Have I written this post before? I might have written this post before. If nothing else, I’ve probably touched on its content in a footnote. Nevertheless, this is an interesting way to approach the Court Cards, so I think it bears repeating.
The sixteen Court Cards are widely recognized as the most difficult in the deck. They are complicated. More so even than the Major Arcana, the Court Cards are people, with fully formed personalities that can at times seem contradictory. Interpreting the Courts in a reading is difficult precisely because of the fluidity and complexity of their personalities.
There are a variety of ways to approach these cards. Elemental dignities are a good place to start. People also think about stages of human development, hierarchical social/professional roles, the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, and even (for the more Kabbalistically minded) placements on the Tree of Life.* But one of my favorite ways to understand these characters is through astrology.
The basic idea of associating the Court Cards with signs of the Zodiac is not a new one. (In fact, all of the content of this post will be mind-numbingly familiar to Thoth readers.) It’s generally recommended by pretty much every intro-to-Tarot book on the market. However, there are layers of complexity in this relationship that don’t always get explored.
Let’s start at the simplest and then build our way up. Of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, three are associated with each of the four elements.** Likewise, the sixteen Court Cards in Tarot are divided into four suits, which correspond with those same four elements. The easiest and simplest way to connect astrology and the Courts is simply to overlay these two sets of elemental correspondences. That is to say, the four cards in the Court of Pentacles are associated with the three Earth signs of the Zodiac (Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn), as are the Swords with the Air signs, and so on.
Generally speaking, this method isn’t terribly helpful in interpreting the Court Cards qua Tarot symbols. If you pull, for example, the King of Swords, you know that it’s associated with Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, and you might want to think about some of the ways that these Zodiacal energies might come into play in your reading. However, thinking along these lines basically just amounts to thinking of the card as connected to elemental Air. Put together all the traits of these three Zodiac signs, and what do you get if not Air itself?
What this method is useful for is identifying the Court Cards as people. If you pull the King of Swords and you think it represents a person external to the querent, then you can say something along the lines of, “This is a person in a position of authority relative to you, who tends to be very rational and maybe even a bit manipulative. Their Sun Sign is possibly Gemini, Libra, or Aquarius”. And then your querent says, “Oh, that’s my boss, Becky. She’s a Gemini. I’m up for a promotion right now, and there’s been a lot of tension between us”. And you continue on with your reading, dazzling your querent with mysterious powers of Tarot hoobedy-hoobedy.
This first technique is all well and good. Sometimes, all you need in a Tarot reading is a bit of extra identifying information to help pick out what feature of the external world a card represents. However, if you want to use astrology to understand the Court Cards themselves, you can even go a tiny bit deeper. Here’s how:
All of the Pages are set aside. There are some complicated mystical Golden Dawn justifications for this, if you want to read Liber T and find them, but the practical reason is that when you remove the Pages, you have twelve Court Cards left over to correspond to the twelve Zodiac signs.
The four Queens correspond to the cardinal Zodiac signs of their respective elements. That is to say the Queen of Pentacles is Capricorn, the Queen of Swords is Libra, the Queen of Cups is Cancer, and the Queen of Wands is Aries.
The four Knights correspond to the fixed Zodiac signs: Pentacles as Taurus, Swords as Aquarius, Cups as Scorpio, and Wands as Leo.
And, finally, the four Kings correspond to the mutable Zodiac signs: Pentacles as Virgo, Swords as Gemini, Cups as Pisces, and Wands as Sagittarius.
Why is it done this way, you ask? This is a method lifted (with slight modification, which we’ll explore below) from the Golden Dawn. As with anything GD, there are complicated hermetic explanations behind it, but you probably care less about those than I do.
As before, you can–if you wish–use these correspondences to pick out individual people who might be represented by Court Cards in a spread. This is a bit of a ballsier*** move, because you’re making a much more specific claim, and I personally tend to avoid it. Sometimes, if I get a really strong gut feeling, I’ll say “Oh, the Queen of Pentacles here represents someone whose Sun Sign is Capricorn”, but I have to be extremely confident in my intuition for that. More often, I’ll go with a general “Earth sign” claim, if I make any such claim at all. Nevertheless, this reading technique is available to you should you want to use it.
