The Elemental Royalties of Tarot: Recap & Overview
In Crash Course on Court Cards, I talked about how you can interpret court cards and understand them by personifying them into lively characters that are driven by their cultural background, elemental worldviews and personal motivations. The court cards are the royal members of the elemental kingdom, each with specific agendas and tendencies depending on their role (Page, Knight, Queen or King) and their elemental affiliation (Fire, Air, Earth or Water Kingdom). For example, Knight of Cups (Water Kingdom) cares more about the pursuit of happiness and emotional gratification, unlike Knight of Swords (Air Kingdom) which cares more about the pursuit of intellect, ideas, politics and justice. Using this storytelling framework of creative characterization, it is easier to understand what each court card represents and what they mean.
In addition, court cards represent personas and perceived roles in a social dynamic, and are nearly always interpreted in relation to something or someone else. You can be a parent with five kids or a wise 75-year-old, you can still embody the spirit and persona of a Page when you are placed in the role of a Page. For example, maybe you’ve decided to take some piano lessons out of the blue. No matter how old you are, you are embodying the role of a student, placed in the care and knowledge of a teacher. In this relationship, you may embody the Page of Pentacles because you are developing a skill through practice, and your piano teacher may embody Queen of Wands, somebody who is nurturing you through her passion and excitement for music. however, once you are outside of the musical classroom, you may pose as the Queen of Cups to your children, or Knight of Swords to your colleagues. Depending on the situation, court cards speak to social relationships and how you are positioned in relation to others.
So the next question is: okay, now we understand the individual personalities, tendencies and worldviews of each elemental royalty–how do we interpret them in a reading? How do we engage with them in a spread with the various spread positions? What do we do when they show up and start an awkward staring contest with us!?
Interpreting Court Cards in a Tarot Reading
Interpreting court cards can be very anal–I mean uh, difficult. They certainly require us to really shift gears so we can wrap our heads around them. Even though they may be difficult to read sometimes, the royalties of the Tarot Realm are all very eager to extend their wisdom and personalities to us humans who are seeking answers from them!
So fear not, because there is a way to talk to court cards. Let’s start by looking at the various spread positions and questionings in a tarot spread. You may ask–there are so many different types of questions–where do we even start? Don’t worry. I have conveniently grouped them into three main categories for the sake of easy discussion. The three types of spread positions or questions are:
Descriptive positions are questions that paint a picture or describe a “scene”. For example:
- What is the situation right now?
- What are the challenges/conflicts/problems that you are experiencing?
- What is the past/present/future?
- What is the outcome of your efforts?
These questions all have one thing in common: they are asking you to describe occurrences, circumstances and events. Depending on your personal approach to tarot, this can translate to different things. For example, if you subscribe to a more psychological perspective of tarot and you receive 3 of Pentacles in a descriptive position, the “scene” that you describe may be “a situation that requires you to cooperate with your teammates and contribute to the community.” If you take a more psychic and fortunetelling approach, the “scene” may be “becoming accepted by the organization of your dreams and receiving a decent amount of compensation for your participation”. Either way, regardless how you interpret the cards based on your approach to tarot, you are describing a scene or a happening.
In short, descriptive positions have less to do with who you are as a person or how you should solve a problem. They’re positions that depict “what’s going on” or “what’s happening”.
Personifying positions are positions that refer to personality traits, attitudes and beliefs. For example:
- Strengths and weaknesses
- What is he like? What kind of person is he? What kind of father will he be?
- What is a perspective I am missing?
- What is her philosophy when running and managing a company?
- What makes her a positive person? What makes her a good teacher?
- Why is he being a jerk? Why is she insecure about her appearance?
These positions are ideal for court cards because court cards are the personas of tarot, the “people” representing the Tarot Realm. Personality traits, attitudes and beliefs are exactly what they embody. For example, when King of Pentacles Reversed shows up for “What is my weakness?”, you may interpret it as a card warning you to keep your materialism and greed in check. If Page of Cups shows up for “What is the perspective I am missing?” Then you simply have to look into the qualities and worldviews of the Page of Cups to answer that question. Page of Cups is the dreamer, so the perspective you are missing may be a more fluid, imaginative and innocent outlook as opposed to business-oriented, practical and realistic.
Guidance/Advice Positions are, you guessed it, positions that ask the tarot cards for guidance and advice. For example:
- What is the best approach in this scenario?
- What do I do? How can I help?
- How can I release my fears and heal my wounds?
- What is a message from my spirit guides?
- What does the Universe want me to know right now?
These positions are usually seeking to problem-solve, to cultivate wisdom and to generate insight. They are not as tricky as the descriptive positions, but they can require some mental adjustment and re-orientation of the brain. In my video Crash Course on Court Cards, I mentioned that you can do some role-playing and pretend to have a conversation with the Elemental Royalties when they decide to grace your reading with their presence. I feel that role-playing works best with guidance/advice positions because you can interpret the court cards by stepping into their shoes and trying to give yourself advice from their perspective.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. More on this later!
How to Interpret Court Cards in Descriptive, Personifying and Guidance/Advice Positions
Now that you are acquainted with the 3 main categories regarding spread positions, let’s see what you can do when a court card falls into either one of them.
Interpreting Court Cards in Descriptive Positions
These positions are probably the most problematic when court cards show up. Imagine asking your friend a question: “How was your day?” and your friend replies, “Lady Gaga!” Which will most likely leave you wide-eyed and scratching your head, mouthing a silent WTF? Like did you see Lady Gaga? Were you listening to her music? Did someone dress up like her? WHAT IS IT YOU ARE TRYING TO TELL ME HERE!?
Know that feeling all too well? Hopefully this little section will help you solve your court card woes!
To start, we’ll use “What is the situation?” as a general question to address using the court cards. When you see a court card fall on the position What is the situation? Here is what you have to keep in mind:
- the court card points to a situation or relationship that requires you to embody the role of that court card, or
- the court card points to the role or attitude that you currently/already embody in a situation or relationship or
- the court card points to a person that you are involved with in a situation or relationship which embodies the role of that court card
What does this mean in practice? For instance, if you draw the Queen of Swords as “What is the situation?”, try plugging her into the question to jumpstart your thought process:
- What is a situation or relationship that requires me to embody the role of Queen of Swords? E.g. Queen of Swords is eloquent and fearless in her speech. Where in my life right now am I required to convey my passion and my values in an articulate, expressive and assertive way? I am invited to speak at a Ted Talk next month, in which I need to embody all of these qualities that are represented by the Queen of Swords. Now I know this court cards is referring to the Ted Talk opportunity and the role I will play in that talk.
- Do I already embody the Queen of Swords? How am I currently embodying the Queen of Swords right now? E.g. Queen of Swords is all about personal truths and boundaries. As I go through a divorce with my husband, I am required to communicate my boundaries very clearly and assertively. I am also learning how to connect with my personal truths so that I can voice them and express to others. This is how I am embodying the Queen of Swords right now, so the situation this card is referring to must be my divorce process with my husband.
- Does Queen of Swords refer to somebody I am involved with right now? E.g. Queen of Swords is very direct with her words and is not afraid to let people know what she thinks. My roommate Julie has been criticizing my decision to reunite with my ex quite ceaselessly in the past week. The light aspects of the Queen of Swords is tough love, so perhaps Julie is speaking out of her concern and care for me as a roommate and a friend. Queen of Swords’ shadow aspects are unwanted judgement and harsh criticisms, so it could also be that she is picking on me on purpose. (To determine which aspect or layer a court card embodies, you can look at if the card is upright or reversed, and you can also look at the other cards that showed up in the spread. And of course, always listen to your intuition.)
By examining and exploring the context that requires you to embody the role of the court card you draw, you should be able to read a court card in a descriptive position, no problem!
Interpreting Court Cards in Personifying Positions
As mentioned before, this category should be the easiest because court cards are personas and embody human traits and tendencies by default. When you need to interpret court cards that occupy a personifying position, you simply have to tap into the personality traits, perspectives and attitudes that are represented by that specific court card. A good way to tap into the persona of a court card is to include the name of the court card in your answer and create a statement that frames the answer, in a way that will allow you to list the attributes of the court card in response to your question, then continue to expand on the reading. It’ll look something like this:
E.g. She will act like [name of the court card], which means [court card attributes] + more thoughts and explanations
E.g. My strengths are embodied by the [name of court card], which are [court card attributes] + more thoughts and explanations
Let’s take a look at a few of the sample questions, again using the Queen of Swords. Note that in the following examples, the court card “plug-in’s” are underlined so you can see how you can apply it to your own thought process, and the [court card attributes] are wrapped in square brackets.
- What are my strengths? Answer: Your strengths are the qualities that are embodied by the Queen of Swords, which are [eloquence, clear communication, and precision.]
- What kind of father will he be? Answer: He will be like the Queen of Swords, [someone who nurtures his children by being fair, logical, and communicative]. He will be very strict with the rules he has in place, especially the ones that he believes to be beneficial for his children. While he cares deeply, he may lack the ability to respond to his children’s emotional needs and their need to be heard and not corrected.
- What is a perspective I am missing? Answer: I am missing Queen of Swords’ perspective. QoS [sees things clearly and logically and she never tolerates anything that is unfair or wrong.] Perhaps this is indicating that I need to work on personal boundaries and communicating those boundaries.
- What is her philosophy when running and managing a company? Answer: She believes in the same things that the Queen of Swords would believe in. Queen of Swords would believe in [fairness, clear communication, respectful boundaries, and honesty.] When it comes to running and managing a company, she believes in establishing clear boundaries at the workplace to cultivate cooperation and respect. She values responsibility and accountability. She will always provides clear instructions to her employees, and does not shy away from communicating what she wants from the people who work for her.
Interpreting Court Cards in Guidance/Advice Positions
Picking up from my enthusiasm earlier–roleplaying works perfectly for this position! Getting advice from a court card can be incredibly fun, insightful and interactive. Of course, if you’re not into the idea of talking to yourself and pretending that you’re embodying different voices, you don’t need to act out an entire scene of dialogue. But I believe the process of going “back and forth” as you approach a court card can be very helpful. When you perceive the tarot reading as an interaction (which in many ways, it is), and it’s not just you the reader trying to stare down at a court card so you can extract wisdom from its poker face–the process gets a bit easier and more fluid because you’re not putting a lot of pressure on yourself to “download” the right answer! It’s more about the talk, the conversation, the “back and forth”.
Start by greeting the court card in question, then ask meaningful questions such as:
- What message do you have for me?
- What do you think of my situation?
- Do you have any comments or feedback on what I did or what I’ve experienced?
- What would you have done in this scenario?
- Do you think this is a good idea? Why?
If you are looking for more question prompts, you can find them in the guided reference worksheet!
Let’s take a look at a few examples. 🙂 This time, let’s have a chat with the Knight of Wands. Queen of Swords is tired of talking (just kidding. She never gets tired of talking. I just thought I would switch up the court card a bit because Queen of Swords has been stealing the show!) Since it’s a role-playing activity, put on your thespian hat, get creative and have a little fun!
The question: What is the best approach in this scenario?
- Reader: What is the best approach in this scenario? *looks at Knight of Wands* Hey what’s up, man. Well, what do you think?
- Knight of Wands: Getting straight down to business, are we? I like I like. Okay, so obviously the best approach in this scenario is to act like good old me. *wink*
- Reader: What does that mean? You mean like–be more experimental and adventurous? Since that’s all you do. Going on adventures and stuff. And what else…don’t fuss and worry so much?
- Knight of Wands: Yeah! Relax and just go for it, man! Don’t think too much. Don’t think about why. If you want it, you don’t need a why! Just show up and have fun. Just enjoy life. Enjoy the adventure, the action.
- Reader: So like, YOLO?
- Knight of Wands: Yes! Say what you want. Do what you want. Sing when you want to. Paint when you want to. Be yourself. Just do whatevs, man. Do what you WANT the most. Than do the second thing you want the most.
- Reader: Okay, I think I get it. I’ve been too cautious and neurotic about going on this trip with my best buddies. I should just stop worrying and enjoy it as an adventure.
- Knight of Wands: Yup! Anything else you want to ask me?
- Reader: Uh…yeah. You got any hot tips on picking up girls?
- Knight of Wands: *winks* You know I do.
The best part about role-playing is that while you are embodying the voice of Knight of Wands or a court card, you are really having a conversation with yourself. You are checking in to see how you personally understand the Knight of Wands and you can draw on his energies and qualities to benefit your current life. It also activates your sense of play, which helps you approach a tarot reading in a more relaxed, less structured and less stressful way.
To Close and to Recap!
- Court cards can be a bit tricky to read because they always need to be considered in relation to something or someone else, unlike the major arcana cards and the numbered cards.
- There are 3 types of spread positions/questions that you usually get in a tarot spread; the 3 categories are descriptive, personifying, and guidance/advice.
- With each position type, you can consider the roles you play in relation to a situation or a person.
- You can “plug in” court cards and frame your answer statement in a way that will help you establish meaning and extract information based on the circumstances and energies of your reading.
- You can use creative techniques like roleplaying or storytelling to interact with the court cards using conversation!
The Guided Reference Worksheet
For quick references and examples on the go, please check out the following reference sheet I’ve created for you. ❤
Anyway. Phew! I hope this post has helped you with your tarot practice in some way + clarified some of the questions you may have about approaching court cards in a tarot reading. And by the way, as you go forth with your court card adventures, I just wanted to let you know that it’s completely fine to take some time to arrive at an insight when you’re doing a tarot reading. It doesn’t make you incompetent or incapable. It just means that in that particular moment, you require some time to channel an archetype. And if you’re just learning, it simply means that you are learning how to engage and interact with a court card. So there’s really no reason to stress out when you’re slightly blanking out. ❤
Questions? Comments? Wanna Join My Facebook Group? 🙂
If you have any other questions or anything else you are wondering about regarding court cards, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back you. Also, if you are a fellow A Tarot Story wayfarer and you’re looking to connect with other peeps who are also studying tarot with a creative storytelling framework, or if you’re looking for more discussions, activities and exercises–I have recently created a Facebook group for all of us to hang out and to do just that! So please join and come hang out at A Tarot Story, the Facebook corner of the Tarot Kingdiom! 🙂