Court Cards: Fiery Wands

Modern Witch tarot

A lot of people struggle to connect with the Court (sometimes known as Face) cards. Maybe it’s difficult to relate to royalty (for some maybe not!) or maybe it’s because there isn’t as much of a story in the images. The Pages all just stand there, the Knights are always on a horse, and the King and Queen always sit on thrones.

Some decks have tried to make these cards more relatable by renaming them. For example, Child rather than Page, or Elder rather than King. This can work really well, but it can also be a little confusing. Other people might relate each card to someone they know whose personality fits it. Maybe your mother is a lot like the Queen of Cups, or your friend is like the Knight of Wands. 

I mentioned in the posts The Empress and The Sun that in Root Lock Radio, Weston uses a form of psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems Therapy as part of his practice. In particular, he uses this approach with the Court cards. The Page could be your inner child, the Knight your inner teenager, the Queen your inner mother, grandmother or any other nurturing figure, and the King the parent/guardian who is a voice of reason. They don’t have to match the same gender, so a King can be female, a Queen could be non-binary. Adapt any of these methods and find what works best for you. 

If you recall that each element represents different areas of your life, and then try to imagine each court as a family, that can help make these cards click. That’s why I’ve chosen to cover each court separately, rather than the pages of the four suits, then the knights and so on. 

Page of Wands: The page is quite youthful, wide-eyes, ready for adventure. They’re like the Fool. They don’t know much, but they are comfortable with that. The Page of Wands could represent starting a new project, something you have no experience in. Some people say the court cards can represent someone else in your life, so think about if there’s anyone in your life with this kind of energy and how you can help each other meet goals. Pages are optimistic, creative and open. Look back at the concept of Beginner’s Mind if you pull this card. 

Knight of Wands: Knights remind me of teenagers, impulsive and self-assured. When you’re a teenager, you think you know a lot more than you actually do, and you’re more likely to take risks. Riding in on their horses, knights are adventurous and determined to win. This is especially true in the wands suit, fiery and creative. If you pull this card, think of areas in your life where you need to just go go go, without overthinking the consequences too much. The Knight of Wands is ready to put themself out there without fear.

Queen of Wands: This is one of my favourite cards. I love that this Queen has a black cat. The Queen of Wands is confident and self-assured, but with more experience and better balance than the Knight. Perhaps they have seen what can go wrong if you are too impulsive. There are lions on this Queen’s throne, which evokes memories of the Strength card, and the sunflower reminds us of The Sun. Not caring what other people think, the Queen is passionate and independent, a true master of their element.

King of Wands: The King is a leader of their element, inspirational and dominant. The salamander represents the element of fire, reminding us of the passion of this suit. This King is willful, and perhaps unwilling to accept compromise. Remember as we learned with The Emperor, that it is important to be aware of the difference between a good leader, and a tyrant. The King may face many challenges and threats, but if they are fair and compassionate, they can get through anything.

19. The Sun: Healing Your Inner Child

20200808_182748.jpg
Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

The Sun is such a happy card. In the traditional imagery, a child joyfully sits atop a horse, as the sun shines down and sunflowers grow tall in the background. This card represents release, liberation, and feeling totally alive. The baby represents innocence, the banner victory, and the sunflowers represent happiness and positivity.

But if you look at this card and have mixed feelings because you are reminded of your own less-than-joyous upbringing, you are not alone. I want to talk about healing your inner child so that no matter your previous experiences, you can begin to enjoy the positive vibes of this card.

8-Allenby-InnerChildInnerAdult
Click here for more scenarios

Have you ever had a really strong reaction to something that shouldn’t have been a big deal? You may not know why you felt that way- the root cause. It might be that you hit a trigger of something that affected you when you were a child. Your body remembers, even if your conscious mind doesn’t.

Buddhist monk and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh said:

The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing the inner child’s pain will transform negative emotions.

He says that in order to heal our inner child, we must listen compassionately and practice mindfulness. He describes mindfulness as a way to improve your mind’s ‘circulation’, assisting your mind to do what your liver and kidneys do to get rid of toxins. How do you remove these metaphorical toxins from your mind?

When you were a child, you were largely unable to understand the nuances of adult communication. If a parent was angry about something, you may have thought it your fault, not understanding things like a stressful work situation, or mounting bills. If an adult said something cruel to you, you may have believed it must be true. An adult said it after all.

If your childhood experiences were particularly difficult or abusive, you will likely need the help of a therapist to untangle all the threads of your life and heal from those experiences. But there are some things you can do yourself to help the process along. Not everyone has access to a therapist, but that doesn’t mean you are a lost cause.

Think about the parts of you that are most childlike. Playful, vulnerable, impulsive, needing security. Try to visualise those qualities as being your younger self. If you have any photos from your childhood, looking at those can help. You may want to look into Internal Family Systems Therapy, which uses the idea of ‘parts’ within your own mind as a way of healing from trauma. It relies on the idea that the mind is multiplicitous, that is, made up of multiple, sometimes contradictory parts.

In a way, you have to re-parent yourself. Think back to things that happened to you that weren’t okay. Talk to yourself, visualise picking your child self up and giving them the love and support that you needed at that time. If this is too hard right now, try recalling happy memories and visualise being a positive and supportive influence on your child self. If you have issues with visualisation, such as aphantasia, consider writing a letter to your child self instead.

It can be harder to be compassionate to yourself than to others. This is why visualising child you is important. Treat that child like you would any other. Tell them you are proud of them, that they deserve the best in life. Tell them the good things about them, how smart, or kind, or creative they are. Remind them that you are there for them and they do not have to be afraid. Imagine (if you can) playing with the child and spending time with them.

If you pull The Sun, imagine that child in the image is you. You are innocent and joyful, you can be silly and playful, and you are protected.

Sacred_lotus_Nelumbo_nucifera
The lotus grows only in muddy water.

 

 

18. The Moon: Cognitive Distortions

The Moon is such an important celestial body for all of us here on Earth. The word moon comes from the word for ‘month’, which shows how important it is for us when it comes to measuring time. The Moon’s gravity causes tides, of which there are two high, and two low in 24 hours.

The Moon has been, and in many cultures continues to be used as a way of marking time. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, today (12th August) is in fact the 22nd of June.

550px-Moon_phases_en
Source

We only see one side of the Moon, because it is in synchronous rotation with Earth. Occasionally we can see about 18% of the far side, but we didn’t see the rest until 1959. This can make the Moon seem very mysterious. Before the far side of the Moon was photographed, I wonder what humans used to think it was like.

The Moon is also associated with many deities such as Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. In China, they have Chang’e, who flew to the Moon after drinking an immortality elixir. In Japan, Tsukuyomi angered the sun Goddess Amaterasu so much that she created day and night so that she would not have to be near him.

Let’s look at The Moon as a tarot card:

20200808_182706.jpg
Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

I love how strange it looks. The Star Spinner version depicts Chang’e who I mentioned above. There’s a quote in the Sasuraibito Little White Book for The Moon that I love:

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. – Pema Chodron

This card represents illusions and fears. It gives you a feeling that you’re not sure if what you’re seeing or experiencing is real. Think of the word ‘lunacy’ meaning madness, which comes from another name for the Moon: Luna.

According to A. E. Waite, who co-created the RWS deck, the wolf and the dog represent fears of the mind when there is only reflected light to guide you. Your animal self, fight, flight, or freeze. The crawfish represents universal fears.

This card has a lot to teach us if we are struggling with mental health, or if we are neurodivergent and struggle with masking a lot. I am reminded of the concept of Cognitive Distortions, which are thought patterns in which you interpret reality in a negative and damaging way. If you have ever done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), you will have heard of these:

All-or-nothing thinking– Also known as ‘splitting’ or ‘black-and-white thinking’. This is when you see a situation as all good, or all bad. There is no grey area or in-between. Often perfectionists struggle with this one. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect, and that you can overcome difficulties without getting everything right. Accept what you cannot change, and know that you’ll get it right next time.

Overgeneralising– This is when one bad thing happens and you think ‘this always happens to me!’ This is a distortion which I think can be improved by gratitude journaling. If you log the good things that happen to you, you can read them back when you’re feeling like nothing good ever happens.

Filtering– This happens when you only remember the bad things out of something that happened. Dwelling on the negative will hurt you. It’s important to recognise when something bad has happened, as rejecting bad feelings will hurt you just as badly. But don’t let the bad outweigh the good.

Disqualifying the positive– This is when something good happens and you dismiss it as a one-off. Alternatively it can mean that someone said something nice to you and you think they don’t mean it. Remember that people say nice things because they care about you.

