The Wooden Tarot: Court of Stones

This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.

Stones Courts

The Court of Stones features animals that are by and large more familiar than the other courts–at least for North Americans (the Page of Stones as the Dik-dik is the exception.) All members of the court are ungulates and herbivores, which makes sense, given the prevalence of horns and antlers throughout the pip cards. It’s almost as if we’ve been following a trail of antlers back to their source, but instead of animals with real horns and antlers, we instead find…animals with stones for horns! (The King is a significant exception.) The other visual theme that unites the members of this court is the smoke that rises from behind them as if they were engulfed in flames, emphasizing the element of fire in the suit.

Page of Stones

The neck and head of a Dik-dik, with stones growing out of its head instead of horns. Two large stones are crossed in front of it.

It took me a lot of internet searching to figure out that this guy is a Dik-dik. I knew there was some tiny cute deer creature, but I couldn’t remember its name without the help of Google. And indeed, the Dik-dik must be one of the cutest creatures in existence. I know there’s some stiff competition for that title, but do an image search for them and you’ll see what I mean.

Like the rest of the Pages, the Page of Stones is diminutive when compared to the other animals of the court–Dik-diks are a little over a foot tall at the shoulder. Male Dik-diks do have horns, but they are short and it does not seem that they use them for combat. And given the species’ small size, I imagine that it does not fight many of its predators, either. Dik-diks’ best defense is their ability to sense when a predator is near, alert other members of their group, and to flee.

These small stones grow from the Page’s head like inspiration. We can think of the Page as representing nascent creative ideas or desires, having ideas but for the moment lacking the ability to focus them into action or make them manifest. Yet the Page represents an important place in the creative or spiritual journey–with the huge eyes and ears of the Dik-dik, they are able to absorb inspirations and influences.

The stones crossed (locked, really) in front of the Page, however suggest a more defensive posture. The Page may have lots of ideas, but they are not ready to open up and express themselves. Like the Dik-dik, they protect their ideas by hiding them or only showing them to trusted friends, rather than debate things in the open.

Keys: creative or spiritual apprenticeship; artistic imitation; the beginning stages of a creative idea; trying out new ideas or techniques without having mastered them

Reversed: abandoning a project or spiritual path early in the process because of challenges that seem overwhelming; being unsure of oneself; jumping into something too fast without a proper foundation or proper enthusiasm; being so hostile to criticism or feedback that progress is impossible

Knight of Stones

A horse with stones growing out of its forehead, transforming it into a unicorn. A small, gemlike flame floats between two stones that point outward.

If you look at this Knight, you’ll see that they are not a true unicorn. Two very small stones poke out from the base of the larger one. It’s almost as if the small stones on the head of the Page were then appropriated by the Knight.

The Knight of Stones is a magical creature. They are able to take the initial energy and enthusiasm of the Page and focus it into the creation of something. The Knight always has a clear purpose, and the stone on their head always points the way forward. Given the mythical quality of the unicorn, however, the Knight may also be hard to pin down or contact. The Knight of Stones may have more of a “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” approach to creative or spiritual endeavors (or, well, sex for that matter), doing things in short, focused bursts and then moving on to something else. The outward orientation of the stones in front of the Knight suggests that with them, energy is open and expansive, always growing and moving outward. I think of the Knight of Stones as one of those people who (magically, it seems to me) never gets tired.

Keys: very focused creative or spiritual energy; a burst of inspiration that leads directly into action; innate talent or enthusiasm; infectious energy; championing a cause

Reversed: scattered energy; the inability to commit to a spiritual path or see a creative project through from start to finish; a great amount of talent mixed with lack of practical skill

Queen of Stones

A female White-Tailed Deer with a cluster of stones growing from her neck and shoulders. The moon rises behind her.

There is a steadiness and dignity to this image. The Queen is direct–they look us in the eye without flinching. However, unlike much of the suit of Stones would suggest, they are not combative because they don’t need to be. The fruits of the Queen’s creative or spiritual endeavors are on display for everyone to see. Not because the Queen wears them like jewelry or medals, but because they emanate naturally.

