Incremental Court Cards

As I continue my study and practice of playing-card divination, I’m gaining some insights into the nature and application of the court cards that can be readily integrated into my knowledge of the tarot courts. The main idea is one of the progressive or incremental unfolding of the hierarchical and numerical energy in human terms. It also partakes of a different alignment between the cards and the zodiacal signs than that proposed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one that strikes a responsive chord with the astrologer in me. Because there are only three playing-card courts but four in the tarot, I had to subtly shift some of the attributes from the Jacks (Knights) to the Pages.

In Liber T, a compilation of the Order’s tarot “papers,” the Golden Dawn described the four court cards as expressions of “power” in its various forms: “potential” in the Kings (their Knights); “brooding” in the Queens; “active” in the Knights (their Princes) and “reception and transmission” in the Pages (their Princesses). Apart from the grammatical awkwardness, the meaning of these designations is not immediately obvious and requires some thought. I see it thus: in the Kings, power is held in abeyance through force of Will and only brought to bear when necessary; in the Queens, power is contemplative like a patient spider waiting to pounce on its prey; in the Knights power is freely exercised; in the Pages it is the power of communication to direct action. For the present purpose, I prefer to view the court cards as declarations of “initiative” at its various stages of development. In the Pages it is potential or latent, only awaiting a triggering stimulus; in the Knights it is put to use in a headlong, “just do it” way; in the Queens it is quietly purposeful and prudent; in the Kings it is wisely administered in its application.

The Pages represent the potential for advancement that exists in the preparatory phase of any initiative, before the seeker steps out in a definite direction (although they are standing still, their facing may indicate what is to come in that regard). They imply an idea or inspiration that has yet to take flight, but they are dependent on the cards coming immediately before and after to provide a “trigger” and a “target” for their launch. When appearing as the first card in a spread (and especially when reversed), they can be clueless or unmotivated, needing to be pulled reluctantly into action by ensuing circumstances rather than actively embracing forward movement. Any card a Page is facing in the spread can offer an opportunity they may fail to recognize as such due to their inexperience, while the card behind them is taken for granted and not given a second thought. Because they don’t relate directly to a single sign of the zodiac but instead to a whole quarter, they stand as a “thing apart” that signifies latent promise, much like the Aces and the Fool.

Because of their mobility, the Knights impart a sense of direction (again according to their facing) and a “trending” indication within the context of the reading. They are more about in-process aspects of the situation than about its beginning, unless they appear as the first card in the spread, in which case they suggest “champing at the bit” and being over-eager to “make a splash,” or perhaps they are just getting “out of the gate.” The card receiving their gaze in the spread can show “where they’re headed,” with the card at their back describing “where they’re coming from.” Consider them as agents of applied initiative or “power in action.” They are the least complex and ambiguous of the courts; what you see is usually what you get. Their relation to the mutable signs in the cartomantic system of Jonathan Dee makes a lot of sense to me.

The Queens are the matriarchal “soul of patience” and exude contemplative composure when in a good mood, echoing their archetypal role-model, the Empress; when in a foul mood (such as when reversed or ill-dignified by association with adjacent cards), they are not to be trifled with (and this applies to all of the Queens in one way or another). The latter condition reminds me of the old advertising slogan “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” (Somebody once amused me with the epithet “royal bitch” for the Empress – and by logical extension the Queens – when out-of-sorts.) The Queens are securely enthroned, but I get the impression that the arrangement is less a symbol of their regency and more a launch-pad from which they can spring at the least provocation. Depending on mutual dignity, the card a Queen is facing in the spread can show the current object of her pleasure or displeasure, while the card she is looking away from may reflect something that has escaped her attention (at most a momentary lapse). Once again, their relation to the fixed signs strikes me as more justifiable in showing their enduring (and often stubborn) resolve than their Golden Dawn correspondence to the cardinal signs, the influence of which can be potent but fleeting in duration (which sounds more like the “too many irons in the fire” Kings to me.).

As titular “heads of state,” the Kings are the most overtly dignified of the group (but don’t tell the Queens that or they will withhold their stabilizing support as the “power behind the throne!”) I see them as reflecting the countervailing attributes of mercy and severity; they will stay their hand when it seems provident but will strike without hesitation or remorse when that seems more expedient (the temperamental “King’s Justice”). They are solidly seated on their thrones as befits their august presence (unless we’re talking Golden Dawn or Thoth horse-mounted “Knights”) and thus are pillars of patriarchal authority and administrative shrewdness. Standing in the footsteps of their archetypal superior, the Emperor, they might be considered provincial paragons of law-and-order, but without the redeeming “noblesse oblige.” The card a King is confronting in the spread can show where he feels it necessary to intervene, while the one opposite his regard may indicate what he considers beneath his dignity and unworthy of engagement (perhaps to his sorrow). Their association with the cardinal signs of the zodiac effectively conveys the aura of mastery that assumes they can do no wrong (think Louis XIV and the “Divine Right of Kings”). As such, they embody the confidence to make their own rules even if it means breaking with the past.

I’ve acquired a few useful hints from this exercise regarding the positional significance of the court cards, both within the overall hierarchy and specifically in a reading, that I think bear following up in practice.



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