Ah, the court cards. Any nascent cardslinger will tell you that these are the ever elusive figures of the tarot, and for good reason. Excluding the knights, these figures are fairly stationary, so it’s challenging to discern how they function in the realm of the tarot. The view that the pages, knights, queens, and kings represent the wisdom, motivation, and ability that each of us possesses in certain developmental stages of our lives (adolescence, early adulthood, and mature adulthood respectively) is incredibly useful, but I’ve been searching in vain for something a little juicier to sink my teeth into.
As I was reading “Messages From the Archetypes” last night, it dawned on me that each of the court cards represents a developmental process, and that we cannot attain the mindful vehicle of the king until we’ve fully explored the terrain and internalized the wisdom that the page, knight, and queen have to teach us. Much like a scaffold, one must construct the base (page) in order to construct the first level (knight), and that one must complete the first level to construct the second level (queen), and so on.
Let’s take the suit of swords as an example (in the pursuit of clarity and simplicity, I will be referring to each figure in relation to his/her depicted gender, but I want to stress that the process I attribute to each is not gender specific).
The Page of Swords is an adolescent coming into his power. He is beginning to step beyond the moral, ethical, and ideological boundaries impressed upon him by his parents so that he may discover an intellectual worldview that resonates with his bourgeoning sense of self. As he interacts with and observes new behaviors and ideas, he becomes enchanted by them, and begins to experiment (think of the teenager who explores other faiths, scrawls the anarchy symbol on his notebook, and becomes disenchanted with the education system). The realization that he is free to construct his own worldview is incredibly liberating, and he openly expresses his views with his peers, and often with a strong sense of conviction. Even though his thoughts and opinions change from one day to the next, he feels that each is absolutely true as he adopts it. This process of ideological shapeshifting allows him to take a myriad of cultures, beliefs, and behaviors for a spin, allowing him to internalize what resonates, and discard what does not, allowing him to assemble a unique and functional worldview.
In a broader sense, the page of swords represents an ideological shift. He demonstrates the conviction of a new ethical or intellectual element, and he is ready to communicate his views to those around him. Through communication and the exchange of ideas, he is able to solidify his view, and is thus ready to transition to the “knight” stage.
The Knight of Swords represents the “independent” years, the time where one withdraws from the familial nest and sets out to establish a life that is grounded in his individual pursuits. Equipped with a functional worldview, he “rides off” to put what he’s learned into action. Perhaps he writes ethical treatises that he strives to live by (guilty as charged), perhaps he begins to stand up for himself and others according to his beliefs, or perhaps he sets out to obtain employment and construct a living situation that meets his ideological needs (i.e. he rejects the social structure of “success” and seeks employment that allows him the freedom and flexibility he so craves). He does not tackle this process lightly–he is often consumed by his need to live as he pleases, and may jeopardize or destroy a host of relationships in the process. His thoughts and ideas proliferate everything he does, be they academic, anarchic, productive or destructive.
Generally, the Knight of Swords is a ideological crusader. Due to the knowledge he gained from his adolescent experimentation, he is confident that his views are rooted in some semblance of intellectual truth, and this allows his integrity to strengthen. On the other hand, he is so bull-headed and convinced that his truth is the objective Truth, he may become confused or irate when contradicted. As each interaction he experiences reveals differences between his truth and other truths, he is introduced to the idea that dialogue is an interplay of different perspectives, ethical codes, and moral values, and he transitions to the process of the Queen.
The Queen of Swords represents the transition from independent ideology to integrative ideology. She represents a stage when the dauntless pursuit of radical autonomy subsides, making room for the thoughts, opinions, and ideas of others. She may be entering into a committed, long term partnership or starting a family. She may find herself becoming an part of a broader community and attending more to the needs of others. Rather than trying to prove that her truth is the only Truth, she begins to understand the diversity of truths that exist in the world, and the validity and rationality of others’ opinions even if she doesn’t share them. As she invites open dialogue with others, she realizes the value of compromise, and how honoring the perspectives of her loved ones creates a harmonious and balanced environment. By actively listening to others, she begins to guide and advise rather than to instruct and dictate.
The Queen of Swords depicts the receptive, feminine energy of the intellect–that which receives as much as it gives, and that which grows in depth and complexity as it does so. As the Queen perfects her process of tolerance and communication, she transitions to the process of the King.
The King of Swords integrates the strength and mastery of the Queen’s receptivity in order to achieve a moral, considerate productivity. Now an integral part of a family or community, he offers his wisdom and advice to ensure its health, balance, and growth. He is a mediator, a counselor, and a sage. He is particularly skillful at resolving disputes–he is able to understand both sides of an argument, and to help others understand both sides as well. He does not regard knowledge as absolute; rather, the attainment of knowledge exists on a continuum, and different ideas perspectives must be applied to different situations.
The King of Swords is a master of rational thought and communication. He is open, just, flexible, and knowledgeable. His services are highly valued in the community, and his opinion often improves any scenario to which it is applied.
When viewed as the stages of a process, the court cards begin to exhibit the evolution of understanding and proficiency in regards to the elements of the four suits. In theory, if an individual is able to successfully engage in each of the elemental processes, he/she may reach the much prized state of self-actualization.