The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Tarot Court Cards

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Tarot Court Cards

Out of all 78 cards in a deck of tarot cards, the 16 court cards are arguably the most difficult to interpret and understand.

It is fairly easy to interpret majors and the numbered minors within a reading but when you see court cards you get confused.

Do they represent people? You may have learned that court cards represent people of differing ages and genders. But you do a reading about a situation that involves you and only you and you’re like…huh?

Even when you’re doing a relationship reading, for example, court cards can be really confusing! Who does that king represent? It’s almost as if the whole reading was going fine until you hit the court cards.

You’re not alone. A lot of people get tripped up by the court cards. Why? Because they believe the myth that court cards represent people. They don’t!

What they actually represent is personality types. In this article we’ll dig into that a little deeper and I’ll provide you with a much easier way to understand the meaning of court cards within a reading. Simple strategies to understand and interpret them.

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Court cards represent 16 distinct personality types grouped by rank and element. They DO NOT reflect physical appearance or gender.

Court Cards DO NOT Reflect Physical Appearance or Gender

The extremely traditional way of reading court cards is to interpret them as people. People of a certain age and gender, depending on their rank. For example, pages are often seen as youths and kings seen as youths and kings as mature men.

People even interpret court cards as reflecting personal appearance! That is, quite frankly, absolute nonsense and I’ll tell you why.

Pentacles is supposed to represent “dark complexions”. My ethnicity is Indian. Does that mean I HAVE to be the Queen of Pentacles? Do ALL non-white people have to be Pentacles? Most of the world isn’t white!

I’m a Queen of Cups. The card meaning for Queen of Cups fits my personality type and my view of who I am. Yet, cups is supposed to represent blondes. I’m not blonde yet I still feel like the Queen of Cups.

Even gender doesn’t apply as strictly as one would assume. Imagine you’re doing a relationship reading for a woman. All she says is “I want a relationship reading”. You draw your cards and you get the Knight of Wands. You say to her “your boyfriend is…” and she stops you and says “actually, I’m dating a woman”.

That’s SUPER embarrassing! My mentor taught me that you should always say “partner” and never make assumptions for this exact reason. Making assumptions like that can make both you and the querent feel uncomfortable.

That’s why I advise you not to make assumptions about age, appearance, or gender. Don’t do it, guys!

What then? How do you interpret court cards if you cannot fall back on age, looks, and gender? Two things:

  1. They are not people cards but personality cards.

  2. The ranks represent experience and assertiveness, i.e. feminine/masculine or yin/yang energy.


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Court Cards Are Personality Types

When you get court cards in a reading, don’t see them as people but as personality types. The court cards represent 16 personality types that are grouped by:

  • Element

  • Rank

Each one imparts a certain quality that merge to form the court card’s personality type. Let’s dig into each one.

Court Card Elements

The elements are actually quite simple to understand here. There are 4 elements that are represented in the tarot suits:

  • Fire, which is wands

  • Water, which is cups

  • Air, which is swords

  • Earth, which is pentacles.

Each element has its own attributes consistent with its suit:

  • Fire/wands = passionate, bold, and adventurous

  • Water/cups = emotional, reflective, and heart-centred

  • Air/swords = logical, intelligent, and well-spoken

  • Earth/pentacles = grounded, practical, career-driven

The four court card ranks of each suit are like families that embody these qualities. And the ranks themselves have their own elemental correspondences too:

  • Kings = air

  • Queens = water

  • Knights = fire

  • Pages = earth

One thing you can do is just play around with mixing up the keywords to see what king of person you get based on elements alone. So let’s take King of Cups. King is air and cups is water. Air of water. So you mix together logic and emotion. What are you left with?

A very balanced person! In fact, my one-word descriptor for the King of Cups is The Mentor but you could also call him The Diplomat and it would work as well.

I’m not going into the card meanings one by one here, I have a whole blog post series all about that. Check it out if you want to dig deeper.

Court Card Ranks

Let’s talk about the four ranks: king, queen, knight, and page. They are basically organised based on two axes:

  • Experience vs. inexperience (also known as maturity)

  • Assertiveness vs. receptivity (also known as masculine/feminine energy)

Let me break it down for you:

  • Kings are experienced and assertive

  • Queens are experienced and receptive

  • Knights are inexperienced and assertive

  • Pages are inexperienced and receptive

As you can see, the king and queen are experienced (mature) while the knight and page are inexperienced (immature). Whereas, the king and knight are assertive (masculine/yang) while the queen and page are receptive (feminine/yin).

In a reading court cards either represent a person matching that personality type or a behaviour consistent with how that personality type behaves

Court Cards in a Reading

Let’s talk about what it means when you get them in a reading. That’s your main point of confusion after all, isn’t it? You’re like this is all well and good but how do I interpret ‘personality types’ within a reading?

It’s rather simple, really. In a reading court cards either mean:

  • A person matching that personality type

  • A behaviour consistent with how that personality type behaves

If you are doing a reading about something that involves other people and you get a court card. Ask yourself, do I know anyone that acts that way? If yes, you will probably recognise the person and make the connection quickly.

And again, don’t let the gender of the card fool you. I know someone who is a very hard-working, practical, and responsible person. Sounds like a Knight of Pentacles doesn’t it? Despite the fact that she is a woman.

In many cases though, the card doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific person. This is especially the case if you’re doing a reading about something that doesn’t involve anyone else. In that case, the card refers to a type of behaviour.

Even though I consider myself a Queen of Cups, I can sometimes act like other court cards. If I’m arguing with someone, I can be brash like the Knight of Swords. If I get that in a reading, it speaks to that side of myself. I am behaving the way the Knight of Swords would.


Struggling to go beyond individual card meanings and understand the big picture? Register for this FREE masterclass to learn how to tell the story of your tarot spread in 5 steps!

Multiple Court Cards in a Reading

What if you get a lot of court cards in a reading? What does it mean? Generally speaking, it means that:

  • A lot of people are involved in the situation

  • There are a lot of opinions clouding the situation

  • There is a clash of personalities going on

Also pay attention to how many of each rank you get. If you get 3 court cards but two of them are knights, it means something different than if two of them were queens!

Here are what the court card ranks mean:

  • Kings = control

  • Queens = understanding

  • Knights = action

  • Pages = learning

Two queens would indicate a need for understanding whereas two knights would indicate a need to act.

As you can see, you can go really deep with this stuff!

In any case, do you understand court cards a little better now?