It’s nothing personal. It’s not that he thinks you’re bad or anything. It’s just that no matter how good you are, in his mind he will always be better. Smarter, better-looking, more athletic, morally superior. Whatever the quality being measured, the King of Wands is convinced that he is the best.
In my first-ever Tarot journal, the keyword I had written down for the King of Wands was “arrogance”. And while this card is a complex personality which much more depth and subtlety, I still think that’s a good way to begin to understand what he’s all about. The King of Wands considers himself a man apart from the world. To his mind, he is better at everything than everyone else, simply by virtue of being him.
It’s important to understand that the King of Wands is not necessarily a competitive figure. When he casually and callously expresses the belief that other people are inferior to him, it’s really not about them. Unlike, say, the Knight of Wands, who is competitive for the sake of competition, the King of Wands is genuinely dumbfounded at the idea that there could be people close enough to his level to count as competition. He’s not competitive, because he doesn’t see anyone else in the arena.
Imagine being Michael Phelps at a backyard pool party. It wouldn’t occur to you to challenge anyone to race, or that anyone could beat you in a race. That is who the King of Wands thinks he is. He’s, well, the King, and he knows it.
As with any card in the Tarot deck, the King of Wands has positives and negatives. The negatives are the easiest to spot: He’s a paragon of arrogance. Moreover, the King of Wands, perhaps more than any other card in the Tarot deck, is blind to his own faults, because he is so convinced that he doesn’t have any. As a consequence, the King can be reckless, stubborn, and obnoxiously bossy. He will likely never learn to utter the words “I was wrong,” and even if he does bring himself to say them, it’s unlikely he’ll believe them.
But he has a good side as well, to which we must pay homage.
The thing about the King of Wands is that no matter how arrogant, egotistical, and infuriatingly self-inflated he is, his opinion of himself is not unjustified. Sure, it’s annoying that he’s so unapologetic about thinking he’s the best, but at the same time, he often is the best. The King of Wands is not all bluster. He’s good at what he does, and he knows it.
This understanding of the King can be rather distasteful. We don’t want to admit that egomaniacs might have some basis for their egos; it reeks of a kind of old-world aristocratic Weltanschauung that does not sit well with our modern democratic sensibilities.* Most of us are obsessed with self-deprecation, with lessening our accomplishments in the eyes of others out of some distorted sense of humility. The King of Wands rejects that practice. He denies the need for self-deprecation. “No,” he says, “I really am the best, and I refuse to pretend otherwise.”
I adore the King of Wands for exactly that reason. He doesn’t bullshit. He doesn’t lie about who he thinks he is. Granted, his vision of himself is somewhat distorted, and he would do well to surround himself with people** who can take him down a peg or two when he needs it. But ultimately, the King represents a sort of primal joy, the joy of saying “This is who I am, this is what I can do.” The King of Wands is the spirit of knowing one’s own excellence.
*The word “aristocracy” literally translates as “rule by the best”. It was Aristotle’s preferred method of government. Democracy, he argued, was inferior because the masses could not be trusted. Rather, government required a trained political elite who could paternalistically act in the best interests of their less enlightened citizenry.
**Like the Queen of Swords.