Learning the meanings of tarot cards is not really very hard. The Major Arcana cards are archetypes to which most of us can easily relate. (That is, after all, the nature of archetypes.) The Minor Arcana—at least in decks with illustrated pip cards—are so simple that even children can do it. In fact, children are often better at it than adults, for what could be simpler than to look at a picture and say what is going on it? Unfortunately, many adults are afraid of getting it wrong or looking silly that they lock up and cannot say anything. But that is another topic entirely.
By and large, reading the cards is not difficult, except—and this is almost universally agreed upon by tarotists—the court cards. As in days of old, the imperious, capricious kings and queens and other nobility continue to plague us plain, everyday folk. They show up, give almost nothing away by look or gesture, hold all the power, and just sit there waiting, as if you should innately know what to do to appease them.
As tarot readers, we’ve struggled with how to deal with these characters. We ascribed to them physical traits; astrological signs; psychologically quantified personality traits; and long lists of professions, hobbies, addictions, and preferences. We’ve declared that they represented other people in the situation, other aspects of the querent’s personality, or situations or messages. Most recently, the trend is to view the court cards as aspects of the querent. There are many reasons, I believe, for this trend. One is that we now tend to read from the assumption that the querent has almost total control of their lives, so bringing in other people as affecting the situation is counter to that working theory. Another is that, as Rachel Pollack pointed out in Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom, “reading the court cards in this manner [as people other than the querent] requires more of the psychic or intuitive approach than the other cards.” Reading psychically or depending overly much on intuition has fallen out of favor in the past few decades (although it seems that in the last few years that trend is reversing).
This series of articles, beginning with this one, works from the assumption that the court cards represent other people involved in the situation. But instead of coming up with exhaustive lists of possible ways to identify a court card, I’m going to focus on the role the court card plays in the situation being investigated by the reading. It seems that it doesn’t matter that much if a person is “warm and charismatic” (as the Wands court cards are often described). Did the card show up in the reading simply to say that someone with a magnetic personality and lots of energy is involved? I don’t think so. What would be more useful to the querent is how the person will affect the situation. By focusing less on the personality or appearance and more what the person will do gives the querent more information that can be used to understand and even alter the course of events.
Pronoun note: In this series, for ease, querents will be referred to with feminine pronouns; Kings and Knights, masculine; and Queens and Pages, feminine. Of course, querents may be male or female. And the court cards can represent people of either gender. That is, Kings can represent women and Queens can represent men.
The types of role will be examined by rank, with the suits determining more detail about the exact type of role. Rank will also determine the type and the extent of the influence the various court cards have in relation to the situation. The ramifications of the actions of Page will be very different from that of a King or even a Knight. Rank also indicates to what extent or how easily one can enlist the support of or change the actions of a person represented by that court card.
We will not just see what the person represented by the court card will do but we will also see their motivations and priorities, which is determined more by suit. This will allow the querent to determine she can best interact with the person in order to achieve her own goals. For example, a King can represent anyone’s boss. If your querent wants to know how best to ask for a raise, there are different approaches that will work with best with each King.
In most of my discussions about the court cards, I do not favor the idea of assigning professions to the court cards, except for the Kings. Kings represent people with authority. When a King appears in a reading, it means that someone with authority over the querent or the situation (or at least some aspect of it) will affect the outcome. Each of the Kings represents different areas of life, determined by their suit. One way to effectively express their realms of influence is by profession. There are some professions that, broadly speaking, can be held by any of the Kings. In these cases, the suit gives more precision to the interpretation. For example, any King can be involved in the church or ministry. The King of Wands would be a charismatic spiritual leader the people follow because of his personality rather than his teachings. The King of Cups is more suited for being a spiritual teacher, advisor, or counselor. The King of Swords is apt to be more of an extremist or fundamentalist, such as a monk, or involved in a very strict or disciplined practice. The King of Pentacles is likely to be found running a more street-level ministry such as running an immediate needs facility, like a soup kitchen or food shelf.
