris), the Knight and Queen were the primary couple with two children, the Prince and the Princess. Crowley’s family model was part based on pre-christian pagan cultures, and part based on fairytales – Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the world was kinda messed up. Since communities were so far off and isolated, people would end up shagging sheep and/or their cousins to get their kicks. As we all know, children born out of incest and inbreeding just tend to be anything but normal, and when too many of such kind are born, the kingdoms would just dwindle on virtually all levels. The Royal Family was treated like divinity, mainly cause inbreeding never occured, and thus they remained all the more healthier, vigorous, and ‘potent’ than their royal subjects. Thus their vitality were directly linked to the land and their community.
The King was a wise and powerful ruler. However, age caught up on him, and he became infertile. Trying to remain youthful, he still tried to do all sorts of crazy things to prove he was still ‘da man’. In the process of doing so, he ended up throwing out his back, causing him to remain bedridden and unable to really get it up (this is what happens when you decide to pump iron instead of opt for yoga and tai chi). This lead to the land drying up and eventually becoming a wasteland. Upon seeing this happen, big scary monsters began terrorizing the people, as the knew the King was powerless to do anything.
The Queen would sigh and cry, “Oh why is this happening to us? Why oh why oh why?” and she would beg and pray for someone to come along and rescue them. And hopefully be cute enough to marry their daughter who just sits all day in her room singing aimlessly about being ‘awoken’. (Taylor Swift anyone?)
Then one day, a strong handsome and very virile Knight was galloping along, till he heard the most beautiful voice in the world. So captivated by the siren call, that he changed course and began galloping towards the voice. Upon reaching the kingdom, he realized that the voice was coming from the Princesses chambers, and upon gazing at her, he fell in love with her at first sight. But as soon as he saw the state of the land, and the fact that a ravaging monster was breathing fire and stomping around innocent inbred peasants, he boldly went on to slay the beast and save the kingdom. For his courage and strength, he was given the hand of the princess to marry. The Old King and Queen gave up their throne and took to the fancy old folks home in the pre-christian Boca Raton, while the princess went onto becoming the new Queen, with the Knight as her consort. They got it on like a pair of wild monkeys, and gave birth to two children, the Prince and the Princess, and the land was again fertile and abundant. The Prince would eventually be set out to follow daddy’s footsteps to rescue another land in turmoil and rescue it, while the Princess would be groomed to become the future Queen.
And they lived happily ever after.
Oy! And I thought my family was messed up.
That’s all well and nice, but how do I read the effin’ courts?
Well, that’s the tricky part. You see, due to the differences between the RWS, GD, and Thoth systems of court cards, we’re all left confused with the question ‘which one do we follow?’ One way of going about it is to read solely with either a TDM, RWS, or Thoth deck and stick with that system and see how it works for you. That’s all fine and dandy till the point you’re viewing the courts as just ‘people’. However, as Tarot has evolved, we have discovered that beyond mere prediction, Tarot can also be used as a therapeutic tool, enabling us to get a deeper and more profound insight into ourselves and the world around us (and even the universe), and thus, we have come to discover that Court Cards, along with representing other people in our lives, also represent different parts of ourselves. Our appearance can fit in with one card, while our emotional side could fit better with another. Hell, even the way we communicate, make love, achieve a goal, and the various stages of our own lives, can be represented by different court cards. And if that didn’t make matters more complicated, Court Cards can also represent situation (yes, situations) in our lives, where either we have to behave like the court-persona, or the situation itself is a manifestation of that particular court card.
And to make matters worse, different decks offer different perspectives on the courts. Some of them even try to combine the TDM/RWS style with the Thoth systems! And while the GD/Thoth systems have a long list of various esoteric correspondences assigned to each court card, they some how don’t totally fit in well with the TDM/RWS courts, thus sparking public (and private) debate on how to merge the two systems, as well as, how to apply them universally, so that no matter what deck we read with, it all applies therein. And don’t get me started on how all the therapeutic psychological correspondences have been assigned to each court card, that’s a whole different can of worms altogether.
I’ve tried my best to create a set of keywords for the ranks of the courts, so as to share with you my own personal system of handling the courts, as well as, offer another perspective on the Tarot Courts. I am not saying this is the absolute right way! Nor am I saying that I stand by this completely. I’m a human being, I evolve with the times, and always keep an open mind for new theories and practices. For now, this is what works for me, and this is what helps me interpret the damned courts at the end of the day. If it helps you, fabulous! If it confuses you, I sincerely apologize, and if you disagree with my assignations, please feel free to share your thoughts.
But before we get to those, let’s take a brief look at how we can interpret court cards within a reading:-
- A person in our life, identified by their physical attributes, profession, role, or even personality type and astrological sign.
- An aspect of our own personality, style, attitude, or role we play.
- A relationship we have with people within our life.
- A spiritual influence at work in our lives.
- Events and situations (past, present, and future).
- Times or seasons of the year.
- Qualities we need to cultivate within ourselves.
How do we know when to interpret a court as one of the above? Well, the answer is simple in theory but complex in application, and I’m sorry, but I’m not able to provide a better answer at this moment – Trust your intuition and go with it.
