As with Nakshatras of classical Jyotisha, Tarot must be studied and absorbed in a non-linear manner. In the west we have a tendency to try and reduce everything to a logical/linear conceptual essence, and often in so doing we miss spirit of the subjects we eagerly and often greedily study. Thus while it can be beneficial to reduce the Tarot to the numbers on the cards and their order within the schema, or to relate them to various elements etc. ultimately Tarot is beyond such labels and ideas.
Tarot is its own domain, its own world, complete unto itself and not requiring associations from other divinatory and esoteric systems in order to makes sense.
In my own, short time reading the cards, I’ve always found the court cards (King, Queen, Knight, Page) the hardest to read and work with. Recently though I had a breakthrough with them and I’m attempting to share those insights here.
I was always frustrated by the tendency I had during readings to reduce them or read them as real life people within the life of the querent. It seemed like I couldn’t get anything else from them than this. While they often can and do show up as representational of real life persons, like the rest of the cards, they must speak to all aspects of existence, meaning states of being, thoughts, moods, activities, ideas, experiential qualities, and everything else. Below are my reflections:
Pages are the spirit of inquiry, learning, beginnings, experimentation and risk, luck (as in beginners luck), service, humility, innocence, youthfulness, gaiety, naïveté, childishness or child-like mentalities and behaviors (only children enter the kingdom of heaven), support (as they maintain all of the equipment of the knight). Foolishness, ignorance, unskillfulness and lack of direction are some of their more negative manifestations. They are the servant of the servants of the realm (Knights). They are the future of the realm, in a sense the only thing worth fighting for, and thus represent all noble causes. They are primarily passive, waiting for new things to come their way or to be instructed, in contrast to the knights who are actively seeking something new or some desire burning in their heart of hearts. Pages have a highly androgynous (they can thus represent individuals of either sex in a strictly biological sense) and neutral energy (they can be any kind of person or experience). They are neither inherently stabilizing or destabilizing and instead represent a kind of fertile ground that can be used in any manner. They can be related most directly to The Fool, somewhat to The Magician and The Sun.
Knights are fundamentally mobile, serving the realm, serious in their mission, seekers on a quest (seeking/questing), indicative of movement, momentum, change, looking for something new or unknown (the unknown itself), soberness, conquest, projectile force. Violence, domination, impatience, disregard, “dead man walking”, rebelliousness, revolution, destruction/disintegration are some of their negative qualities. Knights are highly destabilizing, indicative of change and movement and heavily masculine and extroverted as well as extremely independent and hard headed but extremely loyal and noble. They are in a sense all aspects of The Chariot and also bear things in common with The Sun and even Death (who rides a pale horse).
Queens denote wise counsel, motherhood, a spirit of nurturing and self inquiry. They are the teachers and shepherds of the realm and its children. They are the educators, brimming with knowledge and wisdom, upholding tradition and passing it on, maintaining what exists in a wholesome manner. They are the greater woman behind every great man (The Kings). Without them the realm crumbles, the rivers run dry, the granaries are emptied and the crops fail. They represent the sustenance of life itself. They remove obstacles by nurturing and teaching those in need to fend for themselves all the while providing the tools and supplies necessary to succeed. They are the face of extreme care and compassion. They are extremely affirming and stabilizing cards/energies. Some of their negative manifestations are inertia, greed, miserly attitudes, depression, lethargy, darkness, heaviness, extreme resistance to change, myopic views, denial of reality, extreme introversion and self hatred. They are all aspects of The Empress card and also carry notes of The High Priestess and Strength.
The Kings represent power, responsibility, mastery, professions, burdens. They are aloof, masters of life and death. They resolve problems like Solomon and the story of the child and the two women who laid claim to it, and Alexander The Great (cutting the gordian knot). They are an emblem of Justice and total commitment to Truth and Righteousness, with no regard for the superfluous. In this sense they are not patient and nurturing like the Queen, but harsh, rash and straight to the point, fostering a kind of nurturing through the rod as opposed to the staff. Thus they are symbols of discipline and harsh life lessons forcing a person to rise to confront great challenges which can allow them to become the king of their own internal realm and master of their own fate. Like the knights they are future oriented and form a contrast to the Queen whose job it generally is to bridge the past into the present. They are an affirming energy but only after work and effort are exerted to rise to the occasion they refer to. In this sense they often represent great responsibilities that one must rise to regardless of one’s personal desires or preferences. They are related to The Emperor, The Sun and to Justice. Kings ultimately represent doing what needs to be done, not because you want to, but because you have to as in above all else it is The Right thing to do. Negatively they manifest as tyranny, brute force, rash decision making, misuse of power, bullying, control and manipulation, total dominance, extreme aloofness and lack of caring and focusing too much on their own agenda, legacy, public image, narcissism and inferiority complexes, lack of integrity.
All of these general qualities become modified based upon the suite in question as well as what surrounds the cards and whether they are reversed or upright (however a reversed card does not automatically imply negative qualities). One could delineate each court card separately but it seems that it is best if one understands the essentials of each court card and then sees the various suite manifestations of each as subtle modifications rather than as being primary. For example the knight of pentacles will be the slowest of all the knights but also the most consistent, though he’ll still embody all of the other qualities we listed above in one way or another. The knight of swords becomes the quickest and most impatient of such energies. The page of swords questions whatever instruction is received as a means to learn while the page of pentacles is happy to be shown the way and learn through direct hands on experience, but nonetheless both are students eager to learn.