What’s the real role of the court cards? How do they fit in with the rest of their suit, and how do they interact with other surrounding cards in a reading? As we know, each of the suits tells a story from Ace through 9 dealing primarily with everyday matters. The courts, however, perform somewhat differently. Do the court cards represent actual people, or are they about energies? The answer is yes.
For those who like to pick a significator to represent the querant at the beginning of a reading, the courts offer a stable of personas. Pages may be used to represent a youth, regardless of gender. A Queen is typically selected for women over 18, and a King for a married or mature man. A Knight traditionally represents a bachelor, but this meaning can readily be expanded to include any adventurous, single person.
If the nature of the seeker’s personality is known, the reader may select from the suit that represents those qualities. Otherwise, a significator can be chosen based on the astrological sign of the querant, or more specifically, by the element associated with the sign. An Aries, for example, is a Fire sign, and is represented by Wands. Cups represent Water, Swords symbolize Air, and Pentacles denote Earth. If you are using this technique and doing a reading for a young Capricorn, you’d pick the Page of Pentacles to represent him or her, and so on.
The court cards are capable of offering considerably more than just a representation of the seeker, however. As with the earlier cards of the four suits, the court cards tend to address matters and conditions of everyday life. But cards 1-10 contain clues to the meaning of each card by virtue of the meaning of the number, as well as qualities of the suit. Court cards aren’t numbered, though, and therefore don’t contain that obvious information. Since that’s the case, let’s examine the symbolism used in the Rider-Waite deck. As always, symbolism in the RW deck is intentional and specific, and provides vital clues to the forces addressed in the cards. What symbols do the courts have in common?
All of the Pages share an important aspect: They are standing with both feet on the ground. What’s the clue contained in that? The image of feet planted on the Earth suggests that the energies discussed in the Pages have to do with the usual, regular activities of daily living. The appearance of all four pages also suggests youthfulness and therefore, innocence and idealism. At least, they do in the RW deck.
Pages may be the most variable of all royalty, in terms of the adaptations that have been made to them in other decks. Some decks, for instance, present them as Knaves, which conjures up a distinctly different type of rascally energy than do the cheerful Pages. Another example is the rather dark Tarot Of The Third Millenium, which clearly despises royalty, and in which all of the characters are paupers except for those in the court cards. Pages in this deck are older, wizened, sometimes monstrous, and not at all enthusiastic about serving their narcissistic, besotted Queens and Kings. By comparison, the Pages of the RW deck are downright eager, optimistic and loyal.
Two immediately obvious similarities between all of the Knights are the horses and the armor. Horses represent primal energy, and identify these cards as having to do with activity and raw power. Suits of armor make another unmistakable comment about the function of the Knights: They are the parts of ourselves that go out and deal directly with the forces around us in the world.
The most important symbol included in the Queens and Kings is the stone throne upon which they are all seated. Stonework in any form is of great significance in the Rider-Waite deck. Columns, towers and fences are all forms of stonework, as is the carriage of the Charioteer. What’s so important about this? What does a fence have to do with a pillar or a throne?
The appearance of stonework in the Rider-Waite deck always indicates the manifestation of some thought or power that has originated in the subconscious mind. Notice that there’s no stonework to be found in The Magician, for example, which is about conscious self-awareness and the left hemisphere of the human brain. Not until the Priestess, the card of the subconscious mind and memory, do the stone columns show up. The Priestess, The Emperor, and The Hierophant all occupy the same stone seat as do the Kings and Queens. (The stone Chariot is essentially a throne as well, by the way, but it also includes the idea of a state of extreme momentum.)
What exactly, then, does this important throne signify? Again, it’s a reference to any force or idea that has formed in the subconscious, and then become a reality in the material world. More specifically, the shape of the throne-a cube-suggests a strong foundation, healthy boundaries and an empowered ability to deal with the world. In other words, Kings and Queens refer to Mastery. They represent personalities that have attained the highest and best qualities of their suits.
Another hard-to-miss symbol shared by all of the Queens and Kings is the golden crown that adorns each head. There’s nothing random in the illustrations of the RW deck; both the headpiece and the color have meaning. Yellow is the color of the Sun, and always means the same thing as the triumph itself wherever it appears. The color yellow indicates the presence of the divine. The crown itself represents enlightened human intention, again referring to Mastery.
A strong connection with the natural world is apparent in all of these royals, as well, emphasizing one of Tarot’s recurring themes. The triumphs offer both a discussion of the development of a healthy personality, and act as a kind of map, always pointing in the direction of higher meaning. A powerful connection with nature is held as an essential ingredient in all cases. The natural settings in which the Kings and Queens are found is another statement about Mastery, in a way. All are personalities that have the ability to affect the world around them (the stonework), while maintaining a healthy respect for nature and therefore, a link to higher power. Someone represented by a King or a Queen will be a powerful, influential person in their own way.
Do the royals always represent actual people when they appear in a reading? Often, but not always. This is one of those times when the reader must rely on surrounding cards. It’s helpful to avoid getting stuck on gender, however. Think of the interaction between Magician and The High Priestess, one representing the conscious mind and the other, the subconscious. The Kings and Queens act in somewhat the same manner. Kings invoke the ideas of conscious intention and the projection of the personality into the world, while Queens speak to the soul and the inner life. These are concepts that exist well beyond the separations of gender. It is up to the interpreter to discern whether a Queen or King is referring to a specific person, or to a quality of the seeker. Sometimes the nature of the question will help with this.
In terms of importance in a reading, the court cards can carry as much weight as the triumphs themselves, for these are cards of a personality that has merged everyday concerns with a sense of higher purpose. It is the royalty of Tarot that speaks to the potential for Mastery in each one of us.