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How to Read the Court Cards

A mini series. Part 1: Cups

With many ways to interpret the Court Cards in tarot, they can be the stickiest learning point for novices. Unlike the other cards, they’re not as visually dramatic—except perhaps for the Knight of Swords who gallops into battle with his sword aloft. Instead, we’re presented with sixteen figures, all elaborately dressed, propped on thrones, horses, and in the case of the Pages, simply just standing there. With the exception of the Swords cards which all have a cloudy sky in the background, the remainder are all staged against characterless skies. Even the landscapes to their rears are economical; the Queen of Pentacles is the only card with a touch of flourish; a climbing rose frames her scene. Despite these almost lifeless images, we’re told these cards represent personality traits, messages, voices, physical attributes, age indications, and astrological characteristics. It’s no wonder we find it a struggle to determine their message when they appear.

Tarot Court Cards
Deck: Smith Rider Waite

This 'How to read the Court Cards' mini-series takes a closer look at the Court Cards, one suit at a time. Each suit within a deck holds four Court Cards; the Page, Knight, Queen, and King. With four suits in a deck; Cups, Wands, Pentacles, and Swords, that gives a total of sixteen Court Cards. Where the other sixty-two cards within a tarot deck reflect circumstances or experiences, the sixteen Court Cards represent people, traits, and personalities. So when a Court Card turns up, it’s typically telling you this is something about a person. It could be the querent themselves, or a person influencing the querent or their life.

For this series, I’ll be using the Smith Rider Waite tarot for reference.

Court Cards represent people, traits, and personalties. Unlike the other cards of the deck, they typically don’t relate to events or life lessons.

Court Cards of the Tarot
Bamboozled by the Court Cards?

A helpful starting point for getting to grips with the Court Cards is to view them as a family, with the King representing the father, the Queen the mother, the Knight a teenager or young adult, and the Page a child or pre-teen. Bear in mind that gender is flexible with the Court Cards. We all possess both masculine and feminine qualities, so a female querent can take on aspects of a King, or a male the qualities of a Queen. The same applies to age. You may have what you would consider a person of Knight or Page ‘age’ sitting before you, but Kings or Queens appearing can suggest they act with great maturity. Likewise, your querent may be a mature woman, but one who carries the young at heart energy of a Page. So while the cards represent age, gender, and personality traits, they’re not set in stone, especially if intuition tells you otherwise.

Frame the Court Cards as a family, with the King and Queen as mature adults, Knights as young adults, and Pages as children.

How to read the Court Cards in tarot
It's the royal family of Cups! Deck: Smith Rider Waite

We also need to take the suit of the Court Card into consideration when a Page, Knight, Queen or King pops up. Today we’re looking at the Court Cards of the Cups suit. Cups represent emotions and relationships. They reflect our feelings, intuition, and how we relate ourselves to others. Court Cards within the suit of Cups therefore reflect individuals who are compassionate, sensitive, and warm. They’re typically creative and emotional people who pay attention to their personal relationships.

Cups Court Cards represent emotional, creative people with kind, sensitive traits.

Already bamboozled? There is a lot to consider when dealing with Court Cards, so to begin, consider first what the card represents by ascertaining if the card holds a literal or figurative translation.

A literal interpretation means the card represents an actual person in the querent’s life. Clues to that person’s identity will be visible in the card.

A Figurative interpretation means a symbolic representation, for example, an aspect of the client themselves, or the energy encompassed by the card influencing the querent’s situation. Upright Court Cards typically represent the influence is a positive or active one, reversed cards indicate a more positive or latent effect. More on reversals further on.

Literal Translations of the Court Cards

Physical Attributes

Beginning with literal interpretation, the physical attributes of the Court Cards within the suit of Cups are typically listed as: Pale to moderate skin tone, fair hair, blue or grey eyes.

