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An Exploration of the Courts: Expressions of the Human Experience in Tarot


Crow Tarot by MJ Cullinane

Tarot is a dynamic and expansive discipline of divination. With endless new ways to new ways to explore and read the unique language of cards, it’s a practice that one never ceases to learn and grow from. Learning and understanding the basics are easy enough. Complications arise once we start to apply those basics to the deeper interpretation of archetypes, symbolism, and their changeable behaviors based on placements and pairings. Many astute students of tarot get lost in navigating their way through the intuitive understanding of these variable visual designs inhibiting them from constructing the cohesive words that formulate the story of the connected cards. As a result, many talented card readers don’t pursue the theory of cartomancy past surface level meanings, doing themselves a disservice to their potential.

Court cards are often one of the first major roadblocks. These sixteen cards tend to act as some monumental barrier between the card reader and their full understanding of a suit. However, these royals aren’t as complicated as they seem – we’re just observing them from a less than effectual perspective. Changing our perspective changes our understanding, and court cards are an excellent example of this lesson.  

Universally accepted we have our primary division between the major arcana and minor arcana, representing the separation between key life lessons and the events of daily life. The minor arcana divides further into four suits: Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and Cups. Past that, there are a plethora of additional subcategories which vary depending on teachings. Some of these teachings co-exist with each other, and some operate entirely within their own system. For sake of simplicity and cohesion, we’re going to keep it basic and stick with a simple threefold category system: Aces, numbered cards, court cards.

As mentioned above, when first learning the minor arcana we engage with the theory that these four suits represent the functions and experiences of our day to day lives, the scope of average human experience. This is a beautiful way to interpret the cards and makes for dynamic reading and understanding of the cards. It also helps us build our story when connecting cards in a very personal and relatable way. The tricky thing here is that the aces and court cards don’t fit neatly into this perspective. They relate, but they sit a little askew, thus adding a perplexing layer to the suit itself.

It behooves us to acknowledge that these cards fit the ideals of what the human experience is about but require a different lens to be observed wholly. Doing so shifts and expands our understanding of these cards, as well as the lessons and experiences of the minor arcana. All three segments blend into one another, but all offer different wisdoms within the theme of each individual suit.

Now we can’t quite understand the court cards without touching on the Aces, as their role is imperative to each suit. Aces are focal points. They are the primary theme of each suit, and the embodiment of its full potential. These cards also represent the starting point and therefore they are the idyllic depiction of element within the human experience. Often called seeds, these cards not yet manifested. The numbered cards that follow are the various expressions of manifestation through the suit, culminating up to its embodied conclusion at ten.

When we reach the Page, the system we use to decode the story contained within each card changes. While the Aces signify the theme, and the numbered cards tell us the situation, court cards are the state of being within that suit. Pages, Knights, Queens, Kings, they are the actionable aspect of a suit, and the personification of an event, object, or moment in time.

These actions can happen in a multitude of ways. They can be causation triggering an event or situation to occur, or they can be the response to something. They can be an external force, or they can represent the self or perception of self. Court cards can also suggest courses of action, or what to avoid.

Each member of the Court represents a different level of maturity, and therefore a different perspective in action, and the way the suit is expressed.

Pages are excitable, vibrant energy. There is a curiosity and inquisitiveness to these cards, and a deep desire to poke and prod and explore the theme of the given suit. Pages are refreshing and inviting, but they also lack depth and should be taken at face value. The desire to see what’s possible within the suit is one of interest, not one of wisdom.

Pages progress into Knights. These cards are not yet mature but are growing into themselves. They are exploring the themes of that suit and are beginning to understand it on a deeper level. Because of the lack of maturity however, knights are like a wild pendulum swing as they find their footing in trying to gain mastery over the element at hand. This is a card of extreme highs and extreme lows representing the unbalanced nature that comes with learning how to express oneself.

Once mastery is gained, we come to the Queens and Kings. These cards, unlike pages and knights, are fully matured, and are absolute equals. These royals represent two sides of the same coin – one receptive, and one projective.

Queens, being receptive mastery, are the complete internal manifestation of the suit. Queens have a natural, relaxed feel to them, but with a potency and air of unparalleled knowing. They are associated with the wisdom of self-expression and oneness in our environment. Being the embodiment of inward expression there is always an energy of deep understanding in the Queens and she is the master of emotions, relationships, connections, and awareness.

On the flip side of this coin, Kings, being projective mastery, are the complete external manifestation of the suit. They represent force of action, practical implementation of the suit’s theme, and absolute control over the end result of any manifestation. Authority, control, and delegation are primary themes with Kings, and they are expressed with the utmost confidence and power.

Court cards are the personification of the element represented within each suit of the minor arcana. By embracing the theory of maturity in these cards and applying it to the act of being we can more easily connect the suit to human experiences. This adds a deeper appreciate for the variable nuances in the minor arcana and broadens the depth of meaning and symbolism of a suit within a reading. By understanding the court cards, we better understand the suit as a whole. Pull out the court cards and consider how you relate to the virtues of each card. Does being able to connect each card to yourself or a moment in your life change your understanding of the theme of their suit?


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