Creator Kathryn Briggs explains why she chose male princesses and female knights…
By Kathryn Briggs
One of the first things folks notice about the The New Chapter Tarot is the gender-swapped court cards. The Princesses of Cups and Disks are men, while the Knights of Cups and Disks are women. Including me! My self portrait appears in the deck as the Knight of Cups, completely with Joan of Arc period appropriate armor. This came about because the Knight of Cups has been my signifier for a while, and especially during the fraught period of transition that was the genesis for The New Chapter Tarot. It felt like the most authentic way to represent the Knight.
But like all things, coming to embrace my Knighthood was a process. First, I painted a completely different version with a random man as the Knight — which felt 1000% wrong as soon as I put my paintbrush down. Not technically wrong, but unauthentic; I hadn’t been brave enough to embrace and celebrate the risk-it-all messiness of the Knight of Cups within myself. This essential quality of the card has nothing to do with my gender or anyone else’s, so why couldn’t I be a Knight? It’s one of my favorite self portraits, and I’ve painted a lot of those, so that’s saying something. Go with your gut in all things art and magick!
After the Knights had been liberated from gender roles, next came the Princesses. I wanted my friend Bob to be a part of the deck and as he is a magickal practitioner, it only felt right to have him pick which card he wanted to be. He passed the honor on to his teen daughter, and in her first ever tarot card pull, she cast her father as the Page of Pentacles. That card made sense for him, but I had already decided against using Pages. How would you feel about being a Princess, Bob? Delighted. Unbeknownst to me, it was his nickname at uni. Again, I was being told to trust the progress and trust my judgements.
I want to emphasize that even though the Princess is portrayed by a man, the idea or role of the Princess within the court cards is unchanged in the The New Chapter Tarot, as is the role or idea of a knight. As a queer creator, it’s important to me to assert that this role can be fulfilled by a person of any gender. Gender is not the defining characteristic of a Knight or a Princess, their actions are.
Today you’re a Princess, tomorrow a King; what felt right about either of those cards?
I understand gender as an archetype, rather than a prescription. It is something you can flow through or a station you can stop at; it’s fixed in Cosmic Archetypal Space, but you aren’t, you’re the growing and changing and moving one. You’re free to adopt, perform, move through, or embody a gender as it feels genuine and authentic to you in the moment.
And authenticity is key. Even if I use symbolism or artifice or mystery in my art-practice, magick requires us to approach it with authenticity and honesty. And any tarot reader knows that the cards can be brutal in their honesty. Authenticity, like archetype, is not a fixed state; it changes with you and you should honor that journey of self knowledge as one without an ultimate arrival. “That is why they say a true initiation never ends, how can it end when it takes place outside of time?” as Grant Morrison would say.
There is an expansive, rather than constrictive, role that gender can play in your tarot practice. Try using your time at the altar or at your tarot cloth as an exploratory space for gender. After all, you draw a new combination of cards every day, so use this as an opportunity to embrace the changing self that greets you every time you practice. You are free to respond and adapt to the authenticity of Now. Today you’re a Princess, tomorrow a King; what felt right about either of those cards? What aspect do they share that carried through? In the midst of fluctuating states, what remained essential, non-negotiable?
Ultimately, my goal is releasing magickal practice from a hetero-normative past that has been actively harmful to so many who practice today. The path of Authenticity and self-trust is one of Liberation.