Let’s review the Court Cards of the Tarot this month by examining another Tarot “royal,” the King of Cups. First, let’s review the information we went over the last time we discussed the royal family of the Tarot.
A Tarot deck has 78 cards. There are 22 Major Arcana cards, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. There are 56 Minor Arcana cards that are customarily grouped into four categories or suits that represent the four elements (sometimes called “Pips” or “Pip Cards”), with numbers from Ace to 10; the Minors usually deal with day-to-day issues.
The Court Cards are actually a part of the Minor Arcana, acting as a representation of the family unit. Individually, the members of the Tarot Court represent particular personality traits, traits of people, places and events in our lives. These cards can also tell us about our own personality, and how it is perceived by others. Thinking of my Tarot cards as people, with each card having an individual personality, is one method I have used with success in order to connect with my cards. This is particularly appropriate for the Court Cards, as they are the most human of all the cards in a Tarot deck. Even the illustrations for the Court Cards show humans in the majority of Tarot decks. Generally speaking, there are three different ways that Court Cards can speak to us in a spread: they can indicate personality traits of our Seeker or someone affecting the Seeker; they can refer to actual individuals in the Seeker’s life, including the Seeker; and they can refer to the general aura or atmosphere of a place or situation.
Court cards offer us these descriptions of personality traits and of different ways of being or acting, so we can make use of these styles or avoid them, whichever is appropriate. Of course, the trick is to know which message is being given in a particular spread! One way to become more confident in determining this is to learn about the Court Cards themselves, and how the personality of each Court Card interacts with its particular suit. Many times if you break a particular Court Card down to its rank and correspondences, you will understand its message. Let’s get started.
Instead of numbers, Court Cards have rank. The lowest ranking Court Card is the Page, the messenger or intern or apprentice who is still learning of life and living, but who is also good at dealing with the unexpected. Next comes the Knight, the representation of strong, focused and even excessive manifestations of his suit.
Both the Queen and the King represent mature adults. The Queen manifests her suit in a feminine or yin or inner way, and the King manifests his suit in a masculine or yang or outer way. This manifestation does not necessarily correspond to gender; a man can be represented by a Tarot Queen if he has a strong inner focus, and a woman can be represented by a Tarot King if she projects a strong sense of authority. Since we are talking about the King of Cups today, we already know that our King will manifest his suit in an outer yet mature manner. Our King is concerned with results; he exhibits outer, public expertise in his field, and he is an authority figure. In many ways, the Kings of the Tarot Court can be seen as four facets of The Emperor of the Major Arcana.
Our King’s suit this month is Cups. The suit of Cups corresponds with the element of Water, and many Tarot decks use images of cups or chalices and water on their Minor Arcana Cups cards. A nice place to begin our exploration of the suit of Cups is with the element of Water itself.
In its natural state, Water is cool and wet. When amassed, it has weight, and it tends to gather or pool at the lowest place. Because of this tendency, Water creates its own roadways or channels, and it prefers to use those already-in-place channels if it can. Water is used for cleaning and purifying, and Water can be a carrier for other substances. For instance, we can dissolve salt or sugar into warm Water, and use that concoction for other things. A body of Water can be calm and deep, or it can be dangerously churning and filled with powerful currents.
The element of Water corresponds to our feelings and emotions, and this makes sense. Emotions flow and have currents and eddies, a powerful wave of emotions can be cleansing, emotions can be hot and expanding or they can be bubbling upward, like steam, or cold and contracting and heavy, like ice, and our emotions can affect our physical bodies (which contain a lot of Water) and our health. Often, tears appear when we feel things strongly through sadness or joy or anger, as physical manifestations of those emotions.
Water also represents the Inner Voice and the subconscious. If we were to sit beside a lake on a calm, clear day, we can understand this connection. As we look out on the surface of the lake, we will see a reflection of the trees and hills, and even the clouds and the sky, on its surface. We can’t tell how deep the center of that lake will be by looking at it from the shore; it might be shallow and easy to cross, or it might be deep and dark and cold, the home of mysterious creatures. If we were to step into that lake and keep moving away from the shore, we will discover the hidden depths of that lake, not visible from the surface.
