I’m taking a break from the Minor Arcana today. Instead, I’m looking at Libra in the court cards. But which one – or ones? Different traditions have different astrological correspondences when it comes to the Court Cards. Generally (but not always!) these correspondences depend on how cardinality, fixity and mutability have been assigned. As Libra is the cardinal Air sign, I’m looking for the Swords court card that’s associated with cardinality.
So what court card does this represent? If you work with a system that assigns cardinality to the Kings, you’re looking at the King of Swords. An example of this is the Sharman-Caselli (pictured here), where we have the King on his throne, wearing blue (Air) and purple (wisdom). Two birds fly above his head; the number ‘two’ reminds us of the Libran theme of balance and choice, as well as the Air-like quality of the mind being able to rise above things. The King of Swords is sometimes associated with the legal profession, particularly in terms of truth and social justice. As in the Adjustment card of the Thoth deck, we’re always having to make adjustments in order to keep things in balance. This King appears calm and in charge of things – everything’s in balance, in order. As Libra is an Air sign, that balance and order is likely to be maintained by words, rather than by physical force. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but here I think the sword represents the pen! I could certainly see him as a mediator.
Other systems (e.g. the Book-T system) see the Queens as having more cardinal qualities, so let’s also look at the Queen of Swords. In the Book-T system, the Queen of Swords rules from 20° Virgo through to 20° Libra. What qualities are associated with this Queen? Extremely perceptive and observant, quick-witted, confident. She’s often seen as a figure who’s been touched by sorrow, who’s learned to accept and assimilate her experiences with grace and dignity – a fine balancing act, bring that Venusian ruling of Libra into play. The peacemaker, perhaps?
The Shadowscapes’ Queen of Swords holds two (duality and balance again) curved swords to cut through deception, to see the issue clearly. The white chrysanthemums symbolize purity,clarity and honesty; the purple lilies inner strength (so says the deck’s creators in the accompanying book; details below).
As we started our exploration of Libra by looking at Major Arcana cards associated with the Autumnal Equinox (0° Libra), let’s have a look at some of the court cards associated with this solar festival. The Wildwood Tarot (created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, and beautifully illustrated by Will Worthington) places its cards around the Wheel of the Year. The suit of Cups (Vessels) is often associated with autumn in the tarot, a tradition that the Wildwood follows – the Vessels reign from Lammas through to Samhain. Approaching the autumnal equinox, we have the Queen of Vessels (Cups equivalent), and passing through the equinox, the Knight of Vessels.
The Queen is represented by the salmon, a symbol of great wisdom in Druidic and many shamanic traditions. Again, she’s associated with bringing joy into dark places – that gentle balancing that also reminds me of the Three of Swords, as well as honesty, another Libran quality.
The Eel represents the Knight. Another creature associated with wisdom, it also – in Irish mythology – was said to be able to transform itself into a weapon, providing protection – and perhaps helping to bring conflict to some resolution. Not the traditional idea of a peacemaker or negotiator, but as a member of the Vessels/Cups family, it may not be as warlike as it first sounds. Eels can also move both on land and through water – a bit of a balancing act between two elements?
Secret Tarot created by Marco Nizzoli, published by Lo Scarabeo
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Sharman-Caselli Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections