Interpreting Court Cards: Expressions of the Self, Colors of Time

The 16 court cards of the tarot are often touted as some of the trickiest cards to interpret. Described as the “personality cards” of the tarot, the focus of their visual depictions are people and not actions, often leaving the reader unsure as to what invitations or meanings they invoke. Even if you understand well the personality type ascribed to each court card, putting those types into practice as part of a cohesive interpretation is something that newer readers often encounter difficulties about. While the rich subject of court cards has enough material for several books, in this article I will share two methods of interpreting the people cards in readings, covering a variety of, if not most, situations. We will see that all court cards are expressions of ourselves, and that they tint reality like colors in the spectrum of time.

Court Cards Tarot

Traditionally, court cards have been read as standing for someone else in the seeker’s life. For instance, if you pull the King of Wands, a traditional interpretation may say that a man, likely of a fire sign, or exhibiting those fire sign traits, could be influencing your life in one way or another. The Page of Cups, under this method, could be a young person of the Cancer sign that is affecting your life right now. And so on. Many powerful, truthful readings have been and are still done using this traditional form. But, gendered-card issues aside, contemporary tarot practice is strongly leaning towards seeing the court cards as aspects of the seeker’s own personality. Particularly when you are still finding your sea legs while exploring the ocean of tarot interpretation, using formulaic methods can be quite hit-or-miss. However, seeing the court cards as parts of ourselves brings great agency to the table, ensures that every reading is likely to be truly relatable or actionable, and will bring a boost of confidence to your reads. After all, all court cards already exist in potential or in varying levels within all of us. When we draw them in our readings, they are asking us to come out.

Expressions of the Self

My go-to method of interpreting the court cards is to see them, whenever they appear in a spread, as an invitation from a part of ourselves that is seeking to come out into the light and openly participate in the building of our lives and in our journey of evolution. The essence of each court card exists within all of us and are expressed to varying degrees and in many forms.

The court cards are essentially personal archetypes. They are overarching types that distill personalities, skillsets, and ways of being into a single, relatable entities through an emphasis on the energy of their respective suits. These archetypes focus on different aspects of reality, facets of life, and offer unique methods of problem-solving that will be relevant to different rungs on the spirals of our existence.

These archetypes exist in or are available to all of us. The emotionally intelligent, mystical figure of the Queen of Cups is something that abides in us all. We all have an inner playful little devil that is the Page of Wands. We can all be abundant-minded, prudent, and long-term visionaries like the King of Pentacles. Sure, some of these energies in us may be more developed than others. And that is precisely why the court cards will show up for us at different times: we are being invited to engage with our different layers of maturation and embodiment on the many arenas of life. Some issues may call out the witty, quick decision-making Knight of Swords in us. Some stretches of our journey may invoke the engaged spiritualist, radiant Queen of Wands self that is our birthright as human beings.

Sometimes it is time to be mature, deep, and as highly evolved as we can be (Queens and Kings). Sometimes it is best to be our most engaged, active selves (Knights). Some periods call on us to be humble, open, receptive, and initiating (Pages). These sacred archetypes reside either as a seed or as a developed tree in every human being. When a court card appears for you in a reading, their corresponding part of your being is being called to task.

Colors of Time

In tarot spreads, if drawn in a time-related position, such as Past, Present, or Future, the court cards will speak to the flavor of that time period, and to the energies that will come into play. They show the colors that tint the passage of time. The Queen of Cups in the Future position could be advising of a period of deep waters up ahead for you. You will be neck-deep in the world of emotions; can you plunge even deeper into the subconscious ocean and find intuitive guidance? Or is it best just to keep your head out of the water and stay afloat? The Page of Swords in your Present can indicate that your life surroundings at the moment are conducive to a beginner’s mind, to learning a new mindset, to setting the stage for further growth. The Knight of Wands in your Past could be referring to a past period in your life in which life seemed to give you no choice but to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and take some necessary actions to get yourself to where you are now.

As influences, the court cards speak to the energies that color a time period or turn of our life cycles. What does a ‘Queen of Swords’-type of week looks like? Is it a week that is a bit somber and grey but deeply integrative and conducive to clarity? A “Page of Cups” month may one that is full of Spirit whispers and plentiful with signs and symbols that are only yours to receive. A Knight of Pentacles year is a blessed time of grounded, incremental action towards your dreams that will lead to tangible results. As you tune in to the frequencies and colors of the coming periods, you engage the parts of you that are most suited to be of service.

A Spectrum of Expression

The “expressions of Self” and “colors of time” methods will often intertwine. A court card’s infusing of a time will invoke their corresponding expression to come out. If the King of Cups Reversed announces a coming period of potential emotional or relationship instability, then tap into your own engaged, strong-hearted King of Cups to act as your own anchor. Court cards are complex archetypes that in their interpretation escape memory tricks or formulae. When you draw them in a reading, remember that their loving energy already resides within your being. Your call is to engage them, and to allow them to come out. They are divine ideals. It is up to you to give them full expression, and to let their unique tones truly color your life.