Chapter 3: THE 16 COURT or ROYAL CARDS
Being the Permutation of Tetragrammaton Sixteen Court Cards represent a four-by-four pattern of the manifestation of each letter of the Tetragrammaton (Hwhy) expressed through each of the four elements, or suits. (These four elements, or suits, in turn, also correspond to the letters of Tetragrammaton.) The result is a set of 16 images symbolizing the action of fundamental, primal forces of Nature acting through all possible
categories of expression. Their natures are intensely elemental – surging, flowing, expanding, and consolidating. They correspond, respectively, to Will, Love, Reason, and Action in each of the four elements.
Simultaneously, 12 of these 16 cards correspond to a particular 30° segment of the zodiac: the first two decanates (i.e., the first 20°) of one sign, of the element to which the card’s suit corresponds, and the last decanate (or 10°) of the preceding sign, which is of a contrary element. By this bridging of two signs, the Court Cards are said to bind together the 12 parts of the zodiac.
The particular sign, in each element, to which a given Court Card is attributed is chosen so that the three Gunas, or characteristics of nature, are balanced in the two signs and the card’s rank. For example, the Knights, which are Cardinal and sulfuric (Rajasic) in nature, each correspond to the last 10° of a Fixed sign and the first 20° of a Mutable sign. The Queens, which are Fixed and salty (Tamasic) in nature, correspond to a Mutable and a Cardinal sign. The Princes, which are Mutable and mercurial (Sattvic), correspond to a Cardinal and a Fixed sign. (As the Knight, Queen, and Prince correspond to the three Gunas, so does the Princess correspond to that prakriti, or “Nature,” of which they are component characteristics.)
Each decanate of the zodiac has a planetary ruler and a distinctive symbolic quality. (These were explored in detail in the prior section of this book on the Minor Arcana.) The natures of the three decanates composing the domain of the Court Cards are of fundamental importance in explaining the nature of each card.
For example, the Knight of Wands may be summarized as Swiftness and Strength; that of Cups, by Indolence and Happiness; of Swords, by Interference and Cruelty; and that of Disks by Prudence and Gain.
The Queen of Wands may be summarized by the ideas of Dominion and Virtue (or Established Strength); the Queen of Cups by Love and Abundance; of Swords, by Peace and Sorrow; and of Disks, by Harmonious Change and Work.
The Princes, which, being Mutable by nature (as the Qabalistic Son), represent the equilibration of opposing forces, ride their Kerub-borne chariots along the razor’s edge of two extremes of one dynamic current. Thus, the Prince of Wands is characterized by the sustained tension of Strife (or Defeat) and Victory; the Prince of Cups by that between Pleasure and Disappointment (or Loss in Pleasure). For the Prince of Swords it is Defeat and Earned Success. In Disks, it is Material Loss vs. Material Success.
Yet this accounts only for two of the three decanates attributed to each card. The first decanate, in each case, is of an element contrary to that of the card in question. Furthermore, the symbolism seems, in each case, nearly the opposite of that expected. In fact, it is not opposite, but rather a complementary shadow-aspect, so intimately linked to the nature of the card as to constitute an identity. However, understanding the relationship is usually only possible by meditation on all of the many components of its symbolism.
With the addition of this last factor, these Court Cards assume a level of complexity not present in any other part of Tarot. This complexity, in fact, is the complexity of a truly living thing. In this, the Court Cards begin to display a human quality. It is likely because of this that the Masters of Wisdom who designed Tarot decided to represent these particular cards in distinctly human guise.
The Princesses rule fourth-parts of the celestial heavens that lie immediately about the North Celestial Pole, above the respective Kerubic (Fixed or Hub) signs of the zodiac; for example, the Princess of Swords rules the 90° segment centered on the Air Kerubic constellation Aquarius. The Princesses thus form the thrones of the powers of the four Aces, which correspond to the pole. The other 12 Court Cards (the four Knights, Queens, and Princes) rule the dominion of the Celestial Heavens between the realm of the four Princesses and the zodiac, as will be hereafter shown; and they link together the signs.
"Write, & find ecstasy in writing! Work, & be our bed in working! Thrill with the joy of life & death! Ah! thy death shall be lovely: whoso seeth it shall be glad. Thy death shall be the seal of the promise of our age long love. Come! lift up thine heart & rejoice! We are one; we are none."