Personally, what I find more interesting about the specific one-to-one correspondence between Zodiac signs and Court Cards is that it allows me to understand the symbolism of the cards themselves in greater depth. When I’m thinking about the Queen of Cups and everything she represents, I’m not only thinking about her elemental, Kabalistic, and Meyers-Briggs profiles. I’m also trying to connect to the energy of Cancer. The things that are stereotypically important to Cancers are a really significant part of what the Queen of Cups represents. The same goes for the other Court Cards.
Yet even with this way of reading the Court Cards, something feels lacking. Sure, the divinatory meaning of the Queen of Cups overlaps quite a bit with the sign Cancer, but it’s not a one-to-one relationship. There are aspects of the Queen (and of each Court Card, for that matter) that don’t align with her Zodiacal correspondence.
Remember, the Court Cards are people, and like any actual human, they’re complicated. No real person fits squarely into the tropes associated with one Zodiac sign, and neither do the Tarot Courts. There’s more to them than that.
So we can add yet another layer of complexity to the way we assign astrological correspondences to the Courts. The original Golden Dawn method of reading the Court Cards had it so that each card ruled over two thirds of one Zodiac sign and one third of another. Each Court Card is given domain over the first two decans**** of its Zodiac sign and the last decan of the sign preceding it.
So, for example, the Queen of Cups is not just a Cancer; technically, she’s actually a Gemini. She rules the last 10° of Gemini and the first 20° of Cancer. The predominant energy of the card is still Cancer, but certain aspects of her personality (e.g. indecisiveness, inconstancy) are colored by the sign of Gemini.
The same goes for all the other Court Cards. The King of Swords is predominantly Gemini-like (Geministic?), but he also has a whiff of Taurus’s relentless practicality. And so on down the line.
This is the way that I most commonly fuse the Courts with astrology. It’s not really useful for the kinds of this-card-represents-a-person-with-Sun-sign-X interpretations we made above (although technically, you could say “This is probably someone born between April 10th and May 10th”). Rather, it helps me to understand the Courts as persons unto themselves, with more complex personalities than they would have if I merely read them with other correspondences. When a Court Card turns up in a reading and I think it represents an external person, I’ll often talk about behaviors and personality traits that such a person likely exhibits, and many of those traits will be drawn from my (admittedly inexpert) understanding of the Zodiac signs associated with the card. Even when I’m not reading a Court Card as a literal person, I find it incredibly helpful to have these Zodiacal correspondences on hand.
This post was actually inspired by a comment I received on my post about the King of Cups, where someone noted that it felt inappropriate to describe the King as “brimming” with compassion. It was pointed out to me that there is an aspect of the King that is more reserved and stable; I think that’s absolutely right, but I think this part of him derives from his secondary Zodiacal correspondence (Aquarius) as a counterbalance to the overwhelming empathy characteristic of his primary one (Pisces).
For those of you who use astrological correspondences in reading the Court Cards, I’d be curious to hear which methods you use and why. Do you use one of the three techniques I’ve outlined here? A different one? What works for you? Or do you avoid conflating astrology and the Courts altogether?
*Did you know that the Knights sit at Tiphereth, sharing a place with the Sixes? In Kabbalistic terms, the energy of a Knight is very similar to that of a Six. Thinking about this relationship is a fun potential prompt for those of you who keep Tarot journals. How is the Knight of Pentacles similar to the Six of Pentacles? How do they differ? Is anything new revealed about these two cards when you consider a link between them?
**Oof. That sentence is a grammatical nightmare. By the nature of the beast, blog posts are less polished than professionally published writing, and often I’ll write an entire post in one fell swoop with minimal editing, but every now and then I spit out a monstrosity like this. I’m going to leave it in place as a reminder to myself that I’m not the godlike writer I tend to think I am. The sentiment that I was trying to convey with the above: There are three Zodiac signs associated with Earth, another three signs associated with Air, another three with Water, and another three with Fire, for a total of twelve.
***How in the name of high hell does Google spellcheck recognize “ballsier” as a legitimate English word but not “stereotypically”?
****Don’t know what a decan is? No sweat. It’s a ten-degree portion of the Zodiac belt. There are three decans in each Zodiac sign, making for a total of 360 degrees to form the complete circle of the heavens.