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

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4 thoughts on “The Wooden Tarot: Court of Bones

  1. A thought I had while reading this article- the skulls go from not threatened/vulnerable (depending what kind of canid the Page is) to long extinct. Wolves were forced out of many areas and due to reintroduction efforts are no longer endangered (unless I am mistaken); coyotes are routinely hunted as vermin but remain ever present and plentiful. Both reason for plenty of skulls, and examples of resilience for different reasons. Rhinos, despite the breeding efforts of many zoos and attempts to protect wild populations from poachers, are losing numbers rapidly and staring extinction in the face. Smilodons and mammoths if I recall were contemporaries and likely died out around the same time period, although I can’t be certain. There are a variety of implications that can be drawn from this observation, I think, the more I sit and digest it. Thanks for writing this series, it’s incredibly helpful!

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  2. Well, It seems to me that, all the court carts in the suit of bones are extinct animals, the black rhino, the sabertooth, the mamooth, thus I think the skull of the page of bones is that of a tasmanian tiger. They look very similar, thank you for these posts, I just recently found them. Good work!

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