Those Fractured Court Cards

A tarot artist in one of the Facebook groups I frequent has been working on a project to blend the qualities of two court cards into a single entity; combining  the King of Cups and the King of Pentacles is her current task. My first thought was that some intriguing possibilities are offered by this initiative. In the realm of psychological tarot, you could create numerous interesting personality profiles from the existing elemental correspondences; call them “elemental hybrids” or perhaps “elemental mongrels.” Someone with a pronounced Fire and Water emphasis might be seen as a conflicted personality, always at war with themselves. This would go beyond the basic “Queen of Wands as Water of Fire” into something more complex, maybe a Queen of Wands/King of Cups (Fire of Water) blend. Probably someone you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with, imperious and petulant at the same time like Alice’s Queen of Hearts but more easily distracted (“Off with their heads, right after I take my nap!”).

Then I realized that a method for such mingling of characteristics already exists.  In the Golden Dawn’s Chaldean decan system, all of the court cards except the Princesses (which are a special case) are not only a blend of elements, they are an aggregation of astrological signs and planets as well. The Queen of Wands is associated with the first two decans of Aries (Mars and Sun in Aries), but also the last decan of Pisces (Mars in Pisces, how’s that for Fire/Water antagonism!) In addition, the GD King/Thoth Knight of Cups (Fire of Water) holds down the first two decans of Pisces. So blending them is almost a given if we’re talking composites (not that I would ever want to meet such a person, the pairing sounds rather bristly, pushy and peevish to me).

GD Court Decan Wheel.jpg

With Mars and the Sun in fiery Aries dominating, the Queen of Wands is generally seen as a supremely self-confident and volatile figure, but she has a softer, more contemplative side shared by all the Queens that is reinforced by the “back-door” influence of Pisces. However, with vehement Mars presiding in understated Pisces, there is almost certainly a barb hidden in that agreeably gentle demeanor. There is little that is soft-hearted (or soft-headed) in that combination, with Mars roiling the waters in much the same way it does in the sign of its rulership, Scorpio, but with less of a sure hand. “Fly-off-the-handle” prickliness is a very real possibility if she takes offense.

It just so happens that the preceding card in the Thoth series is the Knight of Cups, expressing “Fire of Water.” The two decans of Pisces that it occupies adjacent to the Queen of Wands are given to Saturn and Jupiter respectively. This is a rather stiff-necked combination that is concerned with doing the right thing but can’t quite get a fix on its exact location. This Knight has a reputation for being something of a shallow dabbler, quick to rise to an occasion but easily bored with the minutiae of pursuing it to the end. He can be kindly but a bit of a bumbler, reminiscent of a Dick Van Patten film character. At least Jupiter is right at home in Pisces, its traditional sign of rulership, and backstopping feisty Mars as it does here could mean that the Knight’s heart is in the right place even if his attitude may take an abrasive turn. The Queen of Wands can count on him to stay in the background and not make any noise until called upon to come up with a joke or two to enliven her party. Then he shines.

It can be seen from this example that all Knights, Queens and Princes are cases of multiple personality,  evincing the qualities of the main sign of their domain on the zodiacal wheel but also expressing those of the closing decan of the previous sign. The Queens occupy the Cardinal signs, with the preceding Mutable signs lending them some flexibility; extending that idea to mate the Queens with the Knights that hold sway in the other two decans of the Mutable signs creates a mixed bag, bringing with it some authoritarian backbone but also some meddling “Father-knows-best” pedantry symptomatic of their inflated self-esteem. Fortunately, the Queens know how to keep those errant Knights in their place; they are called “the power behind the throne” for good reason (although in the GD’s Chaldean arrangement the Queens are right out in front).

The Knights are predominantly Mutable, but with an underlying steadiness imparted by the last decan of the preceding Fixed signs, the primary abode of the airy Princes. This can be a good thing, augmenting the notoriously brief “staying power” of the Knight’s fiery nature with some level-headed strategizing, or a debility, imposing an overly cautious “stick-in-the-mud” drag on its forward momentum. At some point, the improved traction can become  countervailing friction, with the Princes in the background digging in their heels and over-analyzing the Knight’s enthusiastic agenda. “Stepping off on the wrong foot” when prompt, uncritical action is required is very much a risk of too much meticulous deliberation. The Knight needs to be wary of his advisors.

The Princes are solidly Fixed in their expression but are propelled from behind by a Cardinal call to action, giving them a sense of purpose and  immediacy that they might otherwise lack; there is a propensity to act first and think about it later that the Princes may be too immature to resist. In 21st-Century parlance, the Queens in the wings could be likened to the “helicopter Mom” hovering on the fringes of the playing field and prodding the Prince to “keep his eye on the ball.”  There are many examples of over-achievers who lay the incitement (or blame) for their relentless drive at the feet of their mothers.

Now it really gets interesting. Each Princess rules over an entire quadrant of the zodiac, although her influence is centered on the Fixed sign of each three-sign set. (Note that in each case her suit shares the element of that sign, giving the sign increased significance in the set.) This means that the Princess, as an exponent of the forces of Earth, provides  an improbable but emphatic unifying  and harmonizing – perhaps “humanizing” is the best description – overlay to the cardinal Queen, the fixed Prince and the mutable Knight of its quadrant, grounding them in human terms through the agency of the Ace of the respective suit, each of which holds the “Root” of the power of its element. But the Princesses have a special affinity for the Princes through their fixity. The correspondence to the “Kingdom of Earth” dovetails perfectly with the stability of the four Fixed signs that harbor the Princes and anchor the GD’s astrological model, which officially begins with Leo. I’m reminded of the son (Prince) and daughter (Princess) of a noble family conspiring to manipulate their parents, the King and Queen. The Princesses provide an additional measure of patience and prudence (but also freshness) to any other court card they are paired with.

It can be illuminating to create one’s own court-card “personality signature” by locating the exact degree and associated decan of the Sun, Moon and Ascendant in the natal horoscope and then identifying the “elemental hybrids” that populate the gallery. I like to think of each one of them as suggestive of an old 45 rpm record; the recordings all had an “A” side “b/w” (backed with) a typically less imposing “B” side. For example, the Elvis Presley release “Hound Dog” b/w “Don’t Be Cruel” might be the inspiration for the “Queen of Wands” b/w the “Knight of Cups.” The preceding court card in the series, linked through the sign shared by the decans, is like the “B side” of the Queen’s main story.

I could go on and on but, at the risk of sounding as dismissive as Aleister Crowley, I will just repeat his advice for the student approaching the elemental complexities of the tarot court: “It is very important as a mental exercise to work out for oneself these correspondences . . .”

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