Let’s take a look at the four Kings and see what we can learn about their realms of authority and their motivations.
First, let’s consider what the Kings have in common. Most importantly, they all have authority. This authority implies other characteristics as well: they all make decisions; they all delegate; they all have responsibility for others and/or company/group/family, etc.; their actions have ramifications and consequences for others. Other aspects of the Kings include mastery, expertise, and accomplishment. In certain ways, they are concerned with maintaining the status quo, at least to some extent. For many people, the Kings are also father figures.
Any King will have a strong influence on the situation at hand. They may very well be making decisions that will affect the querent’s life in significant ways. Jobs may be lost or gained. Opportunities may be granted. Laws may be enacted that determine whether or not a querent can live as she pleases. Loans may be approved or denied. An insurance company may approve or deny a medical treatment. Scholarships are given or withheld. Any of these would significantly affect a querent’s life.
In some cases, the querent may not even be consulted or, if consulted, will have a small part to play in the final decision. For example, if the querent works for a large company and the executive board decides to downsize or outsource jobs or eliminate the querent’s department, the querent may not even know these discussions are going on until the decision has been made. On the other end of the spectrum, a direct manager or supervisor is likely to consult the querent regarding their yearly review and raise. Here, the querent would have more influence, but even so, the boss (represented by the King) will make the final decision.
Kings have authority. The impact of their decisions is significant and their ability to be influenced is limited. The role they play in a situation is that of making decisions that are to some extent outside the querent’s influence and will significantly affect the querent’s situation. These are the things all Kings have in common. Despite sharing so many traits, they are also as different as the four suits.
The influence of the King of Wands is felt in business, particularly as it pertains to entrepreneurship. He can be found in roles such as advisor, consultant, or politician. The King of Wands responds to passion and ideas. Further, he is motivated by achieving his own goals. If you hope to influence him, seek his support on a project, want to change his mind, point out how your plan or idea will help him achieve his own goals, live his passion, or be an exciting use of his energy and/or resources. He does not respond as well to emotional pleas, excruciatingly reasoned arguments, or bottom lines. Spark his creative and energetic interest, and you will have his attention. However, his attention will be short-lived, so make the most of it.
The King of Cups follows his heart and is moved by the hearts of others. Therefore, you will find him serving in areas such as counseling, health care, human services, the arts, and non-profit organizations. Make no mistake: this person, while sensitive and compassionate, is not a pushover. As any King, he is accomplished and wields authority. He always feels his responsibility keenly. To enlist his support and influence his decisions, appeal to his sense of tolerance and the greater good. Childish, emotional outbursts will not have the desired affect. Temper pure emotion with wisdom and experience to gain his ear.
The King of Swords rules and is ruled by reason and logic. He delights in truth, enjoys communication, and finds comfort in clearly defined rules. The conviction that he is doing what is right drives him more than anything else. Hence, we often find him in the government. He may also practice or enforce the law, be a scientist, do medical research, perform surgery, or work in media. When approaching the King of Swords, check your emotional pleas at the door. Don’t expect your excitement or passion to sway him. Focus on reason and logic, having all your points clearly defined and express them as simply and elegantly as possible. If you digress too much, you’ll lose his attention.
The King of Pentacles is practical and values results. He likes things to run efficiently and effectively while producing something of quality. He tends to move in financial circles, such as banking, investing, and real estate. Tangible goods also interest him and he is an excellent salesperson. Because he values material goods, he might also work in protection or security. Finally, combining the desire for results and the physical world, coaching is a natural fit for him. Gaining his interest or support is easy if you can show him how your ideas will make his life easier or more productive. Focus on the both the bottom line and good quality, and you’ll find him an attentive listener.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the Queens of Tarot.
In Part 3 of this series, we'll take a look at the Knights of Tarot.
In Part 4 of this series, we'll take a look at the Pages of Tarot.