Water is not the only element that corresponds to our King. In the Tarot Court, the suit of the card has an elemental correspondence, and the rank of the card has an elemental correspondence. Pages correspond with Earth, Knights correspond with either Air or Fire (depending on the deck), Queens correspond with Water, and Kings correspond with either Air or Fire (depending on the deck). Since we are talking about a King today, we are also talking about the element of Air, or the element of Fire, depending on the deck. For our purposes today, we will see the King of Cups as Fire of Water.
In its natural state, the element of Fire is hot and dry. It tends to bring spontaneous change or impulsive, energetic effects. Fire is passionate in nature, and transforms everything in our world. Fire can sanitize or cleanse, and it can destroy everything in its path; Fire can warm us and keep us safe, or it can kill us. Fire corresponds with creativity, ambition, growth, passion and actions, and how their presence or absence can affect our lives. Fire also represents Spirit or the Divine Will, and Wands cards also can present the possibility of some interaction with Spirit or the Divine.
Like the other cards of the Tarot, Court Cards have astrological correspondences. Our Queen of Swords corresponds with the cusp or joining point of the signs of Libra and Scorpio. Libras are usually very focused on the people around them, and how they interact with those people. Libras always put their minds to good use, considering and balancing carefully before choosing a course that brings the highest good to all. Scorpio is about beginnings and endings, and about understanding the deep, dark secrets of the self. Scorpios stick to the plan; they are intense and passionate, even if they appear quiet on the surface.
A Libra-Scorpio combination can be attractive and seductive. This combination makes for a person who is a natural in any social situation, a good communicator who can handle abstract reasoning with ease, but who can also come across as bossy or sarcastic, manipulative or sly. This is a person who is interested in both the mystical and the scientific, who can see all sides to any situation and who has a passion and strength that is admirable. This combination can also create someone who has trouble letting go, or who wants everything to be perfect, and if something has to be presented in a lesser state the Libra-Scorpio will be embarrassed.
Because they are Minor Arcana cards, Court Cards also correspond with a sephira on the Tree of Life. The Kings correspond with the sephira of Chokmah, along with all of the Twos of the Minor Arcana and the element of Fire. The Kings sit at the top of the Pillar of Force in the sephira of Chokmah, representing the Sacred Masculine and the Catalyst of Life. Chokmah is seen as dynamic thrust, the Ultimate Positive, the Great Stimulator and the Great Fertilizer (one of the symbols of Chokmah is the penis), and thus is connected to the Wheel of the Year. The energies of this sephira represent dynamic male energy and is the origin of vital force and polarity.
Let’s recap! Our King of Cups is Fire of Water, and Fire and Water are not friendly. This could mean that our King feels divided between his sensitive side and a world where power and dominance are respected. Here is the source of the idea that while the King of Cups is very qualified to see to the emotional needs of his subjects, he is not real good at dealing with his own emotions. Again, we are reminded of The Emperor of the Major Arcana, the benevolent yet strict Father Figure who maintains structure and order so that we all can thrive.
The King of Cups is the most benevolent of all the Kings, mainly because of his association with the element of Water, and with feelings, emotions and instincts. He is the wise elder who is motivated to help others, the family friend who can overlook his own needs in order to serve those he cares for. This King aims to manifest the higher good of all by allowing himself to be guided by his own instincts, and by stirring and encouraging the feelings, emotions and dreams of others. This King often represents a healer, a counselor or a therapist, or anyone in a service-oriented field. He can also be a boat captain or an artist (remember, we are dealing with the element of Water). The King of Cups has his challenges as well, and may be oversensitive to criticism, pessimistic, delusional, passive-resistive, easily seduced, or co-dependent.
The King of Cups fits the description of a fairy tale king: he can see right into the heart of any matter, and can balance the needs of many people, while encouraging compassion, diplomacy and tolerance in all. He easily keeps his head in a crisis, and projects calm into every situation. He is usually the first person to volunteer to help others, or to use diplomacy to bring together opposite parties. The King of Cups is a protector who cares for and watches over all who are near him. He strives to balance the needs of others with his own needs. He has learned the value of doing less rather than more, and his inborn ability to care for others allows him to willingly meet his responsibilities with a smile on his face and love in his heart, and still be accepted by those under his care as the authority figure.