As you may already know, tarot decks were originally used like any other deck of playing cards, although nowadays they're almost exclusively used for divinatory purposes. One of the most visible remnants of their recreational applications are the court cards, or the King, Queen, Knight, and Page, which appear four times each in a regular tarot deck, once for every suit.
Since they represent different figures in a royal court, they're usually illustrated with human figures, which may help newcomers to tarot interpret their meaning more easily, intuitive tarot reader and author Theresa Reed tells Refinery29. "The court cards represent the people who influence situations," she explains, suggesting that, sometimes, these cards can very clearly represent people in your life such as your boss, relatives, or friends. Otherwise, Reed adds, these cards may also indicate "the energy that we may be projecting or needing at the time of the reading." For instance, you might pull the Knight of Wands, which could reflect your desire for more confidence at the moment.
"Because [the court cards] are loaded with so many different possible interpretations, people are often confused by them," Reed says. So, when in doubt, she recommends simply referring back to the question you started your tarot reading with — so, if you draw any court cards, you'll have a clear context in which to ground them.
Although traditional tarot resources are full of gendered descriptions of the court cards (e.g., King cards represent masculinity while Queen cards represent femininity), Reed ignores them — or, perhaps more accurately, she reinterprets them so that they apply beyond any gender binary. "Perhaps I’m a Page when I’m studying a new subject. When I’m taking care of the cats, I’m in Queen mode. At work, I’m always King," she says.
And, while each type of court card possesses a set of general influences, those vary slightly depending on the suit of the court card. The four suits of the tarot indicate subtle, day-to-day changes and feelings. Each one is thought to touch a different area of our regular lives: The suit of cups rules our relationships; the suit of pentacles (also known as the suit of coins) rules financial and practical matters; the suit of swords rules conflicts and truth; and the suit of wands rules creativity.
For example, the Queen of Cups differs from the Queen of Swords in that the former reflects love and caregiving instincts, while the latter is more closely associated with the desire to cultivate ideas and a clear vision for the future. They possess the Queenly desire to nurture and support what's in their lives, but what exactly they're showing such care for will vary with the suit.
Read on to learn more about the court cards and how they express themselves through each suit of the tarot.