The Court Cards

The Minors, the cards that bear four suits, the numbered cards and court cards, constitute the single most popular deck that travelled from east to across Europe, and is still in daily use for every hand of Poker and Blackjack.  The formula that is found in the Tarot, of ten numbered cards and four court cards, is the way they arrived as the Mamluk game preferred by the warlord caste of North Africa, Egypt and ultimately, the Ottoman Empire.  Surviving packs of these cards are often of great beauty, with the four suits kept virtually identical when added to the Trumps for the creation of Tarot – coins, cups, swords and polo sticks.  Some of them have inspirational quotes and contemplative poems written into their design.

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Mamluk Officer Cards

The four suits did not change at first, but the four generals for each suit quickly shifted from the battlefield to a landed hierarchy in European hands, usually with kings, queens, knights, and princelings.  Many early hand painted decks, and prototypes for standard decks, featured specific people in fact, such as family members.  As Tarot was replaced by other games, the court cards were here reduced to three, the King, Knight and Knave, and there, a Queen was added back in, restoring four in some decks, bumping out the Knight or Knave in most others.

The court cards are a succession of human rank, specifically of the nobility kind.  They range from the princeling squire to the ruler.  Many books tells you all kinds of stories about interpreting the court cards, but they’re never much help if we want to let instinct guide us.  It’s up to you to find a natural way to fold them into the story.  Typically a fortune teller will tell the client the court card is a real person, a mysterious stranger or friend.  But why make something up?  Why not consider the court cards as different forms of mastery of their particular suit’s qualities?  In this way, the court cards become aspects of yourself.  Mirrors to evaluate where you are on your journey.  It especially helps if you have a strong grasp of gender – then you won’t feel confused by the significance of Queen or King, archaic concepts themselves for us, and can focus on their abstract qualities.

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Mamluk Ranks

In Tarot, there are four court cards for each suit.  The court cards lend themselves to personalities, and these personalities in their respective ways run a ‘house’ that is conceived by the elemental character the suit.  The four houses are the four suits, each with its own ruling style.  Get to know the reputation of each house, and the personalities living in it will be easier to imagine.  I simplify them thus:

Jack
Also known as the Prince, Princess, Knave, Page, Valet, Squire and 2nd Lieutenant. This is the servant character in the Court cards, not only the young searching for position within an established order, but acting in favor of the suit, the one that does all the actual work.  The mastery of procedure, the executor, and the tool.

Knight
Also known as the Chevalier or Horseman.   The easiest way to remember the Knight is to consider them as being on a quest, one specific to their house’s qualities.  This is a hero character, they begin from a point of unproved title and end by gaining, or failing, in the service of their suit.  A Knight is bound by oaths and fealty, not so independent as the Jack, but not a servant, and without the responsibility of a Monarch.

Queen
Interpret the queen as mastery in the inclusive sense, of bringing home the fruits, the thriving of the suit in question.  Integrating new lessons into one’s life,  knowledge of how to bring the house under complete control.  Combining facility with enterprise, the Queen is the emblem of a city built with the qualities of the suit she represents.

King
Interpret the king as mastery in the exclusive sense, of the appearances and legends of mastery that accompany the suit in question, the throne and the arms and the seat of this power.  The outward expression, including the way in which his suit would dominate, how he is known to the world at large, and to history.

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