Jumping to conclusions– It can be frustrating when someone says what they think you mean before you even get to say anything right? So when you’re communicating with others, let them tell you what they mean, and don’t assume. This can also be associated with self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you can’t achieve something, you probably won’t try as hard and you’ll end up being right. Try to keep an open mind.

Catastrophising– This is where you think the absolute worst case scenario will happen. I recommend letting your mind go down that path and make a quick plan for if the worst does happen. That way, you’ll see that no matter what happens, you can cope. And it probably won’t be that bad anyway.

Please remember that this is just one view, and that CBT does not work for everyone. If you find learning about Cognitive Distortions useful, then great. If not, then feel free to throw that idea out and find something else that resonates with you. My other recommendation when thinking about The Moon is the book The Gift of Fear. This is a book about using your intuition or gut instinct to empower yourself.

When you pull The Moon, take a moment to meditate or journal about fears and illusions, and ways that you can use your own intuition to see through them. The Moon doesn’t ask us to solve anything just yet, only to begin letting your mind work through things.

If you are struggling with your mental or neurological health, please contact your GP. I find tarot to be useful as a self-help tool, but it cannot replace therapy.

15. The Devil: Shadow Work

When The Fool meets The Devil, they learn what can happen if the teachings of Temperance are not heeded. This is an important lesson, one that many people learn the hard way.

The Devil is all about self-destructive behaviours, ways that you are holding yourself back. These things can be negative thought patterns, addictions, or habits you want to change. Basically everything that is really hard to change. It’s important to be kind to yourself while going through this process. Self-blame can bring you back into a cycle of pain and anxiety.

Please excuse the pun, but don’t demonise The Devil. This card helps us to see those things that hold us down so that we can begin to heal.

20200808_182414.jpg
Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

The Devil is usually represented by Baphomet, who is adapted from the Greek God Pan. You may know this figure from when The Satanic Temple attempted to erect a Baphomet statue outside the Oklahoma State Capitol. Baphomet is a mix of human and animal, male and female. Their power is an illusion in the Rider-Waite-Smith depiction- look how loose those chains are- the people could escape. Change is in your hands.

file
Source

Compare The Devil to The Lovers. It’s almost like The Devil is mocking the other card. Baphomet is pretending to be the angel, but is also taking on a Magician pose. We are reminded of the choice that The Lovers taught us about. Are there any choices you have been making that are holding you back in some way?

I really like this point Little Red Tarot makes about The Devil:

In that same vein, there’s a more mundane message here about materialism. Addiction to ‘things’ is a sad issue of our time – it leads to huge amounts of waste, a throwaway culture, and a sense of not having enough (which ultimately means: not being enough). Think of the way beauty products are marketed, for example: by creating insecurity. We buy to fill the need, to fix ourselves. Our inner demons tell us that we need ‘things’ to make ourselves more beautiful, successful, popular, good. The Devil can represent becoming bogged down in this stuff, forgetting about the bigger picture and what is truly important in life.

I’d like to introduce a way that you can begin to shine a light on those parts of yourself that you may try to hide, that you feel shame about, that need some love. It’s called Shadow Work, and it’s a concept that was introduced by Carl Jung.

I think Tarot is a great way to do Shadow Work, because it can bring to the surface thoughts and feelings that aren’t in your conscious mind. Jung said that everyone has a shadow, and the less that you are aware of it, the darker it is. It’s that painful part of yourself that you try to pretend isn’t there.

I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t go into too much detail here- you can research shadow work and find plenty of resources. But here are some questions you could journal or ask your Tarot deck if you’re interested in trying it:

  • What am I hiding from myself?
  • What holds me down?
  • How do my thoughts/behaviours hold me back?
  • What is the root cause of my pain/anxiety/addiction?
  • What is blocking me from resolving this issue?
  • What do I need to forgive myself for?
  • What can I learn from my shadow self?
  • How do I move forward?

Make sure to be in a safe, comfortable place, and be in a relaxed state of mind when you approach questions like the above. See if you can designate a safe person you can go to if you become overwhelmed, and afterwards make yourself a cup of tea or run a bath. It’s hard work and deserves a relaxing reward.

Be kind to yourself.

14. Temperance: Queerness in Tarot

Along with The Hierophant, Temperance is one of my birth cards. It embodies what I think is one of the most important aspects of Tarot:

Balance.

