Understanding the Court Cards in Tarot
What are the Court Cards?
The "court cards" in tarot refer to the un-numbered cards of the King, Queen, Knight, and Page in the Rider-Waite deck and the Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess in the Thoth decks (they roughly correspond, but we'll go into specific differences below). These cards are always depicted as individuals, as opposed to the numbered cards, which are sometimes depicted simply with symbols or the suit of the element (cups, swords, wands, or discs).
Generally, the court cards are more personal than the archetypal major arcana cards or the situation numbered cards, be it an aspect of the querant's personality or another person. Each card has a specific personality and emphasizes a particular aspect of the self or other.
Rider-Waite Court Cards
As mentioned above, the Rider-Waite deck (the most commonly known deck and one that many modern decks are based on) consists of the King, Queen, Knight, and Page. When a reader gets one of these cards, it indicates an aspect of the querant's personality or a person in their life (or, perhaps an aspect of the self that needs to be worked on or cultivated). Depending on the suit, the cards represent the "personality" elements of the suit. For example, the King of swords represents the mature, logical, orderly, "masculine" energy of air, which is about logic, argument, and clear thinking. When reviewing court cards, make sure you fully understand the basic suit associations that you plan to use in your readings.
Here are a few key words and phrases o keep in mind when thinking about the court cards for each suit:
Kings: big-picture organization, maturity, practical application of suit, masculine, logic, potential to be overbearing.
Queens: Personal application of suit, nurturing power of suit in others,practical application, "feminine" aspect of the suit.
Knights: Active and creative energy of the suit, change, and goals. This card can correspond to adolescent energy.
Page: The page is the nascent, beginner, or child-like element of each suit. This card indicates a personality of openness and naivety.
Aleister Crowley: Creator of the Thoth Deck
Thoth Tarot Court Cards
The Thoth tarot was created by ceremonial magician and occultist Aleister Crowley and Lady Freida Harris. This deck differs slightly in its naming of and association with court cards. Crowley and Harris' deck include the Knight, the Queen, the Prince, and the Princess. Here are some key words for each:
Knight: the knight represents the "fire" or active and passionate aspect of each element, the active and controlling masculine element.
Queen: The "watery" side of every element, relating to emotions and nurturing. Energy of nurturing and receiving that passion from the knight.
Prince: The "air" aspect of each suit, indicating focus on intellect and logic.
Princess: The "earthy" aspect of each suit. How the suit is applied or understood in the real world.
Queen Court Cards
The Querant or Another?
When you get a court card in a reading, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out if the court card refers tot he querant and an aspect of their personality or another person in their life. Although there is no fool-proof way to determine this, it is worth asking the client how they feel: a more interactive reading can be powerful for a client and can allow them to feel out the cards for themselves by "trying on" the idea of the card as a personal identity or trying to identify a person in their life through the cards. It might also be useful to indicate to the client that our own projections of qualities onto other people mean that what might seem to be outside of ourselves is actually inside.
However you choose to present the cards, remember to let your intuition guide you. With tarot, it doesn't have to be "either/or" and can indicate both an aspect of personality and another person who might bring out those parts in the querant.
How to Read the Court Cards
Reading Court Cards
Take a look at the following video, which provides a quick discussion of how to read the court cards and court card challenges.
Putting it All Together
Remember that many decks have their own ways of understanding and reading court cards: check out the "little white book" that comes with your deck to see if they use the Rider-Waite or the Thoth designations, a combination of the two, or a completely different system.
I'd love to hear your thoughts! Post below if you have experience reading court cards or have a new and different way of understanding these cards.