Thursday, 14 February 2013

Mary K Greer | Interview

I thought I'd give you something really lovely that doesn't put a single inch on your hips for Valentine's Day.  And here it is - my Tarot Court interview with Mary Greer! I hope that you enjoy it:

I asked top Tarot author Mary K Greer whether she would like to answer some Court Card questions for Tarot Thrones and, ever gracious, she agreed:

Mary – thank you so much for agreeing to answer questions for my Court Card blog.

I endeavour NOT to use your ideas and exercises on my own Court Card blog here, but, more often than not, when I re-read your book, Understanding the Tarot Court (UTTC) I realise that you got there YEARS before me! I apologise for inadvertently using your work – you really have created the Go-To book for working with the Tarot Court.   There doesn't seem to be any aspect of working with the Courtly characters that you have left unexplored, how did that book come about?

Great minds think alike! Tom Little and I were on a Tarot discussion group way back and the court cards came up quite frequently as problematic. Because Tom worked with Marseilles-style decks and I work more with the Rider-Waite, some different perspectives were produced that started expanding the possibilities for everyone. Tom started his own group to specifically explore the older French and Italian decks and Court Cards. We found that people told really intriguing stories about the “families” they saw in each suit’s court. So, I proposed we work together on a book that would work well for any deck.

Why do you think that people struggle with Court Cards more than the other sections of the deck?

A Court Card, by itself, doesn’t tell a story in the same way other cards do – at least in most modern decks. Its meanings don’t usually describe events. There’s no action except sitting, standing or riding. Nor are we familiar with the classical references made to European playing cards. Once people get that it is more about a style, attitude or “way” of doing things then it becomes easier to understand their role in a reading. That’s why most people enjoy the learning games. It’s not that difficult to know what cars the four Knights would be driving, instead of riding a horse. But, we still don’t know where they are going in their cars or why—unless we ask them [more about that later].

The esoteric organisation, The Golden Dawn did a great deal of work with the Tarot Court – what's your favourite contribution of theirs to the understanding of the Tarot Court today?

I don’t often pay attention to their correspondence with the last 10° of one Sign and the subsequent 20° of the next Sign. Primarily I focus on what element they are most aligned with—all of the Wands Court are Fire, and all Queens are somewhat Watery—so that the Queen of Wands is the “Watery part of Fire”. I like the GD use of elementals and other esoteric insignia in the designs. Mostly, I found that the reconceptualization of the Courts as Knight – Queen – Prince/Emperor – Princess was liberating. Oh, and I also like that the only use for reversals was to determine what direction the Court Cards were looking or moving.

Preference - RWS court or Thoth court?!

I feel really comfortable with both as long as I am clear on which one I am using in a particular situation.

What makes a 'good' Tarot Court in your opinion? And when I say good, I mean 'readily accessible for readers'!

A well-designed Court Card cannot be confused with either a Major Arcana or a pip card, plus the ranks are each distinct. I don’t want to mistake a Page for a Queen or King. I want to be able to tell each apart immediately. I also want them depicted so that, when described by a person, it naturally goes with adjectives that are characteristic of their suit, element and rank. A Cups Knight can be anything from romantic to wishy-washy and yet slightly “fired up” (in a Knightly sort of way)—if you use those conventions. A Pentacles Page should definitely be earthy but young. The William Blake Tarot uses Angel, Man, Woman, and Child. Each can be clearly discerned, has distinct characteristics, and fits with its suit. Also, I generally don’t like them so personalized that they seem like real people as I can get too caught up in a specific personality. I prefer a “type” rather than an individual. The Gaian Tarot is an exception to this, although it was a hurdle I had to overcome.

Tarot Thrones | William Blake Tarot - Ed Buryn
William Blake Tarot:
Trad: Page of Pentacles
[Ali: Dear Reader, I promise to post about the Courts in the William Blake Tarot by Ed Buryn next week :-)]

Given the huge swathe of decks you have come across in your career, which deck's courts do you love best (and why!)

That’s really hard to say. I have favorite individual Major Arcana cards from different decks, but not many Court Cards. When checking out a new deck, I often look at the Queen of Swords to see if the designers have conveyed her in a way I can appreciate. Maybe, Kat Black’s “Golden Tarot” comes closest to my favorite Court Cards, although the Thoth and RWS are so well known to me that they are like parts of myself.

If you were to create the perfect Tarot court, what would it consist of? Would you choose the ranks and sexes of the RWS style deck, or a more 21st century representation of life?