The great thing about balance is it’s a non-judgmental concept. There are many people who will tell you things like ‘stop eating carbs’ or ‘go for a run every morning’. Whether or not you think those things are healthy, it’s not always practical to completely stop or start doing something. Habits take time and willpower to form. Embracing balance means to do what feels right to you, just keep it in moderation. Not much in life is black and white, and Temperance teaches us to appreciate the grey areas in life.

This isn’t about being a centrist, or never taking sides, it’s about recognising nuance, and the myth of duality. What do we often see as dual, or binary?

20200808_181313.jpg
Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

An idea I love about Temperance is that it can represent the inherent non-binary nature of gender. Rather than there being two genders, male and female, it makes more sense to see gender as a spectrum:

june-16-presentation-12-728
Source

If you look at the symbol on the character in the Temperance card, you see a triangle inside a square. A triangle has three sides, and a square four. The third and fourth cards of the Tarot are the Empress and the Emperor, so it is like this character blends or balances those energies together. That is also what they are doing with those cups, and also by having one foot on land, and one in the water. Bringing together opposites, balancing and mixing what we usually see as separate.

There are other ways that you can bring this balance into your life. As the Little Red Tarot post says, think about things like work/life balance, or not making extreme decisions.

I am reminded of something that Weston says a few times in his podcast Root Lock Radio: you contain multitudes. I’m not sure who came up with that phrase first, but it possibly comes from this poem by Walt Whitman:

Song of Myself, 51
Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

When you pull the Temperance card, think about what aspects of your life need balance. A lot of people struggle with black-and-white thinking. This is also sometimes called ‘splitting’. It’s the inability or difficulty to see the middle ground. Look for words like ‘never’ or ‘always’ in your thinking patterns: ‘I always screw things up’, ‘I’ll never find any friends’.

Noticing these patterns is the first mindful step towards reframing your thoughts in a more nuanced way. What ideas do you have for changing such thoughts?

Earlier I mentioned habits, and that’s something we will revisit next time when we discuss card 15: The Devil. Like Death, this is not a scary card, but it does show us what can happen if we do not practice Temperance.

7. The Chariot: Monkey Mind

I saw this great video featuring Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhism teacher. He talks about the idea of monkey mind. In Chinese and Japanese, monkey mind (心猿) means restless, indecisive, uncontrollable, and as a concept it’s this idea that your mind jumps around from one idea to another, chattering and making it hard to focus.

Mori_Sosen_BaikaEnkou-zu
Monkeys in a plum tree, Mori Sosen, 1808

Mingyur Rinpoche says that the way to tame your monkey mind is to give it a job. If you want to meditate, tell your monkey mind to focus on your breathing. You can’t get rid of the monkey, but you can ask it to help you.

In the last card, The Lovers, we saw The Fool make their first independent decisions. Now it is time to act on those decisions and move forward. This card is about motivation, determination, and focus. Let’s look at the symbolism of The Chariot:

20200801_160546.jpg
Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, bottom right: Modern Witch

In some of these depictions we see two sphinxes, one black, and one white. They represent the duality of decision-making. Maybe your mind is being pulled in two separate directions, wanting to follow one path, but also feeling drawn to another. The Chariot is about being able to control and balance those opposing thoughts. But the sphinxes aren’t chained up, so it’s not about forcing them. Let them see where they lead you, but remain in charge.

There is a square on the charioteer’s clothes. The number 4 represents stability and structure, which reminds us of The Emperor, the 4th card. But the starry crown they wear reminds us of The Empress. Perhaps The Chariot is combining those energies of nurturing, compassionate freedom, with logical leadership and structure. They’ve taken those lessons taught to them by more experienced people, and they’re ready to use them in the real world.

You can see from the resolute look on the Chariot driver’s face that they always want to be moving forward. They’re independent and confident. There is no one else in the image, so no one to impress, or to get approval from. When you pull The Chariot, remember that you are in charge of your life, so there’s no sense in comparing with others. Above all, always remember you have the power to rein in all those little thoughts that might tell you that you’re not good enough.

In this article, a relatable conversation you may have had in your own mind plays out in a way that allows the person involved to approach problems with confidence, and ensure that their monkey mind doesn’t run out of control.

Sphinxes are known for their riddles so here are two for you to figure out. I’ll reveal the answers in my next post, which will be about the 8th card of the Major Arcana, Strength.

I walk on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet in the evening, what am I?

I have a mouth but do not speak, I have a bed but do not sleep, I run everywhere but go nowhere, what am I?

 

3. The Empress: Mother Earth

NSFW warning: female nudity in this post.

On August 7th 1908, a workman found this figurine while excavating a Paleolithic site near the village of Willendorf in Austria:

400px-Venus_of_Willendorf_-_All_sides
Venus of Willendorf, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

The figurine was about 11cm tall, carved from limestone, and coloured with red ochre. The limestone wasn’t from the same area that the figurine was discovered. It was named the Venus of Willendorf, but it was carved much, much longer ago than the Goddess Venus, or Aphrodite was worshipped. It is estimated to have been carved more than 30,000 years ago, sometime between 30,000 and 22,000 BCE.

It is thought that the Venus of Willendorf could have been carved to represent fertility, as it has somewhat exaggerated sexual characteristics. But a more interesting idea is that perhaps the artist was a Paleolithic woman carving a representation of herself. In the journal article Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines by
LeRoy McDermott, we see an interesting comparison of what the Venus figurine looks like from above, compared to what a pregnant person might see when they look down at their own body:

venus and pregnant woman
Top: 6 months pregnant woman, bottom: Venus of Willendorf from above. Current Anthropology
Vol. 37, No. 2, page 240

This idea of self-representation allows us to wonder if rather than being simply an object for reproduction, perhaps the paleolithic woman had the agency to simply be curious about her own body, and create something artistic from it.

Another figurative carving whose original meaning is largely unknown is the Sheela na gig. They depict a woman displaying her genitals in an almost mocking way:

220px-SheelaWiki
12th century sheela na gig, Herefordshire, England

She doesn’t have any visible breasts, so perhaps it is not an erotic carving. There are many theories of why these sculptures exist, from representing a Pagan Goddess, to a protection against evil, or maybe a warning against lust. If you are interested, you can find Sheela na gigs on churches and cathedrals across Europe, especially Ireland and the UK.

What can we learn from The Empress?

20200729_132937
Upper left: Sasuraibito, Upper right: Star Spinner, Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Lower left: This Might Hurt, Lower right: Modern Witch

When thinking about what The Empress means, I like the idea that she has this agency and freedom to be proud of her own body. In a world where many people are taught to be ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies, The Empress reminds us to nurture ourselves, the way a mother might. Not everyone has a mother like this, but that’s okay. In season 2, episode 3 of Root Lock radio, Weston introduces us to a form of Psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems. Put simply, it is a method of taking all those parts of yourself that you hear inside your head, and making sure that they are giving you helpful messages, rather than criticising you. It can help you to heal from trauma, and be more in tune with your own self.

How might an inner mother, or nurturer look? You don’t have to identify as female to have this inner nurturing figure. Looking at the depictions of the Empress above, we see she has a dress of pomegranates. We saw that with The High Priestess, and it can represent fertility. But fertility doesn’t just have to mean having babies. Not everyone can, or wants to reproduce, and that is valid. Fertility can also be of the mind, of the imagination. You can produce art, or books, or grow herbs. Any idea or opinion you have is you producing something.

The Empress is a very earthy and grounded character, and I sometimes see her as Mother Earth. She is usually depicted with wheat growing around her, which evokes thoughts of the Greek Goddess Demeter. She rules the harvest and agriculture. The Empress has a crown with 12 stars, each representing a month of the year. In this way, she can represent cycles: the seasons, the year, life and death and rebirth. Many people resent these cycles, as they grow older, as they lose loved ones. How can you honour these cycles in your life? Remember that death makes the ground fertile so that life can arise again.

I think possibly the first thing you notice when you see The Empress though, is the female symbol in a heart-shaped rock. That’s the symbol of Venus (Aphrodite in Greek mythology), the Goddess of Love. The Goddess that the Venus of Willendorf is named for. And I think most of all, The Empress tells us to love ourselves, our friends and family, and the world around us, the way that she, as Mother Earth loves and nurtures the whole planet. So when you pull this card, fill your day with compassion for yourself and others, and let that inner mother take care of you.

What is your inner Empress like? Is she free and proud like the Sheela na gig, or more grounded and earthy?

vtl5axy99m711
Rose Quartz