The Tarot Court Cards: Archetypal Patterns of Relationship in the Minor Arcana by Kate Warwick-Smith
Review by Joan Cole


I really wanted to like this book. I've recently started up a Tarot Study Group at a local bookstore, and I needed to have a book to recommend when we got to court cards, so I checked this book out.  I was so excited as I riffled through it that I almost emailed the bookstore publicist to list it before I read it closely.  The table of contents indicates that it covers almost everything I would cover if I were to write such a book (and more).  It's beautifully designed and an ideal layout for skimmers, chock full of charts and bullet points.  But as I read the book, I found I could not give an unreserved recommendation.  You have no idea how disappointed it made me to realize this… this book could have been the book to help people get over the hump on court cards.  It still might be a good book for the Tarotist to buy, but certain caveats must be noted.

What does the book cover?

“The core idea presented in the following pages is that the “face cards” of the Tarot depict people in our lives who support us in unique ways… when the court cards are viewed through the lens of this book, they can clearly and accurately reveal the nature of a support-based relationship between the querent (the person asking the question of the Tarot) and someone in the querent’s life.”

- The Royal Family – the symbolic function of royalty (connection to divinity) and family (community and support system)

Two – From Arrow Divination to a Game of Deputies: A Court Card History – a developmental history of Tarot equally free from both Atlanteans and Gypsies (thank goodness!) and the recent scholarship of Dummett and Decker (bummer!)

Three – Two Hundred Years of Court Card Interpretations – From environmental influence (Grimaud 1748) to type of person (Etteilla, Mathers 1888, Papus, Waite PKT, Eden Gray) to spiritual dimension (Case and Crowley) to inner potential and talent (Arrien and Greer)

Four – A Qabalistic Equation – The combination of the suits with the royal hierarchy as stages of creation.  After describing the suits and the worlds, she develops keywords for court cards as supporters, detractors, resources, and challenges.

Five – The Wand Court in the Kingdom of Spirit

Six – The Cup Court in the Kingdom of Love

Seven – The Sword Court in the Kingdom of Knowledge

Eight – The Pentacle Court in the Kingdom of Power – These four chapters are the meat of the book, and are illustrated by cards from a quite a variety of decks.  For each card, she lists keywords for Supporter, Detractor, Resource and Challenge with a couple of paragraphs explaining each keyword. This is followed by a section called Divination Guide which has a number of questions you can ask yourself if the card comes up in a reading. Finally, there is a section "The King of Pentacles Speaks" (or whatever the card is) - a few paragraphs much like how the Stories of the Wild Spirit book (that came with the Wild Spirit deck) is written.

Nine – Divination with Court Cards – Learning to read the Tarot through a combination of study, developing intuition, self-understanding and practice, guidelines such as looking at both the inner and outer levels and reading reversed court cards, a sample form for recording a reading, and some layouts – one card, three card, tree of life, and astrological wheel

Ten – Court Cards Cast a Shadow – a worksheet exercise, charts and a spread for working with and balancing shadow energies

Eleven – Meditation and the Court Cards – stepping into a court card, focal-point meditation, assuming a personality and an introduction to pathworking

Twelve – Four Kingdoms, One Road – a detailed pathworking


Appendix – quick reference guide and three summary charts 

What problems did I find?

In the first three chapters, the author frequently failed to convince me that the material being presented was essential or even relevant to her support-based relationship technique.  But this is hardly an unusual problem in books I read, and I’m quite willing to overlook a slow start if I’m pleased with the meat of the book.

But then on p. 31 she quotes from Crowley’s Book of Thoth, “King of Pentacles: Represents the fiery part of Earth…” and I knew there was a problem with this book I couldn’t get past.  Crowley does not make any such correspondence!  Crowley’s deck has neither Kings nor Pentacles.  If you go to Crowley’s Book of Thoth and look up what she’s quoting, you’ll find that what he actually says is “The Knight of Disks represents the fiery part of Earth…”  There’s a big difference between a Knight and a King.  Beyond the error of fact her assumption that they are the same represents, she has failed to provide even a parenthetical note that she has made this assumption.  For me, misquoting and quoting out of context so as to change the meaning from the author’s intent are sins of scholarship at a level near to plagiarism, and I personally can’t get past them. 

On p. 42, she states,

“Qabalists use varying systems to assign the worlds to the court card levels.  I use the Golden Dawn system that places the kings in Atziluth, the queens in Briah, the knights/princes in Yetzirah, and the pages/princesses in Assiah.”

