Understanding The Role Of Court Cards In Your Deck

Let's consider the Court cards as a system that follows the basic structure and metaphorical meaning of the number 4:

4 x 4= 16 court cards

Look at each Suit and try to find a pattern of behavior, or hierarchy, or any kind of organization that helps you recognize how each court card relates to its assigned element at the literal, symbolic and mystical levels. Find the structure that makes sense to you and that establishes a conscious and personal understanding of the Courts.

The Court cards can often provide a less threatening way to enter the cosmology of the deck you are working with in a divination. This is why in earlier times (for those of us who are older...) we would often go to a "serious" card reader who would first either select a Court card to represent us or would ask us to pick one of the Court cards that was more personally aligned with us. This card was usually called the "Significator" whether the divination used the Celtic Cross spread or any other format. Quite often, at the end of the reading, you would have developed a different connection with the Significator card; sometimes you might even change it.

Even today, the “Significator” is often picked by querent and or reader before a divination. Often, the criteria for choosing this personality are so subjective that you might find yourself picking a different Court card everytime, depending on your mood or frame of mind. And, there is nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, these characters play with our psyche in ways that startle us. Even the manner in which these sixteen Courts have been linked to the sixteen Myers Briggs personality types shows us their uncanny associations.

The Myers-Briggs personality categories are (for me) an old-fashioned way to define and categorize most patterns of human behavior such as Introvert vs. Extrovert; Sensing vs. Intuitive; Feeling vs. Thinking; Judging vs. Perceiving. Because it conveniently offers 16 personality types it has been incorporated by many Tarot readers in their work as a shortcut for classifying the 16 Court cards. Profiling thru this method is useful to the beginner tarotist as well as to the psychology student or any individual who wants to (quickly) characterize anyone or, better yet, characterize a mode of conduct or behavioral pattern. But, at some point we all realize that just as people cannot be boxed into specific character traits for too long, profiling thru the Court cards limits us considerably and might keep us from really understanding the depths of a divination or how a given card relates to the rest of the spread. Archetypes are formless and can accommodate an array of subjective, subconscious structures, so give the Courts ample space to talk to you.

Mary K. Greer and Tom Little have written an excellent (and quite comprehensive) book, Understanding the Tarot Court (Llewellyn, 2004) that I would strongly recommend if you are interested in a deeper undertanding of these archetypes. Also, there is a great amount of information about the Myers Briggs on the Internet; several sites today offer their own interpretations about using the Myers Briggs with Tarot. One afternoon of "surfing the Net" would probably give you enough of an understanding of correspondences and then you can take it to a higher level with your own intuitive alignment with specific characters and modalities.

Use your own intuition, look at the Courts in your deck as a group of characters in a play, for example. See also where a Court lands within a spread and try to determine if it is a personage or a quality or a mode of behavior being reflected.

What do the PAGE - KNIGHT - QUEEN - KING represent within the structure of your deck?

The Page is often called the KNAVE. For some people the word "knave" could even mean "naive," or "dishonest" and often carries the sense of youth and inmaturity. But, in the Hermetic tradition this is not the case. Young energies are usually connected to the "Prima Materia" and they are meant to represent a transformative process in its full potentiality. Usually the only "female" court card was the Queen until the early 19th century. Today the Pages are either androgynous or assigned to female energies instead.

The Knight carries the mandate of the kingdom. Look at the King and then at the Knight. Is there any connection betwen the two or is one out of character from the other? What activity is the Knight reflecting? Is this the kind of personage that you would entrust with saving your own kingdom?

The Queen can sometimes reflect more wisdom and mental activity than the King. How is each Queen in your deck nurturing the energy assigned to her, or giving it more meaning, more creativity? Which of the four Queens in your deck reminds you of your own mother?

The King rules and manages and structures. Can you trust all four Kings in your deck equally as far as being able to perform their tasks? Which King looks more efficient to you? Which King seems to be unable to perform his task as efficiently as it should?

Because we often see the Courts as personality types, it is useful to keep in mind that they reveal aspects of ourselves as well as how we are viewing or categorizing other people in our lives. Let's look at other categories hierarchies given to the Courts:

Aleister Crowley Book of Thoth(1941):
This order is also used in the Druid Craft Tarot

Do you see a hierarchy or any other kind of pattern in your specific deck? Some decks
use a family cluster, for example, Vision Quest:

Pamela Eakins, Tarot of the Spirit

Daughters are youthfulness; the element of Earth; they symbolize intuition, sensations, basic drives, diffuse perception; Son: supposed to be the archetypal male energy that lives within the Goddess. Both King and Queen have now equal power and they are labeled Shaman and Priestess. They might have different functions but one does not "trump" the other.

World Spirit Tarot:
These four categories tend to jump completely out of their nomenclature the more you work with them.

Ellen Lorenzi-Prince's Tarot of the Crone completely moves away from the "Court" system or hierarchy; instead, we find:
This deck is a beautiful homage to Hecate. The Beast here represents the primal instinct of the element; the Witch is the personal use of that power; the Grandmother is the mature expression of the power, so it's giving and sharing to family or community, it's the kind wisdom that becomes less personal and thusly recaptures an essential use of the element's power. The Shadow here tends to reflect the overdone power of the element or misuse of it in any way.

Rachel Pollack's Shining Tribe Tarot: Awakening the Universal Spirit, calls the Court Cards, "The Vision Cards" and they follow a definite progression that tries to link each Vision Card to the element it represents, to the power that each element can give us; Rachel tries to teach us how to use that power and she actually wants the reader to use visualization techniques with the Vision Cards to gain access to the wisdom and gifts of the various elements. The four suits here are Trees, Rivers, Birds, Stones. Trees are here fire, by the way. The Four Visions are: PLACES: like the Pages, this is where we enter the element: here we begin to understand the power of the Suit and the qualities the Suit can give us.
KNOWERS: like the Knights, the Knower takes on the task of finding out what the element is all about. It is an active participant, it activates the myth.
GIFTS; like the Queens, we go deeper to truly appreciate the creative and fruitful quality of the element depicted. We can use the power of the given element in an imaginative way. We can "Grow Corn" with the knowledge.
SPEAKERS: Like the kings, they must administer the element and decree upon it. As such, their responsibility is to serve the community with the gift, to apply or manage the power of the element in a wise and equitative manner.

So, I invite you to explore these sixteen cards and to find your own associations.

  • A great exercise that connects the Courts with Qabalah is to place them on the Tree of LIfe on their corresponding spheres: Kings with Chokmah; Queens with Binah; Knights or Princes with Tiphareth; Pages or Princesses with Malkuth. Place the cards that go on spheres 2, 3, 6 and 10 for each Minor, plus the Majors that go on these spheres. Do one element at a time or try four distinct trees, to appreciate how the Courts combine with the numbers and the Majors.

Have fun, enjoy the many combinations and associations that emerge when we use our creative imagination.