Sample chapter of Tarot Fundamental


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Exploring the Court Cards T he Knave, Knight, Queen and King possess a unique symbolic significance among the cards. There are two commonly used methods of interpretation. One, traditional, the other a modern technique. The traditional technique: the Court Cards indicate actual people When a Court Card appears in a Spread, this indicates a real person, her actions or her influence over a situation. The card therefore enables the identification of the person in this manner: Knave = Boy Knight = Young man Queen = Woman King = Mature man The suit of each card dictates physical appearance: Chalices = Blond hair, fair skin Pentacles = Dark hair, olive skin Wands = Red hair, fair skin Swords = Black hair, fair skin The King of Wands, for example, represents a mature man (King) with red hair and fair skin (Wands). This is a simple system for interpreting but one that presents numerous limits. The modern technique: the Court Cards indicate strategies for action A more efficient technique is one that identifies each figure with a role: Knave = Learning Knight = Action Queen = Perception King = Control To interpret a Court Card the role is matched to the area represented by the suit: Chalices = emotions and feelings Pentacles = objects and practical matters Wands = passion and desires Swords = thoughts and communication The King of Chalices of the Universal Tarot by R. de Angelis. 419


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King of Chalices represents a need to control the emotions because: King (control) + Cups (the emotions) = Need to control emotions. Knight of Pentacles represents a need to act in a pragmatic way because: Knight (action) + Pentacles (the material) = Need to act pragmatic. In general the court cards suggest a way or a strategy for dealing with the situation. The expressions and the meanings that can be attained using this system lack preconceived ideas regarding race, age and gender and can be applied to a wide range of people and to any situation. Consider the Court Cards Every Tarot deck contains sixteen Court Cards also called face cards, coat cards, or people cards. Beginning readers often become bogged down and confused when interpreting court cards but you have little to fear. At first glance a King may be confused with a Knight or even The Emperor. Queens may be confused with the Empress card due to similar depictions. Court cards, unlike the other Tarot cards portraying scenes of action or story, generally just have a figure sitting a throne or horse. Rarely is there action drawn out or taking place, until we look a bit closer. What function do they serve? What systems exits for interpreting them? And who, ultimately, has the authority to say what these cards mean? Fortunately, there are many systems for bringing the court cards to life. Each has its own pros and con. Readers who choose to explore each system of will find themselves empowered. As a result, you simply choose the system working best for you. The Knave of Wands of the Crystal Tarot by E. Trevisan. Depending on the deck, the Knave may also be called Page. Take Time To Know The Courts Remove and separate the Court Cards from your deck before reading any further. Examine them, play with them and place 420


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Three Courts of Chalices from the Universal Tarot by R. de Angelis. The Courts can be connected to an archetypical family. The Knave is the younger son, the Knight is the elder son, the Queen is the mother and the King is the father. in coordinating piles. Put the Queens together, comparing and contrasting them. Do the same with the Kings, Knights and Knaves. Now arrange the families according to their Suits. Place the King, Queen, Knight and Knave of Pentacles next to each other. Do you notice similarities? Differences? What cards are you drawn to and which do you dislike? Pick one court card to represent yourself. Who would it be? The Traditional Method Traditionally, the court cards represented exactly the kinds of people who appeared on the card: Kings: older, mature men Queens: older, mature women Knights: young men Knaves : young boys Suits defined individual physical characteristics: Chalices: Blonde hair, fair skin Pentacles: Brown hair with dark skin Wands: Red or honey-blond hair, fair skin Swords: Black hair, fair skin 421


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Using this system, the Knave of Pentacles would represent a young man with brown hair and a nice tan. Equation: Knave(young boy) + Pentacles (brown hair) = Young boy with brown hair. This system is simple to master. Unfortunately, it severely limits the ability of the Tarot to refer to and address women and people of different races. Deservedly so, this system, while grounded in tradition, has fallen from favor. The Balanced Court Under this system, the age and gender of a Court Card are defined regardless of the apparent age or gender of the figure in the illustration: Kings: Older men Queens: Older women Knights: Younger men Knaves: Younger women The Suits indicate personal temperament: Chalices: reflective, passive, weepy, emotional, intuitive Pentacles: grounded, physical, athletic, practical, strong Wands: fiery, passionate, romantic, active, progressive Swords: thoughtful, cerebral, calculating, talkative, analytical The Knave of Pentacles of the Silver Witchcraft Tarot, artwork by F. Rivolli. In many modern decks the Knave is portrayed as a female in order to keep gender balance between the Court Cards. 422


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Under this system, the King of Wands represents a fiery, passionate older man with progressive attitudes, while the Knave of Pentacles represents a strong, pragmatic, athletic young woman even when the illustration on the card depicts a boy. This adaptation of the traditional system is far more balanced, enhancing the court cards’ ability to represent a broader range of ages, genders, and nationalities. Function and Theme Modern systems sidestep concerns with gender and race entirely by defining the Courts according to their function (based on rank) and theme (based on Suit). Under this system: Kings: controlling or conserving Queens: consulting or questioning Knights: acting or reacting Knaves: learning or trying Suits define themes, or broad areas of concern: Chalices: emotions, intuition, reflection, feeling Pentacles: physicality, finance, sensation, practicality Wands: goals, activity, achievement, passion Swords: thoughts, communication, logic, analysis Using this system, the King of Wands could represent anyone regardless of age, race, or gender who tries to control the actions of others or limit their achievements. The Knave of Pentacles would represent someone, regardless of age, race, or gender, who is learning to do some physical task or trying to be more careful with money. While this system does not allow the Reader to describe the age or gender of the person involved, it provides a very specific portrait most Querents will have no trouble recognizing. Aspects of Yourself and Others The King of Wands of the Silver Witchcraft Tarot, artwork by F. Rivolli. The Court Represents You You act, feel and operate in many different ways in the course of twenty-four hours. Court Cards represent different 423


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shades of your personality and even actions. The Queen of Wands will point to your outgoing, passionate side, The Knave of Chalices to your shy tendencies, The King of Pentacles is taking financial control and The Knight of Swords represents you racing to the defense of a friend in need. The Courts Cards Represent Other People The same way Court Cards represent aspects of your own personality, the courts will also represent people who are playing a role in your life. The Queen of Wands may represent your mother, The Knight of Pentacles may represent a handsome man who has a lot to offer you, The King of Swords your favorite philosophy professor and so on. Easy Understanding: The Nuclear Family The simplest way to become grounded in what the Court Cards mean is to understand them through the simple structure of the nuclear family. Who makes up a traditional nuclear family? Four people: King: Father Queen: Mother Knight: Teenage Son Knave: Young Daughter Portrait of a nuclear family: Mother, father and two children of different ages. 424


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An illustration by L. Mattioli for the Court Cards of the Tarot of the Fairy Lights. Choosing a System In addition to the systems outlined here, there are dozens of ways to interpreting the Court Cards. Each has strengths and limitations. The Reader must determine the extent to which a given system fits in with his or her reading style. Approaches to this include: Adopting a System. The Reader embraces one system for a specific period of time, then switches to another and another. Eventually, the Reader can determine which system seems to work best and adopt it exclusively. Comparing Systems. The Reader interprets a spread using one system, then interprets the same spread using a different system. Over time, a preference for one system may evolve or you discover that different systems work better with different clients! Referring to the Booklet. Every deck comes with a booklet providing basic card meanings. Referring to the booklet can provide insight into the mind of the deck’s designer, illuminating the system he or she used when assigning meaning to the cards. Developing your Own System. The Reader is free to pick one system, fuse several systems, or design a system of his or her own. Ultimately, experience and experimentation will reveal what works best! 425


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Three Fun Exercises Assign Legendary Personalities to The Courts Does the Queen of Swords remind you of JK Rowling, weilding her sword like a pen? Perhaps the King of Pentacles reminds you of Donald Trump or Richard Branson? Whatever connection you can make with actual people and/ or celebrities or fictional characters will help bond your understanding with the cards. Family Portrait Take some time to recreate a family portrait of your childhood or your current family. Use one court card and the qualities assigned to them to represent each family member. Don’t forget to use reversals if you feel one member was blocked or stiffled The Dinner Party Imagine you are having a dinner party. Who would you like to invite? Make a list of your favorite friends, celebrities and literary or historical figures. After you’ve created your guest list, select a court card to match each personality. Best part? Who would you bring as your date? The Empress, inspired by Elizabeth Taylor. Illustration by D. Cammarano for a deck designed by C.A. Eschenazi. Connecting the Tarot Arcana to famous personalities is an useful technique to memorize the meaning of any card in the deck. 426


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The Court Diagram The Court Diagram is a very simple way to understand and study the complex relations between the Court Cards and to interpret them during a reading. Reading the Court Diagram The Court Cards sometimes present contradictions and difficulties in their interpretation. The Court Cards Diagram was developed to very simply link these cards together. This diagram will help you find the appropriate meaning of the courts. Experience Queen Receptiveness King Assertiveness Knave Potential Knight The Court Diagram The Court Diagram is formed by two axis. The horizontal axis indicates the transition from receptiveness to assertiveness. The vertical axis indicates the passage from potential to experience. 427


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These four qualities will help you articulate meaning of the Court Cards. The diagram is divided into four boxes, each of which is occupied by a Court Card character. The attributes of each Court Card are summarized below: Potential Knave Knight Queen King √ √ √ √ Receptiveness √ √ √ √ Assertiveness Experience The Receptiveness of the Knave and Queen The keywords related to Receptiveness are: Liabilities, listening, waiting, patience, understanding, care, regeneration, reflection, internalization, memory, thought, femininity, emotionality. In practice, Receptiveness is the way one adapts to the environment, learns and listens to others. This is the attitude associated with change and transformation. The Knave and Queen of Wands of the Harmonius Tarot, artwork by W. Crane and E. Fitzpatrick. The Knave and the Queen natures are both to be receptive. This is their main common attribute. 428