Many of the older, more traditional tarot books suggest these attributes as firm representations, however I would always recommend listening to intuition for every individual reading. The King of Cups may traditionally represent a mature man with pale skin, fair hair, and blue eyes, but that is not necessarily how that masculine energy or person may appear in the querent’s experience. While it can be helpful to have physical attributes aligned to each Court Card, bear in mind how age and masculine/feminine traits can vary from person to person regardless of the Court Card. So the same applies to physical attributes. From my own experience, I’ve found the person represented by the Court Card rarely matches the ‘assigned’ physical attributes, so be mindful of this if tempted to be rigid with applying physical attributes.

Personality Traits

Next up we have the Personality Traits. Cups represent the element of water, and water temperament people are warm, sensitive individuals who put a lot of worth into their personal relationships. They’re also creative people, and are often highly intuitive.

Cups Personality Traits:

King: Diplomatic, caring, protective. A good communicator.

Queen: Nurturing, sympathetic, tender. Can be seen as aloof.

Knight: Sensitive, affable, reactive. Often romantic, but can be vain.

Page: Imaginative, emotional. A dreamer, and often one who seeks to please.

A popular practice is to assign celebrities or characters to Court Cards as a way to remember their representations. Here are examples for the Cups:

King: Albus Dumbledore, Fitwilliam Darcy

Queen: Charlotte York (Sex and the City) Elizabeth Bennet

Knight: Luke Skywalker

Page: Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Think about what fictional characters or actual people in your life could represent the Court Cards. Can you picture yourself as one? What about your family, friends, or work colleagues? Make a list of your favourite movies and books, and their characters, and as you get to know the Court Cards, match the characters to deepen your connection and understanding to the cards.

Age Indications

When it comes to discerning age, you can take the traditional route of Kings and Queens representing maturity, Knights as Young Adults/Teens, and Pages as Pre-teens/Children. But it can also be helpful to align your querent with a Court Card.

For example, you may feel a Knight best represents the querent. In this case, Pages and Knights appearing in the reading for the querent can indicate a peer who is male or female. The appearance of a King or Queen reflects an older male or female. Likewise, if you associate your querent with a mature King or Queen. Pages and Knights would represent someone younger than them, while Kings and Queens reflect someone closer to their age.

Astrological Attributes

The Court Cards also reflect astrological signs, and in turn, reflect those qualities. Cups represent the water signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.

The Cancer mantra is ‘I care’, Scorpio ‘I desire’, and Pisces ‘I believe’. These mantras reflect the emotional, reactive, and sensitive nature of Cups. Remember to consider who the card represents and how their astrological sign may also be influencing the querent or their situation. For example, your querent may be dealing with a Scorpio who has tunnel vision when it comes to getting what they want. Their desire knows no limits, and this may be driving their behaviour.

The Court Cards can represent a person, yourself, or an influnce.

Four suits of tarot Court Cards

Figurative Interpretations of the Court Cards

So, you’ve considered the physical attributes of your Court Cards, but intuition, the surrounding cards, and perhaps even the querent tells you the representation doesn’t click. In this case, it’s time to examine the figurative interpretation.

There are times when Court Cards don’t reflect a person for the querent. Instead, they can take on a symbolic meaning or represent an aspect of the querent’s life. Sometimes, a lone Court Card in a spread can be more indicative of an event than a person. For me personally, this is where a reading always gets juicier.

Symbolic Representations of Cups

In the suit of Cups, general symbolic representation of the Court Cards takes on these themes:

Page of Cups: News or a message relating to love or relationships.

Knight of Cups: Action or Progress relating to love or relationships

Queen of Cups: Positive nurturing or progression of love or relationships

King of Cups: Effective management or a leadership role in love or relationships

With Cups also representing creativity and intuition, the same structure can be applied to these aspects. For example, the King could indicate successful completion of a creative project, or mastery of intuition, while the Page can reflect a sudden intuitive hit, or the spark for a creative venture.

