A Study in Facing, Part 1: Court Cards

Facing or directionality in the cards of the tarot has always intrigued those who use the cards for divination. One convention that takes advantage of this phenomenon is the assumption that the cards to the left in a line reading  represent the past, the focus card in the center shows the present, and the cards to the right reveal the future. The facing of cards in the line will indicate whether they are moving with the flow of events (facing right) or “swimming against the tide” (facing left). The 78 cards break down into one group where the dominant facing of the figure(s)  – or the visual “flow” of the scene – is toward the left, a second group that moves more or less insistently toward the right and a third group that is neutral, having no obvious pictorial “slant” and/or showing its human figures facing straight out of or into the scene. The key elements in this determination are the gaze, posture and gesture of the human figures.

In the RWS deck, the court cards as a subset make for an interesting comparative study.

Facing Study.JPG

Nine of them are either nominally or emphatically future-oriented, with only the Page of Swords conflicted; all of his body language points toward the right, but he’s looking back over his shoulder and his unweighted right foot hesitates between being planted in the past or shifted ahead into the future. The bodies of the Queen of Wands  and King of Pentacles assume a neutral posture but their heads are turned to the right; they are in control of past and present circumstances and are anticipating what’s ahead, although they aren’t yet actively pursuing it. The King of Cups has his right foot down and his body shifted like he’s about to push off to his right (or maybe he’s just doing the “one-cheek sneak”). The rest of the cards in this group have definitely decided to leave the past behind.

The King of Swords faces straight out of the picture, but his sword is held to the left side, implying that he is trying to fend off the past; because he is seated in a neutral posture, he is vulnerable to being overtaken by past problems and is therefore vigilant.

Six of the cards are facing strongly leftward. The Knight of Wands and Knight of Swords are charging in that direction (perhaps fighting a “rear guard” action), the Page of Cups has an undecided stance but his attentive gaze leaves no doubt of his focus, the King of Wands and Queen of Pentacles are leaning slightly forward on their thrones, and the Queen of Cups is sitting back but nodding her head toward the chalice that holds her memories. The suggestion is that there is still unfinished business that needs to be wrapped up before anything new can be undertaken.

When the court cards are paired in a reading, facing can reveal whether: 1) they are openly communicating with one another (the degree of eye contact is also telling) and are most likely on the same page; 2) one has turned his or her back on the other, or 3) they are mutually disaffected and moving apart. Reversal may show that one or the other (or both) is being deceptive or dishonest.

I get the most value out of this breakdown when I randomly select a court card to serve as the Significator in a Celtic Cross reading (using the Eden Gray model). A left-facing, upright card shows that the querent has yet to shake off the effects of recent events and still has work to do; a right-facing, upright card indicates that the querent is fully prepared to move ahead with his or her life; a left-facing, reversed card implies that the querent is still deeply invested in some aspect of the distant past that won’t go away; and a right-facing reversed card means that the querent is firmly rooted in the present, staying in the “comfort zone”and only interested in poking one foot tentatively into the unknown.


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