One of the most fascinating items connected to magic is the deck of cards. These fifty two pieces of pasteboard have a long most interesting past, a connection with the occult and probably have been instruments that have seen the exchange of more money, property and goods than almost any other object in history. Philosophers have used them to describe concepts; they have been used to hide religious messages, metaphorical symbols and more.
Believe it or not the first playing cards can be traced back not to Europe but to China which is also the country that is credited with originating paper. The earliest cards can be found in records dating back to the Tang Dynasty in the Ninth Century.
Over the next two hundred years, the invention spread throughout Asia and eventually found its way into Egypt. From there, playing cards worked their way in to the European continent in the Middle Ages where they began to evolve into the predecessors of the cards we use today.
Obviously playing cards today have four suits: clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds. These suits or sets of pictures are the modern versions of suits that existed for centuries. The earliest decks were much more ornate and contained picture of coins, swords, staves and cups. Those suits may be more familiar to you not in playing cards but in a similar cousin, the tarot. Tarot cards continue to use the suits of wands, pentacles, swords and cups along with trumps called the Major Arcana.
On the surface, these card suits seem little more than decoration, but if we look a bit more closely we can find that the suits have meanings. The Hearts represent emotions, passions or love. The Diamonds represent materialism, wealth or earthly matters. The Clubs represent work and labors while the Spades represent actions, events or achievements.
There are many other interpretations as well. For example, in Europe where feudalism was dominant the suits could represent the four parts of feudal society with hearts being the clergy, diamonds being the merchants, clubs being the peasants and the spades being the nobility.
There was a song recorded in the 1950s called "Deck of Cards" which has been recorded at various times by Tex Ritter, Wink Martindale and Bill Anderson. It relates the story of a soldier being discovered by his sergeant with a deck of cards on a Sunday and he proceeds to explain quite skillfully how the cards represent his faith which seems to be a more taboo subject with each passing month. Being a magician and numerologist, I have always been fascinated with how the song relates the deck of cards to the Christian faith as well as pointing out some practical points.
While I understand and respect science and our desire to explain things rationally, I do think there are some things that need to be accepted on faith. I also believe that the world is not a random mish-mash of things and events that juxtapose each other by chance.
While the scientist-mathematician part of my life can understand how randomness and chaos can explain practically everything along with the idea that our brains seek patterns in everything even where there is none, I just cannot help but notice repeatedly how things just fall into place when necessary. Maybe it is just me, but then again.
Take for instance the meanings from the song. There are fifty two weeks in the year, and there are 52 cards in the standard modern playing card deck. There are four suits of thirteen cards and the year has four seasons organized into thirteen weeks each. Add a Joker to the deck and count it as one and add that to the total number of spots in the deck and you find a total of 365, the same number of complete days in a calendar year. Finally, there are twelve court cards with each one corresponding to a month in the year.
The cards ranks are numbers are also given meanings. If you remember the song, the Ace represents God, the Two represents the Bible's two sections, the Old and New Testament, the Three is the Holy Trinity, God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost and the Four represents the Gospel writers of the New Testament, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Five represents the two groups of virgins in the parable about the lamps and the wedding in which five were admitted and five were not. Six represents the six days in which God performed Creation. Seven is the number of the Sabbath day and is the day God rested after Creation occurred. Eight reminds the writer of the eight righteous people God chose to save the world from the flood, namely Noah and his wife, Shem, Ham, Japeth and their wives.
The Nine is a reminder of the parable of the lepers in which only one of ten returned to thank Christ for his healing power. The Ten represents the Decalogue given to Moses as the ten laws the Israelites as well as all of us should follow. The Jack or Knave represents the Devil of the enticer who seeks to ruin us. The Queen or twelfth value represents the Virgin Mary or the Twelve Disciples depending on the card or its value. Finally the King either represents Jesus Christ or God.
Whoever was inspired to create this meaning for the deck of cards was either quite insightful or was given this meaning years ago. While the song was recorded in the 1940s for the first time, its source material can actually be found in several history books dating back to the 1860s. To me it is amazing that one can find so much meaning in a junk drawer.
Til Next time…