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Reading the Court Cards – by Paul Fenton-Smith

Reading the Court Cards – by Paul Fenton-Smith

Many Tarot students experience confusion when reading court cards in a Tarot layout. Often this confusion involves determining the appropriate meaning to attribute to the court cards in the layout. In basic terms, a court card can represent the client, an aspect of the client, a situation, or a particular astrological sign.

Queen of Wands

Many Tarot students experience confusion when reading court cards in a Tarot layout. Often this confusion involves determining the appropriate meaning to attribute to the court cards in the layout. In basic terms, a court card can represent the client, an aspect of the client, a situation, or a particular astrological sign.

When the Queen of Wands appears as an answer to a specific question, the reader has several possible meanings for this card. It can represent a forthright, passionate, independent woman; success through inner strength; or a Leo person (either a man or a woman).

Your task as a reader is to determine which meaning most applies to the card at that time. If you are in doubt, you can ask the client to select an additional card, which you place beside the court card. If this additional card is another court card then it is safe to assert that the original court card is describing a person. If the additional card is a Major Arcana card it may confirm an astrological sign. Adding Strength or the Sun to the Queen of Wands confirms a Leo person, as these cards represent the sign of Leo and the lessons for this astrological sign.

In Mastering The Tarot (Simon & Schuster Aust. 2000) I devoted a chapter to interpreting the court cards because this is one of the most common areas of confusion for Tarot students. To help students more fully understand these cards we role-play them during advanced Tarot courses. Each student selects a court card and then attends a ‘business meeting’ as the person depicted by that card. It often degenerates into chaotic fun as the four Pages run around the room laughing. The Knight of Wands spends the whole meeting flirting with any woman he can find while the reversed King of Cups sulks quietly in a corner. The King and Knight of Pentacles attempt to restore order to proceedings as all the Swords people chatter on regardless. During one ‘meeting’ a bored Page of Swords produced a mobile phone and began texting friends.

After a few minutes, a shy student can become surprisingly bossy when she embraces the energy of the reversed Queen of Wands. Understanding the perspective of each court card from the inside can increase your awareness of the thoughts and motivations of each court card. In turn, this knowledge can help you to better relate to your clients during the reading process. When explaining your findings to a client, you can improve the client’s experience by relating to that client according to his or her suit type.

Wands people prefer a direct approach, with an emphasis on opportunities ahead and mountains yet to be climbed. Perceiving life as a challenge, they like to know that there is at least one more mountain to be conquered. They usually like to hear the news ‘straight up.’

Cups types favour a more sensitive approach, with slower delivery to allow time for them to emotionally process each part of the reading. Being essentially shy and private people, they usually don’t volunteer much information about themselves until well into the reading process.

Swords people need to ask plenty of questions in order to clarify exactly what you mean by what you have said, so that there is no confusion. It is sometimes necessary to ensure that the swords client doesn’t do all the talking, and they are easily identified because they are often talking while selecting cards for their next question.

Pentacles clients respond well if the whole reading process is outlined at the start, so that they know what to expect. I usually announce that I’ll begin with a general reading and then they have the chance to ask up to six specific questions. I encourage them to stop me if they don’t understand anything and then I announce when the last question has arrived.

When giving a reading, once you have decided on a meaning for a court card don’t be dissuaded if your client cannot relate to that card meaning. In one reading it took me four minutes of conversation before my client acknowledged the two children around her new love relationship. She was keen to know what the future held for her newfound love, and when I mentioned two children, she stated flatly that there were no children. Two Pages on the table facing me confirmed two children, so I persisted.

Eventually she acknowledged that each partner had one teenage child from a previous relationship.

“But they don’t have any bearing on our relationship,” she insisted.

“Are you telling me that a 14 year old and a 16 year old don’t have any agenda regarding their parents beginning a new love relationship? I know a few teenagers who’d happily kill the new partners of their parents.”

As the reader, it is up to you to decide what meaning to ascribe to a particular court card. As a palmist, I am able to briefly scan the client’s hands to determine if she is the Queen of Cups or the Queen of Pentacles when both cards appear in her first layout. A 10-second glimpse will usually confirm which court card I’m dealing with, but for those without palmistry skills, there is a simple method which works almost every time.

I ask clients to select seven cards (I use a simple seven card layout) from a line of cards which are face down on the table before them with their nonwriting hand, with eyes closed.

Wands clients select cards quickly, making a mess as they go, almost tossing the cards across the table. Cups clients select slowly, feeling between two possible cards for the perfect card. Swords clients select haphazardly, often talking about an unrelated issue as they select their cards. Pentacles clients prefer to start selecting from one end of the line and proceed to the other end.

“Can I go back?” they ask as they realise that they have reached the end of the line before they have selected all seven cards. Pentacles people enjoy working within good, clear guidelines.

By observing how your clients select cards for their readings, you’ll know which suit represents that client.


Paul Fenton-Smith is the principal of The Academy of Psychic Sciences in Sydney, which he founded in 1985. He is the author of The Tarot Revealed and Mastering The Tarot and has also produced an introductory Tarot DVD entitled Discover The Tarot.

For more information on Paul’s Tarot books and DVD, please visit www.paulfentonsmith.com. 


Published in the Journal of the Tarot Guild of Australia Inc. The Magician, #37, Winter/Spring 2011
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