Students, Cynics and the Tarot Court

One of my favorite aphorisms is “I’m a student of human nature, so of course I’m a cynic.” I believe that every individual has a private script (and usually a personal agenda) of some kind running at any given moment (they’re basically starring in their own movie, although I don’t think that’s exactly what Aleister Crowley meant when he said “Every Man and Woman is a Star”), whether or not they own up to it or even recognize it, and the court cards of the tarot can help decipher what they’re about for those who are puzzled by their actions. I don’t think it was an accident that Pamela Colman Smith, herself skilled in stagecraft, made so many of the court-card backgrounds look like stage sets.

In the Golden Dawn tarot curriculum (Liber T), Kings are described in general terms as “A force swift and violent in action, but whose effect soon passes away” (in the Golden Dawn system, Kings are mounted on steeds and thus highly mobile and volatile); the Queens represent “A force steady and unshaken, but not rapid though enduring;” the Princes (supplanting the Knights) are borne in chariots and summarized as “An Emperor, whose effect is at once rapid (though not so swift as that of a King) and enduring (though not as steadfast as that of a Queen);” and the Princess (replacing the Pages)  portray “A Queen of Queens, an Empress, whose effect combines those of the King, Queen and Prince. At once violent and permanent . . .” Another unofficial Golden Dawn document describes the Kings as “Potential Power;” the Queens as “Brooding Power” (by which I assume is meant “contemplative”); the Princes as “Power in Action” and the Princesses as “Reception and Transmission” (suggesting the role of the medieval herald from which the idea of “Page as messenger” springs). However, these descriptive thumbnails aren’t especially useful in everyday practice.

Much better are the “moral characteristics” (his term) Crowley presents for the court cards in The Book of Thoth. These I have found remarkably relevant for describing the human factors influencing a querent’s circumstances when they appear in a reading, whether in the form of other people the seeker must contend with or as attitudes and behaviors they themselves should either adopt or avoid. I once went to the trouble of wading with great care and determination through Part Three of Crowley’s book, extracting every scrap of descriptive text (both keywords and phrases) I could find to explain the qualities of the court cards. I captured these in a single table along with basic astrological correspondences for each card from Sakoian and Acker’s The Astrologer’s Handbook. I first posted it back in July of 2017, but figured it would be a good time to bump it forward as a service to my newer followers. In my opinion, they prefigure the modern Jungian approach to tarot, something that I, as an action-and-event-oriented diviner, don’t pay a lot of attention to but I know many people do.

In addition, I also previously wrote a detailed essay on the attribution of the court cards to the Chaldean system of astrological decans that underlie the Golden Dawn’s classification scheme. This is a somewhat confusing arrangement that gives each court card except the Princesses a “split personality” that may go a long way toward shedding light on why some people seem so schizophrenic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s