When Does a Knight Become a King?

Let’s talk about significators, everybody.

The use of a significator in a Tarot reading is a fairly popular technique, although it’s one that I don’t use very often. For anyone who’s unfamiliar, the idea is that prior to a reading, you select one card out of the deck to represent your querent. There are a variety of different techniques for doing this. The Golden Dawn suggested using the Magician for a male querent and the High Priestess for a female one. Some people do it by astrological sign, by age, gender, hair color, eye color, or other physical characteristics. Some people do it by personality, or will select a card that they feel is representative of the subject matter of the reading (e.g. the Three of Swords for questions about a breakup).

Pro-significator readers argue that the use of a significator helps to ground a reading and to focus the cards on the energy of the querent. Personally, I tend to disagree; using a significator has always felt to me like tampering with the deck, and I don’t like reading if I don’t feel that all 78 cards have equal chances of showing up in any spread position.

But for the moment, we’re going to set that messy debate aside and talk about something else. Because in recent weeks–and I really don’t know how this has happened–my significator has changed.

Queen and Page of Wands

For a very long time, I used the Queen of Wands as my significator. True, I’m neither married nor a woman, and I really don’t fit the physical description of the Queen, but I identified quite strongly with the personality traits that this card represents. Moreover, my Sun is in Aries, so astrologically it made sense to use the Queen of Wands.*

And then, over time, I started to shift. I moved to a new city, I was starting on a lot of new projects, and it felt right to use the Page instead of the Queen. (That, coupled with the pseudonym Jack, is the source of inspiration for this blog’s name.)

Knight and King of Swords

A little over a year ago, a second shift occurred. Once again, a lot of things happening in my life started to take different directions, and the suit of Wands no longer really felt like me. I began to identify very strongly with the Knight of Swords, in all his good and bad qualities. Excessively rational, overly enthusiastic, and (let’s face it) abrasive to boot, the Knight of Swords felt like me. So I went with it.

But a couple of weeks ago, in a reading for myself, the King of Swords–the great old chess player himself–flipped onto the table. Without thinking, I jotted down in my notebook, “Interesting: KS** is the card I use as my significator”.

And then I stopped and reread what I had just written.

Was the King my significator? I had certainly never used it as such before. But I realized that it was true: I no longer identified with the Knight, and as I looked down at the King of Swords, I saw a reflection of myself looking up at me.

When does this happen? When does a person’s identity change enough that one significator is no longer appropriate? For some people, one significator is enough to last their whole lives. Others believe that the choice of a significator is externally determined (i.e. by astrological sign or physical appearance), that it’s an objective reflection of an individual not dependent on subjective perceptions.

If someone else is reading for me and they want to choose a different card as a significator, based on their personal methods, I’ll never protest, even if it’s the same card every time. Yet in my personal practice, I think that my identity is too fluid, too changeable, to be captured by one card for all eternity. Right now, I’m the King of Swords. Tomorrow, I may be the Queen of Cups, or even that damned Knight of Pentacles. And who knows? Some day, my significator might not even be a Court Card. I identify very, very strongly with the Seven of Swords.***

I think the point I’m trying to make here is that humans are changeable. And one of the great things about Tarot is ability to capture that. Tarot is not fixed. It moves in cycles, from the Fool to the World and back again, and I think that ever-changing nature is part of why it’s such a great tool to reflect the human psyche. There is no better way to describe my development as an individual than to look at the progression of cards I’ve used as my significator over the years.

When and why do I shift from one card to another? I’m not entirely sure, but the perpetual change, the knowledge that I’m constantly in flux and that I’m always becoming something new, is essential to my Tarot practice.


*Although actually, if we want to get picky, I should have used the Knight of Pentacles if I wanted to be astrologically accurate in the choice of significator. The Queen of Wands is connected to the last decan of Pisces and the first two decans of Aries; my sun is 23 degrees into Aries (i.e. in the third decan), so it’s actually in the domain of the Knight of Pentacles. But I can’t help myself; the Knight is just such a fuddy-duddy. He and I have never gotten along terribly well.

**This is shorthand to represent the King of Swords, as you might have guessed. When I’m taking Tarot notes, the Major Arcana are always represented by Roman Numerals (e.g. the Moon is XVIII). The Minor Arcana are signified by their number, followed by the first letter of their suit (e.g. 3P for the Three of Pentacles). And the Court Cards are done on a similar model, with two letters: one to represent the rank and one to represent the suit. To avoid confusion, I use the letter “N” for Knights and “K” for Kings, so that the Knight of Swords would be NS instead of KS.

***Also for astrological reasons, incidentally. My Moon is 23 degrees into Aquarius, and the astrological attribution of 7S is Luna in the third decan of–you guessed it–Aquarius.

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