I’d probably stick fairly closely to the RWS. I really love the William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination with its Angel, Man, Woman, Child concept. It has, therefore, the higher self/superego/spirit messenger, the masculine, the feminine, and the inner-child. I like that.

What's your favourite deliberate use for a Court Card?

For me, a Court Card always, always represents an aspect of myself—that I may or may not be giving away (projecting on) to someone else (having them play the role for me). I try to always “own” the role it is taking in a spread even if it is clearly also my mother coming to visit. In readings I often ask querents what each Court Card advises that they do (which helps them to see the projection). If the Court Card is in a past position, then I might say, “What would your father, if he was this card, have wanted you to do back then?”—given that we had perceived qualities of the father in that card. I might even ask a querent to dialog back-and-forth with a Court Card. A person doesn’t have to follow the advice, but they need to recognize the voice of that person (“the internalized father,” for instance) that they carry around in their own psyches and which may still be influencing them. The Court Cards are rather like a council of more or less helpful advisors and opinionated voices, arising from different parts of myself or externalized through individuals in my life. They urge us to take their perspective.

Pages can indicate schooling or your receiving a message of some kind and Knights can indicate travel or represent rival lovers. A Queen can be your mother or friend and a King your father or boss. Try to not overlook the obvious.

Which Courtly personality is your favourite, and why?

The Queen of Swords. I like the contradiction of her being a Queen and therefore interpersonally-oriented, yet tending toward the rational and logical. She is deeply perceptive and clear about her boundaries and limits. She can be compassionate but without sentimentality. And she doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone.

Amongst the array of exercises and approaches in your UTTC book you look at the Myers Briggs types and allocate them to the various Courtly personalities – do you think that there is more out there that contemporary Tarotists can take and 'hang' on the Courts?

There probably is. Any system of 16 types might work, and even 12-type systems can work if one of the Courts can be assigned the “pure” type. The problem with the Myers-Briggs system is that a purely logical association of types to elements and ranks doesn’t perfectly match the characteristics of either. You end up having to skew a few types or cards to make them fit. Whenever you link correspondences this is always the case. For instance, Taurus and the Hierophant are not really a perfect match until you deliberately start making them look more and more like each other. As long as you don’t take them to be exactly equivalent (accepting that they are square pegs in round holes) you’re okay.

At the moment you are deeply involved with the Lenormand Oracle, what are your thoughts about the personalities of 'face cards' as shown on the Lenormand and their relationship (with regard to interpretation, rather than historical links) with the Tarot court?

In Lenormand I don’t attach much in the way of personality characteristics to the Court Cards except that the Queen of Clubs (Snake) is a rival, other woman, or wicked step-mother type, and occasionally a wise friend. The characteristics of other people, if I discern them in a Lenormand Court Card (rarely), are determined by the cards immediately around them. Their role as a specific person is usually secondary to the primary function of the card. For instance, the Child is most likely to be a child or something new, rather than a child-as-described-by-the-Jack of Spades. Bouquet is primarily a gift or invitation and only secondarily might have something to do with a female relative, but certainly it does not have any characteristics one would associate with the Queen of Spades. It needs to be remembered that the divinatory system associated with the original German suits is totally different than the English and French cartomantic meanings we usually associate with them. For example, Clubs is by far the worst suit and Spades, the best.

Many thanks to Mary for answering my questions about the Tarot Court!  If you'd like to know more about Mary's work:

You can find Mary on Facebook here

Mary's blog is here:

Her latest book is:  Who Are You in the Tarot?  You can 'like' the page on Facebook here

Her most complete work on reading techniques is found in 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card.

If you would like to know more about the William Blake Tarot, click here


  1. Loved it. Some great insights, and I'm a Queen of Swords girl also! Alison--what deck are the cards in your cover photo from? Thanks, and fun blog!

    1. Rebecca - thanks for the nice words about the blog! The cards in my cover photo are from the DruidCraft Tarot by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm with artwork by Will Worthington. If you search the blog for 'druidcraft' it will pull up other images from the deck that I've used here, Rebecca.

      Ali x

  2. Mary is so gracious. I really enjoyed this interview.

  3. Wonderful - thank you for sharing this.

  4. Great interview! Mary is awesome, and I really loved her insight, which also seems to be yours, of thinking of courts either as people or aspects of self giving advice, as a friend, so to speak. Also fascinated with the William Blake deck and will put it on my now longish wish list.


Never mind what I think, what do YOU think? :-)

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