2010-05-06

Card Cosmology, Part II

At last, as promised in our previous post, herein we will catalogue some of the details of the card cosmology which I have made up or, alternatively, which has been revealed to me over the past three years.


The basic cosmological axiom of this system is the black/red dualism inherent to the cards' design. Black is the feminine aspect of this dualism, while red is the masculine, inasmuch as when considering the face cards, a male card (king or jack) in a black suit is good because the masculine nature of the card is balanced with the feminine qualities of the suit. Contrariwise, male cards in red suits are unbalanced and are characterized negatively. Of course, the opposite is true of the queens: the red queens are balanced and positive, while the black queens are unbalanced or polarized, and thus negative.

This positive or negative characterization of the face cards also has to do with the qualities represented by each of the four suits. Largely informed by the aforementioned verse from Sting's song "Shape of my Heart", these are roughly as follows:

  • Spades - As "the swords of a soldier", spades represent skill, because a sword is a weapon ideally of precision. By extension, spades represent all kinds of acumen, physical, psychological, or emotional.
  • Clubs - Because they are generic "weapons of war", clubs represent strength, since concussive weapons depend mostly on brute force for their effectiveness. This meaning extends to all kinds of strength.
  • Diamonds - Being "money for this art" — warfare, that is — diamonds represent material wealth most basically, and as such also stand for power in social or political sense, or in any other way which can be quantitatively accumulated.
  • Hearts - Naturally hearts represent emotion generally. More specifically, the suit also connotes force of will and spirit.
These qualities are embodied to different degrees and in different aspects in each card, but particularly in the face cards, which become sort of icons of archetypal personalities. Keeping this in mind, consider each card in the four 'courts' of face cards:

  • King of Spades - Postively, a balanced figure with masterful self-control and precision, reliable, consistent, and able to outwit or outmaneuver obstacles. Negatively, the King of Spades is ruthless, judgmental, and self-isolating.
  • Queen of Spades - As a card generally regarded as unlucky, the negative characteristics of the Queen of Spades (colloquially known as "The Bitch") tend to be especially prominent. She is master of guile and harsh manipulation, using a sword to stab in the back whoever stands in her way. However, while she is saddled with this shady reputation, her symbolism also suggests the very strongly positive image of the shield-maiden or valkyrie, a powerfully able and self-reliant female figure.
  • Jack of Spades - Positively, he is the focused youth who disciplines himself, ensuring future success. In his negative aspect he may lack compassion, disdaining others for their perceived weaknesses or ineffectuality.

  • King of Clubs - Positively, he is the master of might, a sturdy figure of indomitable strength and perseverance. Negatively, his strength becomes blundering bullheadedness, and his perseverance becomes obstinate stubbornness.
  • Queen of Clubs - Also a primarily negative figure, she might jokingly be characterized as "Miss Shoots-First-Asks-Questions-Later". She brashly uses force to get what she wants without consideration for others. Positively, though, she is literally the strong woman, a confident and self-assured figure whose strength never fails.
  • Jack of Clubs - The strong youth, he is dedicated and persistent. Negatively, he too may be unconcerned with others and driven to surpass them in his own quest to be strongest.

  • King of Diamonds - An unbalanced figure, concerned foremost with his own wealth, power, and prestige. Positively, he could represent a figure with great wealth or a position of power who has the experience to keep and use it well.
  • Queen of Diamonds - A balanced figure who occupies her position of influence with grace and uses her power with benevolence and gentleness. Negatively, she could be the woman who manipulates and misleads in order to gain a powerful place.
  • Jack of Diamonds - While in principle an unbalanced and negative character, the Jack of Diamonds is popularly a lucky card, and so his positive qualities as the youth of good fortune and generosity may be emphasized. However, in his negative aspect he unscrupulously serves ill ends in his pursuit of money and power.

