The Wooden Tarot: Court of Plumes

Plumes Courts

 

 

 

 

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.

Page of Plumes

The head and shoulders of a bird with an extra eye appear above two crossed arrows. From the arrows dangle three cocoons, and along the length of one of them crawls a caterpillar. The silhouettes of four birds can be seen in the distance.

So this is the only bird in the courts I haven’t been able to ID. It looks like some sort of Kingbird to me, but I can’t get it down to the species. It has the look of being modeled after a real bird, though. As with all of the other Pages, the Page of Plumes is diminutive in comparison to the rest of the courts. Kingbirds and flycatchers can range from the very tiny to the decent-sized (for passerine birds, that is) but nowhere the size of the other birds in this court.

I don’t think I have ever seen a Kingbird in person, but let’s check out the description of it over at All About Birds. First, these birds are aggressive toward competitors and predators. When they hunt, they are still most of the time, and then swift and decisive, snatching large insects out of the air, “which they take back to the perch, beat into submission, and swallow whole.” The crossed arrows can also symbolize conflict. Vigilance, decisiveness, and aggression are keys here.

But then what to do about the caterpillar and cocoons? I love the added layer of interpretation. While the Knight, Queen, and King of Plumes all feature butterflies, echoing the appearance of butterflies on the royal regalia of the King and Queen of Swords in the Smith-Waite deck, this Page isn’t quite as developed. While they embody the cool detachment and aggression of the Court of Swords, they also represent nascent ideas. The Page may be swift and bright, but they are also somewhat intellectually mature. They might enjoy playing with ideas and debating for the sake of debate, but they haven’t figured out how to make those ideas into a reality.

Keys: playing around with ideas; arguing for argument’s sake; precociousness; cleverness; a bright young person who may think they know better than everyone; working well with ideas in the abstract

Reversed: basically the same as upright, but with added conceit; someone who may get themselves into a dangerous situation because they think they know more than they actually do

Knight of Plumes

The head of a four-eyed Great Egret (Great White Heron, for those who live in Europe) emerges from behind an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. The Egret holds an arrow in its bill.

I love seeing egrets. Their presence is imposing and unmistakable both while standing and in flight. When they are in breeding plumage, the males grow beautiful long, whispy feathers on their back (used as decorative feathers in ladies’ hats for many years, unfortunately) and the skin on their face turns lime green. These birds have the showiness and style that becomes a Knight.

Great Egrets stand motionless in the water, waiting for frogs or fish to swim by. Then they snatch them out of the water at lightning speed. In a sense, the Knight of Plumes hunts very much in the same way that the Page does: with stillness and patience, waiting for the right moment to strike. While the more traditional image of the Knight of Swords is of someone charging into battle, this card shows us someone whose aggression and action is calculated and contained.

As for the butterfly, like many butterflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails can engage in mimicry. The caterpillars imitate bird droppings, and the adults can mimic poisonous butterflies. This, then, suggests that we may need to be wary of the Knight of Plumes–they could apply their genius to making the world better or to selling snake oil.

Keys: intellectual prowess–especially on display (if the Page is an undergraduate, the Knight is in grad school); cooly considering all options, but acting quickly and irrevocably once a course of action has been settled upon.

Reversed: snobbery; intellectual deception; arrogance; choosing and acting on a plan, and clinging to it even when things go awry; someone refusing to admit they are wrong

Queen of Plumes

The head of a four-eyed Victoria Crowned Pigeon appears from behind clouds. The moon rises above it, and below is a large, blue butterfly. Two crescent moons, with points facing outward, flank a feather/arrow with the point facing down.

As for the crescent moons on the King and Queen cards, I’ve got to say: I’m stumped. I understand everything else about these cards, but why the moons??? I’ll just just have to move on without figuring it out.

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest pigeon in the world–it’s almost as big as a turkey. Having looked up this bird’s behavior and watched many YouTube videos of it (which you should do, because this bird is amazing) I’m tending to think that we should be relying more on the bird’s appearance than its life history to figure out its relevance to the card.

Both male and female pigeons have the crown, which is one of the most fantastic bird crests I have ever seen. Beautiful achievements of the mind are on full display here. While traditionally the Queen of Swords is about sadness (Waite says the card signifies “female troubles”…which are??) I see more intellectual confidence and grace here. This card reminds me of the many amazing female professors I have had in undergrad and graduate school–women who are beautiful, gracious, and intimidatingly smart, and who can ask the one question or point out the one flaw that makes your intellectual facade crumble if they want to. Most of the time, though, they won’t want to do that–they will want to support you in your intellectual endeavors as long as you are earnest. But they will not suffer mansplaining fools gladly.

Keys: effortless intellectual achievement; displaying the intellect with grace and graciousness; helping others think through problems or express themselves intellectually; protecting oneself or others from intellectual condescension or belittlement

Reversed: showing off intellectually in an egotistical manner; using the intellect in a way that doesn’t benefit the community; refusing to help others or give them the benefit of the doubt if they don’t know something; being harsh and judgmental about what other may not know

King of Plumes

The head of a four-eyed Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) appears from behind clouds. The sun rises behind it, with a Monarch butterfly flying upward. Below the vulture, two crescent moons with their points facing inward flank a feather with an arrowhead, the point of which is facing up.

Let’s start with the Bearded Vulture, because its characteristics speak volumes about what the King of Plumes means in this deck. This is a fascinating bird, distributed across high altitudes in much of Europe, Asia, and Africa. These are huge birds, 3-4 feet tall with wingspans of 7-9 feet. What makes this bird particularly special is its habit of eating bones. Yes, bones. Most of its diet is made up of bone marrow. It waits until other animals have picked a carcass clean and then it retrieves the bones. But since some bones are too big to swallow, it flies up to great heights and drops them on rocks to break them. Its stomach acid has a pH of 1, meaning that it can digest bones easily.

So what does this mean for the King of Plumes? The King is detached–instead of getting into intellectual tussles, they like to watch things play out before making their move. They have the ability to crack tough problems, and use creativity to do so. They are a large, imposing presence. They’re not in the habit of throwing their weight around, but when they do, it will be noticed. There may be an acidic quality to the King of Plumes, which may allow them to digest hard truths and make good choices for the sake of others, or they may be harsh to be around.

The other aspects of the card point to its position as an active card within an active suit. The sun rises on the King of Plumes, as it does on all kings. The butterflies that appear in these court cards are a nod to the butterflies that appear on the crown of the Queen of Swords and the throne of the King of Swords in the Waite-Smith deck. Monarch, here, is of course a pun on King, but it’s also worth remembering that Monarch butterflies are beautiful but poisonous to many animals, again showing the potentially dangerous nature of the King.

Finally, the inwardly turned crescents and the feather/arrow that faces up shows the active energy of this suit–the drawing of energy in and up, rather than downward and outward, as in the Queen.

Keys: intellectual detachment; being an impartial judge; considering all your options; digesting a lot of information; solving problems creatively; powerful intellectual prowess

Reversed: aloofness; using the intellect to intimidate others; adhering to just the facts/the letter of the law, even if it is hurtful to others; using logic/intelligence to justify something that is acidic and poisonous, or using the intellect in an acidic or poisonous way

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