In card games, there is an inherent simplicity to court cards: they are basically the ‘rulers’ of each suit, with a very clear and determined hierarchy. Of course, having said this, we are then faced with peculiar variations in terms of specific games, where Aces or Jacks ‘trump’ Kings and Queens, or where the Jack of one suit is deemed superior to any court from any other suit. In the game of tarot, there is also a clarity about court hierarchy: Pages precede Knights, who precede Queens, who precede Kings.
At one level, there is much that can be gained from reflecting on this order of ‘authority’ or, perhaps more appropriately, reflecting on the different types of authority, power or role each plays, without ranking their respective attributes in an hierarchically determined manner. In that sense, the Page’s role is different, but not inferior, to the King’s or Queen’s.
There is, especially on the continent of Europe, a long tradition of assigning court cards names. For example, A specific King may be related or called ‘King David’ (couldn’t resist this example, for some unknown reason).
With these assignments, it becomes less so the role the linked individual plays than the persona he or she suggests given lore and legend. Modern equivalents would be by assigning specific cards to such individuals as Mother Theresa, Marilyn Monroe, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini, Marie Curie, or Albert Einstein.
These names conjure, for most of us, not individuals that have full human foibles and complexes, but rather reflect specific persona or types. Of course, I could have selected quite different ones, and even the above list will be seen from different perspectives depending on our personal knowledge of their achievements and engagements, and our own involvement in such areas of life as entertainment, politics, and religion.
One could easily come up with quite distinct groups of people who reflect something more of the sword, or coins, of the cup, or of batons. Without going into the various correlations made for these four suits, I would suggest that, looking at the above list of people, each of us, perhaps in different ways, could begin to allocate whether they are page, knight, queen or king of something more batons-like, cup-like, coin-like or sword-like.
This can be further reflected on and characteristics removed from these individuals. For example, some individuals seem to suggest engagement with others in a very extroverted and grandiose manner, others in a more quiet and individual-focussed style. Some tend to respond in a way that suggests a clarity of thought, others with a warmth of heart. Some seem to be more interested in how to do things and see possibilities, others in getting the task completed and seeing what is already achieved.
Part of the complexity of human individuality is of course that we each have all of these characteristics that manifest in various situations. Still, we also have styles and characteristics that tend to predominate, or at least that our peers tend to mainly see. For example, a person who may have a depth of feeling and great heart sensitivity may nonetheless be considered relatively hard and cold by those who do not know him or her well.
In terms of the court cards of the Tarot, I am not at this time concerned with the manner in which we tend to reflect personality, or types of engagement, but rather on how the court cards themselves may suggest traits or characteristics of type persona.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the work Myers-Briggs did some decades earlier had a popular resurgence that seems to have only grown since. Though I personally find the way in which it has been adopted in certain sectors deplorable, it would equally do an injustice to dismiss its merits.
During this period of the late 1980s, I worked intensely on trying to understand the basis for the MBTI. It is also during that time that I developed a possible correlation between it and the court cards. In the early 90s, I included much of this work in my various Tarot courses, and one of my then students, who was also later involved in some of the organisation of the mid-1990s Tarot Conference in Melbourne, also brought it there for sharing purposes as a one page handout.
Since then, and independently, others, including Mary Greer, have also presented ways in which the Court Cards and the MBTI may be correlated.
What follows is therefore only one of several ways in which appropriate correlations may be made. How the correlations are made in part depends on what is considered central or foundational with the MBTI, and how each court card is seen. What is common is that the court cards can be seen to reflect persona and ways of approaching a problem or situation.
Myers-Briggs developed a personality inventory based on the four Jungian functions and life orientations. In terms of the court cards of the Tarot, what concerns us is not necessarily knowing one’s own type, but rather how the sixteen MBTI personality types reflect in the sixteen court cards.
Jung describes four functions in Psychological Types. These are Thinking, Intuition, Feeling, and Sensing. Two of these are the functions we use when deciding or assessing, or, as Jung termed it, judging; and two others are used in information gathering, or the ways in which we see situations: in other words, our perceptive functions. Note that we all use these four functions. Some, however, will be more developed than others, in that we will prefer to use one of our perceptive functions when looking at a situation, and prefer to use one of our judging functions when making a decision, or judging a situation.
Graphically, we can illustrate those two dimensions as horizontal and vertical arms:
The two perceptive functions are Sensing and Intuition. On this model, Intuition is placed at Fire, and Sensing at Earth.
Those of us that prefer to use our sensing function will like to know what the facts of a situation are, those that prefer to use their intuitive function will prefer to see what the possibilities in a situation are. In his introduction, Frager presents these two in the following excellent abbreviated form:
[…] sensation types tend to value only those who demonstrate mastery over facts and details. Intuitives think highly of others who can bring complex information into a new whole, and they tend to devalue sensation types as people who “can’t see the forest for the trees.”
In past tarot courses, participants often took the MBTI as part of understanding various elements of human personality. What I have found interesting, but perhaps expected, is that over 80% were intuitives, and of those that are sensing, their preferred judging function is feeling. People interested in such topics as Tarot with Sensing as their perceptive preference will be more likely to prefer to use one established deck, in which every detail will be interpreted in a reasonably clear-cut fashion, whereas those with Intuition as their perceptive preference will be more likely to possess at least four vastly different decks, and ‘see’ in each card elements that are omitted and that ‘ought’ to be added.
As parents, Sensing people will be more likely to have functionally oriented toys for their children, whereas Intuitive types will be more likely to have toys that allow their utility to be adaptable to the imaginative uses one puts them to. For example, to a Sensing type, a potty will be used as a container for specific items. To an Intuitive type, it may serve as a container, or a hat, or a stool. The Sensing parent may well say to the child ‘potties don’t go on the head!’, as opposed to the intuitive parent who may exclaim ‘What a hat!’ (and hope it was clean!).
In a reading, a sensing oriented card may tell the reader that what needs to be focussed on are the facts of the situation: what is really there rather than what one would like to be there. The appropriate focus might be what one has at one’s disposal, rather than how to use the things one has. Conversely, an intuitive oriented card may point out that one ought to focus on the opportunities or possibilities in the situation at hand, rather than focus on what is concretely there here and now.
The two judging functions are Thinking and Feeling. On our model, Thinking is placed at Air, and Sensing at Water.
Those of us who prefer to use our thinking function will like to analyse and deduce a conclusion given a situation, whereas those who prefer to use their feeling function will be guided by ideals and values. In his introduction, Frager presents these two in the following abbreviated form:
Feeling types respond to those who have a strong sense of human values and high ideals. Thinking types respect others who are clear, logical, and “smart”, and are likely to put down feeling types as nice but not very bright.
A quick check to see one’s preference is to notice the difference each type places on the meaning of ‘what is “right” or “correct”’. The Thinking type is likely to understand these words in terms of whether the item or decision in question follows logically from other given previously established or agreed upon point, whereas the Feeling type will view these terms in their ethical sense. In their extremes, the Thinking type will want the reasons as to why killing is wrong, whereas the Feeling type will think such reasoning is post hoc.
To the Thinker, a decision will be right or correct if it logically follows from accepted premises, irrespective of its moral significance. To the Feeler, it will be the converse, in that a decision will be right or correct if it is the ‘morally’ or socially good thing to do, irrespective of its logical status with respect to the surrounding issues. To the Feeler, the intrinsic worth of the concerned people is what is deemed or special import, as opposed to the Thinker, for whom the special import are the relevant issues.
As parents, Thinking types will be more likely to encourage tasks or activities which can be sequentially completed, or for which a method can be worked out or demonstrated, whereas Feeling types will be more likely to encourage morally enhancing activities or stories. In terms of Aesop’s fables, the Thinking type would probably prefer the Hare and the Tortoise, for the moral can be logically explained, whereas the Feeling type may very well prefer the Mouse and the Lion.
In a reading, a thinking oriented card may tell the reader that what needs to be done is an analysis of the situation leading to a decision. The appropriate focus might be results are likely to occur under the current situation. Conversely, a feeling oriented card may point out that one ought to focus on is the morally correct decision, irrespective of the consequences: one’s principles ought not be compromised.
The two orientations are inwards, referred to as Introversion, and outwards, referred to as Extraversion. These indicate where one’s energy is primarily directed, and where one feels more comfortable.
In a reading, and Introverted card may indicate that a search within oneself has to be made in order or perceive or judge the situation, whereas an extroverted card may indicate that the advice of another, or at least discussion with another, is highly favourable.
Before correlating, let us briefly see how these three dimensions of personality lead to sixteen different types. Of each pair of opposites, one will be preferred over the other. For example, a sensing person will, whenever possible, opt to use their sensing over their intuitive function. Each one of us has such a preference between each extreme. But a Sensing type may be either of the Thinking or Feeling type, and either Introverted or Extroverted. Additionally, of one’s two preferred functions (of which one is the perceptive and the other the judging function), one will have a preference towards either one’s judging or perceptive function. The possibilities are thus:
It now remains to correlate all the possibilities with the cards. Since we have already linked the four functions with the elements, and the elements are often linked to the suits, let us leave these for now and concentrate on other factors, ie, linking with the individual court cards Introversion, Extroversion, Judging, and Perception.
Of the four courts, Judging is the prerogative of the Kings and Queens, leaving Perception to the Knights and Pages. Traditionally, Introversion is more closely aligned to feminine characteristics, and extroversion with masculine ones. In grid form, this then gives us: