How to sort the courts part 4: Honing power with the kings

A year ago I started a series about court cards, then forgot to finish it. Couldn’t let it go. So here is part III of this revamped series!

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sorting courts

We were there to learn.

Sitting on carpet, couches, and one another, crowding around a fairly well-known sex-educator couple in the kink scene. I don’t remember the topic of the workshop. I barely remember what was said, only something from the “slave boy” about gurus and his fetishizing monastic servitude. Definitely my kind of workshop.

What I felt that day.

The couple started facing each other. We watched them breathe briefly. Long enough for a hush to fall and for the air in the room to shift. Then the slave boy knelt simply and without ceremony. Everyone was fully clothed and plainly dressed, the educators and us spectators. It seemed that silence became its own sound. Was it blood in our ears? Was it the weight of the moment settling on our collective shoulders? It was the inevitability of what would happen next.

The slave boy met his master’s eyes. Otherwise, there was no movement. Well, that’s not true. I felt the hairs on my arm stand at attention and my 6th sense stir. If that counts, I’m sure the room was filled with the infinitesimally small motions of everyone.This is like tantra, I thought. This is the eye gaze finding it’s way into consensual power exchange. It was the first time I’d something like this at a public event. They stopped the gaze. It had been less than a minute.

The main presenter, the master, said sheepishly “this is as far as we can currently go.” His face was flushed and his brow covered with a light sheen of sweat. His boy was the same. I felt a shadow of what it had cost them to show us in my own reaction. It’d been intense to watch.

In tantric practice, I’d held a similar gaze for 15 minutes or more. But never with the kneeling. It’s hard to explain what kneeling can be to someone outside of kinky or monastic circles. People are so often near one another, in a crowded elevator, a classroom, a dinner table. Physical proximity is familiar and in most contexts will seem mundane. But kneeling is physical proximity steeped in power.

Power is its own layer, a less familiar one. We often don’t acknowledge or explore this layer until something has gone seriously wrong. It’s easier to identify once it’s gone awry and we see the consequences. Less obvious from a pulpit, the front of a yoga class, from a parent. Then it feels like something we can exchange naturally, without thought or limitation. In those situations there’s an implicit trust, and we believe that it’s safe and normal to defer. Power is the reason that a posture, if you let it, can change your life. Power is the field of influence of a leader.

The kings of the tarot court are about power, privilege, and influence.

The kings are associated with the Hebrew letter Shin 1 and with fire. Fire has its own flavor. Fire, as in universal spark and guiding light. It’s said to be yang, extroverted, stabilizing, inspiring, and fast. Just as with the queens, you can pair the kings’ association with Shin to each of their respective elements:

sorting courts

What can we do with this information?

We can apply elemental characteristics to the kings to learn more about them. For the sake of example, let’s focus on one word for now – attitude. Outside the bounds of societal structure and circumstance, attitude is so much of what makes us powerful. The same elements that can be thought of as slow (water and earth) can have more grounded characteristics and be more reticent. Just as the faster elements (air and fire) can be thought of as more impulsive and outgoing. What attitudes might we expect from the four kings?

sorting courts

Of course, this is only one side of the coin. The King of Wands could be every bit as irritable as charismatic; the King of Cups can be sullen; the King of Swords, rash; the King of Pentacles, lazy. This is if they are even people. What else could they be? Kings can represent an attitude or perspective centered in mastery or leadership. The kings point to a mentor or recommend you become one. They talk of a stage or process that is highly developed or entrenched.

You may be wondering, but how do you know if they represent people or not? Practice. It sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? For me, this looks like asking my deck “who and how do I need to be?” and seeing what comes up. You can do this using only the court cards but I’ll be honest, when I do it I use the entire deck and you want to know something? I often get courts. Courts often represent who and how to be. The more you do readings addressing who and how questions, the more you see the courts, the more you notice the personalities that correspond and the times when the courts don’t seem to be people.

The kings are associated with the fixed modality in astrology.

The fixed modality is about holding down the fort. Instead of transitioning things as with the mutable and cardinal signs, the fixed zodiac signs – Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius, and Taurus – are more set in their ways. The kings correspond to the fixed signs:

sorting courts

Did you know Barak Obama was a Leo? Speaking of Leos…

The New York Times recently did a piece about the Obamas’ choice of artists who would paint their official portraits at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

We care about the choices of powerful people because of their field of influence. Their culture, language, and attitude permeate the collective consciousness, whether we are aware and whether we want it or not. Not everyone wanted to see art created by Black artists on the walls of the White House. Not everyone will want to see even more of it at the Smithsonian. But such is the prerogative of an important person like the president.