It is in the Queen that we see long-lasting achievement. The earthy studiousness of the Page makes them unprepared to make things happen, while the airy fire of the Knight is brilliant but unfocused. Water and fire balance each other here, and we can see that balance in the Queen’s profusion of jewels and their calm expression. Like the Queen of Plumes, I imagine this Queen as a mentor–someone who is brilliant and accomplished, but has also decided to help others instead of just focusing on their own work.

Keys: creative maturity; an artistic or spiritual figure who mentors others; not letting creative or spiritual pursuits diminish quality relationships with friends and family; nurturing inner fire

Reversed: relationships and creative/spiritual pursuits somehow out of balance: a family situation that stifles one’s inner fire, or neglecting relationships in order to pursue one’s own path; arrogance in one’s accomplishments; unwillingness to help others

King of Stones

A leaping ram, bursting from a cluster of stones, and with stones growing out of his horns. The sun rises behind him.

The King is the only member of this court who we see from the neck down, as if a conventional portrait were simply not possible because the King can’t sit still. The ram bursts through/from the stones, suggesting someone who is both supported by their creative/spiritual path and able to transcend its limitations. The King is also the only member of the court to have both real horns and stones growing from them, suggesting their ability to break through obstacles.

I have always thought of the King of Wands/Stones as the get shit done card. The King will not fail, will not take no for an answer, will not give up. In a situation, they may be the part of you that refuses to be broken in the face of obstacles, or they may be the person who can pull some strings (or act as a battering “ram”) in order to get things done. The King is the fire of fire, pure energy and power. This part of you may get you very far, but may also lead to burnout in the long run.

Keys: unbreakable will; being able to carry a project through to the end; the “fire in the belly”; never giving up.

Reversed: a Captain Ahab-like tendency–obsession with accomplishing a goal no matter the cost; focused on ends over means; burnout

The Wooden Tarot: Court of Blooms

This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.

I have some general notes on the court cards of the Wooden Tarot in general at the top of my entry for the Court of Bones. I will add a general note because we’re seeing the third eye on the animals in these cards, which was absent on the skulls in the Suit of Bones. The truth is this: I don’t know much about third eyes, other than the association with insight and inner awakening. As I said in the introduction to the Suit of Bones, well…it’s a bare bones suit! It doesn’t seem to have much to do with spiritual endeavor or intuition. Not surprising that the Courts wouldn’t have a third eye.

In the Suit of Blooms, we’re seeing most of the figures from a more 3/4 view, meaning that we can see their third eye quite clearly. In the Suit of Plumes (Swords), the courts all have an extra eye, but since they are all shown in profile, the implication is that they actually have four eyes. Perhaps this has to do with the suit’s association with intelligence. Rather than the mystical third eye, the courts in the Suit of Plumes have four eyes so they can see the facts more clearly.

Interestingly enough, however, the court cards for the Suit of Stones (Wands) have no third eye (although, to be fair, they have crystals growing directly from their bodies, and why would you need a third eye when you have that?) This is a bit surprising to me, given the suit’s association with spirit and creativity. Mostly, it emphasizes to me that Blooms are THE suit of intuition and insight in this deck. We’re not just talking about cards that deal with emotion and relationships, but with the magical things that hold those relationships together–deep insight into ourselves and others.

Bloom Courts

Page of Blooms

A Blue Angel Nudibranch with an eye in the middle of its head swims inside a crystal ball or a large, round drop of water. The ball sits at the center of a white lily-like flower; water splashes from behind the flower and drips off the petals.

I really have to thank the members of the Wooden Tarot Study Group on Facebook for figuring out what on earth this animal is: Glaucus atlanticus. I figured it was some sort of nudibranch but didn’t have a clue as to the species.

This little guy is TINY–only about an inch long. And yet, they are terrifying because they float on the surface of water and sting to death much larger prey than themselves, including Portuguese Man o’ War. That’s right. This little one inch long creature kills and eats Portuguese Man o’ War. And aside from its small size and terrifying eating habits, this little critter also belongs to one of the most beautiful types of animals in the world: nudibranchs. Don’t believe me? Just look at these pictures.

