Interpreting a court card in a reading can throw many new tarot readers for a loop. At first it seems obvious that it must represent a real person, but when the one you’re reading for shakes her head in puzzlement, you’re stuck.
Here are alternative ways of looking at the court cards, and how to incorporate them into your reading.
Court Cards as People
The usual way to interpret court cards is to assume they are actual people who are significant to the seeker. That is probably correct in most cases. Describe the characteristics (Introduction to the Minor Arcana) of the card to see if it resonates with your client. Often the client will deny any knowledge of anyone like that at first, but later after giving it some thought, she may remember who the card is referring to.
A word of warning: in some traditional interpretations, the cards are thought to represent specific physical types – the Queen of Wands is said to be red haired and white skinned, for example. These limitations are patently useless, so ignore them. Even down to the gender of the court card. Although they do tend to stay true to the gender illustrated, but this is not always the case. Pages especially can represent either/any sex.
Court Cards as Personality Traits
Occasionally a court card will turn up in a position related directly to the seeker. While it may be difficult to connect the court with the client in this way, the card could be encouraging the seeker that, to deal with their current situation, they need to take on some aspects of the card. For example, the appearance of the King of Wands will mean the seeker should become more assertive or demonstrate leadership skills.
Here is a quick reference of court card personality traits. Each one links to an in-depth description of the cards:
Page of Wands — Curious, adventurer, impulsive, young or young-at heart.
Knight of Wands — Passionate, enthusiastic, active, easily bored.
Queen of Wands — Friendly, warm, sensual, fun, chaotic.
King of Wands — Leader, visionary, sees the big picture, temperamental.
Page of Cups — Explorer of feelings, gentle, artistic, child.
Knight of Cups — Romantic, sharer, loves to love, shallow.
Queen of Cups — Empath, intuitive, loving, giving, emotional.
King of Cups — Emotionally mature, kindly, encouraging, sometimes weak.
Page of Swords — Keen intellect, analytical, logical, full of ideas.
Knight of Swords — Single-minded, logical, focused, witty.
Queen of Swords — Truth seeker, wise, honest, disciplined.
King of Swords — Knowledgeable, professional, logical, cold.
Page of Pentacles — Student, world explorer, honest, down-to-earth.
Knight of Pentacles — Hard working, determined, hidden passions, quiet.
Queen of Pentacles — Family first, practical, helpful, firm, sexy.
King of Pentacles — Self-made, expansive, wealth-builder, traditional.
Court Cards as a Life Stage
Court cards can also indicate life stages, depending on the question, circumstances and surrounding cards. For example, the Page of Cups next to the Empress or Ace of Pentacles may indicate a new baby. Bear in mind the following are merely examples; you will probably connect the life stages to events in your own life.
Page of Wands — Starting/finishing school/college/university.
Knight of Wands — Dating, experimenting, looking for a life path, entrepreneur.
Queen of Wands — Establishing career, starting a business.
King of Wands — Achieving ambitions. Entering mid-life.
Page of Cups — Young child/baby/toddler, early teens.
Knight of Cups — First love, obsession with another.
Queen of Cups — Twenties/thirties, bride, friends
King of Cups — Reaching maturity. Able to offer advice.
Page of Swords — Older teen, finding their place.
Knight of Swords — Working towards goals.
Queen of Swords — Maturity, supervisor/boss, parent of grown children, in-law.
King of Swords — At the top of his profession, qualified, experienced.
Page of Pentacles — Eternal student, always learning. Young outlook.
Knight of Pentacles — Working for his family, honing his craft, becoming proficient.
Queen of Pentacles — Building a family, parent, creating a home or work environment.
King of Pentacles — Late middle-age through to retirement. Grandparent.
Court Card Action
Court cards can sometimes indicate activity, actions and events. Here are some examples which you can build on and expand. Take the personality of the card and change it to a corresponding action.
Page of Wands — Travel, a message arriving swiftly, a motivating incident.
Knight of Wands — Changes, moving residence, an affair.
Queen of Wands — Parties, celebration, a betrothal, an illicit liaison.
King of Wands — Business venture, planning, vision.
Page of Cups — Conception, healing, a message delayed.
Knight of Cups — A new romance, flirtation. Change of employment.
Queen of Cups — Social opportunities, an opportunity to be supportive. Therapy.
King of Cups — An opportunity to change career and do something you love.
Page of Swords — A message arriving via text. New ideas and making them happen.
Knight of Swords — Positive change. Trips, weekends away. A cause is pursued.
Queen of Swords — Research and investigation. Solitude.
King of Swords — Legal matters, professional advice. Paperwork.
Page of Pentacles — Decisions regarding career or training. A message arriving by mail.
Knight of Pentacles — Change (or lack of it) in employment, rewards based on merit.
Queen of Pentacles — Assistance required and given. Voluntary work. Birth.
King of Pentacles — Mentoring, nurturing talent, sharing experience.
Court Card Energy
Like all the tarot cards, court cards can represent the energy and emotion surrounding a person or situation.
Page of Wands — Movement, sport, anticipation, excitement.
Knight of Wands — Passion, enthusiasm, lust, rebellion.
Queen of Wands — Affection, fun, enjoyment.
King of Wands — Ambition, energetic, confidence, power.
Page of Cups — Sensitive, vulnerable, imagination.
Knight of Cups — Desire, love, emotional involvement.
Queen of Cups — Secrets, intuition, complexities, compassion, empathy.
King of Cups — Crisis of confidence, addictions, emotional fulfillment.
Page of Swords — Thoughtful, communication, memories.
Knight of Swords — Social justice, choices, goals consolidated.
Queen of Swords — Scientific, analysis, objectivity, ingenuity.
King of Swords — Balance, equilibrium, discernment, reason.
Page of Pentacles — Patience, conservative, productive.
Knight of Pentacles — Focus, determination, stubbornness.
Queen of Pentacles — Charity, practicalities, details, dedication.
King of Pentacles — Stability, maturity, adaptability, enterprising, magnanimity.
How to Know which Court Card Interpretation is Correct
This is always the thing that trips up new readers… and even more experienced ones. You can start by firming up your intentions before you do your reading. If the question demands that other people be included, then set the intention that the court cards will only represent actual people. If the question is more spiritual, then make the intention be that the courts show you the energy surrounding the seeker. As you do more and more readings, your intuition will kick in and you’ll know which it is. Bear in mind that cards often do dual service, so keep the alternative court card interpretations in mind.
The deck used for illustration purposes is The Universal Waite, recolored by Mary Hanson-Roberts.