A conversation about gender and the way we view the court cards.
Did you see this week’s “A new way to learn tarot” image? I am very intrigued by people’s reaction to it. Some people felt this character was very inviting. Other people had very negative reactions to it. In drawing this card I felt that I wanted to highlight that fact that gender is irrelevant to the court cards. In fact, though we often use the metaphor of gender in tarot, especially in the court cards, there are many other metaphors we could use instead that might be more powerful. The metaphor of gender in the court cards is to my way of thinking an anachronism.
When we talk about the court cards I think it is important to get clearer about what we are actually talking about. Are we talking about biology with the court cards? Certainly a common story used to explain them is that the Prince marries the Princess and they become the King and Queen and beget a new generation. How does this apply to people who never have cildren? How is the relevant to a Princess who wants to be with another Princess, or perhaps a Queen?
Are you still with me or do you think I have gone off the deep end?
When we talk about the court cards outside of standard divinatory meanings we need to decide if we are talking about biology or not. If we are talking about biology then I think we should be more explicit. What about sex or reproduction is relevant to the metaphor of the court cards? I think a discussion of the court cards as biological differences is really of limited use. Just as I think that the Cosmic Tribe Tarot which chooses to depict three lovers cards one for two men, one for two women, and one mixed gender couple does not go as far as I would have liked. The conventions of talking about love, sex, and people based on the binaries of gender or orientation is limiting. People are not one thing all the time. People’s relationship to their lovers, bodies, and roles in life change over time.
In this conversation we move into areas of society that are fraught with the deeper questions of gender, orientation, and sexuality. I know that many people when they put together the words ‘man’ and ‘Queen’ start thinking about homosexuality. Yet the Queens, like all the court cards, speak to a way of being rather than a person born with female anatomy. For example the Princesses are youthful, inexperienced, and often play a supportive role. The Princes are adventurous, outgoing, and perhaps impetuous. The Queens are nurturing, responsible, and have experience. The Kings are wise, mature, and carry authority. It is not the body or private parts that the person signified by a given court card has. It is about the way in which they think of themselves, act and react in the world, and how others might view them.
In the court cards we are talking about 16 kinds of people. With 16 approaches to life including orientation and gender.
If we look at the Gaian tarot choice of titles for the court cards we have Child, Explorer, Guardian, and Elder. We see a progression from youth and naivety to age and experience. The elegance of this approach is it highlights that anyone can be a Guardian in a way that the more limiting title of Queen is much harder for people to see men in. I have been on my youngest for a while to allow me to be the Princess in our play time. Last week she capitulated and I got to wear the tiara.
To take it a step further, the term court cards itself is outdated. To me the journey of a person’s life might jump from page to King to Queen and back and forth between the elements too. A person might live as the Queen of Wands for a long time – supporting someone else and struggling to speak up for themselves. Then one day they might evolve into the Queen of Swords, behead the King, and refuse to be anyones charge anymore.
There is a time a place for all the tradition ideas that go with these 16 cards. The King of Cups might be a women’s knight (Prince) in shining armor. If that is the story she is living and if he is noble and chivalrous. However I think the court cards are the area in tarot that is most in need of modernizing.
I’d love to hear your thought and feedback. If you are going to comment please keep it polite and do so with an open mind towards and an eye to generating fruitful dialogue.
“Tiara” image by Jennifer Donley used under Creative Commons License.