In the tarot deck, the court cards act as a bridge between the spiritual and psychological symbolism of the majors, and the mundane events characterized by the numbered cards of the minor arcana. They correspond to the face cards in an ordinary deck of playing cards. Although the court cards usually represent people, they can also stand for aspects of character and personality, and actual events and activities.
There are sixteen court cards in a typical tarot deck, four per suit. Most often they are King, Queen, Knight, and Page. However in some nontraditional decks they go by different names: Man, Woman Child, Daughter, Son, Princess, Prince, Priestess, Shaman, Sage, Speaker. However, the main problem with the court cards isn’t what they are called; it’s what they mean. Some experts claim they represent people in our lives, others insist that they symbolize qualities, events, or even thoughts that we hold, while some others think that they relate to all of the above.
I confess that I am a member of the “all of the above” school of court card meanings, and I believe you can’t have too much help when working with these enigmatic cards. In fact, it’s a good idea to routinely draw another card to compliment each court card that falls in a layout. The additional card provides subtext that can help you zero in on the court card’s meaning in the spread.
The best way to understand the tarot is through trial and error. This is particularly important when dealing with the court cards. Regardless of how many classes you take, or books you study, the teachers’ and authors’ interpretations are the meanings that work for them. Repeatedly reading for yourself and others is the only way to discover whether or not what you’ve learned actually works for you. Although there are some basics that can serve as a guide to understanding the meanings of the court cards, they should not be taken as absolutes. If you are just learning tarot you’ll probably want to use these definitions as a jumping off point. However, when you’re doing a reading allow the symbols on the cards to trigger insights and associations. Permit your mind to suggest fresh interpretations drawn from your personal life experiences.
The following definitions of the members of the court and the suits in tarot refer to the standard Waite/Smith decks. If you use other decks, the names of the court cards and even the suits may be different, but most of the meanings will still apply. The fiery tarot Kings are the motivating force behind a plan or idea. The watery Queens can be likened to rain bringing the idea down to earth, and making it grow. The airy Knights spread the seeds of the idea throughout the kingdom. And the earthy Pages are the fertile soil in which all of this may grow and flourish.
Kings: Represent mature men who generally know who they are, and what they can accomplish. They symbolize strength of will. Kings are active and outgoing. They strive to impact the world through the force of their personalities. The Kings are Fire, which is their element, and passion is the driving force behind everything they do. Filled with energy, these movers and shakers are related to the Emperor, and like him they are leaders, planners, commanders, and creators. Thus, a King in a spread can indicate motivation, a new beginning, or the start of something important.
Queens: Represent mature woman, mothers, wives, lovers, sisters, bosses, co-workers, and friends. They symbolize female energy, the yin and the receptive qualities of the inner self. Queens do not wield their personalities as a force directed outward. Queens express themselves from the inside, setting the tone for their suits without imposing it. The element of the Queens is Water and, not surprisingly, Queens are a reflection of the Empress. Queens signify the creative force. When Queens appear in a layout, they signal a time of growth and development.
Knights: Represent young men or woman. They symbolize energy and drive. Their appearance generally indicates that a long standing life situation is about to change. Knights are extremists; they express their suit qualities to the maximum. Their excessive feelings and behavior can be either positive or negative depending on circumstances. Knights are the spirit of youth, and thus are all about change. Knights are never still; their presence suggests movement, travel. Elementally, they are Air, moving and flowing like that element. Their beliefs are purer than of a mature adult, and they are unquestioning loyal to a kingdom or cause.
Pages: Represent young children or adolescents. Pages can be either male or female. They symbolize youthful innocence and exuberance, messages, communications, new beginnings. The element of the Pages is Earth, indicating something young, growing, a seed planted. Pages most often stand for children, though they can also be said to be the Fool’s alter ego. Therefore, an adult who is child-like enough might also be a page.
Wands: Relate to the Fire signs in astrology: Aires, Leo, Sagittarius; also occupations concerned with ideas, creativity, expansion, growth, enterprise, initiative, self-employment.
Cups: Relate to the Water signs in astrology: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces; also occupations concerned with the arts, psychic ability, food, emotions, romance, relationships.
Swords: Relate to the Air signs in astrology: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius; also occupations concerned with the media, information, communication, writing, the military, the professions, science.
Pentacles: Relate to the Earth Signs in astrology: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn; also occupations concerned with worldly achievement, material success, business, finance, building, healing, nurturing, ecology, gardening.
Court Cards as Significators
The significator is a card chosen to represent the questioner; the choice can be based on gender, age, occupation, or astrological sign. Although any card in the deck may be used as a significator, court cards are the ones most often chosen.
Kings are usually chosen to represent mature men
Queens are usually chosen to represent mature women
Knights generally represent young adults of either sex.
Pages generally represent adolescents and children of either sex.
About Phyllis Vega
Phyllis Vega is a professional tarot reader and astrologer. She has been a New Age counselor and teacher for more than three decades. Phyllis is the author of 10 books, including Romancing the Tarot, Power Tarot (with Trish MacGregor), What Your Birthday Reveals About You, Your Magickal Name (with Debra Vega), and Celtic Astrology. Her new book, Erotic Astrology, will be in the stores on July 17, 2009.
Phyllis also does tarot readings and teaches workshops on a variety of topics including, SpellCraft, Crystal Power, Candle Magic, and Past Life Regressions at Five Sisters on South Dixie Highway in Pinecrest, Florida. Phyllis works out of her office in Miami, Florida where she is currently writing a new tarot book and giving private tarot and astrology readings in person and over the telephone. She can be contacted through her website.