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Prismatic court cards

In every Tarot readers learning journey, there comes a time when one must look at the court cards. These are almost more elusive in many ways than the Major cards, in part due to the the very light descriptions in supporting books for a particular deck. I say light description because in many cases the court cards are likened to certain ‘types’ of people or personalities. The King of Wands might be said to be bold and brash, social and a great leader. The fact that it is a King would also possibly indicate responsibility, law and order in some way. What does that tell you about the King of Wands in a reading, or the reason there is a King of Wands in the deck at all? This general issue troubled me (and possibly other new readers) because, by definition, depending on the placement of the court card it could indicate several different things. For example, in our case the King of Wands might indicate an older (or middle-aged) man in the querent’s life. It also might indicate that the querent will take on some of the typical personality traits indicated by the card. It also might indicate that the querent should take on some of the personality traits indicated. To be exhaustive, I could also suggest that our King here could also indicate that the querent should take more direct and assertive control over a given situation (due to the inherent archetypal nature of what we perceive as a ‘King’) or that the querent is influenced by a ‘Father figure’. On reflection, perhaps I shouldn’t have suggested I would be exhaustive, because in fact one could probably write an entire essay in itself on just one specific court card. At any rate, in contrast to the other Minor cards and indeed also to the Major cards the court cards are really prisms and contain a very large variety of potential meanings and lenses. Some of which I will attempt to enumerate here (based on some of my own study).

To begin, perhaps a short digression on the naming of the court cards should be made. The most popular naming convention follows the Rider-Waite deck which is King, Queen, Knight and Page. Other decks follow different naming conventions. Notably, the Thoth Deck chooses a more ‘active’ designation for the King of RWS, naming it a ‘Knight’ — in this scheme the order is Knight, Queen, Prince and Princess. Other decks mutate this still (and possibly older decks at that) giving the designation King, Queen, Emperor and Empress. During this piece, I will refer to RWS designation but provide reference to one alternate designation, where appropriate.

The court cards as personalities

The first, and possibly most obvious designation assigned to the court cards is that of assigning specific personality types to the court cards. Whether that personality type reflects a person in the querent’s life, or a specific mode of operation the querent should embody is left to the interpretation of the reader based on the current spread or question. The elemental correspondences from the suit to which the card belongs does a lot to define the personality types.

Wands and Swords (Fire and Air elements) are ‘Active’ elements, positive. Cups and Disks (Water and Earth elements) are ‘Passive’ elements, negative. One asserts, the other absorbs. One disseminates, the other re-emanates. These basic elemental aspects are then synthesized with snapshots of a human at particular points in their lives. For example, the Queen often is projected as a person with plenty of experience in life (regardless of suit), whereas the Page (or Princess) might be someone younger and more inexperienced, but with more potential overall.

So the synthesis of the element happens with the model of a particular person and the personality is defined. This is often left up firstly to the definitions from the card creators themselves (at least initially). Modes of behaviour thus subsequently unfold when mapping an element to a stage of a persons life. Fire (wands) creates and destroys. It multiplies in strength given enough fuel, thus it has a vigour and enthusiasm to expand and consume. A young enthusiastic and creative type might be a fitting description for the Page of Wands. Reversed this can indicate this energy flipped to more malefic purposes, an irreverent and destructive youth as a potential description.

One can take this mapping procedure throughout all the court cards to synthesize potential descriptions for the personalities of all the court cards. Elements are a big factor, but don’t forget that the Minor cards in general attempt to describe ‘normal life’ and from the personality point of view, the elements are mapped to real personalities and people.

The court cards as collections of minor cards

The next lens we can put onto each court card is one of rulership over three Minor cards each (with the exception of the Page, or Princess). Kings, Queens and Knights each own three Minor cards with the Page being assigned the Ace of each suit. It might be said that these three cards define further the energy represented by the court card itself, or simply the domains of expertise which the court card commands. I will attempt to outline a formula to determine which card each court owns and oversees.

We shall start with a simple mnemonic to recall the order of the card ownership, as recorded in a typical ‘decan wheel’.

F. E. A. R.
Fire, Earth, Air, wateR.

The process of the elements as outlined in the court cards follows this pattern. Earth follows Fire, Air follows Earth, Water follows Air and Fire in it’s turn follows Water. I’m unsure of whether there is any symbolic nature at work here, but in any case this is the order. Now onto the numbers :

King : Owns 7 of ‘previous’ element’s suit, 8 and 9 of it’s own
Queen : Owns 10 of ‘previous’ element’s suit, 2 and 3 of it’s own
Knight : Owns 4 of ‘previous’ element’s suit, 5 and 6 of it’s own

Again, the Page is assigned the Ace of each suit (somewhat easier, no?).

So using our formula to find which Minor cards the King of Swords owns?

F. E. A. R. -> Air comes after Earth in the sequence, thus the King of Swords owns :
7 of ‘previous’ element’s suit -> 7 of Pentacles
8 and 9 of it’s own suit -> 8 and 9 of Swords

It’s worth a short digression here to outline the _nature_ of the numbers as represented in the Minor cards. 10 is almost always the heaviest and most painful (and most REAL) representation of the suits idea. It is this place at which the energy of the suit has reached a point where it can go no further and either reaches Panic (10 Swords), Stasis (10 Pentacles), Overwhelm (10 Cups) or Oppression (10 Wands). 7 is the first foray out of the perfect balance of the 6, where something unexpected gets thrown into the mix and some kind of battle needs to be won to get back. Alas, despite winning the battle, there is no returning to the 6. 5 is loosely similar though instead of previously being in perfect balance, this point has not yet been reached. The 5 is the upset before the sun shines through.

I say all this because something of the character of the King, Queen and Knight can be revealed (based on their suit) with this formula. Let’s take our example of the King of Swords above (and you can use F. E. A. R. to look at others if you do wish). The King has rulership over the 7 of Pentacles, the 8 of Swords and the 9 of Swords. Thus we might say that our King has known the weight of the world, has thrown everything down due to overwhelm (7 Pentacles) and has turned to the power of the suit of Swords to cut through illusion, find direction and purpose (8 Swords) and achieved the power to viciously attack with the fully perfected power of the suit (9 Swords). You might have a different interpretation of the meanings here, however the cards the King of Swords owns remain unchanged.

The court cards as zodiacal rulers

We can then further develop the ownership of the minor cards by looking to the Astrological correspondences of each court card. Remember above I mentioned that each court card owns one card of it’s previous suit and two of it’s own? This is a nice shortcut to also get clued into the Astrology. There is a mnemonic here, but there is no quick way to learn the three major divisions of each element with respect to Astrology. One must learn each of the elements and the three divisions of each. For each element there are three Zodiacal signs. There is a ‘Cardinal’, a ‘Fixed’ and a ‘Mutable’ sign. Cardinal signs introduce and originate the energy, Fixed Signs collect and coalesce, and Mutable signs etherialize and exhale the energy to be transformed into the next subsequent element.

Type : Cardinal | Fixed | Mutable
Cards : 2,3,4 | 5,6,7 | 8,9,10
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –
Wands : Aries | Leo | Sagittarius
Pentacles: Capricorn | Taurus | Virgo
Swords : Libra | Aquarius | Gemini
Cups : Cancer | Scorpio | Pisces

Now I can share the mnemonic. We discard the Aces (again), because the Aces contain the seed of all three signs, mixed and compacted in potentiality. Cards 2,3,4 correspond to Cardinal, 5,6,7 correspond to Fixed and 8,9,10 correspond to Mutable.

Can we call back to our King of Swords example from earlier? We said that the King of Swords rules (and is defined by) the 7 of Pentacles, 8 and 9 of Swords. Thus we can say that the King of Swords rules from one part Taurus (7 is fixed and in Pentacles, or Earth, that is Taurus) and two parts Gemini. This can help (if one knows the Astrological correspondences from both these signs) to determine further the character of our King of Swords.

The court cards as significators of energy and intensity

Since we’ve spent a while developing court cards and their synthesis through personification, elemental dignity, numerical and astrological
correspondences, we can finally discuss another often portrayed nature to the court cards — using the courts to signify a type and intensity of energy to enter the querent’s life. Simply put, Kings are said to signify a fierce and long lasting energy to the querent’s life. Queens are said to be nearly as immediately noticeable but tend to end sooner. Knights are said to be messengers of a particular energy’s arrival (but not the energy itself) and the Page is said to be a specific message or communication received relating to the matter, contextually sensitive to the querent’s situation or question. For all of these, one can look to the numerical correspondences to shape and mold the information accordingly.

If you’ve read this far, thank you! I’m studying the cards and am excited to share what I’ve learned. Please leave a comment below and feel free to share your thoughts, what you’ve learned and pointers to further study are welcome.

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