Knights and Streetcars: “Coming and Going”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: My wife dismisses blues music as “whining man” music (as in “My baby done left me and I’m feelin’ lowdown and mean.” But there is a bawdy old “whining woman” blues song from the early 20th Century that complains: “Men are like streetcars/They keep coming and going.” (A similar modern version would be the Randy Newman tune You Can Leave Your Hat On, which hints that “you won’t be staying long after we’re done.”) But back to our regular program . . .

In the Golden Dawn system of interpretation, the horse-mounted male court cards were “Kings” in an early incarnation but were eventually unhorsed to become charioteers [renamed “Princes”] and replaced at the top of the hierarchy by “Knights” on horseback. The mounted figures were described as showing someone or something entering or leaving the matter depending on whether they are facing into the sequential flow of the cards (“upstream” is a good analogy) or away from and aligned with the direction of the incoming current (“downstream”). Because they are shown mounted, in a reading these figures have always indicated that “things are on the move,” but the Golden Dawn premise adds further nuance to their meaning. (Obviously, reversal will turn this concept on its head.)

When they face upstream, with the “wind in their face” so to speak, the querent should anticipate an arrival of some kind and confront it squarely, while the opposite direction (“wind at their back”) implies some form of departure. “Incoming” could show a new opportunity or responsibility: romance, friendship, job offer or promotion, birth or beginning of a project, increased burden, anything that is in the works but not yet in hand, while “outgoing” connotes things like divorce, resignation or termination, embarking on a journey, shedding burdens or in general giving up something or seeing it pass away. There can be an incentive (maybe even a “kick in the butt”) to move on.

This can be particularly subtle when the card is reversed because it suggests that the whole story isn’t known, and that there might be unforeseen strings attached to any developments. In the case of arrival, it could come with hidden motives or intentions; departure could leave loose ends that may never be resolved if the escapee makes a “clean getaway.” In a more psychological sense, a reversed court card could mean that the querent needs to embrace getting in touch with that subconscious quality. Left-facing reversed cards suggest clinging to entrenched attitudes and behaviors that need an airing-out; right-facing reversals convey the idea of obscure urges that could surface with little or no awareness of the consequences (think “sleepwalking into the future”). In one case the advice might be “Move along and don’t look back,” while the other cautions “Stay put until you know exactly where you’re headed.”

On the other hand, when I use a court card as a Significator and it looks to the left, the querent could be fearful of something from the past that may “sneak up and bite them,” while looking to the right it denotes that the seeker is ready and willing to advance in the situation and just needs to decide where to place the next step. Of course, looking only in one direction is an invitation to a nasty surprise and none of us has eyes in the back of our head, so the reading should speak to that eventuality with a “look both ways” caveat. When I pick the Significator randomly (my preferred practice), it can turn up reversed and show that the querent is peering out from under some kind of obstruction (self-imposed “blinders” or external obfuscation imposed by the circumstances). When that happens, the objective is to bring any potential misapprehensions to the fore and examine them.

By and large, this is a fascinating and valuable technique that I need to remember to apply when it comes up in a reading. As I alluded to above, there is a debate about whether the mounted male court card should be called “King” as in the Golden Dawn’s Liber T discussion of this technique, or “Knight” as later assumed (and as Aleister Crowley adopted it). I chose to go with “Knight” for its association with “movement.”

AUTHOR’S POSTSCRIPT: There is a long-running discussion over whether reversals should be used with the Golden Dawn system; most naysayers argue that Elemental Dignities apply instead. I’ve never agreed with this assumption since reversals and EDs serve two different purposes: the former alters the “mode of delivery” or “angle of attack” for a card’s energy without substantially changing its core meaning, while the latter modulates the potency of the “principal” card. Just because Liber T and the Book of Thoth are silent on reversal (at least I’ve never been able to find any mention of it) doesn’t mean it can’t be considered. Personally, I find it very effective.


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