Do you think about the number of Minors, Majors, and Court Cards and thank the tarot goddesses and gods that there are only sixteen Court Cards? I know I did. Even today, after almost two decades of studying and reading tarot, I still cringed when Court Cards turned up in readings. Court Cards are usually considered among the most difficult cards to interpret. I can think of several reasons why this is true.

First, Kings and Queen, Knights and Pages, don’t really play relevant roles in our lives. Second, the card images usually don’t provide much help. They are vague images of someone sitting or standing, but not really doing anything. Third, traditionally (in fortune telling) they represented people based on skin, hair, and eye-color, gender, and age.

Later, astrological associations were included. Because the traditional appearance system didn’t include all combinations, it fell out of favor. The interpretations then evolved into a description of personalities and/or occupations. The collections of personality traits and occupations are so very long for each court card that it would take a significant amount of time to go over all the possibilities with a querent and finally identify who the card represents. In addition, many of the traits are shared among several of the court cards. For example, all of the Wands cards can be “warm, charismatic, and confident.”

Finding a Base Meaning

In writing a new edition of Tarot for Beginners, my challenge was to simplify card meanings, drilling down to the essence of each card’s meaning in a reading. Writing a line or two that sums up a card’s meaning and yet holds the seed of all possible meanings for that card was a challenge, particularly with the Court Cards.

Instead of lists of possible personalities or jobs, I focused on the role that the Court Card represents. The roles are not that of King, Queen, Knight, or Page in the traditional sense. Instead, they are roles that makes sense within the context of our modern lives and our usage of cards and, most importantly, they are the roles played that are directly affecting the situation described in the reading. In my book, Tarot for Beginners: A Practical Guide to Reading the Cards (released September 2010), the role of the Court Card is matched with the elemental description to create a core meaning. The core meaning is generic by design and is meant to be a way for a novice to remember a broader meaning.

Rank roles:
  • Pages are “one who observes.”
  • Knights are “one who acts.”
  • Queens are “one who develops and cares for.”
  • Kings are “one who has authority, makes decisions, or is a professional.”
Elemental description:
  • Wands: the realm of will, inspiration, and energy.
  • Cups: the realm of emotions, relationships, and art.
  • Swords: the realm of ideas, systems, or communication.
  • Pentacles: the realm of the physical world, resources, and finances.

Putting it Together

Here are the explanations of each rank for the suit of Wands.

Page of Wands

Page of Wands

Core meaning: One who observes in the realm of will, inspiration, and energy.

The Page of Wands is someone who has just discovered (or rediscovered) their sense of self, has experienced (or re-experienced) what inspires them, or has just learned (or relearned) what drives them, represented by the wand. They know what it is and have some idea of its power, but have not yet grasped all the ramifications. They are still getting used to the idea, playing out scenarios in their head, and imagining possibilities. This experience bestows a sense of power and self-determination. They may find this either freeing or frightening but more likely both.

Knight of Wands

Knight of Wands

Core meaning: One who acts in the realm of will, inspiration, or energy.

The Knight of Wands is someone whose actions in this situation are fired by their will. They have something very specific they want to achieve; they very much want to have their way and will stop at nothing to get it. The Knight is all hepped up and passionate about something and may heedlessly run roughshod over anyone in their way. If their will is in sync with the querent’s, it will help. If not, the querent could get run over. Such intensity is often not maintained for very long.

Queen of Wands

Queen of Wands

Core meaning: One who develops and cares for in the realm of will, inspiration, and energy.

The Queen of Wands is someone with a strong sense of self and wishes to inspire or help the querent. She understands the importance of personal power and strength of will. She can encourage the querent to boldness or force the querent into action. She is strong and confident and wants others to be, too, whether they want to be or not. The Queen of Wands is involved in this situation because it furthers or thwarts her will. If she were to give one piece of advice, it would be: Just do it.

King of Wands

King of Wands

Core meaning: One who has authority, makes decisions, or is a professional in the realm of will, inspiration, and energy.

The King of Wands is someone who has authority over the querent or in this situation and whose decisions or actions will affect the outcome. Like the Knight, his actions and decisions are guided by his will and his desire to attain what he wishes. Unlike the Knight, the King has broader influence; his actions will have a more significant impact on the situation. If a professional, he will be involved in areas such as entrepreneurship, advisor, politician, consultant, or charismatic religious/spiritual leader.

Test drive

Arriving at these core meanings took weeks of agonizing over pages and pages of possible meanings for the cards. It seems such a responsibility to be someone’s very first introduction to the tarot, to lay a solid foundation with plenty of room to grow.

There is still time to revise the manuscript, so I continue to work with these meanings in my readings. And if you, my colleagues and fellow tarot lovers, cared to take them out for a test drive and report back, I would be very grateful. I’d also love to hear how you would condense court card meanings down to something simple and effective, yet easy enough to not overwhelm a complete beginner.

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