Despite its power, the Page of Blooms (Cups) upholds the tradition of being the most feminine and delicate Page of the deck (although the Dik Dik, which is the Page of Stones in the Wooden Tarot, will certainly give it a run for its money.) The white lily on this card symbolizes purity and innocence. Eating of venemous jellyfish aside, we might think of this Page as being very passive (as befits Earth of Water), waiting to be discovered by friends and romantic interests and needing to be drawn out of their shell. Once they are drawn out, however, they are potent and passionate–a force to be reckoned with.

Keys: quietly carrying a great amount of sensitivity and passion; shyness in meeting new friends or lovers; an inexperienced lover; quiet, delicate beauty

Reversed: being unsure of how to handle strong emotions; emotional immaturity; sensitivity causing one to fixate in unhealthy ways–such as in self-hatred or by seeking revenge; emotional dependence rather than interdependence

Knight of Blooms

A three-eyed swordfish bursts from the center of a rose. Water splashes all around.

Woah! Here comes the Knight of Blooms, and they aren’t messing around. The swordfish is the perfect fish for this card–it’s a literal jouster! (I guess a narwhal would have been a good choice, too, but I like the non-mammal theme of this suit.) These are beautiful, aggressive fish who have a habit of showing themselves off by breaching (jumping out of the water) and using their bills to slash prey.

The rose on this card continues the Knight of Cups’s long association with romance and idealism. The Knight of Blooms makes decisions based on their gut and is quick in carrying things out. They feel strongly and will do whatever it takes to protect those they love. They can also be quick to take offense and long to hold a grudge. As a lover, the Knight is not a slow burn type of person. They will tell you how they feel up front and take the lead in moving through stages of intimacy.

Keys: passion; emotional loyalty; being honest about your feelings; acting on your gut, rather than waiting to figure out things with logic; being up front with how you feel

Reversed: overly-sensitive; wearing your heart on your sleeve and reacting sulkily or defensively when you get rejected; reacting with anger to feelings of vulnerability; holding grudges against other people and/or shutting them out because they–intentionally or not–hurt your feelings

Queen of Blooms

A three-eyed octopus emerges from a large, pink lotus blossom. Splashes of water surround them, while the moon rises from behind.

What an amazing choice for the Queen of Blooms! Octopus are among the most intelligent of invertebrates. They are strong, they are wily, they are masters of disguise. I dare you to watch this video without dropping your jaw. The octopus can disguise itself so well because it can tell in a split second what color and texture it needs to make its skin in order to blend in with its surroundings. When their amazing techniques of self-disguise don’t work, the pull the old ink-and-run maneuver.

The Queen of Blooms is my significator, so I almost feel like I’m writing a self-description here. I was puzzled at first, once I read more about the octopus, I became convinced that it is the perfect animal for this card.

The Queen of Blooms watches their surroundings closely. They have a strong sense of intuition (this card is often matched with the INFJ personality type) and adapt well to a variety of personalities and social situations. They are a shape-shifter, though, and others may have a difficult time getting to know them. The Queen of Blooms may be secretive–but often for no good reason. They may retreat and hide themselves simply because they want to be alone. However, when they are called upon to give emotional strength, they will do so.

Keys: intuition; the ability to get along with a wide variety of personalities; strength in emotional support of oneself and others; emotional independence and self-worth; having good people skills/being good at “reading” people

Reversed: hiding away; pretending to fit in with unhealthy social situations; shutting others out–intentionally or not; being so secretive it hurts those close to you; being so so socially adaptable as to be without a strong sense of self

King of Blooms

A three-eyed purple and blue betta fish emerges from a large white bloom. Splashes of water surround them, while the sun rises from behind.

