Each of the tarot’s 16 court cards (those are the Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages) express an aspect of our ‘self.’ Whilst no single character is intended to be a complete summary of a person — they’re really too one-dimensional for this — these cards can highlight certain qualities, traits or behaviours that are relevant to your life.
Because they are the ‘people’ of the tarot, a diverse cast of characters covering different ages and areas of our lives, we tend to form relationships with the court cards, identifying with them, or calling on them for guidance at particular times. I like to think that court cards can act as mentors or spiritual guides when we need them. So you might place the Knight of Wands on your altar to inspire boldness and action, or keep the Page of Swords in your wallet to remind you to study hard.
By far the best-loved of the court cards (at least according to my own research) are the queens. Whether it’s the tough-as-nails Queen of Swords who’s seen more than her fair share of shit, or the practical, down-to-earth Queen of Pentacles cooking up a feast for family and friends, tarot folks really seem to relate to these four powerful femmes and the qualities they represent. So let’s get to know them!
All cards shown in this post are from the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Piu-Mun Law.
In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack writes that each queen “represents an appreciation of [her suit’s] element rather than the King’s social use of it. This does not mean that the Queens indicate weakness, or even inaction, but rather the element translated into feelings and understanding.”
Pollack’s classic text helped to form the way I interpret tarot cards, but over the years I’ve come to see the four queens slightly differently. Rather than an ‘appreciation’ of the suit’s qualities, I see them as having really mastered their element. These are people who have ‘done the work’. Where a King might use their suit’s qualities externally (e.g. to lead, manage, control or build), a queen has taken these qualities within, reflected internally, grown stronger on a very personal level through working with the themes of her suit. If we look at the stories told throughout the Ace-to-Ten cards in that suit, we can see the various trials and tribulations she has faced, and can imagine how she overcame each one, gradually becoming stronger and wiser, gradually ‘becoming’ the queen. In this way, understanding the suit as a whole is key to understanding its queen.
By the way, I’m referring to these cards as ‘queens’ in this article because this is by far the most common title used in tarot. However, many tarot decks rename their court cards, sidestepping what many (including me) feel is a hierarchical and gendered binary. I’m also using ‘she’ and ‘they’ pronouns interchangeably here because this is Autostraddle, but please remember that it’s absolutely fine to play with gender in the tarot, a queen can easily be a ‘he’, a king or a knight might be a ‘she’, and so on.
Queen of Wands
The Queen of Wands is someone who has learned to deal with her own ego. She is confident and bold, characterised by self-belief and a passion for life, and although she knows how to assert herself without compromise, she’s never annoying about it. The Queen of Wands encourages you to be unashamedly yourself, to love yourself, your body, your life. She expects success to come from her projects, and because she expects it, success is usually what happens! At the same time, she knows how to deal with failure too — when things go wrong, she’s able to learn and grow, rather than feeling knocked back.
If we look at the Wands suit, we see how she reached this point. It’s a suit filled with petty conflict, conceiving, communicating and acting on bold ideas, success and failure, overwhelm, burnout, and the trappings of ego. The Queen of Wands has worked her way through all of this and found her sweet-spot: the ability to simply be yourself, to give zero fucks, and to follow your passions through to joyful results.
I’m going through a really full-on time right now — over the past year I feel like I’ve been kinda ‘broken down’ and am now putting myself back together again, learning how I’ve changed and deciding big things like who I want to be in this next chapter of my life. The Queen of Wands came up very prominently in a recent reading, and it was really clear to me that they were there to tell me not to be scared of myself, not to be scared to really be myself. They told me that I had changed, and that I had something different to offer the world, which made me feel excited about delving into all that, experimenting and exploring.
Queen of Swords
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that could be the Queen of Swords’ motto. The suit of swords is where we find some of life’s toughest lessons: heartbreak, insecurity, fear, jealousy and more besides. Because humans are humans, and one thing we’re great at is being harsh to ourselves and the people we love, right?
The Queen of Swords has seen it all. She’s been there with the heartbreak, she’s been broken and she’s gotten back on her horse more times than you can know. She represents your best self in the face of a tough situation, able to get a clear perspective, to stand up and speak the truth. She’s tough because she’s had to be, but she’s deeply compassionate, too, because she’s been there herself. Let’s say someone in your circle of friends has had a hard time lately, and is taking it out the rest of you. The Queen of Swords is the one who’ll actually talk to her and give her that tough kind of love, telling her that this behaviour isn’t okay, but that they’re there to support her when she’s ready to sort herself out.
