Most tarot students agree that the court cards are the most challenging. Perhaps this is because they represent people and, let’s face it, people are complicated! One of the best books I’ve read to explore all the complexities of the court cards is Understanding the Tarot Court by Mary K. Greer and Tom Little. They help us jump right in by getting up close and personal with the court cards by having us pick our significators. What is a significator? How do you pick one? Let’s see what Mary and Tom have to say:

One of the most familiar uses of the court cards in divination is the significator. The significator is a card that represents the querent—the person who is asking the question and about whom the reading is being done. Significators are chosen in many ways [such as by age, gender, physical appearance, and sun sign]. Now is the opportunity for you to pick out a significator intuitively.

  1. Take your deck, and separate the sixteen court cards from the rest, laying them out face up in a mixed grouping. Forget everything you know about these cars and simply look at the pictures
  2. Eliminate the cards that are least like you—getting rid of at least half. Keep these separate from the others.
  3. Notice some of the characteristics that you used in the elimination process. Too old? Too young? Wrong color hair? Wrong sex? Overly harsh? Not friendly enough? Too dreamy? Too conservative? Interested in the wrong things?
  4. From the cards that remain, does one card stand out clearly as being most like you? If not, examine the remaining cards in pairs, choosing one over the other by considering what you most connect with or where you see yourself most strongly. Then compare the chosen card to a new card until only one is left. This is your significator.
  5. From your initial stack of eliminated cards, find the card that is least like you. This could be called your “nemesis.” It generally represents those characteristics you feel your were not allotted.
  6. In your journal, write the ways in which you are most like your significator. Describe how your nemesis is not like you. One way to think of your nemesis is that if you were competing in this person’s field, he or she would be an unbeatable rival; you could not possibly win. You may want to write down other cards that seemed to express a certain aspect of yourself that is noteworthy. Date your entries.

Mary and Tom’s exercise is an interesting way to learn not only about the court cards but also about ourselves. I think this would be a fun exercise to do with a deck that I wasn’t familiar with and that used non-traditional ranks and suits, so that I wasn’t swayed by the titles but instead only reacting to the art.

Do you think the card we deem “least like us” is a nemesis or is it our shadow? Or are the nemesis and shadow the same thing?

Written by Barbara Moore
The tarot has been a part of Barbara Moore’s personal and professional lives for over a decade. In college, the tarot intrigued her with its marvelous blending of mythology, psychology, art, and history. Later, she served as the tarot specialist for Llewellyn Publications. Over the years, she has ...