And now we’re back on the small end of things. Betta fish are small, very beautiful, and very aggressive fish. The males in particular have long flowing fins and often fight each other–even to the death. Like the Knight of Blooms, the King of Blooms tends to combine showiness with aggression. Like the beautiful fins on the betta fish, which advertise  reproductive prowess, the King of Cups has many qualities that would make them a good long-term partner–not least a willingness to fight for a relationship, even in adverse circumstances.

However, the King of Blooms can also be a moody loner (male bettas are usually kept alone in aquariums because they will kill each other.) Their willingness to fight for what they love may have backfired, and now they will fight to keep others out. Hence the reputation that the King of Cups has acquired for being emotionally detached. Whether the King of Blooms is a fighter/lover or a loner will depend on the context of the reading.

Keys: emotional maturity–often on prominent display; wanting to make a relationship work; someone in a “provider” role for a relationship or family–orchestrating things so everyone spends time together and feels included; putting the greater good of a relationship above one’s personal feelings

Reversed: emotional coldness; being detached in a situation that calls for compassion; feeling hurt or embittered by past relationships

The Wooden Tarot: Court of Bones

This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.

Bone Courts

Finally, we come to the court cards in the suit  of Bones. These cards feature some old themes that we’ve already seen in the numbered cards, as well as some new ones.

General Notes on the Wooden Tarot Courts

I have decided that for the court cards in this deck, I am going to refer to all of the figures on the cards with the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” Likewise, I will refer to the energy of the cards as active/receptive rather than masculine/feminine. To me, the Wooden Tarot seems like a deck in which gender doesn’t really matter that much, and as such I see it as a pretty agender deck–even more so than the Wild Unknown. I personally would have loved it if Swartz had renamed the courts Collective Tarot style, referring to each card as a stage of development, rather than the court position, but, hey, you can’t have everything.

I may do a separate post about all of the Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings separately. For  now, it’s good to point out some patterns. The first pattern is in which direction the character on each card is facing. In the receptive suits of Blooms and Bones, Queens face right, while Kings face left. In the active suits of Stones and Plumes, this is reversed. The same pattern would hold true for Pages and Knights (receptive suits: Knights face left, Pages face right; reversed for active suits.) Here is a crappy picture so you can see what I’m talking about. But as you can see in the picture above, the Page and Knight of Bones break this model. They should be facing each other, just like the Queen and King do. I am wondering if this was deliberate on Swartz’s part, or if he painted the Page and Knight of Bones before planning the whole set of courts.

The second pattern is that of the sun and moon. The sun always rises behind the King, signifying the active/fire energy of the card, while the moon rises behind the queen, signifying the receptive/water energy.

And a note about how I read court cards in general: I read them metaphorically, rather than literally, meaning that I read them as parts of one’s personality instead of people in one’s life.

Page of Bones

The skull of a canid floats above a barren mountainous background, facing left. Moss covers the skull in places, and from it sprout fungi, a dandelion gone to seed, and a clover.

I spent way too long on Google image search trying to figure out if this was a coyote skull or a wolf skull. Despite many helpful resources out there, my search was inconclusive. I’m leaning toward coyote, though. Coyote’s reputation as a trickster is no doubt partly based on its skull, which looks like it’s laughing. Indeed, this card seems to have the most whimsical air of the suit, with the dandelion and clover (two favorites of children) sprouting from the skull.

The mountains in the background recall those on the shoulders of the God of Bones and are the more well-defined on this card than on the Knight of Bones. This reminds us that the Page of Bones is the earthiest card there is: Earth of Earth–earth as elemental dignity and affinity.

We might think of the social natures of wolves, coyotes, and dogs when looking at this card. These animals can be playful, but also fiercely hierarchical and territorial. The Page of Bones, then, combines both the playful elements of the coyote with the imperative to do things according to order and form.

Keys: trying your hand at a new skill; bringing a sense of playfulness to work; learning from and cooperating with others

Reversed: perfectionism–not wanting to try something unless you can be perfect at it right away; not allowing oneself to benefit from the help or wisdom of others;

Knight of Bones

The skull of a rhinoceros faces right. Moss, lichen, and small mushrooms grow on it while three oak leaves dangle. Above the skull there appears a faint mountainous background.

