Tarot 101: Meeting the Tarot Courts
The courts in general are what happens when we mix our human-ness with the more ephemeral energy of the tarot suits. Not to say that the full potential of humanity is captured in these 16 cards, but the tarot does do an impressive job of giving us a window into ourselves and the Courts are emblematic of this insight.
Court cards are traditionally understood to represent people when they come up in a reading. The trap of this perspective is that as readers we start to look for people who are exactly like this energy, or worse, look like the cards, but like I've already mentioned, we are not so limited (though we seem dedicated to limiting ourselves).
The Courts can represent people in our lives, though I've found more often they represent aspects of people in our lives (including ourselves!) and how they move and transform energy in specific ways. Approaching them from this angle helps us toss pre-concieved notions of gender, race, ability, class, etc out the window and work with the essential energy of the card.
My favorite interpretation of the Courts relies on experience- i.e., as you move through the Courts from Page to King you gain deeper understanding of a particular kind of energy.
“ The court cards have a human dimension that the other cards do not, so they can give you clear messages about who you are and what you want. The trick is to understand yourself and the situation so you can accept the messages when they come. ”
— Joan Bunning, Learn Tarot
There's space for multiplicity there too- for example, while I might feel like a Page in one aspect of my life, I can be deep in the Queen aspect in another part of my life. Additionally, just because they are traditionally 'ranked' does not mean that we always follow a linear path in our experiences.
Another thing to be aware of is that though the courts are often race and gender coded, you can throw all that out with the bathwater. In fact, my favorite decks are those that do away with these stereotypical assigned associations and really get into how the different energies of each court “title” manifests in our lives.
Often over-emphasized is the ranking of those titles: Page > Knight > Queen > King. Even if you try to ignore the obviously sexist arrangement and just focus on how we evolve over time it can be a bit limiting to move in this exact order. In fact, most of us won’t ever grow this linearly. If you come to the close of a cycle in your life having gone from Queen to Knight to King to Page, it doesn't mean you did not fully realize that cycle. It might just mean you wrapped up that cycle with the bright new joy and curiosity for what comes next, which is pretty awesome!
A great deck that plays with the order of the court cards is the Wanderer’s Tarot- the Knights of the court move to the fore of the courts, honored not just by the deck’s name but also their position (where the Kings usually are). Decks like these really challenge our perception of importance and wisdom- for example, what would it mean to think of the Wanderer as the final stage of spiritual evolution, which means that we never stop evolving because the Wanderer keeps searching and finding new paths!
(You might also be interested in checking out Jailbreaking the Goddess which tosses the Maiden > Mother > Crone order out the tower window and you can read my review of the Solar Wanderer’s Tarot here.)
The Courts can be just as momentary as the rest of the pips in the Minor Arcana. I invite you to meet them as teachers, learn the lesson they offer in that space, integrate it, and carry on growing on your journey.
Find your tarot court significator!
Like I said, we often move in and out of these different phases in our lives. What phase do you feel you are in right now? Are you more of a Seeker (Page) or a Creator (Queen)? Perhaps in one side of your life you feel very much a Spirit and in another a Mentor? What cards are speaking to where you are right now?
Who is in your tarot court?
A fun exercise to get to know these cards might be looking around you and assigning a card (or multiple) to the people or even animals (one of my cats is very much a Page of Cups, okay) in your life.
Exploring the interactive tarot court.
Grab two or more of your court cards and lay them out together. What kinds of stories are being told in their interactions? Are some cards facing each other? Others facing away or even in the same direction? Which ones are looking right at you?