Swords are about truth, justice and clear perception, and the Queen of Swords is a person who can see a bigger picture. Not just witnessing injustice as it manifests around them, but also the root causes of that injustice. As an activist, this is someone who ‘gets it’, who understands how the system works. They’re wry, because they know how this shit works, but they’re not cynical. There’s the willingness to call stuff out, but it’s underpinned by love and compassion, the determination to support people to be the best they can be, not just knock them down.
Queen of Pentacles
We hear so much about ‘self-care’ and getting our needs met. The Queen of Pentacles shows us what these things look like in action. Grounded, down-to-earth, this is a person who really knows how to create solid foundations for themself, who puts a high value on the ‘little things’ in life, spending time in nature, eating good food, community, home, making stuff, doing work you love, and so on. And because they know how to practice self care, they’re great at providing community care, too! This queen is the one who’s always got the kettle on, who’ll offer you a bed for the night or bring a big tin of flapjacks to the protest to keep everyone going.
The suit of Pentacles teaches us to find magic in the everyday, to take pleasure in using our hands, the joy of hard work, dedication and practice. Alongside the loftier themes of self-actualisation, justice and passion found in the other suits, Pentacles remind us that our material lives need attention too, and that we all have finite resources, or capacity, or spoons. One big lesson that this suit teaches, for me at least, is that it’s an act of compassion to ensure I have my own needs met, as it is only then that I can be of service to others. The Queen of Pentacles is an expert at this: they know how to say ‘no’ when they need to conserve energy for themselves, and so at other times they’re able to be generous and share their resources with others. Because of this, the Queen of Pentacles seems to have an abundant, comfortable life and appears to have a great capacity for nurturing others. Their secret? Genuine self-care. They’ve learned to listen to their body and their heart and hear what is needed, meeting those needs before seeing to others.
(By the way, if you’re interested in exploring the concept of ‘grounding’ and what that looks like in practice, we talked about it in this community roundtable!)
Queen of Cups
The cups suit is the realm of spirituality and emotion, it’s where we cultivate our intuition and (hopefully) learn to truly feel our feelings, whatever they are. There’s both ecstatic joy and deep sadness here, and everything in between. The suit of cups teaches us that light and shadow are of equal importance in our lives, and that real strength is not about being happy all the time, but learning to navigate through the whole maze whilst remaining true to ourselves.
That’s the Queen of Cups. Every situation is viewed through the prism of how it feels, what it means on a deeper level. The Queen of Cups is strong in herself because she’s able to express herself truthfully in each moment. She’s about authenticity, prizing emotional integrity over any idea of ‘right and wrong’. She’s the journaller, the diarist, the free-spirited artist, the person who understands that all things are connected, who explores her spirituality, values therapy and personal development.
Cups’ element is water, so it’s energy flowing, shape-shifting, hard to pin down or express in words. The Queen of Cups has learned to be comfortable with change — specifically internal change — and sees shifting emotions as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, to dig deeper into our subconscious, to explore themes of fulfillment and wholeness not as prescribed goals with a start and end point, but as an ever-evolving journey. And, because she’s done so much of this work on herself, she’s able to offer this wisdom to others, too. Where the Queen of Pentacles is able to hold physical space and offer a comfortable, nurturing physical environment, the Queen of Cups can do this emotionally and psychically. She’s the kind of person who will comfort and reassure you, and accompany you on the toughest emotional journey.
The above are simple and one-dimensional interpretations. Depending on where these cards appear in your readings, they may mean very different things, not all of them so blatantly positive (I’ve seen the Queen of Pentacles represent someone who mollycoddled a partner, the Queen of Swords as being too sharp, for example.) But as mentors and symbols of qualities we need to call into our lives, each of these cards brings us powerful lessons to help us ‘do the work’. For me, I have the Queen of Wands on my desk as I write, she’s reminding me that right now I’m transitioning, and that it doesn’t matter one bit what anyone else thinks about it. I’m grateful for her confident posture, her sunflowers and her knowing smile, and I feel like she’s cheering me on during this often-fraught process of ‘becoming’.
How about you? Do you have a favourite queen, or one who feels especially important to you right now? Tell me all about it!