Bright Blood: On the Knights

The Knights of tarot are associated with fire, and they share all the personality traits you would expect from that element. To one degree or another, they’re all tempestuous, aggressive, creative, energetic, courageous. They all exhibit a sort of youthful impulsivity, for better or (sometimes) worse. They really are the teenagers of the court. There’s so much untempered intensity. The Knight archetypes are raw and unmediated, and their energy spills over their edges. It can be a lot to handle. But even so, the Knights are my favorite court cards. They have so much to teach us. Each of them carries an almost overwhelming creative impulse, and each of them shows us a different direction that impulse can take. They show us what happens when a person holds a passion that feels, maybe, a little less like love.

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The Knight of Cups combines the fire of the Knights with the watery, emotional quality of the suit of Cups. Fire is an active element. It suits the Knights and the Knights suit it. Knights are doers. They are seekers and adventurers. And the Knight of Cups, Romantic that they are, is a seeker of the heart. They're the most Byronic figure in the deck. Their heart rules all, and their heart is full of flight and fancy. They'll gallop into your life, sweep you off your feet, then drop you as soon as something more interesting wanders into the periphery. That’s bitter-sounding, but it’s true. The Knight of Cups is self-centered as all the Knights are, and they're usually too busy chasing their own feelings to stop and think about yours. But there’s good in them too. They have the potential to be an inspiring figure for those of us who, as a result of growing up in a patriarchy that prizes logic above all, have trouble letting our hearts guide us. “Follow your heart” is maybe the most egregious cliché of all, but the Knight of Cups holds it up as a truth. That it's okay to lead with your heart. That it's okay to the love the world with a deep fervor, and to spend a life chasing that love.

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In the Knight of Swords, we see the fiery energy of the Knights melding with the airy, intellectual energy of the suit of Swords. The Knights are mightily self-conscious in the way most young people are. For better or worse, they have a distinct and often irritating desire to prove themselves. They need you to like them. And I think the Knight of Swords illustrates this better than any of the other Knights. All the court cards in the suit of Swords are clever. The Queen of Swords speaks their truth artfully, the King of Swords speaks their truth diplomatically. But the Knight of Swords hasn’t learned these skills yet. They are a skilled and aggressive debater, but their only true goal is for you to know that they're clever. They spit out their arguments without any grace. They lack self-awareness. Their fiery nature means that they often come across as needlessly aggressive. They have an admirable passion, but they don't always realize how their overbearing nature affects their ability to reach people.

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The Knight of Wands is our fire of fire, an unstoppable blaze of passion and creativity. They are fueled by a passion that is hot and heart-pounding, that feels more like war than peace. The Knight of Wands has no fear—no fear of failure, no fear of loss, no fear of consequences. They are a burning, bleeding heart. They have a self-confidence bordering on cockiness, but that kind of enthusiasm for risk can be mighty attractive. The Knight of Wands is impulsive like all the Knights, so they aren't great with commitment. They have a new passion, a new fight, every day. This kind of outsized energy gives them an almost mythological feel. The Pagan Otherworlds Tarot depicts this knight with a white stag. In Arthurian legend, the appearance of a white stag was a sign that the knight needed to go on a quest. Hunters pursed the stag not to kill it, but to let it lead them on new adventures. The point wasn’t the capture. The point was the sheer joy of chase. Which is why the Knight of Wands is always flitting from new passion to new passion. They don't have the patience to stick with much of anything, but they live for the first flush of excitement.

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If the other Knights are hares, the Knight of Pentacles is the tortoise. They're maybe the least Knight-like of all the Knights. In them we see a marriage of fire and earth. I love court cards that combine opposite elements like this, because it teases out aspects of the elements that are sometimes overlooked. When we think of fire, we think of passion and aggression and maybe even destruction. We think of burning lust, uncontrollable forces, ideas that crackle with inspiration. But the Knight of Pentacles shows us a different kind of fire. They have the same enthusiasm as all the Knights. Their earnestness about his work is so bright it’s almost painful to look at. It’s the kind of open-hearted love that makes you nervous. That passion of theirs is a fire, but it’s one that is tempered by dirt and bone, by patience and structure. Rather than burning them out, it sustains them. It’s what gives them the energy to work long and hard in the way they do.

The court cards often feel so big to me, too big to be relatable, too big to contain a real person. But they can and do represent facets of ourselves and those we know. Of all the court cards, the Knight have been, I would say, the most instrumental to my own personal growth. As an Aries sun whose own fiery qualities were sometimes dampened in childhood, witnessing the physicality and impulsiveness of the Knights has been instrumental for my personal growth. These archetypes have shown me the parts of myself I’d forgotten I had, and they’ve showed me how to use them. Because tarot is good for so many things, and I think the best of them is this simple witnessing.