Gender, sex and appearance in the Court Cards

Published by Alison Cross on

Recently I’ve been seeing a few tweets and fb posts about gender and ethnicity in the tarot and how we can ensure that the entire spectrums of both are represented. People, perfectly reasonably, want to see themselves reflected in the tool that they work with on a daily basis.

Since my own Tarot specialism is the court card arcana, I am especially interested in how these issues might be best resolved in the courts.

From what I can see, we have three issues: 

  • the gender split in the ranks
  • the order of the genders in the ranks
  • the appearance of characters on the cards.

Looking at the deck ranks, we generally have Page, Knight, Queen and King. Knights and Kings are regarded as masculine while Queens are regarded as
feminine. Pages tend to be the one rank where there is a bit of leeway and youthful males and females abound.

If pressed, I’d say that Pages and Queens represent a Yin energy whereas
the Knights and Kings are more Yang. If that’s the case, then we have titles that are 50:50 with regard to the sexes associated with those rank titles.

There are increasing numbers of decks that switch things around a bit. Some
have gods and goddesses (with the goddesses allocated the most Kingly rank, thank you very much). Others have titles that bear no relation to the sex of the incumbent nor give a clue as to any order of ‘importance’ rank – Teacher, Adventurer, Postulant etc.

So we ARE breaking out of the traditional mould and most people should be able to find a deck where the court ranks are more appealing than Page to

Another issue that can arise with the ranks is the erroneous assumption that the
King is the ‘top’ or most desirable rank. Just because the King card is the final card in the series, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s the most important card or the most desirable ‘character’ in the court series.

Far from it.

King energy is great when you have got to walk the talk, but if you are learning a new skill, the Page’s energy will serve you so much better than a King’s energy.

Similarly, a teacher would aspire to the Queen energy and a medical or software pioneer (for example) may hold the Knight energy to be their most prized court.

No one rank is more important than the others.

We are a multi-hued and sexually fluid bunch these days and we do not want to
limit ourselves to the gender- or monochrome cul-de-sac that is depicted in most tarot decks (especially old ones).

As far as the appearances of the various characters in the decks, yes, we do have gazillions of Caucasian or European-looking characters. This is not surprising, given the European history of the Tarot deck. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, we could benefit from more decks casting their nets wider as far as appearance and gender goes. If someone wants to use a Tarot deck because all the characters are African American…. or red-haired …. or all male or all female
…. that’s absolutely fine. We all want to feel that we are part of the picture, and it would be great if there was a gorgeous deck for everyone!

But here’s the thing. For ME, neither the sex of the characters on the cards, nor the sex associated with the rank, nor the ethnicity of the characters on the cards has any bearing on how I read those cards.

For example –

The Page of Cups indicates a type of PERSON who may be tentatively embarking (Page energy) a new relationship (Cups energy). This could be a guy, could be a girl, could be a Caucasian person, could be an Asian person, could be red-headed, could be a blonde… could be a 6′ transexual from Bolton who calls herself Alan during the week and Tania at the weekends.

If people fall into the trap of thinking that Kings = men, and Queens = women, they are doing their sitter (and themselves) a disservice.

For me, ALL the ranks apply as equally to women as they do to men. And to men who have transitioned to women. And to women who have transitioned to
men. And every sexual stripe and shade of humanity in between.

Court cards are about types of energy and not about sex, gender or colour.

What of the thorny problem of selecting a court card when choosing a significator? 

Traditionally, certain courts have depicted specific ‘looks’ when choosing a card to represent your sitter.  These Golden Dawn inspired ‘looks’ don’t work in today’s multicultural society – they are too restrictive.

Likewise choosing a significator based on someone’s perceived sex could easily cause offence. You don’t want your reader/client relationship hitting an early bump in the road by making an error in your assumptions, nor by bluntly asking someone how they want to be identified.

Forget choosing a significator with any kind of gender
or ethnicity requirement

Instead consider selecting one based on your sitter’s sun sign. Everybody knows their date of birth. Thus, any Cancer-born person would be represented by the Queen of Cups. Simple.

OR you could just let your sitter pick one of the 16 cards by themselves – then
you don’t have to worry and they don’t need to discuss such an intimate detail about themselves with you.  And you, as a reader, can talk with your sitter about the sort of energy associated with that court card too.

OR you might be sitting reading this in a daze thinking – who the hell still bothers with a significator these days?!  And if this is you – you might be wandering around the halls of Tarot Thrones Towers feeling very confused.  Pull up a seat and read some more posts.  I want you to LOVE working with Court Cards.

What do you think – find new titles for the 21st century? Expand the genders? Switch up how the courts look?

Alison Cross

The Tarot's Court Cards are my specialist area.  They talk to me. Not LITERALLY though ....


Ella lily · 11th August 2018 at 10:03 pm

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Anonymous · 2nd January 2018 at 10:31 pm

Thanks so much for the timely reminder that no court card has 'better' energy or significance than the others–I think I'd started to fall into the trap subconsciously, but this article really made me think otherwise!

Inner Whispers · 26th April 2017 at 5:08 pm

It's funny, I often struggle with Kingly energy. Still, I think it's less because I'm a woman and more because I struggle with authority generally 😀 I agree with you, I often associate with Page energy, loving new learnings in different areas of life. And I can be quite (overly) impulsive, which fits most of the Knights 😉 And on a good day, I am nurturing of myself and others in a variety of fields. So, I certainly see myself in all the other Courts! Which takes me forward to the Tarot of the Crone, and the final Court card being the Shadow… 😀

Frindle_Sg · 25th April 2017 at 11:57 am

One of my favorite posts of yours! This one's a keeper!

Dauna N · 4th April 2017 at 2:54 pm

Nice post

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