I may be wedded to Golden Dawn correspondences for myself, but I’m capable of dealing with someone using a qabalistic interpretation that differs from the Golden Dawn.  For instance, I get great enjoyment out of puzzling through the structure underlying R.J. Stewart’s Merlin and Dreampower Tarots and these are dramatically different takes on qabalah.  However, it is not acceptable to present something as being the Golden Dawn system that isn’t.  Had she included study of the Golden Dawn materials revealed by Regardie and available today from two different publishers, she might have seen in the Second Knowledge Lecture,

“Each suit consists of ten numbered cards, as in the modern playing cards, but there are four instead of three honours: King or Knight, Queen, Prince or Emperor, Princess or Knave.” (p. 66 Llewellyn version)

In Book “T” (p. 544 Llewellyn version) it states that, “Kings or Figures mounted on Steeds” represent the Yod forces of the Name – which corresponds to the realm of Atziluth, and the Princes represent the Vau Forces of the Name – which corresponds to the realm of Yetzirah.  If it’s not clear yet, the part of her statement that is an incorrect presentation of the Golden Dawn system is the contention that Knights in a traditional court structure correspond to Princes in a Golden Dawn court structure.  In fact, Knights correspond to Golden Dawn Kings (even though they correspond to Crowley Knights), a point that I develop in more detail on this page of my site:


If she hadn't said she was explaining Golden Dawn attributions, I would not have been irritated. But for me, this is as much a fingernails on the blackboard thing as being told that the ordinary playing cards developed from tarot and the Joker is the survival of the Fool card in the history section of a tarot book. It colors my attitude about everything that comes later.  It’s sloppy scholarship.

The meat of the book, chapters five through eight, is really well laid out.  But for someone who is using Golden Dawn correspondences, the meanings which were developed via the qabalistic equation and which have Kings as primal energy and Knights as stabilization will be problematic for eight out of sixteen of the cards.  The tables at the end of each suit continue the error with items from 777 that go with the Prince of the suit assigned to the Knight.  For instance, the Knight of Pentacles is 20degrees Aries to 20degrees Taurus in this book (rather than the King/Prince who has a bull in the image in both the Crowley and Waite decks).

What does it have to recommend it?

To be fair to the author, I suspect her error arose from a dependence on secondary sources.  She is hardly the first published author to assume that a Crowley-Harris Knight is the same as a RWS King.  Robert Wang, in the otherwise useful book Qabalistic Tarot also makes that assumption.  (But he still correctly presents Princes as Yetzirah, and bases his discussion on the Golden Dawn deck rather than the RWS.)  It doesn’t stop me from recommending Wang’s book.

Gail Fairfield’s Choice Centered Tarot presents numerology keywords I disagree with.  But I cheerfully recommend her book, because her exposition of the process of developing your own keywords is so strong.  Not to mention the other processes she clarifies (developing layouts, interpreting a reading).  So the question is, does this book help someone develop their own keywords for the Court Cards, or does it merely present the author’s?  My own feeling is that this book is closer to the latter – she devotes some space to the process, but mostly describes her own readymade system. 

Now, I would happily recommend someone sit down and write their own chapters using the organization she presents.  The supporter – detractor – resource – challenge grouping of keywords is a very useful way of thinking about these cards in the context of doing readings and self-discovery.  The divination guide questions and card speaks monologues would also be really useful for someone to develop in their journaling practice.  Ms. Warwick-Smith rightly deserves praise for such an excellent example of information presentation.

I am not a Knights=Air person, but I recognize that there are schools of thought which validly develop this idea.  If this is your take on the courts, the readymade system described in this book really fleshes out the Knights=Air, Kings=Fire correspondence.  It’s just not the Golden Dawn system.  If you are interested in that, read Lon Milo Duquette’s The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford.  And develop your own system and your own understanding after seeing what others have come up with.


If you would like to purchase this book, click here.


The Tarot Court Cards: Archetypal Patterns of Relationship in the Minor Arcana by Kate Warwick-Smith
Publisher: Inner Traditions Intl Ltd; (May 5, 2003)
ISBN#: 0892810920

Joan Cole is a stay-at-home mom and former geek.   She has been studying Tarot off and on since the early 1980's.  You can see her deck collection here.

Review © 2003 Joan Cole
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes