TAROT TALK: Places At The Table – Finding Ways To Read The Court Cards

Published on March 17, 2013 by   ·   No Comments

0000000000000000000000000 Court Crystals SageThis article is going to be a little different from my previous “Tarot Talk” installments.  In those, I took one of the major arcana cards and explored its possible meanings.  For this article, I want to spend a little time exploring the use and meanings of the court cards found in the minor arcana.  In a standard tarot deck, there are 4 suits with usually four court cards each; some artists have changed this format slightly, or have changed who/what the court cards represent, and so my discussion will be focused on the court cards I am used to dealing with (which are slightly different than what most will be used to, especially if they are familiar with the Rider-Waite deck and its imagery).

In the Rider-Waite deck (and many others that are based on its model), there are four court cards per suit: King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  With all due respect to the amazing history of this deck and its storied imagery, I can’t help but notice that these court cards are pretty heavy in male energy!  In order to seek out more of a gender balance, I’ve found myself drawn to decks that feature an even mix of court cards.  One of the first decks I started doing professional readings with was the Crowley Thoth deck, which does away with the King card and instead has Queen, Knight, Princess, and Prince cards.  The deck I use now, the True Love Tarot, has a similar gender balance with King, Queen, Prince, and Princess cards.  I like this combination better because, in addition to balancing out male and female energies in the court cards, it adds the dimension of growth, of moving from a place of innocence (Prince, Princess) to a place of experience (Queen, King).  This is similar to the way certain major arcana cards indicate progression from one stage of life to the next: The Magician as a younger man coming into his independence who then “settles down” into the husband and father roles symbolized in The Emperor, or the similar female journey from The High Priestess to The Empress.  This parallel between major and minor arcana just adds one more “tool” to your tool kit for readings.

0000000000000000000000000 Princess of RosesThere are a couple of other aspects about the True Love Tarot that make it very useful for readings especially if, like me, you aren’t good at memorizing all of the different meanings and interpretations for each card.  The True Love deck uses elemental correspondences and incorporates them into the designs of the cards, and it provides key words for interpretation on all cards including major arcana and court cards.  For me, having the key words makes it much easier to build the story that the spread is trying to tell.  I start by looking at the location of the card and the keyword, see what my intuition is telling me about its meaning for the client, and work outward from there.  I especially appreciate the key words on the court cards as it gives the cards more versatility and can make it easier to incorporate them into the larger spread.

One of the most common questions I get about court cards is whether or not you have to read them as other people involved in the situation and my answer to this (like most questions about the tarot) is: it depends!  So much of tarot reading is being open to whatever messages the Universe is trying to deliver to us.  The more we try to limit the meanings and uses of the cards, the more we limit the messages we are going to receive.  The True Love court cards I use have key words that usually refer to a type of person or personality type: the motivator, the challenger, the empath, the leader, the professional, etc.  Depending on the client’s situation, these cards could refer to other people who are involved, or they could refer to the type of person the client is or wants to become.  If the card shows up in location referring to the emotional aspects of the situation, it could relate to how the client wishes to be, or the type of person the client wishes to draw into their life.  It could also refer to a specific person who is causing the client stress or anxiety, to whom the client is attracted, etc.  The most important aspect of a reading isn’t what cards you use or what system of interpretation you use – it’s communication!  Working together, you and your client can tease out what – or who – those mysterious court cards represent.  DON’T be afraid to ask questions of your clients if you are unsure of how a particular court card fits in with your reading.

My preference when I started reading was to just look at the court cards as representative of “character types” and steer away from them representing specific people, but as with most things about the tarot, once I made up my mind to do things one way, the cards did everything they could to nudge me back to a place of openness.  There have been times when the court cards very explicitly related to physical people in the client’s life.  I was doing a difficult reading for a man who had questions about his personal relationship; though he was asking about romance, I kept getting images and messages relating to fathers and sons.  I decided to reshuffle the cards and try a new 0000000000000000000000000 Court Pentacles Queenapproach.  As I was pulling cards from the deck in sort of a free form way, I ended up with a row of 8 court cards: 3 female and 5 male.  As we explored it further, he told me that he had 3 sisters and 4 brothers; his entire family “showed up” to the reading!  Once I had that piece of information, we were able to explore the cards in a different way and come to understand that his questions about romance and relationships were really rooted in his past, specifically with his abusive father.  The row of 8 cards showed up to remind us that these issues were not his alone: as he told me about his family, it was clear that all of his siblings have suffered because of this abuse.  By addressing this past and helping his siblings to do the same, he was able to move forward and make improvements in his relationship with his partner.

This reading is a good example of a different way that you can use the court cards: think of them as families!  Especially in decks like the one I use, the King, Queen, Prince, and Princess cards can be thought of as an elemental “nuclear family.”  If several Queen cards show up in the reading, does this have something to do with the client’s relationship with their mother, or perhaps, if the client is female, does it have something to do with the client’s experience of or desire to be a mother?  I had a reading with a woman once where her mirror card was the Princess of Shells (water) and her obstacle/cross card was the Queen of Roses (fire), and the reading ended up being a rather light-hearted airing of her frustrations with her mother-in-law!  In my own readings, whether I’m reading for myself or having a reading done, I frequently get a visit from the Queen of whatever suit represents earth in the deck being used (Pentacles/Coins/Stones/Gems); when that card comes up, I know it’s a “visit” from my mother who is often my source of grounding and practical advice.

Be sure to experiment with different ways of reading the court cards, and don’t be afraid to ask and explore different meanings with your clients – your readings will improve and your clients will definitely thank you for it!  If, like me, you love poking around a good book about the tarot, I suggest Mary K. Greer’s Understanding the Tarot Court, part of Llewellyn’s “Special Topics in Tarot” series (a series that was WAY too short-lived – check them out if you have the chance!), which has a lot of information and perspectives on the court cards and how to incorporate them into your reading practice!  No matter how you choose to read them, treat them with respect, as with any of the other cards in the deck, and they will share the stories you and your clients need to hear!

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