The Hierarchy of the Court Cards: Why Rank Really Does Matter

by Douglas Gibb on October 15, 2009

Do you find it difficult to judge someone based on first impressions?

None of us like the idea of judging someone, especially as this “judging” can lead to gross simplifications and “stereotyping”. However, when we read Court cards, we are being asked to judge.

The Human Experience

There is always going to be someone more attractive than you, someone smarter, or faster, or just plain better than you. Likewise, you are always going to be funnier than someone else, richer than someone else, more successful than someone else. That is the human experience. Within human experience, there is “status” and “rank”.

If we take one possible approach to reading Tarot Court cards, then everyone is allocated a rank in relation to everyone else. As Tarot readers, we can exploit this technique to help us determine the exact involvement certain characters have with the client, the importance certain people have, their level of influence and just how significant that person will be or become in the future.

A different method of interpretation is to view the Court cards as a family dynamic. This is a separate technique all together, although in reality, it still follows the principles of status and rank. It takes the dynamics of the family unit and projects them onto society – society, in a very broad sense, and this is a highly problematic statement, as an extension of the Family.

Learning how to read the Court cards according to status and rank is one of the most robust methods that I know for maximising the insight the Court cards play in a Tarot reading.

Time to make some Judgments

It’s perfectly natural to make judgments. In fact, as Tarot readers, it’s our jobs to make judgments. We look for hidden connections, relationships and sub-plots as a matter of course.

Understanding the Hierarchy that exists within the Court cards is a very useful skill to develop.

Let me show you one comment that I received which beautifully illustrates how simply the Court cards can relate to rank. Here’s what AJ said:

Hi. Today, I got 2 court cards in my reading. And I recognized them today, it’s a friend of mine and his mom… lol. It’s a page of wands and queen of wands.

Notice how brilliant AJ’s interpretation of these two cards is?

AJ provided an elegant solution for what could have been a complex problem. This is the power, and benefit of thinking about the Court cards in accordance to Status and Rank – either as family dynamic, or as a much broader social one.

The Family structure is much like a mini society, with its own rules, hierarchy, and the fluctuating balance of status.

I would highly recommend you read this article How To Finally Conquer The Tarot Court Cards, which illustrates a method for understanding the Court cards via your own family.

The Court Cards and Their Rank within Society

In a very general sense, we can think of the Hierarchy like this:

  • King: Leader, Manager, Mastery; The person in charge
  • Queen: Leader, Manager, Mastery; The person in charge
  • Knight: Equal, or Peer
  • Page: Subordinate, lower in the food chain

We can think of the four suits as representing:

  • Wands: Business (in the sense of negotiating contracts), or day to day events
  • Cups: Relationships, or art
  • Swords: Conflict, or medical procedures
  • Disks: Financial, or business (in the sense of the Company itself) related

Examples of the Hierarchy at play

Here are some examples:

  • The Page of Disks: we could interpret her to represent a subordinate, someone who works for the client
  • The Queen of Wands: someone with a clear influence over the client
  • The Knight of Swords: arguments with friends

The point is we look at the “rank” of each Court card to inform us of the possible influence, or level of importance they have over the client, while we look towards the “suit” of each Court card to inform us in what areas of life they are involved with the client.

Shifting Status

Sometimes we will see a Page and a King in the same reading. You might get the impression that it relates to the same person. In this case, we see a shift in this person’s status. If the Page is in the past and the King is in the future, we can predict that this person will become increasingly influential within the clients life. In fact, as it’s a King, we might even predict that this person could eventually have power over the client.

Alternatively, this might be a relationship reading, in which case we could assume that the client doesn’t notice this person to begin with, but over time, their lives become much more involved.

It’s also possible to see a King become a Page, in which case, we have someone of large importance becoming less relevant for the client as time passes.