As I read the stories of the two selected artists, the contrast between their careers struck me. Kehinde Wiley, the artist chosen to create President Obama’s likeness, has already established his dominion in the art world. His work is featured on television. He already has the privilege of outsourcing his painting “to assistants in the manner of a Renaissance master.” We can see “King-liness” in him and his work. And what about the artist who will do Michelle?

Amy Sherald’s story is less known, a story with firsts and lasts: “first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition,” added to the list for the Obama’s review “at the very last minute.” How many women and femmes have had their work framed through “firsts” and “lasts” like these? I.e.: she was the first woman to do this, she was the last one chosen? How many of their dominions were interrupted by years of uncelebrated and uncompensated emotional labor and care-taking just like in the case of Sherald?

Dominion seems to be the realm of the privileged.

The person with dominion is the one who’s unencumbered, independent, and not needing to support others – or well-off enough to outsource whatever help they need. It’s the famous person, the celebrity, or politician that’s been bred to lead in their respective field. The one with the big platform telling you what they like and suggesting that you like the same things. They are the source of some unnameable force, some untouchable sphere that covers more ground than in the case of normal person.

This is power; this is kingship and who among us dares even claim it?

It’s safest to think of ourselves only subject to forces like this, right? We aren’t the ones that stand on the elevated daises. We aren’t the ones on the iron thrones. We aren’t the kings. They are the leaders and teachers and famous people and predators that we might even be done with. (Especially this year, sheesh.) Power, however absolute it seems, is fluid – and it can and will change hands. Especially when we are willing to call out its misuse. When we call it out, something better is possible. Conversely, we also need to be willing to acknowledge when we’ve given our power away.

What does it look to be King?

Power is a practice, a pose, a reciprocal biochemical signature that we can share with other humans or experience alone; it’s a privilege that we’ve taken for granted (and which we can use for good). Work with it. Acknowledge its misuse and, also, reclaim it.

When I watched a disabled intersex educator stand purposefully above his kneeling and reverent trans partner, I witnessed the ultimate expression of power as a practice. The poses, the kneeling and standing, was energy consciously transferred between two consenting adults. There is no risk in an action like this beyond tired legs and the naked vulnerability that comes from eye gazing even in milder contexts. Try it out. Practice your power.

How would you sit on a throne? Find something. Sit on it that way. You can do it alone. It might feel like everything is happening. It might feel like nothing at all. But I can tell you that if you try it with someone you love and trust and both of you set the intention that you will hold the enthroned in an attitude of reverence, you will feel something worthwhile.  

One day you will feel comfortable standing in your power.

One day you may share a gaze or receive a devotional sentence with someone you trust. What if you were the one you love and trust that holds the intention for you? (Too meta?!) I’ve learned that I’m hit or miss with affirmations said in the mirror (and mostly I hate them), but I know well the bliss of receiving worshipful attention, and I can get behind aiming that at myself. Who couldn’t?

Power is inhabiting space despite the socialization that tells us that only certain people can be or feel powerful. This is the realm of the kings of the tarot court, the realm of the leaders in life that we respect. Holding their postures, attitudes, and speaking their words, claim the space that you have been waiting for.

sorting courts

How do you anchor the energy of the Kings? 
Where do you get your power?
Answer in the comments, link me on your blog post, or as always use #difficultcards.

Keep in touch

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Wondering what to do in the wake of hurricane Maria?

One of my recent newsletters featured CounterBalanceATX, a Texan non-profit that I trust and which you can support. This tiny Austin-based group has already raised $20,000 and saved hundreds of people. I am blown away by the relentless compassion demonstrated by this relief effort. It sounds like the work of an “organization,” a formal group of many people working together, but it’s worth noting that this group was founded and is run by just two black women. Click the link above to learn more about it. Help if you can.


Featured Deck: The Illest Tarot, by Kristi Prokopiak
Works Cited: 1 Amberstone, Wald, and Ruth Amberstone. “Pain-Free Astrology.” The Tarot School, 2006.

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  1. Hannah says:

    This was such a powerful article, thanks so much for writing it! Like many people, I’ve found the Kings challenging to get my head round, but it’s great to have another way of exploring them. I feel like my perspective has shifted and been illuminated!

    • Siobhan says:

      Nice! Glad it served, Hannah. Kings are tricky. Power can have such heavy connotations and it can be a challenge to think about where to start for alternative expressions of power. And then to go the step further and arrive at alternative interpretations for cards like the Kings. I love to think of the Knights as the change makers. The ones that envision a future that make old paradigms irrelevant. This would leave the Kings as either allies or those that would resist the change. And more often than not, I think of the courts as parts of ourselves, behaviors we’ve inherited and then play out or notice in others.

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