Tarot 101, My Way – Court Cards: The Swords Court

The members of the Swords court are the “thinkers” of tarot royalty. Their domain includes anything to do with mental pursuits, from education to arguments and legal disputes.  In the simplest terms, they often involve a decision the seeker is facing or a quandary that will soon appear, and can suggest the proper “angle of attack” in confronting it. The abstract nature of thought can make it difficult to view them as people in a reading, except perhaps as choices to be made or conflicts to be resolved concerning others. (However, the experience of these cards as someone “getting in your face” is not uncommon.) In my experience, behaviors and attitudes of the querent or impersonal forces entering the matter are more typical manifestations. Words can be both their weapon and their shield, and the manipulation of details is their forte.  Their approach to decision-making can range from lofty reason to low cunning, but moral compunction is not their first consideration; that would be justice at all costs. At their worst, pettiness and vengefulness are not unknown.

The “powers” of the four types are particularly useful in describing their action: as “Potential Power,” the Kings will “sleep on” a decision; as “Brooding Power” the Queens will mull it over from every angle; as “Power in Action,” the Knights can be prone to “snap decisions;” as “Reception and Transmission,” the Pages are more likely to defer to their superiors, saying “I’ll get back to you.” Patience is not chief among their virtues since they can anticipate the outcome of a situation – with varying degrees of reliability – well before it arrives; in that sense, they might indicate the querent “going off half-cocked” when more carful deliberation is called for. The advice in all cases is usually to “stop and think.”

 

The Court Cards: The King/Knight of Swords

Titles:

Fire of Air; The Lord of the Winds and the Breezes; the King of the Spirits of Air

Astrological Correspondence:

21° of Taurus to 20° of Gemini

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Active, clever, subtle, fierce, delicate, courageous, skillful, but inclined to domineer.  Also to overvalue small things, unless well dignified. If ill dignified, deceitful, tyrannical and crafty.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Whatsoever arises out of the idea of judgement, and all its conexxions – power, command, authority, militant intelligence, law, offices of the crown, and so forth. Reversed: cruelty. perversity, barbarity, perfidy, evil intention”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“The moral qualities of a person thus indicated are subtlety and cleverness. He is fierce, delicate and courageous, but altogether the prey of his idea, which comes to him as an inspiration without reflection. If ill-dignified, the vigour in all these qualities being absent, he is incapable of decision or purpose. Any action that he takes is easily brushed aside by opposition. Inadequate violence spells futility.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the King/Knight of Swords is the kind of  resourceful ally I would want on my side in any civil disagreement or legal proceeding, as long as he doesn’t become bogged down in petty details, irritate the judge and jury, and never get back to the main argument. Conversely (like almost any trial lawyer), he may be thoroughly enamored of his own opinion and love the sound of his own voice; there is a snide aphorism for just such an insufferable person: “Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one.” It seems our self-important King of Swords has a role-model in popular culture: in the early days of the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon series, Bullwinkle appeared as “Mr. Know-It-All,” a resident expert on practically everything, none of it particularly useful.  Although he bears the exalted title of “King,” in his role as an “adjudicator” this ruler impresses me more as a feudal peer meting out regional justice, passing judgment on which peasant farmer gets the lion’s share of the slaughtered cow, or which rustic suitor gets to marry the swineherd’s daughter. Although he may look regal, he’s not afraid to hike up his trouser cuffs and wade into the fray (especially if there are facts and figures to chew on). Although described as “delicate” by Mathers and Crowley, I think what is meant is “refined,” like polished steel that cuts all the better for it. This King is not someone to trifle with or underestimate.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the King/Knight of Swords encourages careful consideration of all aspects of a situation, followed by decisive action. There is neither time nor place for second-guessing, and clemency is not an essential ingredient in the deliberation, although absolute fairness is. As Jack Webb (“Sgt. Joe Friday” in the 1950s TV show Dragnet) used to scold distraught female witnesses in his deadpan voice: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, this card can describe a situation awash in minutiae that demands meticulous sifting and weighing to get at the crux of the matter.  Ultimately, actions speak louder than words.

 

The Court Cards: The Queen of Swords

Titles:

Water of Air; The Queen of the Thrones of Air

Astrological Correspondence:

20° Virgo to 20° of Libra

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Intensely perceptive, keen observation, subtle, quick, confident, often perseveringly accurate in superficial things, graceful, fond of dancing and balancing. Ill-dignified: cruel, sly, deceitful, unreliable, though with a good exterior.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Widowhood, female sadness and embarrassment, absence, sterility,
mourning, privation, separation. Reversed: Malice, bigotry, artifice, prudery, bale, deceit.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“The person symbolized by this card should be intensely perceptive, a keen observer, a subtle interpreter, an intense individualist, swift and accurate at recording ideas; in action confident, in spirit gracious and just. Her movements will be graceful, and her ability in dancing and balancing exceptional. If ill-dignified, these qualities will all be turned to unworthy purposes. She will be cruel, sly, deceitful and unreliable; in this way, very dangerous, on account of the superficial beauty and attractive ness which distinguish her.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the Queen of Swords thinks she has all the answers and is holding the key to unlocking them. Her self-bestowed mandate is to give the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on any decision, and she is likely to do so even if it’s none of her business. One instructive cliché might be the “meddling mother-n-law.”  She can be an arbiter of good sense and fair dealing, but also a ruthless judge of character. She is not above “character assassination” if it serves her larger purpose, considering the victims of her callousness to be unavoidable “collateral damage.” They may not even know what hit them.  She is a sober and calculating adjudicator, not much given to drama.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the Queen of Swords encourages fastidious examination of one’s true motives in the matter at hand. There is a good reason that some versions of this card show a woman holding a sword and the severed head of a man (sometimes described as Salome brandishing the head of John the Baptist);  the vision of the Queen of Hearts screaming “Off with their heads!” inevitably comes to mind, implying an irrational travesty of justice. While it looks like the vainglorious sacrifice of reason to the whim of fickle caprice, the hidden meaning suggests the level-headed analysis of one’s ideas by holding them at arm’s length.

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, this card can describe a situation that is “up in the air,” awaiting disposition from a “higher court.” All options are on the table and the deliberations are ongoing. It can show a forthcoming verdict, but only after all appeals have been exhausted.

 

The Court Cards: The Knight/Prince of Swords

Titles:

Air of Air; Prince of the Chariot of the Winds

Astrological Correspondence:

20° Capricorn to 20° Aquarius

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Full of ideas and thoughts and designs, distrustful, suspicious, firm in friendship and enmity, careful, slow, over-cautious. Symbolises Alpha and Omega, the Giver of Death, who slays as fast as he creates. Ill-dignified: harsh, malicious, plotting, obstinate, yet hesitating and unreliable.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Skill, bravery, capacity, defense, address, enmity, wrath, war, destruction, opposition, resistance, ruin. There is therefore a sense in which the card signifies death, but it carries this meaning only in its proximity to other cards of fatality. Reversed: Imprudence, incapacity, extravagance.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“A person thus symbolized is purely intellectual. He is full of ideas and designs which tumble over each other. He is a mass of fine ideals unrelated to practical effort. He has all the apparatus of Thought in the highest degree, intensely clever, admirably rational, but unstable of purpose, and in reality indifferent even to his own ideas, as knowing that any one of them is just as good as any other. He reduces everything to unreality by removing its substance and transmuting it to an ideal world of ratiocination which is purely formal and out of relation to any facts, even those upon which it is based.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the Knight/Prince of Swords is an instigator who wants to keep things moving forward, even if it means staying slightly off-balance and “on edge;” in fact, intellectually restless and constantly questioning could be considered the Knight’s normal state of being. His intervention can come across as the wisdom of a vigilant conscience or as a thorn in your side, depending on how tolerant you are of being corrected. This person can represent either a refreshing breeze blowing through your life or an annoying zephyr that insist on rearranging your carefully-coifed hair. He isn’t about to let you lose mental focus or momentum when the game is afoot. Playing the “Devil’s advocate” is a role he relishes.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the Knight/Prince of Swords encourages keeping an open mind and exploring every opportunity to gain the upper hand in the matter of interest. It might be a good idea to “turn over every rock” to see what crawls out from underneath, and then decide whether to feed it or squash it.

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, this card can describe a compelling  motivation to move along, looking for the “next big thing.” Dissatisfaction with the status quo is an earmark of this influence.

 

The Court Cards: The Page/Princess of Swords

Titles:

Earth of Air; Princess of the Rushing Winds; Lotus of the Palace of Air

Astrological Correspondence:

The southeast quadrant of the zodiac, comprising the signs of Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Wisdom, strength, acuteness, subtleness in material things, grace and dexterity. If ill-dignified, she is frivolous and cunning.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Authority, overseeing, secret service, vigilance, spying, examination, and the qualities thereto belonging. Reversed: More evil side of these qualities; what is unforeseen, unprepared state; sickness is also intimated.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“The character of the Princess is stern and revengeful. Her logic is destructive. She is firm and aggressive, with great practical wisdom and subtlety in material things. She shews great cleverness and dexterity in the management of practical affairs, especially where they are of a controversial nature. She is very adroit in the settlement of controversies.”

Discussion:

As a person involved in the situation, the Page/Princess of Swords can show the intervention of an arbitrator or mediator, a resourceful go-between who can keep antagonists at arm’s length in coordinating the resolution of a disagreement. She is not the warmest or most sympathetic of confidantes; her icy logic and no-nonsense manner conspire against intimacy or even much friendliness. As a companion she might keep you out of trouble but she won’t be gentle about chiding you every time she does so. She has no qualms about saying “I told you so” – repeatedly.

As an attitude or behavior of the seeker, the Page/Princess of Swords promotes the twin strengths of critical thinking and astute judgment, but also walking a fine line between severity and shrewdness. There can be a tendency to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

As an impersonal influence upon one’s life, this card can describe a situation that demands analytical rigor in weighing one’s options. There is no room for sentimental contingencies.

 

The King of Swords is the last card for which I have a previously-posted “thumbnail;” everything from that point on is new material.

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