The Tarot Court Cards
Archetypal Patterns of Relationship in the Minor Arcana
by Kate Warwick-Smith
Only a few days ago I received yet another email asking me about court cards and how to interpret them in readings. Questions about court cards are common, and even long-time tarot enthusiasts often doubt their own interpretations of these cards ... just who or what do the court cards refer to? Nearly every book that teaches tarot offers guidelines for interpreting these cards, yet they often remain elusive.
With The Tarot Court Cards
, author Kate Warwick-Smith has made a valuable and important contribution to tarot literature. She provides a unique and comprehensive method of learning the meanings of each of the traditional sixteen court cards, understanding their significance in readings, and finally viewing them with real clarity.
Warwick-Smith explains that we each have a circle of support available to us, and she explains how this support can be reflected by the sixteen face cards of the tarot. She says, "When you think about it, we all have some version of an inner court - people we rely on to help us in various ways in our lives ... Do we know exactly who they are and how they support us? And do we know how we in turn support them?" Through her description of each court card as either an external supporter or detractor (such as a friend, lover, or boss), or as an internal resource or challenge (our inner response to specific relationships), we develop a true awareness of their full meaning.
Cards' meanings are derived from a simple but highly effective combining of Qabala and the essence of each level in the royal hierarchy of king, queen, knight, and page. One can easily understand this method and quickly grasp what each card potentially signifies, even having no previous familiarity with Qabala. Warwick-Smith accurately points out that all of our personal relationships are different, and teaches us to see how these relationships either foster growth (support us), or hold us back (serve as detractors). In this way, she is clear to keep a balance of positive and negative energies, not biasing her teaching in either direction. We also learn to see the court cards as reflective of inner properties - as positive resources we can draw upon, or as shadow qualities that challenge us - that are evoked by our personal relationships.
I found this a highly useful and fascinating approach to the court cards, and at the same time, sensible. In following Warwick-Smith's suggestion to identify my supporters and detractors, I was surprised by how quickly I could line up court cards with people in my life. At the same time, this way of working with the cards did give them more life; they became whole. Through this way of working with the court cards, they can be fully present in our readings as transformative guides, rather than avoided as confusing or misunderstood elements, and they can do what we intend them to do: give illumination to our relationships.
Warwick-Smith begins the book by exploring ideas of royalty, family, and community, and by tracing the development of the tarot from its origins as a game, until its eventual use for divination purposes. Her overview of court cards through history, as well as her comparisons between the teachings of Paul Foster Case, Aleister Crowley, Angeles Arrien, and Mary K. Greer, are intriguing. She then introduces her specific method for reading with the court cards. Each card is fully explained in several sections as Supporter, Detractor, Resource, Challenge, with a Divination Guideline, and in imaginative prose where the card "Speaks" in the first person. Spreads designed for working solely with court cards are provided, and working with the entire tarot deck is also touched upon. There is a handy sample form for recording readings, a full appendix of brief divinatory meanings, many correspondence charts, black and white illustrations from a number of well-known tarot decks, and charts of card title variations. The book is fully footnoted, contains a glossary, an extensive bibliography, and a list of online resources.
This refreshingly straightforward book is easy and quick to read, but intelligent and thoughtful. Warwick-Smith has an obvious respect for tarot history, psychology, and human relationships, as well as a sincere desire to share her knowledge and experience with others. The Tarot Court Cards
will become a much-used book on my tarot bookshelf, and I highly recommend it to others who would like to genuinely enrich their own tarot work.
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