I had never seen a rhinoceros skull before looking at this card, and was rather startled by it. (This also led me to read a lot about the poaching of rhinos for medicinal trade and the things that people are doing to combat poaching, like sedating rhinos and removing their horns or even infusing the horn with a substance safe for rhinos but toxic to humans! But I digress…)

The rhinoceros is a huge, thick-skinned creature. But don’t think that this means they are sluggish–rhinos can be highly aggressive and can run faster than humans. The Knight of Bones is the Air of Earth (see the airy mountains floating above the skull), combining stability and practicality with intelligence and aggression. The oak leaves sprouting from their skull reinforces this as well: oaks are associated with strength and stability, but an oak leaf crown is a symbol of victory.

Keys: throwing your weight behind something; putting your nose to the grindstone; diligence; determined focus on accomplishing an objective; being methodical but efficient

Reversed: lack of focus, diligence, or energy; it might be time to take a break; a less logical, methodical approach may be called for

Queen of Bones

The skull of a Smilodon (aka Saber-Toothed Tiger) faces the right. One of the large teeth is broken off. Flowing ivy, moss, and two small mushrooms sprout from the skull; the moon rises behind it.

With the King and Queen of Bones, we make the transition to animals who are no longer with us, showing the maturity of these figures relative to the Page and Knight. (There were, of course, canids and rhinoceros living at the time of the Saber-Toothed Tiger and the Woolly Mammoth, but these two just scream, “We came from the Ice Age!!” Also, the Queen and King of Bones have more aged skulls than the Page and Knight.)

The ivy trailing from the skulls of the Queen and the King is significant. In addition to the mushrooms (which we talked about with the Three and Seven of Bones), which symbolize growth and fertility, ivy suggests strength and stability. Ivy finds stout things to wrap itself round, like buildings and large trees. The ivy in these cards suggests that it clings to something substantial. Ivy binds things together–the strong ties of family, as well as familial wealth and security.

I have no idea what we know about the social habits of Saber-Toothed Tigers, but let’s extrapolate from what we know about large felids generally. Female lions and tigers are providers–whether they live in prides or live on their own. They are territorial as well. Regardless of gender, then, the Queen of Bones signifies the person who puts food on the table and keeps the parameters of the living space intact. The Queen’s broken tooth shows that doing so can come at a price. The moon rises behind the Queen, showing their association with water and receptivity, but the fact that the Queen faces right–the active direction–also shows that in this receptive suit the Queen is in their element. This is further reinforced by the fact that the Woolly Mammoth/King of Bones is a possible prey animal for the Saber-Toothed Tiger/Queen of Bones. We’ll see the same kind of dynamic between the Queen and King in the receptive suit of Blooms.

Keys:  protection of family members and family property; responsibility–the buck stops here; creating bonds between people; careful stewardship of resources

Reversed: smothering or domineering; lack of self-care; valuing property more highly than people; obsession with social status rather than healthy family ties and spending;

King of Bones

The skull of a Woolly Mammoth faces slightly left. Moss and ivy hang from it and a small mushroom sprouts from the top. The sun rises behind it.

As I mentioned above, in the receptive suits of Bones and Blooms, it’s the Queens who are in their element and who dominate. The King of Bones, then, is not the breadwinner/predator, but is instead a woollier, more socially oriented figure. If the behavior of modern day elephants is anything to go by, the King of Bones has a penchant for family ties. Unlike the fiercer Queen, the King may be more of an avuncular figure: large, imposing and protective if need be, but ultimately gentle. The King’s strength  is in fostering cooperation and in being inclusive–never forgetting to leave anyone out. (Interestingly, it’s also worth noting that in modern elephants, the societies are actually matriarchal–again, why literal gender is not terribly relevant to this set of court cards.)

Keys: hearthfire; strong community and family bonds; happiness and harmony at home; generosity

Reversed: wealth at the cost of social isolation; lack of unconditional love or emotionally safe space; associating with irresponsible people, or with friends who are harmful to family or the larger community