Coming or Going?

In the Golden Dawn tarot papers, MacGregor Mathers made an observation regarding the facing or directionality of the Kings and Pages when placed in a spread:

“The Kings, if looking against the direction of the reading, or if meeting it, represent the coming of a person or event, or phase of an event, but if looking with the direction of the reading represent the departure of a person or the going off or wane of some event.

The Pages (Knaves) if looking with the direction of the reading, represent general opinion in harmony with, and approving of the matter; but if looking against the direction of the reading the reverse.”

With the Kings, when the figure on the card is looking back “upstream” or “against the direction of the reading,” the impression one receives is that he is about to greet an arriving person or event  (while confronting the flow of the reading, the King is about to be “overtaken”); when the figure is looking ahead  or “downstream,” he is seeing someone or something off (the King has been “passed” by”). It’s most common for readings to flow from left to right, so – when that is the case – a King facing to the left would be welcoming an arrival, while one facing to the right would be waving goodbye as his guest departs.

The Pages are a different matter. If looking with the flow of the reading (“downstream”), they are being carried along by good tidings; if looking against the current (“upstream”), they should brace themselves for bad news.

In thinking about this, I could see no reason why any card in the deck that exhibits clear directionality, whether by gaze, gesture or posture, can’t be used in the same way to suggest the coming or going of someone or, more likely, something in the matter. In the RWS deck I’m using for my study, all of the court cards except the King of Swords, which faces straight out (the Page of Swords is a special case), are clearly oriented to the left or right and could be used for this purpose. Similarly, the majority of the minor cards that display a single figure show it facing either left or right, or at least plainly fixing its attention in one direction and not the other even if its posture is neutral or slightly skewed; a couple that contain more than one human figure also show clear directional movement (notably, the 5 and 6 of Pentacles and the 6 of Swords). Two minor  cards –  the 7 of Swords and 9 of Pentacles – have the head turned one way and the body  heading in the opposite direction. In most “mixed” cases, one mode dominates so I went with that assumption when judging directionality. The Page of Swords is the only entirely ambivalent card; its body is strongly propelled to the right but its head is sharply angled to the left, and it’s unclear whether the raised right foot is going to be shifted forward or planted further behind. I lumped this in with the King of Swords and the only three minor cards that are facing straight out – 9 of Cups, 2 of Swords and 4 of Pentacles.

The majority of the trump cards have the central figure gazing directly out of the scene. The Fool, Strength, the Hermit and the Star are definitely facing to the left, while Death and the Sun face right, with the Empress and the World also nominally pointed in that direction. Three of the trump cards  – the Wheel of Fortune, the Tower and the Moon – don’t present a humanoid figure and are excluded, as are the non-representational minor cards 3 of Swords and 8 of Wands. Finally, the eight remaining small cards have more than one person on them and no clear directional orientation can be discerned. All cards that face straight out, that are non-representational or that otherwise don’t exhibit directionality can’t be used in this way.

A final word about reversals: changing a card’s vertical orientation  from upright to upside-down will obviously switch the direction in which its human population is facing. If you use reversals, keep this in mind should you choose to apply facing. Here is a display of the 46 “facing” court and small cards sorted according to their directionality.


4 thoughts on “Coming or Going?

  1. This notion of the ‘gaze’, or ”regard’ in French, is mentioned in both Maxwell and Marteau, as I recall, and then begins to occupy an increasingly important role in the French taromantic methods up until the present day (M.-T. des Longchamps, Claude de Milleville, P. Camoin, spring to mind).

    Thanks for pointing out the Mathers take on things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the additional insights. After I dropped the use of a court-card significator in the Celtic Cross spread, I considered returning to the practice by using a randomly-drawn court card from a second deck to show how the querent is oriented toward the flow of events: facing to the left, he or she still has unfinished business to settle; facing to the right suggests a willingness to move on; upright and facing straight out shows residing fully “in the moment;” reversed and facing straight out implies being “stuck in the past.” Gender wouldn’t matter here since all I’m looking for is a “pointer,” and I don’t change the temporal flow according to Waite, preferring Eden Gray’s clockwise model in all cases. I haven’t had occasion to use it yet.


  2. In fact, some writers (I can’t recall exactly who) recommend taking into account who or what the gaze is directed towards if the card happens to be facing in the direction of another one. It may be the case that one character or element in particular is the focus of the gaze, which could lend it additional importance in the dynamic of the overall spread.

    I’m afraid that taking out a ruler and protractor seems like too much of a contrived exercise for me, but others may find it useful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually pay more attention to the gaze if it’s meeting that of another court card, since it implies greater engagement, like an active dialogue (“for good or ill,” as the saying goes) is occurring between them, rather than simply suggesting sitting next to an anonymous person on a bus. Looking away from each other, it sometimes implies disaffection. Lisa Boswell once posted a detailed analysis of court card facing (it was for the Etteilla deck, but the principles still apply), where she got into reversed as well as upright facing as part of the overall picture.


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