A personal quick reference I’ve been using for many years when it comes to figurative interpretation of the Court Cards is the following:

Pages: The spark

Knights: The action

Queens: The nurturing

Kings: The culmination

Applying this to a career reading (regardless of the Court Card suit) could look something like this: The Page represents the idea brewing, the inspiration and motivation behind changing jobs or starting a new business. The Knight reflects taking action; applying for roles, attending interviews, or drawing up a business plan and seeking support. With the Queen, I can assign a nurturing energy to the situation, where the querent actively applies care and consideration to their role, or those they work with. If a King appears, it suggests the querent is kicking ass and taking control, or they’re ready for a leadership role.

While this is a simple way to narrow down the ‘energy’ of each Court Card, and the surrounding cards always must be taken into consideration, I’ve found the four keywords a great help. Consider what keywords you could personally link to each Court Card’s energy.

In more recent years, many have linked the Myers Briggs Personality Trait Indicator to the Court Cards. Based around the theories of Carl Jung, the system is an acclaimed method of understanding personality types and motivational factors. You can take the test yourself for free via the following link (no affiliation!) Funnily enough, there are 16 personality types in the Myers Briggs, one for each Court Card. But as far as I know, there’s not yet a definitive allocation of a Myers Briggs personalty to each Court Card. It would be a fun exercise, though!

Traditional Meanings

While the above are all important when getting to know the Court Cards, we’ve also got the traditional meanings to consider. You can open any tarot book to dive deeper into each card, but here are a few keywords for further understanding of the overall meaning of the Cups Court Cards:

Page: Favourable news, the start of a relationship, a romantic situation. New feelings about a situation or person, an intuitive hit, a welcome surprise.

Knight: Romantic adventures, openness to a new relationship, or taking a chance with something you love. Emotions are high, express yourself, take courage from your emotions. Wild imagination, someone with great creative vision, an artist or dreamer. The Knight can be a little mushy at times, and perhaps too much of a dreamer if not curtailed.

Queen: Emotionally balanced, nurturing, tender-hearted. Empathy and intuition. Not a person who is easily fooled. Compassionate and gentle, cares for others. Great emotional depth, caretaking, spiritual maturity and a strong sixth sense. Emotions are strong with the Queen of Cups.

King: Benevolent, a shepherd to his flock. Wise, caring, and dependable. Leadership skills, one who encourages emotional growth and maturity. A therapist, a kind adult, mastery of emotion, healing/healer.

Reversed Court Cards

When the Court Cards appear reversed, there are two aspects to consider. First, a simple reversal of the card’s traditional meanings as listed above. For the Cups reversed, this would like the following:

King: Someone who emotionally manipulates, a person who cannot be trusted and is immature. It can also indicate emotional neediness, someone without anchor who grasps for support. A previously solid situation coming asunder. Jealousy or bitterness taking hold within a work or family unit.

Queen: A moody person, prone to drama and feelings of insecurity. She’s not someone who trusts instinct, and can react aggressively. Someone not in touch with their feelings, or allowing emotion to overwhelm them. Nurturing is no longer present. There’s a lack of care. Support is crumbling.

Knight: The Knight reversed has clambered so deep into their own thoughts, they can no longer see sense. They don’t follow through on promises, and are seen as flighty, unreliable people, who tend to sulk. They are more reactive than proactive, and take hasty, dangerous action. Delays and obstacles. An inability to hear your own heart.

Page: A spoiled brat. Reversed Pages use manipulation to get their way, and can be quite dramatic when things go wrong. They’re also immature and live in a dream world. Sometimes, a reversed Page can indicate unwelcome news, or a failing relationship.

When it comes to literal translation of a reversed Court Card, the same personality, age, and physical attributes apply, but the overall suggestion is that their influence on the querent or situation is a negative one. Therefore, an upright Queen could represent a positive, active influence on the querent, but reversed, could indicate a negative, latent influence. Again, listen to intuition and take into consideration the surrounding cards. Read reversals on a case by case basis. There are no hard and fast rules.

I hope you find this first episode of the Court Cards minis series useful. Next up are the Wands! Until then, let me know if you have any pop culture references when it comes to the Cups Court Cards. You can reach me at

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