While writing my recent post about the the ability of the court cards to receive “inspiration and support from Above,” I stumbled upon an epiphany that deserves further exploration. At the end of the essay I wrote:
“I will continue to see tarot royalty as hobbled by their inability to “loosen up;” in practical reading terms, this can manifest as burdensome psychological or sociological complexes rather than as the presence of inflexible and overbearing people in the querent’s life.”
Since we often use the tarot to identify ways in which a seeker can improve the circumstances that brought them to the reading, the idea that a court card appearing in the spread can imply a certain “rigidity” in the individual’s attitude or behavior is a compelling one. The court cards can be seen as representing well-established (even entrenched) personality traits, and these qualities can dominate the character to the point of being adopted as an automatic or “knee-jerk” reaction whenever a situation triggers the posture suggested by the card. It’s easier to reach for the “ready-made solution” that worked in the past than to tailor one’s response to the present occasion, even when it’s a poor fit.
Consider any court card a “snapshot” of an indwelling response mechanism that will always be significant in the matter but the relative intensity will depend on where it appears in the reading. Near the “past” end of a time-line spread it could show an earlier reaction that shaped later developments in the situation, while in the “present” it suggests an ongoing act of self-driven caprice (either self-motivation or self-immolation depending on how well-favored the temperament of the card is in the scenario), and at the “future” end of the narrative it may caution against falling into old habits that it would be better to transcend.
The idea of “distance” as used in Lenormand reading may be relevant here: if the court card falls close to a highly-sensitive card in the spread, whether Significator (if used) outcome card, trump card or other potent indicator defined by the context of the question, it could exhibit an insistent “in-your-face” urgency that further modulates and personalizes the experience of that energy, perhaps introducing a quirky humanizing “twist” that should not be ignored. Farther away it can be taken more as incidental advice and not so much as an imperative.
Translating the general attributes of the court cards into obsessive-compulsive tendencies turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. While aspects of the querent’s personality comprise the second way in which I interpret the court cards (the others being specific people involved in the matter or impersonal outside forces), the goal is usually to integrate these qualities into the whole rather than to examine what sets them apart. I’ve written numerous essays on the court cards, but the closest I’ve come to this in the past was to view them in fanciful terms as symbolizing members of a dysfunctional family: “the impatient, ill-tempered father, the long-suffering, passive-aggressive mother, the none-too-swift “slacker” big brother and the bratty little sister.”
Among the courts, the Pages are undeniably the most flexible and the least set in their ways, but also the most superficial. Their main flaw is one of difficulty in “getting out of the gate” and taking that first step, and when forced to do so they can be derailed by their lack of preparation. They are the epitome of the “eternal student” who never graduates, drifting in and out of adulthood as the mood strikes them. In a reading they suggest being “stuck in neutral” and innately prone to obsess over minutiae while missing the “big picture.” There may be new things on the horizon, but avoiding rather than embracing them can become habitual. “Commitment” is not a dirty word, just one that should not be taken lightly, although procrastination is seldom the right response. Idioms that come to mind are “half-baked;” “a day late and a dollar short;” and “get a grip.” It’s hard to imagine how the Pages might “loosen up” more than they already are, when in fact the best advice would be to “bear down.” In a more positive sense, they express some of the unsullied innocence of the Aces and the “Divine Fool,” although in today’s cynical culture that naivety may be considered more a liability of infants and incompetents than an asset.
With the Knights, it’s really two sides of the same coin: on the face of it they are reliable in a one-dimensional way and on the flip-side they are overly predictable. They’re basically “point-and-shoot,” with one gear (“Forward”), one speed (“Fast”) and one direction (“Straight Ahead”) with little ability to change course once in motion and almost no interest in doing so. The advice would be to throttle back and take stock of the situation before blundering on; throwing in a little creative imagination would also be a good thing. There isn’t much more to say about the Knights; they are the epitome of the old computer programming acronym “WYSIWYG” (“What you see is what you get”). Even the most devious among them, the Knight of Swords, is relatively transparent. They have such a tight grip (“death-grip” comes to mind) on their personal view of reality that “loosening up” represents a major hurdle.
The Queens embody the homily “Patience is a virtue,” except when it isn’t. “Patient to a fault” even when forceful action is called for would be the downside of such resolute forbearance. The two “active” Queens (Wands and Swords) should be less susceptible to this weakness than their “passive” Cups and Pentacles sisters, but they are still seated in contemplation, weighing the moment and carefully choosing their response like changing their wardrobe to suit the occasion. However, indecision until the last minute is all too common since they want to ensure that all sides of an argument are heard (or maybe they’re just fickle); impulsively “striking while the iron is hot” is foreign to their nature. Thus, they can seem slow to act when they’re just trying to be fair. The Queens like to feel appreciated for their temperance and can get sulky if they don’t receive it. When crossed, even the most benign Queen can become touchy; she may be even-handed at most times but she can go on a tear at the slightest provocation. Think of the old Chiffon margarine commercial: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” (with thunder rumbling in the background).
Like their “big brother,” the Emperor, the Kings are foursquare and rock-steady, although that obdurate quality may denote their stubbornness as much as it defines their reliability. Those of the “hippie generation” may remember a Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa song of the late ’60s titled “Help, I’m a Rock!” which neatly summarizes the Kings’ “rigidity” dilemma. The Kings can come across as symbolic “fossils,” relics of a long-dead patriarchal ruling class, posturing impotently as if they’re carved from stone; the notion of a “figurehead” comes to mind. They are at their best when not called upon to be agile or light on their feet. Compared to the Knights their reactions can seem glacial by any normal measure of promptness. Unlike the Pages, their inability to “pull the trigger” is due more to inertia than inexperience, suggesting the inept “Father-figure” in a different kind of dysfunctional family. This type of King will defer to his Queen every time; he’s not so much weak or meek as oblivious to the ins-and-outs or ups-and-downs of the human agenda, and doesn’t want to think too hard about it as long as things are running smoothly. It reminds me of the old joke: a distracted man (reading the newspaper) answers “Yes, dear” to every one of his wife’s innocuous questions until she asks “Does this dress make me look fat?” to which he carelessly replies “Yes, dear.” Oops!