And with that, I present to you the Keywords for the various ranks of the Tarot Court
- KINGS (GD/Thoth Emperor/Prince)
Malik. Re. Roi. Lord. Chief. Patriarch. Master. Father. Guardian. Man. Sage. Resolving. Exemplar. Shaman. Companion.
- Traditional Rank: Mature or Married Man
- Element: Airy part of the Element
- Polarity: Mature Yang Energy
- Astrology: Fixed Signs – (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius)
- Tetragrammaton: Vau (Intellect)
- Qabalistic World: Yetzirah (Mind)
- Sephirah: Tiphareth (Beauty)
- Corresponding Minors: The Sixes
- MBTI Personality Axis: Extraverted (E) Judgers (J)
- Craft Standing: Master (of the outer, public). Decision Maker.
- Function: Direction. Authority.
- Service: Administer. Conserver
- Area of Society: Government
- Social Function: Father; consort.
- Developmental Stage: Fixed, static, or out-moded ideas. Result.
- Developmental Function: Finality. Completion. Letting Go. Closure.
- Keywords: Competence. Authority. Respect. Decision Making. Mastery. Leadership. Prowess.
Regina. Dame. Reina. Lady. Matriarch. Mistress. Goddess. Mother. Guide. Woman. Lover. Sibyl. Lover. Priestess.
- Traditional Rank: Mature or Married Woman
- Element: Watery part of the Element
- Polarity: Mature Yin Energy
- Astrology: Cardinal Signs – (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn)
- Tetragrammaton: He (Emotions)
- Qabalistic World: Briah (Heart/Soul)
- Sephirah: Binah (Understanding)
- Corresponding Minors: The Threes
- MBTI Personality Axis: Introverted (I) Judgers (J)
- Craft Standing: Master (of the inner, interpersonal). Maintainer.
- Function: Support. Foundation.
- Service: Nurturer. Caregiver.
- Area of Society: Religion.
- Social Function: Mother; consort.
- Developmental Stage: Devotional and developmental ideas. Motivation.
- Developmental Function: Maturity. Competency. Fulfillment. Authority. Skill. Understanding.
- Keywords: Understanding. Persuasion. Communication. Teaching. Nurturance. Emotional Awareness. Creativity. Intuition. Leadership.
- KNIGHTS (GD Kings)
Na’ib. Cavaliere. Cavalier. Caballo. Warrior. Son. Brother. Seeker. Angel. Man. Dancer. Awakening. La Place. Totem.
- Traditional Rank: Young Single Man
- Element: Fiery part of the Element
- Polarity: Immature Yang Energy
- Astrology: Mutable Signs – (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces)
- Tetragrammaton: Yod (Will)
- Qabalistic World: Atziluth (Spirit)
- Sephirah: Chokmah (Wisdom)
- Corresponding Minors: The Twos
- MBTI Personality Axis: Extraverted (E) Perceivers (P)
- Craft Standing: Journeyman. Explorer.
- Function: Travel. Departure. Change of Residence.
- Service: Action. Movement.
- Area of Society: History and National Characteristics
- Social Function: Adventurer.
- Developmental Stage: Revolutionary ideas. Overturns outmoded effects.
- Developmental Function: Focus. Intensity. Involvement. Directness.
- Keywords: Energy. Passion. Motion Towards Goal. Intention. Focus. Single-mindedness. Idealism. Vitality. Lust for Life.
- PAGES (GD/Thoth Princess)
Thani. Valet. Apprentice. Servant. Child. Daughter. Princess. Elemental. Maiden. Novice. Sister. Seer. Muse. Innocence.
- Traditional Rank: Young Single Woman or Child/Youth.
- Element: Earthy part of the Element
- Polarity: Immature Yin Energy
- Astrology: The Seed/Root of the Elements
- Tetragrammaton: He – Final (Senses)
- Qabalistic World: Assiah (Body)
- Sephirah: Malkuth (Kingdom)
- Corresponding Minors: The Tens
- MBTI Personality Axis: Introverted (I) Perceivers (P)
- Craft Standing: Student. Apprentice. Servant
- Function: News. Study.
- Service: Catalyst of Change.
- Area of Society: Arts and Science.
- Social Function: Messenger. Envoy.
- Developmental Stage: New Ideas. Possibilities
- Developmental Function: Risk. Faith. Setting Out.
- Keywords: Curiosity. Hope. Innocence. Opening. Trust. Beginnings. Novelty. Growth. Study. Apprenticeship.
And with that, I conclude my introduction to the Tarot Court. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey so far. I shall be providing keywords for each Suit Family in subsequent postings. Thank you for bearing with my rant :D
Love and Blessings
PS: I wrote this post in the spirit of humor and promoting understanding. I do not wish to offend anyone at all with anything that is written here. There are far too many ‘scholarly’ works upon the Tarot Courts that provide way more in-depth info than I have, and though not all of it would match entirely what I’ve posted here, please understand that this is my understanding of the courts, and how I work with them, and how they seem to work with me.