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I’m a firm believer in learning by doing, and getting to know the components of your deck is no exception. This can also be a great daily spread for anyone.
1. Divide your deck into four stacks:
• The 4 Aces
• The 16 Court Cards
• The 36 Minor Arcana Cards numbered 2-10
• The 22 Major Arcana
2. Shuffle the Aces stack thoroughly while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. if a card is reversed, turn it upright for all steps. The Ace indicates an area of focus, general atmosphere or the overall energy at play. (Note: if your suit characteristics differ from those below, then use whatever works.)
• Wands signifies innovative or intuitive energy. It indicates desires, enthusiasm, activity, initiating projects, enterprise. It can also indicate a rushed, angry or volatile situation.
• Cups signifies emotional energy. It indicates love, relationships, nurturing, imagination and fantasy. It can also point to nostalgia, grief, sadness and lethargy.
• Swords signifies mental energy. It indicates beliefs, choices and decisions, research, planning and intellectual endeavors. It can also be about disputes, struggles, and issues around honesty or dishonesty.
• Pentacles (or Coins) signifies physical, sensate energy. It indicates work, skills, money, body, security, results and the care or valuing of physical resources. It can also indicate being stuck, inflexible, stubborn or stressed and worried.
Try to feel this energy inside and around you. Is it fiery, fluid, airy or earthy? Where and how is this energy manifesting in your life right now? Later you’ll want to consider how the other cards you’ve drawn function in this kind of atmosphere.
3. Shuffle the 16 Court Cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the part of yourself that is most active and of which you need to be most aware. How are you Kingly, Queenly, Knightly or like a Page? It can show your level of knowledge, experience and command (King and Queen) in this area or how open you are to learning (Page) or able to take action (Knight).
Describe this card in as much detail as you can, including the physical image on the card and the characteristics of the figure: its attitude, mood and emotions, and what it wants or needs. How and where are you acting like this figure? Occasionally this card can express someone else in your life. How do you expect them to handle or influence the situation rather than you? Are you giving your own power away and, if so, how can you own it? Or is it as it should be?
4. Shuffle the 36 Minor Arcana number cards (2-10 in each suit) while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the situation that the part of yourself (Court Card above) is concerned with today.
If a scene is depicted on this card, then describe the scene. What situation has similar characteristics? If there are only suit markers on your deck, look up the meaning and consider how it applies.* What does the Court Card figure bring to this situation? What does it tell you about your relationship to these circumstances?
5. Shuffle the 22 Major Arcana cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This shows why you need to be aware.
The Major Arcana card may represent a goal or desired outcome, a lesson to be learned, something to be mastered—how you can ‘triumph’ in the situation—or what is at risk or to be gained.
What is the first thing that strikes you as you look at this card? Describe the picture in as much detail as possible. How does this card ‘trump’ the situation? Look up the standard keywords and meanings in a book. Explore the individual symbols in a symbol dictionary. Try all of the above possibilities until something clicks.
6. Overview and integration: You’ve drawn three cards out of the Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles (or Coins) suits. Which suits did you get? Does one suit dominate? Do the suit energies harmonize or do they seem to conflict? Are the energies more active and impatient (Wands and Swords)? Or, receptive and patient (Cups and Pentacles)? Is just one suit missing? If so, which one? Is that okay, or is something important missing in the situation? (Usually you don’t need to be as aware of a missing suit as much as you need to be aware of the suits that turned up!)
7. As a daily spread: Write down the cards you’ve drawn and your insights. Do this daily for at least two weeks, then look back over your spreads and write down what you’ve learned. Continue if you so desire. Over time, note especially what cards and suits appear most often and which never appear at all. Does a situation continue to develop in subsequent spreads? How? How do you respond to changing circumstances by bringing forth different parts of yourself ?
If you’d like, please give a sample interpretation, in the comments section, of the cards shown above.
*Note: Yes, looking up card meanings is perfectly fine, whether you are a beginner or experienced reader. You are learning to expand your repertoire of meanings. But don’t forget to really look at a card and say what it seems like to you.
Beginners often have the most trouble reading Court Cards, especially if several of them appear in one spread. In general, Court Cards represent personal characteristics of individuals, attitudes, and levels of maturity or development that influence us—from within or without. Sometimes they represent actions: like traveling or revolutionizing (Knights), communications delivered (Pages), power and control applied (Kings and Queens), mothering (Queens) and fathering (Kings), teaching (Kings and Queens) or learning (Pages). More often they are personalities.
Old books have you select a card to “stand in” for the querent based on age, sex, marital status and hair color. Most of the time a significator is not really necessary in a spread; you can leave it out if you choose. If a Court Card significator is essential, then I tend to select first by the suit-to-element correspondence with the person’s sun sign (Fire, Water, Earth or Air) and then their sex and level of maturity. None of which are absolute! Another method is to have the querent look through the Court Cards and pick one for themselves. This will often tell you quite a bit about the querent and about how best to communicate with him or her. Feel free to throw out that hair color nonsense as it won’t work for more than half the people on the planet.
Who Are They?
• In mundane readings Court Cards are often straightforwardly someone recognizable.
• I find they always represent an aspect of oneself – one that you may or may not be projecting onto others. In deeper, more psychological readings, they are your personas: you can probably recognize their voices as contrary opinions in your head.
Reversed Court Cards
• Reversed Court Cards are not evil people; their characteristics can be weakened or excessive. Reversals can represent refusing to act like that Court Card. You might reject the tendencies usually shown by the card. A King might say: “I refuse to take charge.” A reversed King of Swords may be unable to make a decision or could make ruthless ones; a reversed Queen of Pentacles may ignore the needs of others and spend lavishly.
• Think of reversed Court Cards as being in a situation where their natural characteristics are not valued or respected; therefore they tend to “act out.” A Knight of Pentacles longs to be outdoors using his hands, so when working in a windowless office with florescent lights, he may be an unhappy, stubborn co-worker making everyone else as miserable as he is.
• Depending on how you read reversals, one other possibility is that a reversed Court Card represents your inner, hidden self versus your more public self.
In a Reading
• Pay close attention to the position meaning, and/or the direction the Court Card is facing. What are they looking at or pointing to? A Knight of Wands in the past, who looks even more into the “past” direction could be someone who has already moved out of your life. A Queen of Swords in a future position who looks to the future could be showing you the way. Notice what other cards are in the same suit suggesting that their energies are directly at play.
• I’ve noticed fairly often that a King can be most like a person’s mother and a Queen like the father, so don’t get too fixated on gender roles matching sex.
• I find that Court Cards almost always have strong opinions about what the querent should do, and the querent, if asked, will know exactly what these opinions are! So ask the querent what each Court Card thinks about the situation in question. Or, go further: have multiple Court Cards argue with each other. That reversed Page in your past will have very different opinions about what you should do than does the Knight who represents your “hopes and fears.”
• If you use Elemental Dignities then you will probably find that Court Cards in the same suit tend to support each other. Two Courts in Yang suits (Wands and Swords) will egg each other on, while the Yin suits (Cups and Pentacles) will counsel patience. Cups versus Wands, and Swords versus Pentacles, are so contrary that their opinions tend to cancel each other out.
Differences in Decks
Deck creators have taken significant liberties with the Court Cards, changing their titles from the traditional King, Queen, Knight and Page to express a whole range of social groupings or “influencers” in our lives. They may even become animals, supernatural beings, gifts or places. Therefore get a feeling for the Court Cards in the deck you are using. Describe the picture and the suggested characteristics in detail. If these qualities function better in your readings than the classic meanings, then use them.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
Based on concepts developed by psychotherapist Carl Jung, the MBTI posits sixteen personality types that have been understandably equated with the sixteen Court Cards. Most people agree on suit correspondences for Jung’s basic functions: Wands=Intuition, Cups=Feeling, Swords=Thinking, Pentacles=Sensation. However, the system becomes confusing when equating Introvert with just the Queens and Pages, and Extrovert with just the Kings and Knights. Is the Queen of Wands really an introvert? And is the King of Cups always an extrovert? I’ve found studying the MBTI system to be quite helpful in giving voice to Court Card personalities as long as I don’t make them absolutes! I find insurmountable problems when trying to equate these two systems, even though I learned a lot by trying to do so.
Want more information on the Court Cards? Order my book (written with Tom Little): Understanding the Tarot Court. And please submit an amazon review.