Why can’t I be the Princess?

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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 marseille_pageswordsthe 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.

marseille_knightcoinsIf 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.
Andrew McGregor

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“Tiara” image by Jennifer Donley used under Creative Commons License.

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12 comments on “Why can’t I be the Princess?”

  1. James Wells

    Well said, Andrew!
    For me the court/people cards are simply the 11th through 14th cards of any suit, part of the process of conception (Ace) through completion (King or its equivalent).
    The spectrum of gender, sexual orientation, and so forth is so vast. Why be limited?!
    Thank you.

  2. Katrina Wynne

    Thank you for this thought and heart inspiring article.

    I agree. The court, or people cards, rarely point to literal associations for me. Rather they are energetic aspects of ourselves and reflections in our world. Gender, genetalia, sexual orientation and sexual identity are only four aspects of the many possible associations to these cards.

    One can also view them as developmental stages, levels of maturity, rank, privilege, class, responsibility, orientation in their suit, among many other associations.

    My favorite book on the court cards is by Kate Warwick-Smith. Her thesis describes the court cards’ roles as Supporter, Resource, Detractor, or Challenge.

    Keep up the Great Work!

  3. Andrew McGregor

    Thanks Katrina, I think the spectrum of possibilities is as diverse as the whole of humanity. I’ll have to see if I can fin dthat book.

  4. Bonnie Fernandes

    Well said. Coincidentally, I just started reading with the Gaian Tarot and have found it is expanding my understanding of the court cards beautifully. I also have found this to be the case: for some people, it seems as though they do evolve in a linear way, from page/child to knight to leader–over the years that I’ve known my husband, for example, I can see him evolving very gradually from the Knight of Cups into the King of Cups. To me that’s a process of growing up (not to sound patronizing, but…), taking off the armor, and learning to interact with the world in a more authentic way — and in the process, becoming more of a leader and less someone who has to fight everything.

    Because the Knights do have a bit of a feeling of, “ah, a foe approaches! I shall fight it and I will prevail!” While the Kings have more of an approach of, “I shall grant you an audience. Let’s hear what you have to say.”

    On the other hand, and here’s where gender might become relevant, the Knights and Kings do seem to have a more yang approach, either way, while the Queens are more yin, more like, “do we really have to choose sides? Wouldn’t it be more practical for us to be on the same side and watch each other’s backs?” It’s like Queens are witches, who are not afraid to undermine the whole structure of reality to take apart the reason for the fight. But, we need both approaches, because sometimes the answer to the Queen’s question is “yes, we have to choose sides, and yes, there is a fight approaching…”

    Sorry for the long comment! Once I start typing I can’t stop…and you’ve got me thinking about this.

  5. Andrew McGregor

    Thanks for such a considered response Bonnie. I do think that all those ways of being you named apply to the court cards. I think the issue for me is that some men are very much like you described the Queen to be. I know some very direct and assertive Knight like women. I wonder at how people jump to assumptions that men are this way and women are that way. Certainly there are differences I am just not sure leery of the way those ideas confine and encourage conformity.

  6. Bonnie Fernandes

    Thanks, Andrew. I didn’t mean to in any way imply that women would make better Queens or that men would make better Kings…definitely, we all have all the archetypes within us, and different ones may be more external or more internal at different times…I think we can channel the archetypes that we need, when we need them…and in fact, I just threw a mini-tantrum at my family today, because although I really am the Queen of Cups internally in terms of being warm and loving, externally, I have no interest whatsoever in washing, drying, and filling everyone else’s cups…and plates…

  7. Andrew McGregor

    For sure I got that. I think the metaphors your used as your partners growth make perfect sense. I am more so paying attention to what I am seeing in the larger community online and in my classes. People are in a hurry to have an answer or know the answer and that means they can often default to certain stereotypes about gender.

    I may be the working parent but that does not make me interested in defining myself by that role. I am really loving the conversations that are coming from this post. Thanks for sharing with me.

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