Let’s see some examples

Queen of Swords paired with the 3 of Cups: someone who greatly influences her social scene.
Knight of Disks paired with the 3 of Disks: A friend or work college who’s good with money and investment.
King of Wands paired with the 6 of Swords: Someone who just keeps on managing the day to day events so you don’t have to. At what cost though? What is the price of leadership?
Page of Cups paired with the Emperor: A person in a managerial position doesn’t have time for relationships – certainly not close, intimate ones. If the Page is his partner, we can see how low on the priority level his relationship is.
Page of Swords paired with the Knight of Cups: Is the Knight of Cups a Wolf in sheep’s clothing – able to have emotional power and influence over the Page? Or is this an example of a sycophantic relationship?

Start Judging

The use of “rank” and “status” as a system of interpretation, is one of the most robust methods that I know of to interpret Court cards. However, I have found that it is necessary to be flexible in approach. Check out this post to see How I Overcame A Major Problem With The Pages.

One of the main features of this technique is to make judgments about what level of involvement each of the Court cards has with the client.

Although we may not like the idea of judging anyone according to status, in terms of reading Court cards – this is a highly reliable technique.

I’d love to hear your experiences with the Court cards. What is your preferred method of interpretation? I’ll see you in the comments.

(Theoretically) Related Posts:

12 comments… Let's discuss

Phine October 15, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Hi Douglas :) ,

I love using the court cards exclusively to have a look at relationships whatever their bases might be (family, workmates, friends etc.).
In German it´s called “Familienstellen” (sorry, I can´t find a translation for this term). The consultant picks out cards from the shuffled deck of the sixteen court cards – one for every person involved – and arranges them until he feels they are all at their correct place. You flip the cards not until having them arranged thoroughly.

It´s really interesting how the courts interact – btw: the Thoth works best for me ;) . Apart from the layout created by the questioner (who stands alone, who is next to whom?) there are other insights to gain… Who is looking at whom and in which way? Are there any hostilities or solidarities visible? Who is represented by which element (and how does the elements influence each other, are there any conflicts represented or close alliances)?
You can find an example on my blog (just a German version):

Thank you for another great post :) ,

warm wishes,


Douglas October 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Hi Phine,

I used Yahoos Babelfish to translate your article. Awesome stuff :D

I recommend to everyone that they go check out this excellent article.

Thanks for sharing :)


AJ October 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Hi Doug. Thanks for using my reading as an example. I’ve been pulling a lot of court cards lately and your tips are always useful. =D


Douglas October 16, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Hi AJ,

No problems :)


Helen October 16, 2009 at 5:04 am

This was an interesting article Doug with lots of great advice, especially if one is trying to decided who this Court card represent, but it does seems to only be relating to the Court Cards as representing other people. I do like to remind myself that they can represent facets of your own personality or energies you may need to adopt and they could also be representative of a situation you are in or may be moving into.


Douglas October 16, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Hi Helen,

I agree, this article doesn’t cover any of the important points you’ve raised in your comment. Court card do represent far more than just other people – as you’ve pointed out, they can represent events, different aspects of ourselves, blockages and Qabbalistic principles.

I’ll be writing articles on each one of these topics in due course :D


Helen October 16, 2009 at 11:48 pm

I shall look forward to reading them Doug. :)


BQ October 16, 2009 at 6:42 am

Hello Doug,

You do have a great system working for you, but I have a little slant that might add some depth I would like to share. I mentioned it briefly in the comment I made on your last post, ‘Stop reading about it and do it,’ but it really seems to fit well here too. So, here it goes.

When considering the court cards, I can’t help but be reminded of the creative principles inherent in the the first four keys that echo through all four echelelons within the major arcana. These are the people affected by them, and the elements color their circumstance.

The Page, full of potential, is met by inspiration and bears a message. The knight seeks the answer to the riddle of the priestess. For power, knowledge, chivalry or wealth, his quest will take him to the ends of the earth. The queen holds the power of the empress, the feminine principle is receptive and nurturing. She carefully takes stock of all that comprises her domain, and sees it to fruition. The King sees his lot, all that has come to pass, his family, his wealth, his army, and his power. Then, with the wave of his hand, he sets the wheel in motion.

(V) Did he do the right thing? (VI) What will happen next? (VII) How will the world respond? (VIII) What will he need to overcome? (IX) What fate did he manifest? Oh… and then it’s the Gods’ turn! (X)<—-Greater cycle!
Again, the greater cycle is very complicated and doesn't really fit this post.
Great thread Douglas. Always looking forward to more…

Love and Light,


Douglas October 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Hi Bulal,

Thanks for your sharing all this great information.

This is a great perspective to take on the Court cards. The link you make with the first four Trump cards is very interesting and something, I’m sure will add a great deal of depth to a reading.

It seem to me that you’ve taken the Trump cards, and their influence, to really inform (along with Elemental Dignities), the combinations and interactions of the other Tarot cards. This is a great system, and I’m looking forward to exploring this further :)


Kat December 28, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Thank you for a great post.

I, for one, have had a rather difficult time disciphering Queens in particular. I have always felt myself associated closely with the Queen of Cups, mainly because of my emotive nature and water sign, but many tell me it is usually a fair haired woman, which I’m not.

When the Queen of Cups comes out in my daily 3-card spread, I can hardly tell if it’s me or someone else. Different books say different things, and leads of confusion.

Another thing is that several books I’ve read actually state blatantly that Knights very rarely mean people, and are mostly actions and events.

What is your take on those two things?

Many thanks! I am new to your blog but a quick fan.


Douglas Gibb December 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Hi Kat,

Thank you for your kind words :)

In Tarot, different systems are often over-laid one on top of the other to add different perspectives to a Tarot reading. For instance, numerology, astrology, the Kabbalah, Jungian Psychology and so on, are often layered upon the Tarot. People do this for several reasons, but one of them is to provide an overall framework of the Universe (I’m thinking of the Golden Dawn when I say that). The other reason, is to add different interpretations to the 78 Tarot cards (many of these interpretations often conflict with each other).

For example, the Queen of Cups is usually seen as a Water sign by certain people who overlay the Tarot with astrology. However, the Golden Dawn would attribute the Queen of Cups as belonging to both Gemini and Cancer. Some famous Queen of Cups (using the Golden Dawn system) would be, Paul McCartney, George Orwell, John D.Rockerfeller and so on.

Likewise, the Court cards have also been assigned certain physical characteristics – brown hair, blue eyes and so forth. This is a rather old theory and it isn’t very accurate. It comes from a time when the majority of Tarot readers were European.

Basically, there’s so many conflicting systems out there that the best approach, from a divination perspective, is to simply trust your intuition. If you feel it represents you (‘for some irrational, cannot explain why I feel this through logic or reference to certain books … then it’s probably the most accurate’). The Tarot is a very irrational system. It tries to justify itself through logic, but fails.

With regards to the Knights, then in my experience they can represent both.

Next time the Knights appear in a Tarot reading, try this simple but powerful technique – reinterpret using both methods.

For instance, lets say the knight of Cups appears in your Tarot reading. Interpret this card using both methods.

Knight of Cups:

1st. Romance will enter your life!
2nd. This man’s personality is…(insert whatever you think the personality of this card is). For me, I would describe him as inconsistent and has difficulty with self-discipline and commitment.

Although this way of practicing using the Knights in your Tarot readings seems simple, it will actually remove a lot of the confusion you’re feeling at the moment. Very quickly, you’ll come to realise that both interpretations apply (they don’t necessarily cancel each other out).

I hope this rather long answer has been useful. If you have any more questions, then please feel free to ask :D


Blanka July 3, 2010 at 6:49 am

I got reading with 5 court cards. How would you read it?
Celtic Cross:
1. Knight of Cups 6. Knight of Swords
2. The Hanged Man 7. Queen of Cups
3. Judgment 8. The Fool
4. King of Wands 9. The Moon
5. Queen of Pentacles 10. Three of Cups
Thanks Blanka


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