Castles in the cards:
Landmarks to look for in your readings

by Corrine Kenner

"Yes, your home is your castle, but it is also your identity and your possibility to be open to others." — David Soul

Go through the cards in your tarot deck, and pull out every card with a castle.

You'll probably find yourself with more than a dozen cards in your hand. By my count, the standard Universal Waite tarot deck features castles (or parts of castles) on 15 cards: the Chariot, the Ace, Two, Four and Ten of Wands; the Five, Six, and Seven of Cups; the Eight of Swords; the Four, Six, Eight Nine, and Ten of Pentacles, and the King of Pentacles.

Last week's September 14 Tarot School teleclass — part of the "Imagery and Intuition" series with Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone — took us into those cards, and into the castles of our imagination.

While most of us generally know what a castle is, Wald pointed out that castles were a uniquely European development, born of the need for shelter and security during medieval times, when the miles that separated one community from another were fraught with danger: marauding hordes of bandits and thieves, packs of wolves, and dark forests.

Castles also feature distinct architectural components, such as towers, walls, drawbridges, and moats. Most castles were built with wells, storehouses, stables, and barns. Castles housed any number of private apartments for families — royal and servant alike — as well as secret staircases and escape routes for times of trouble. (If you are interested in identifying any part of a castle on a tarot card, I recommend the glossary of castle terminology at

But what makes castles such an important symbol in the cards is the role they played in the development of western civilization — and the fact that they serve as a powerful symbol of our self-image, our public image, and our relationships with other people. You are the master of your own domain, the ruler of your own destiny, and the castle you build within your psyche will reflect your need for shelter, security, and community.

While castles were impressive structures, they were also an organizing force in medieval society. They sprang up of necessity: castles represented safety in a dangerous world. They were home to the lords and ladies of the land (personalities that we think of still, every time we see the tarot's court cards) but they were also home to anyone who could serve and support the royal family.

In that sense, the buildings themselves became an extension of the social hierarchy. Everyone had a place in a castle, and everyone — from the nobility down to the cooks, gardeners, groomsmen, and maids of the Minor Arcana cards — had a role and a job to perform.

Members of the royal family, of course, are featured on the court cards: you probably already know that kings represent the masculine force that establishes order and imposes structure on a kingdom. The queens represent a feminine, nurturing energy, which makes it possible to uphold, maintain, and preserve the orders of the kings. As Wald pointed out during class, a castle without a queen to make it livable was merely a fortress — a short-term bastion that relied on outside providers for supplies. But a castle with a chatelaine — French for "lady of the house" — was comfortable and self-sufficient.

In terms of form and function, Wald said, castles incorporated both masculine and feminine qualities. Classic castles feature mott and bailey construction: the word "mott" is short for mountain, and refers to the masculine high towers that distinguished most castles. Meanwhile, the word "bailey" refers to walls and enclosures, which reflects the feminine of protection and embrace.

A well-built castle could give life, and it could take life away. Guards and soldiers were positioned to slaughter invaders and attackers, but those who sheltered within a castle's walls could also preserve their lives and pass their heritage along to future generations.

Because nobility was defined by blood, and royal families shared a castle, castles also defined lineage and membership in a group. Granted, castles were open to newcomers and new ideas: ordinary citizens could send their children to a castle to learn a trade, and peaceful travelers could find shelter there. Within a castle compound, however, clear-cut family values and traditions were passed from generation. Over time, castles came to be connected to a population's sense of identity: an attack on a castle was an attack on a community.

Castles also came to be regarded as regional centers for law, diplomacy, and defense. Knights and soldiers were housed and trained at a castle. Criminals were imprisoned in castle towers and dungeons, and people who had legal disagreements could ask the lord of a castle to settle their disputes. In fact, castles helped establish common law principles that we still hold dear: within a castle's walls, Wald said, no outsider's superior authority had to be acknowledged or obeyed. The lord of a castle could do whatever he liked in his own domain. For that reason, we still are firmly committed to the idea that a man's home is his castle, and government should have no say in what we do in private, or with the property that we own.

Naturally, the quality of life within a castle depended on the person in charge. Prosperous castles usually had wise rulers; a run-down castle, with a neglected citizenry, would be a miserable place to live.

All in all, it's easy to see how castles could serve as a metaphor for your own existence.

What kind of castle have you built for yourself, both physically and spiritually? Have you erected walls, to keep outsiders out where they belong? Have those walls been breached, or reinforced over time? Do you post your guards in towers, where they can watch for interlopers? Are your knights well trained? Are your soldiers armed against attack? Do you have secret tunnels and escape routes? Have you dug wells for water, and filled storehouses for winter? Do you allow merchants and traders through your gates? Are you open to innovation and invention? Do you welcome weary travelers? Are you willing to educate the young, and train the inexperienced? Are your servants comfortably clothed and fed? Are they loyal, or ready to rebel?

And just as importantly, what kind of ruler are you? Are you a benevolent despot, or a tyrant? A patient master, or a ruthless dictator? A villain, or a hero?

The answer may be as close as your tarot deck ... if you know how to interpret the castles you see in the cards.

Corrine Kenner is the author of the Epicurean Tarot deck, Tall Dark Stranger: Tarot for Love and Romance, and the forthcoming Tarot Journaling and Crystals for Beginners. She is currently working on a book about fortune-telling with tarot cards.

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