How do the Courts Cards of various decks REALLY relate to one another?

Golden Dawn Magical Tarot - Prince of WandsRWS - King of WandsThoth - Prince of Wands

There is a never ending debate in the Tarot world about the correspondences between the Court Cards in different decks, especially between their Rider Waite Smith and their Thoth equivalents. While it is unambigous that Waite’s Pages equal Crowley’s Princesses, we often hear that the RWS Knights are akin to the Thoth Princes, and the RWS Kings to the Thoth Knights. Both assumptions are wrong. They seem to be the result of a confusion between different systems; to understand this, we need to consider that both decks are based on the Tarot system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Although Waite and Crowley were both members of that lofty society, neither man completely adopted the Golden Dawn’s take on the Court Cards for his own Tarot deck: Waite, always at pains to obscure the GD wisdom he had vowed to keep out of reach of the mundane, depicted the Courts the traditional way found in old decks like the Tarot de Marseilles and the Sola Busca. Crowley mostly followed the GD scheme, however, he replaced their King by the Knight (whose destiny it was to become King one day anyway, at least in Crowley’s view as explained in The Book of Thoth).

This table shows the proper correspondences, we hope once and for all:

Golden Dawn Rider Waite Smith Thoth

King

Knight

Knight

Queen

Queen

Queen

Prince

King

Prince

Princess

Page

Princess

The Golden Dawn’s “Holy Book” of Tarot, Book T, says: “The Knight of Wands is ‘The Lord of the Flame and Lighting: the King of the Spirits of Fire’.” Mind you, “the Knight of Wands” here refers to this figure’s name in the traditional system of the Court Cards (as was used by Waite); he becomes a King in the reformed system of the Golden Dawn and Book T, respectively. Golden Dawn members were instructed to “correct” their Continental decks accordingly. Only much, much later were Tarot decks published that show the cards (Courts and others) “exactly” as described in Book T, such as the Magical Tarot of the Golden Dawn (a sample card of the latter can be seen above on the left).

Nevertheless, Book T gives elaborate symbolism for the Court Cards which overall was implemented by Crowley much more thoroughly than by Waite – something to ponder for folks who still believe that it was Waite who was more faithful to the GD conceptions! But even its use by Waite leaves no room for doubt as to how the three systems relate to each other.

Book T gives specific symbolism for its Kings which is found only on the Knights of both RWS and Thoth:

  • A white horse for the King of Cups, which we find on the RWS Knight of Cups and on the Thoth Knight of Cups.
  • Stratus clouds for the King of Swords, found on the RWS Knight of Swords and on the Thoth Knight of Swords.
  • Grain fields for the King of Pentacles, found on the RWS Knight of Pentacles and on the Thoth Knight of Disks.

And Book T gives specific symbolism for its Princes which is found only on the Kings in the case of the RWS, and on the Princes in the case of the Thoth.

  • A lion for the Prince of Wands, found on the RWS King of Wands and on the Thoth Prince of Wands. (See the cards shown above.)
  • A lotus for the Prince of Cups, found on the RWS King of Cups and Thoth Prince of Cups.
  • Butterfly-winged fairies and sickles for the Prince of Swords, found on the RWS King of Swords and on Thoth Prince of Swords.
  • A bull for the Prince of Pentacles, found on the RWS King of Pentacles and on the Thoth Prince of Disks.

And Book T mentions more generally:

  • The GD Kings are “mounted on steeds”, and wearing helmets. Well, so are the Knights in both the RWS and the Thoth decks.
  • The GD Princes are “seated in chariots”. And so are the Thoth Princes; however, Waite omits this feature altogether.

It also becomes clear now what the astrological correspondences of the Courts in each system are (referring to their prevalent influences here, while neglecting that they in fact each straddle two signs, as a card covers two thirds of a signs, plus the last third of the preceding one – but more on this peculiarity later):

  • GD Kings, RWS Knights and Thoth Knights correspond to the mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces).
  • Queens in all three systems correspond to the cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn).
  • GD Princes, RWS Kings and Thoth Princes correspond to the fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius).
  • GD Princesses, RWS Pages and Thoth Princesses correspond to no signs at all but to whole quadrants of the zodiac and seasons of the year, respectively.

So, I hope that now we are all on the same page. 😉

Michael

Sources:

Book T: http://www.hermetics.org/pdf/gd/t.pdf
Crowley, A.: The Book of Thoth: http://keychests.com/item.php?v=zuygcpnchav
http://www.lelandra.com/tarotbook/courtcorres.htm. Accessed on August 23 2015.

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One thought on “How do the Courts Cards of various decks REALLY relate to one another?

  1. Great post! It’s refreshing to see a post that clarifies the correct correspondence between the court cards of these three decks. Convincing, succinct, and well-written.

    Like

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