Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Hermetic Tarot And the Courts

I came across an older deck that I make use of on occasions, and found something pretty interesting in it. The deck, the Hermetic Tarot, is somewhat similar to the Crowley-Thoth deck, except done in black and white by Godfrey Dawson. I'm told it's back in print, so is fairly widely available, for fans of the Thoth deck. Again, similarities do exist, though the symbolism is a little more straightforward than you might find in Crowley's offering. Like with many Tarot decks, there are tons of occult correspondences- seems that Tarot scholars do indeed like to hunt down all manner of correlations! Here, I'm going to focus on the four sets of Court cards, and their correspondences.
Each Court card has two aspects, that of the common suit of that position, (i.e. Kings correspond to Fire, Queens to Water, and so on.) and the corresponding element of that suit, (i.e. Pentacles correspond to Earth, Cups to Water, and so on). As a quick reference, here are the correspondences between the sixteen Court cards:
King of Wands- Fire of Fire
King of Swords- Fire of Air
King of Cups- Fire of Water
King of Pentacles- Fire of Earth

Queen of Wands- Water of Fire
Queen of Swords- Water of Air
Queen of Cups- Water of Water
Queen of Pentacles- Water of Earth

Knight of Wands- Air of Fire
Knight of Swords- Air of Air
Knight of Cups- Air of Water
Knight of Pentacles- Air of Earth

Page of Wands- Earth of Fire
Page of Swords- Earth of Air
Page of Cups- Earth of Water
Page of Pentacles- Earth of Earth
These two factors will combine to define traits of the person, and as we ourselves learn and develop as time goes on, so do we sometimes move from Court card to Court card. There is also an interesting correspondence between the Court cards and the Sephiroth- this comes to us from the Kabalah, and is a model of development from a source through the development of thought, into actual manifestation.
On this diagram, we see the "Tree of Life" and its corresponding Tarot cards, as well as the Court cards. The Court cards themselves can be seen as representing different points in life as well. Considering the Court cards and the definitions they're assigned in the Hermetic Tarot, let's begin with the Kings. In the Hermetic definitions, we find the Kings are associated with the chariots of their elements:
King of Wands- Prince of the Chariot of Fire
King of Swords- Prince of the Chariots of the Winds
King of Cups- Prince of the Chariot of Waters
King of Pentacles- Prince of the Chariot of Earth
Here, the Kings represent Fire as their common element, that one assigned to their position in the Courts. Kings use their mastery of that element to create, guide and shape. COnsider also the symbol of the Chariot used in these definitions also- a chariot requires guidance, skill and direction. In their most positive sense, the Kings are the masters of their elements; they know those elements, and how to put them to use.
On the model of the Sephiroth above, the Kings fall at the intersection called Chokmah- this translates as Wisdom, and represents the creative and shaping energy that gives structure and direction to potential.
Moving on to the Queens, we find that the Hermetic definitions are as follows-
Queen of Wands- Queen of the Thrones of Flame
Queen of Swords- Queen of the Thrones of Air
Queen of Cups- Queen of the Thrones of Waters
Queen of Pentacles- Queen of the Thrones of Earth
The Queens have as their common element Water, forming in some ways an opposite to the Kings. Whereas the Kings give structure, the Queens give expansion and sustainment. A throne is likewise stationary, perhaps passive, whereas the shaping principle of the Kings is active. The thrones are also a symbol of leadership and support, perhaps a symbol to rally behind, and a symbol of both reigning over and serving the people.
In the Sephiroth, the Queens occupy the position of Binah, which translates as Forming- here representing the expansive force, and potential. Without this expansion, the guiding force of the Kings has nothing to guide, and without the guiding force of the Kings, the expansiveness the Queens represent can tend towards random expansion and chaos. Think of a tree- the tree has structure and grows in a direction, but without the sustainment of water, it will die, leaving only a shell.
The Knights have as their common element Air, representing understanding and logical thought; they represent knowledge and analytical reasoning. The Knights are the kids who are always pestering others with tons of questions, or taking things apart to see how they work. What they learn also tends to make them idealistic; they may wonder why the world is not the perfect place they imagine it could be. In the Hermetic definitions we find:
Knight of Wands- Lord of Flame and Lightning
Knight of Swords- Lord of the Winds and Breezes
Knight of Cups- Lord of Waves and Waters
Knight of Pentacles- Lord of the Wild and Fertile Lands
In some ways similar to the Kings, the Knights also represent knowledge and dominion, yet differ in terms of focus. Whereas the Kings are more practical and experienced, and can better take into account the concerns and factors coming from the world, the Knights tend to be more "book smart", understanding principles in more black and white terms.
In the Sephiroth, the Knights fall under the position of Tiphareth, translating as Beauty. Here the term is more in the sense of Plato's use of it; beauty would be a pure manifestation. And in this way the Knights represent thought, uncorrupted and at the same time untouched by the practical concerns of the world.
Finally, the Pages have as their common element Earth- though Earth is the least changing and most inflexible of the elements, this is not the focus here. The focus is instead potential, and the ability to be shaped and utilized, much as the ground has the potential to grow plants from it, and stone holds the potential to be sculpted and changed into something else. The Pages as people represent students, eager to learn and develop, yet also being in need of guidance and instruction. The potential of their gifts is there, but they will need to be shown and directed in terms of how to use those gifts and abilities.
Again, in the Hermetic definitions we find the Pages (here identified as Princesses, which is a substitution we find on occasion in some Tarot decks) defined as follows:
Page of Wands- Princess of the Shining Flame
Page of Swords- Princess of the Rushing Winds
Page of Cups- Princess of the Palace of the Floods
Page of Pentacles- Princess of the Echoing Hills
The Princesses, or Pages, are the most malleable and least experienced members of the Courts, and tend to be perhaps not so much naive as they are inexperienced; they will tend towards impressionability and will learn from experience. Again, a stone can be used to make a weapon, or it can be used to grind flour- the stone itself is neither a weapon nor a tool, it depends on how it is shaped and to what ends it is used.
In the Sephiroth above, the Pages occupy the position of Malkuth- this translates as Kingdom, which is, curiously, located at the lowest point of the Tree, representing actual manifestation. At first glance, this might seem like an odd point to put a symbol of potential, but the manifestation represents the development from pure abstraction to actual appearance. What we do with this manifestation again becomes guided by the design of thought, and its development requires that Queen-like sustainment. What direction this takes is up to the designer, and to the one who constructs that end. The Tens and Aces are, in this regard, fairly similar, in that they represent a starting point; from this, development moves onwards, and the Tens and Pages are placed on the same point on the Tree.
Of course, these assignments are not meant to be an all-encompassing designations of the cards, but rather do provide an interesting take on the Courts and how they may manifest, either in ourselves or in others around us. What position in these Courts we occupy can and does change as life goes on. We occupy many different roles, and may be many different things to many different people.