  • King of Hearts - Famous as "The Suicide King" (on account of common card imagery in which, holding his sword aloft, he appears to pierce his own head), he impulsively acts according to his own capricious feelings without forethought or consideration. Positively, he is master of the full range of emotions, understanding the feelings of all.
  • Queen of Hearts - Despite her bad reputation from Alice in Wonderland, she is a sublimely balanced figure, supremely sympathetic and deeply caring. Negatively, she may too easily feel for others when she ought to restrain herself.
  • Jack of Hearts - Negatively, he is the overly emotional youth, dissolute and unable to focus, too swayed by his unrestrained feelings. Positively, he is romantic and poetic, happily eager to discover the reaches of emotion.
In addition to the fundamental black/red dualism which informs the above interpretations of the face cards, a further order of dualistic pairing may be applied: the loose rule that spades should be paired with hearts, while clubs should be matched with diamonds. The idea on this level is that the qualities of each suit are better balanced in these pairs: the emotions are best tempered with self-control, while powerful skill must be checked by a feeling heart; meanwhile, it is better that the honest vigor available to all prevail over power of place, while wealth had best be used to employ and support those with useful strength, whatever their station. On the other hand, the alternative pairings would yield ill results: skill bought out by wealth, or oppressive power which abuses the adept to defend itself; and might amok at the whim of untrammeled emotion, or heartfelt feelings cruelly suppressed by overbearing strength.

As an aside, this double-ordered dualism informs the idea of the 'ideal courts' in the cosmologically-oriented game of Solitaire, which we will discuss in the next article.

Besides the face cards, certain number cards have accreted particular significance. Of course, the aces stand out in this regard. Each ace is the singular embodiment of each suit's characteristics. As such, incidentally, it's only natural that the ace of spades is held in especial honor, as card games are primarily games of skill. Meanwhile, the deuces are cautiously regarded as emblematic of trouble or difficult obstacles, perhaps because of their tendency to be wild cards in some games, but primarily because they are often not easy to move in Solitaire without the necessary ace to lay them away on.

Besides the central and relatively well-organized idea system surrounding the face cards, other bits of pertinent superstition have accreted upon this cosmology. Above, we noted in passing that the prevalent popular opinion of the ominousness of the Queen of Spades and the auspiciousness of the Jack of Diamonds (characterizations I encountered when learning the game of Hearts) adheres to the cluster of ideas surrounding each card, even though in the case of the Jack of Diamonds that positive characterization runs counter to the cards' ostensibly negative classification. Another example is the Nine of Diamonds, which among card players is sometimes known as The Curse of Scotland for a number of reasons, including the card's supposed resemblance to the banner of the Earl of Stair, who authorized the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. While early modern European history has never been of particular interest to me, and nor are the circumstances for which the Nine of Diamonds is so named especially familiar, nevertheless the fact of its ominous reputation suffices to become attached to the otherwise systematic set of ideas which inform the cards.

Along similar lines, a wholly unrelated cosmology has begun to loosely associate itself with this card cosmology. My recent interest in Norse mythology has led me to begin to think of possible associations of the face cards with the Norse pantheon. This end itself is in part informed by my contact with a deck of cards in which the four queens were each depicted as one of the Greek goddesses. At present, the following rough and partial mapping has taken shape:

  • King of Spades: Odin or possibly Tyr
  • Queen of Spades: possibly Freyja
  • Jack of Spades: Tyr or possibly Freyr
  • King of Clubs: Thor
  • Queen of Clubs: possibly Hel
  • Jack of Clubs: Heimdall
  • King of Diamonds: Ægir
  • Queen of Diamonds: Ron
  • Jack of Diamonds: Baldr or possibly Freyr
  • King of Hearts: possibly Njord
  • Queen of Hearts: Freyja or possibly Skadi
  • Jack of Hearts: Freyr
The aces also have loose associations with certain famous artifacts of Norse myth:

  • Ace of Spades: Odin's spear Gungnir, or Freyr's sword, or the sword Gram
  • Ace of Clubs: Thor's hammer Mjolnir
  • Ace of Diamonds: Freyja's necklace Brisingamen, or Odin's ring Draupnir
  • Ace of Hearts: the vessel Odrerir, which holds the mead of poetry, or the preserved head of Mimir, which shares wisdom with Odin
These identifications, tentative at best, more or less disregard the fundamental dualism of the card cosmology, a dualism born of Solitaire. Instead, they represent an entirely unrelated accretion, and one which has little bearing on the original idea system. Nevertheless, the associative accretion which the superimposition of the Norse pantheon represents is noteworthy as an example of a way in which one system of ideas can be subsumed by or incorporated into another preexisting one.

Speaking of Solitaire, we have at this point sufficiently assayed the details of this cosmology to consider how those ideas play out, as it were, in a cosmologically-informed game of Solitaire. To that task we shall turn in the next post.

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