Court and Pip Cards

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Court cards

Very early tarot decks had no titles on cards, though they did bear the key characteristics of King, Queen, horse-rider, and 'valet'-like depictions. It may also perhaps be useful to recall that pre-tarot decks such as the Mamluk cards did have titles (but no human imagery).

One of the characteristics of tarot decks is their inclusion of sixteen (16) court cards instead of the twelve usually found in standardised playing cards. Each suit, usually based on what is called the 'Italian' suites of Batons, Cups, Coins (or Deniers) and Swords each have four court or 'royal' cards, viz, the Valet (or Page), Cavalier (or Knight), Queen, and King. With the wealth of different ideas and worldviews that have influenced tarot designs especially over the course of the 20th century, each of these has also been re-named in various ways.

Perhaps it should also be noted that some early and more recent decks related to tarot have either less (for example three) or more (for example, six) court cards per suit. 'Standard' Tarot decks, however, have characteristically the four court cards as mentioned above and as also listed below (see also Tarot Cards).

The sixteen Court Cards are often seen as the most difficult and complex cards to interpret in a reading. This is largely due to the fact that their nature has changed over the centuries, from 18th century ideas of them being "Country Woman", "Blond Man", and "Widow", to more modern interpretations that vary greatly from author to author. The many differing opinions on how to read these cards, often contradictory, adds another layer of difficulty for those who wish to find instruction. Recent decades has also seen the creation of systems that bases its methodology on a systemic 'elemental' view rather than on broader understanding based in part on an understanding of late mediaeval social understanding.


Kings

Kings from the Sola-Busca and Visconti-Sforza Decks (XV Century)

The Kings are often depicted as sitting on some form of throne, usually crowned, and often also with at least one of the kings crossing his legs. They characteristically usually hold the suit emblem.

There seems to be some similarity between the kings of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot deck and those of the Sola Busca Tarot deck. The posture of the legs of the Kings, in particular the Kings of Cups and the Kings of Swords, is very similar. Also the left hand of the King of Coins has as similar posture.

Queens

Similarly to the Kings, the Queens are also usually depicted enthroned and crowned. They usually hold the characteristic suit emblem.

Knights

The term 'knight' has very likely been translated from the common French title 'cavalier'. Unlike the English term, however, this may simply refer to a horse-rider (or more specifically a horseman). The Knights are usually depicted as riding a horse, holding the characteric emblem of the suit.

Valets

Like the French 'valet', the term has broader meaning than the specific use of the card's other common title as 'page'. The Valets are typically depicted as standing holding a suit emblem.

Court cards and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Tarotists sometimes assign correspondences between the 16 court cards and the 16 types under the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality profile test. See Wikipedia article on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for a discussion of the MBTI and the 16 MBTI types.

It should be noted that there is no one single universal system of correspondences between the 16 court cards and the 16 MBTI types. There have been a number of different systems of court-to-type correspondences identified by tarotists.

Table of various MBTI correlations

# Valet of Batons Knight of Batons Queen of Batons King of Batons Valet of Cups Knight of Cups Queen of Cups King of Cups Valet of Coins Knight of Coins Queen of Coins King of Coins Valet of Swords Knight of Swords Queen of Swords King of Swords source:
1 INFP ENFP INFJ ENFJ ISFP ESFP ISFJ ESFJ ISTP ESTP ISTJ ESTJ INTP ENTP INTJ ENTJ
#
#
#
#
#
#

Astrological Correspondences

Wands - fire signs: enthusiasm, ambition and enterprise.

Cups - water signs: sympathetic, receptive and submissive.

Swords - air signs: changeable, sociable and mentally alert.

Pentacles - earth signs: patient, industrious and practical.

Court Cards and Elemental Attributions

In his Book of Thoth Aleister Crowley wrote about a Court Card system that used the elements to inform the reader of the card meanings. Each suit was given an elemental attribution (although this idea was not created by Crowley, but was seen in earlier occult decks), as well as each rank of the Court Cards. The element assigned to the Court Card ranks was based on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, but the system can be used without knowledge of Qabalah.

Pages are assigned the element of Earth, since they are equivalent to the sephiroth of Malkuth and the realm of Assiah (earthly realm, realm of manifestation) on the Tree of Life.

Knights are assigned the element of Air, since they are equivalent to the sephiroth of Yesod and the realm of Yetzirah (mental realm, realm of formation).

Queens are assigned the element of Water, since they are equivalent to the sephiroth of Tiphareth and the realm of Beriah (creative, emotional realm, realm of archetypes).

Kings are assigned the element of Fire, since they are equivalent to the sephiroth of Kether and the realm of Aztiluth (spiritual realm, realm of the supernals).

The suits' elemental attributions can change from reader to reader (usually swapping the attribution of Swords and Wands between Fire and Air) but a commonly accepted version is:

  • Cups/Chalices: Water

Crowley's Court Card meanings were inspired by putting together the elemental attributions of the card's suit and rank, and then reflecting upon the nature of the elements together. So, for example:

Page of Coins- Earth of Earth. This is earth at its most fertile, most natural, and most manifest. It is potential, and it is the foundations upon which we can build. It is also the silence of the earth and the secrecy, the stability and the manifest world. From this meaning we can see a personality type as well as events, atmosphere, feelings, and more, allowing the reader to see the Court Cards as more than just people.

Crowley has his own ideas on how the elements interact in this system, but the system itself can be used without following Crowley: a basic idea of the four elements and their natures or what they represent can tell a reader a great deal about a Court Card, and can allow the reader to formulate their own ideas about these cards.

Pip cards

The term 'pip' here refers to all numbered cards of each of the four suits, from the Ace through to the Ten. In some decks, the illustration is relatively simple, in that no more than the number of emblems or implements is depicted (such as, for example, eight cups). In other decks, illustrations that depict scenic imagery, such as on the Waite-Smith deck, are presented.