  1. In in Hermetic Tarot, the court card order is Knight (Lord), Queen (Queen), King (Prince), Princess (Princess)..... This information is in the small book that accompanies the deck.... The symbol for fire is in the top left-hand corner of the Knight cards. In the Hermetic Tarot deck, the Knight is associated with the element of fire. The symbol for air is in the top left-hand corner of the King cards. My deck has a typo though. The King of cups cards has a fire symbol in the top left-hand corner, but all the other King cards have the air symbol. All the Knight cards correctly have the fire symbol on the top left. I'm curious if this typo is just in my deck or if it was incorrectly printed in a run of Hermetic Tarot decks. I'd almost like to buy a whole new deck to correct this error.

  2. Taking a look at my own copy of this deck, I noticed the same thing- the King of Cups has the symbols for Fire and Water, whereas the other cards assign the Kings to Air; Air of Air for the King of Swords, Air of Fire for Wands, and Air of Earth for Pentacles. Interestingly, this is the only place, and the only card, this occurs on! I'm not sure if this is intentional or is a typo, but will see what I can dig up!

  3. ...and all the Knight cards show as Fire of Water, Fire of Air, Fire of Earth and Fire of Fire...... alas, I do believe it is an error in the printing of this deck. I've been searching for anyone else who might have written something online about it. I wonder if tarot decks with printing errors automatically lose their potency or efficacy of divination? ... its just irksome... and feeling "irked" isn't going to put me in a good mental state to read these cards when the King of Cups shows up.... it has made me want to get a very fine-tipped black pen and put the line in... but I'm worried it will smudge or I will wreck it completely... hhmmm, maybe I just have to integrate it into my readings somehow.... as a sign... of... well, something... King of Cups, the WHAMMY card of my Hermetic Tarot deck....

  4. oooo!! Someone mentioned it in an Amazon.com review!! I found it when I googled it.... "There is also an error on one of the cards. Kings (Princes) are of the element Air but the King of Cups is incorrectly attributed to the element Fire on the top left of the card (Fire goes with the Knights). I can probably fix it with a fine-tip black marker." ... funny, I've been looking for someone to confirm that its not just MY deck for a few years now.... and now I've got two confirmations in one day...... oh well, our POOR ole imperfect Hermetic Tarot deck... I wonder if there have been new printings that corrected this.... I'm sure this would irritate a LOT of occultists and tarot readers....

  5. hmmm.... its also REALLY weird that that person's comment was almost exactly what I just blogged on your site.... about the black tipped marker.... haha.... oh synchronicity.....

  6. Ok, on youtube, I found a different printing of the Hermetic Tarot with the King of Cups correctly labelled with the symbols for Air of Water... you can see it at 4:30 in this run-through of the entire deck. I believe its an earlier printing with a different font for the titles... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXnAkUDiueY

  7. WOW im glad this post excist, i was blowing my mind on this...