Oh, sheesh. Who of us hasn’t once, or a thousand times, said “I just seem to have so much trouble when it comes to reading the tarot court!”
Why in the world do we struggle so much when it comes to those pesky characters? What is it that makes them so tricky to pin down?
Well, I’d venture to say that first off, the easy but complex explanation is that, just like human beings, each of the figures in the court is multi-faceted, and so you can’t get to know all about them on first glance or at the first meeting. Just like when you cultivate a relationship with a person, getting to know the tarot court takes time, and they reveal the different sides of their personality the more you get to know them; that is to say, the more that you work with their energies in readings and life.
Here are some keys I’ve developed and found helpful in building my mastery of working with the tarot court, from my own experience:
- First, get to know intimately the energy of each suit.
Generally speaking, the suits correspond to the four elements in this way: Wands = Fire, Pentacles = Earth, Swords= Air, Cups = Water. Studying astrology can help, if you’re so inclined, because you can group three astrological symbols into each suit. Therefore, Wands/Fire = Aries, Leo, Sagittarius; Pentacles/Earth = Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn; Swords/Air = Gemini, Libra, Aquarius; Cups/Water = Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces. You can associate the various court cards with people you know who have these Sun Signs or Ascendants.
- Understand that general characteristics can apply, but don’t get stuck in a list of generic physical traits.
A lot of us, when we first started learning the tarot, were introduced to the court through the LWB (Little White Book) that comes with the deck, especially in the Rider-Waite-Coleman deck where each court card is assigned specific physical characteristics. While that might be helpful by way of introduction, I find it more distracting than anything else. Sure, a court card *could* in theory represent a young, blond-haired teenage boy, or an older, mature dark woman, but frankly how limiting is that? Honestly, if you start defining the court cards this narrowly, you’re really going to consequently limit the scope and depth your readings can take.
- Become familiar with the energy surrounding each “level” of the court before getting more specific.
It’s helpful to understand how to interpret “page” energy and “knight” energy overall, before you go even more specific into combining page energy with Pentacles energy, or knight energy with Swords energy, for example. What characteristics does a page bring to the table, and how do those filter through and manifest through the lens of pentacles energy? What does a knight strive to accomplish in the tarot, and how does he go about that when he embodies swords characteristics?
- Although we do refer to court cards as male and female for convenience’s sake, recognize that the card energies aren’t always representative of male or female people, or bodies.
It’s natural to assume that the queen of each suit is a woman, or that the king is a man. But it helps to start feeling male and female in terms of energy vibration, rather than gender. In this it helps to study the fundamental principles of traditional Chinese medicine/energy/philosophy such as yin and yang, and how those embody masculine and feminine energy, rather than being labeled male and female in strict gender terms. I like this article explaining the differences between creative and focused energy vibrations in male/female terms. Based on this explanation, which court cards feel creative and which focused? How does that transcend simplistic male/female body roles?
Here are some other basic tips I’ve received over the years through books, working with tarot teachers, and my own experience:
- Imagine that each member of the tarot court is someone you know.
This gem came from one of my mentors, Brigit, in a personal email. I go back to her advice often.
- What would the court cards say to each other if they met?
I’ve read this advice and scenario in nearly every book on the tarot court. Again, it goes into imagining how the court personalities would interact and come alive if they could come out of the cards and do their thing.
- Which court card to you identify with most readily, and which do you tend to avoid?
This helps you to identify which cards you can work with on a constructive basis: those you tend to avoid, which are probably areas of your own personality you tend to repress or want to deny, or simply don’t identify with as easily as those you are attracted to in the court.
Here are some other helpful sources for court card SOS!
- Joan Bunning’s Learn the Tarot Lesson on The Tarot Court
- Court Cards: Oh, The Confusion!
- Alison Cross has a lovely, witty and insightful blog devoted to the tarot court: This Game of Thrones
- Mary Greer’s book on the court is sort of a classic, I think: Understanding the Tarot Court
- I also like Kate Warwick-Smith’s The Tarot Court Cards: Archetypical Patterns of Relationship in the Tarot Court. Check out her website for lots of goodies.
- And for astrological and elemental knowledge, I adore Stephen Arroyo’s Astrology, Psychology, and The Four Elements
What tips and tricks have you learned in your practice, for working with the tarot court? What are your biggest challenges in working with the tarot court? Share in the comments!
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