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The Knave and Queen are linked by this attribute: when the Receptiveness is combined with Potential you are learning (Knave), and when instead it is combined with Experience you have perception and wisdom (Queen). Receptiveness is opposite and complementary to Assertiveness. The Potential of the Knave and Knight The keywords related to Potential are: Talent, inexperience, promise, future, youth, possibilities, innocence, longing, hope, expectations, growth, innovation and renewal. In practice, Potential indicates the possibility of something happening in the future. It’s energy is not yet expressed and not decided, so, from the same potential, different futures will unfold. The Knave and the Knight are linked by this attribute: when Potential is combined with Receptiveness you are learning (Knave), when it is combined with Assertiveness, you are exploring and trying out (Knight). Potential is opposite and complementary to Experience. It must be noted, however, that Potential will always evolve into Experience, but it’s not possible for Experience to return back to Potential. The Assertiveness of the Knight and King The keywords related to Assertiveness are: Activities, action, initiative, aggressiveness, movement, power, authority, facticity, convenience, expression, masculinity, rationality. In practice, Assertiveness refers to the ability to impose itself on a situation and the surroundings. This attitude leads to development, and to communicate and defend one’s opinions and way of being. It makes people be themselves in any case, even at the cost of forcing others to change. This way is associated with strength and determination. The Knight and the King are connected by Assertiveness: when Assertiveness is combined with Potential there is action The Knight and King of Wands of the Harmonius Tarot, artwork by W. Crane and E. Fitzpatrick. Knight and King are linked by the common attribute of Assertiveness. 429


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(Knight), and when it is combined with Experience there is control (King). Assertiveness is opposite and complementary to Receptiveness. The Experience of the King and Queen The keywords related to Experience are: Competence, skill, knowledge, custom, security, certainty, habit, calm, confidence. In practice, the cards related to Experience have matured. They have completed their journey. Therefore, the appearance of these cards indicates possessing the knowledge and power to solve a problem. Experience provides strength and indicates the calm and tranquility that only self confidence can confer. This attitude suggests trusting in your own abilities and indicates a mature and experienced point view. The Queen and the King are linked by this attribute: when Experience is combined with Receptiveness you have perception and wisdom (Queen), and when it is combined with Assertiveness you have power and control (King). Experience is opposite and complementary to Potential. It has to be noted, however, that Experience can be the expression and evolution of Potential. The Court Cards for the Suit of Chalices in the Happy Tarot. Artwork by S. Ficca. In many modern decks, the Court Cards are connected to each other, not just by meaning, by also graphically. In the next page: Back and white sketch for the Suit of Pentacles Court Cards. Happy Tarot, artwork by S. Ficca. 430


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From the Court Diagram to Interpretation Once you understand the relations and connections between the Court Cards, it’s very easy to find their meaning during a Reading. The cards are easily interpreted as attitudes or courses of action. They indicate how a person stands in relation to a problem, a difficulty or the environment that surrounds it. The meanings of the cards can then be summarized as follows: Knave: learning - approaching a situation with a learning attitude, assessing things, gathering information. Knight: action - approaching a situation with a decisive attitude, taking action, taking initiative. Queen: perceiving - approaching a situation with an understanding attitude, listening to different options, being curious and empathetic. King: control - approaching a situation with a commanding attitude, expressing authority, taking decisions, working through others. Above: The King of Swords of the Visconti Tarot. Milan, 1450 ca. 431


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Two Different Directions A Tarot expert who studies the Court Diagram will realize that the two directions – Receptiveness/Assertiveness and Potential/Experience – are not equivalent to each other. In fact, the vertical axis of the diagram (the one that connects potential and experience) seems to create a temporal relationship: the King is the adult version of the Knight and the Knight is the King in his youth. A similar relationship connects the Knave to the Queen. In contrast, the horizontal axis, or assertiveness and receptivity, indicating two opposite sides of the character, which are entirely complementary between them. Taking this into account, the Court Cards can also be defined this way: i Knave: Receptiveness from the bottom The Page receives information from the outside in order to grow and to better express its potential. i Knight: Assertiveness from the bottom The Knight imposes himself on the outside in order to grow, to leave his mark on the world and to let others know who he is and what he wants. i Queen: Receptiveness from the top The Queen receives information from the outside, to understand, advise and help others. i King: Assertiveness from the top The King imposes himself on the outside with the intent to direct others and to control events. Thanks to its experience and power, he can influence the situation and then make sure it evolves in the best way. The Knight of Chalices (called the Prince of Chalices) of the Illuminati Tarot. Particular. Artwork by E. C. Dunne. 432



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