The methods by which human personality, age and gender have been assigned to the court cards of the tarot have never resembled an exact science. The old ways of using physical traits as the basis for qualitative “thumbnails” are almost entirely unsatisfactory: Wands people are assumed to be fair-haired, light-skinned and blue-eyed, those at the other end of the spectrum in Pentacles are dark of hair, skin, and eyes, and Cups and Swords present an increasingly lackluster facade (Waite used the word “dull”) between the two extremes. This may have been workable in Northern Europe in the 19th Century but the world is now a much different place. Waite does acknowledge that what we know about a person’s temperament can affect our decision in this regard, but for a random walk-in client this may be too much to expect. In such cases it may be best to hand the seeker the four court cards of the appropriate age group and biological gender and say “Pick one!” (However, in these times of unabashed diversity that approach can present a sociopolitical minefield; I might offer them all sixteen court cards to be safe.)
Ascribing age to the figures in the the court cards is similarly imprecise. Waite threw a curve-ball by saying that Knights are men over forty, Queens are women over forty, Kings are men under that age and Pages are similarly youthful females. My assumptions about this obvious misrepresentation are that Waite was applying the Golden Dawn rule that Knights are at the top of the hierarchy and are mounted warrior-kings, although he and Smith failed to follow through in depicting the “top dogs” as mounted Knights the way the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley did, instead opting for the stereotypical medieval court. Also, since it sprang from an era when average life expectancy was around 50 years, Waite’s cut-off point of 40 for elder maturity seems arbitrarily low by today’s standards.
Waite’s assertion that the Pages are always female is another untenable position when used in general practice. Because they are aimed at choosing a significator to stand in for the seeker in a reading (today we might call it an “avatar”), Waite’s categories aren’t really diverse enough to apply to other people who may have a role in the querent’s situation. I prefer a three-tiered approach that recognizes both of the above considerations. I see the Kings (GD Knights) as males over 45, Queens as females over 45, Knights (GD Princes) as either men or women between 25 and 45 (a distinction can be made between suits as to which are which) and the Pages (GD Princesses) are either male or female under 25, similarly distinguishable by suit. Regarding suit applicability, there is some divergence of opinion; the “red” playing cards have been associated with Cups (Hearts) and Pentacles (Diamonds) – the two suits that are considered passive, receptive and feminine – and the “black” ones correspond to Wands and Swords, both active, assertive and masculine. Other writers attribute Wands to diamonds because red is a positive color and Pentacles to clubs since black is seen as more negative. For this particular purpose I like the forthright suits of Wands and Swords as male and and the more temperate suits of Cups and Pentacles as female.
This all comes to a head when confronted with a situation where it’s clear to both the client and the reader that a specific court card in the reading can only mean a person who doesn’t remotely fit the model. For example, a Page coming up to represent an 80-year-old man just doesn’t pass what I call the “giggle test.” The choices are either to assume: 1) that the card shows the individual to be naive or “young at heart,” or perhaps embarking on a new initiative; or 2) that it reflects attitudes or behaviors the querent should either adopt or avoid in dealing with the person. In my own practice I initially ask my sitter whether a court card is likely to identify a person involved in the situation, secondly whether it reveals something about the querent’s own character or, when all else fails, whether it describes impersonal energies or forces that may be at work in their circumstances. I generally find myself relying on the middle option as having the broadest range of usefulness.