2010-05-19

Card Cosmology, Part III: Solitaire

In our previous post, we catalogued salient highlights of the playing card cosmological idea system and some of its accretions. Today, in similar fashion, we shall consider Solitaire, the game which largely informs the cosmology.

This exploration shall be organized according to three types of 'cosmological Solitaire' games: Apotropaic, Divinatory, and a third type which we will call Holy Solitaire.


Apotropaic Solitaire
The basic principle which guides this kind of game is the directive that the face cards must be organized into specific combinations in order for the game to properly progress. This is the notion of the 'ideal courts' mentioned in the last post. These arrangements of the face cards draw upon the principle that while either black suit could be paired with either red suit, spades with hearts and clubs with diamonds are best paired. As such, the four ideal courts are as follows:

  • King of Spades, Queen of Hearts, Jack of Clubs;
  • King of Clubs, Queen of Diamonds, Jack of Spades;
  • King of Diamonds, Queen of Clubs, Jack of Hearts;
  • King of Hearts, Queen of Spades, Jack of Diamonds.

These sets tend to be viewed in terms of contrasting the positive characterizations of black-suited male cards and red-suited Queens with the negative characterizations of red-suited male cards and black-suited Queens. Though they could just as well be interpreted in a rosier fashion, the apotropaic game of Solitaire is premised on representing a world of human evil which must be deliberately counterbalanced by human good. (More on this notion in the next and final post in the series.) The game serves as an exercise in building a representation of such a world in order to reify and actualize that representation in the world. As such, the courts of Spades and Clubs hold their positive attributes, while the courts of Diamonds and Hearts keep to their more prevalent negative ones.

Apotropaic Solitaire is goal-oriented: while winning the game in the customary sense (of being able to lay away all the cards of each suit) isn't necessarily required, at the very least the player must manage to lay out the four ideal courts for the game to be considered marginally successful. Because each face card may only be paired with a certain single other face card, finishing the game is rather more difficult than a regular game. For instance, if the Jack of Diamonds is on top of a stack and the Queen of Clubs is revealed, normally one would be able to move the red Jack onto the black Queen and reveal the next card of the stack. However, in Apotropaic Solitaire the Jack of Diamonds may only be laid upon the Queen of Spades, and so in such a situation the game might not be able to progress. Additionally, all varieties of cosmological Solitaire are also played with a three-card draw, which may sometimes contribute to increased difficulty. Thus, while this game has a definite goal, often it is not easily achieved.

The arrangement of numbered cards in Apotropaic Solitaire is of minimal significance. Generally it is preferred to pair spades with hearts and clubs with diamonds even among the numbered cards, but doing so or failing to do so isn't regarded as especially important to the imagined effect of the game.

When the player does manage to finish a game, it is pivotally important that he lay away every last card on the board into the four piles, rather than simply leave off the game. The cards are laid away one by one, keeping each suit apace with the rest — laying away all the eights before the nines, and so on. After the Queens, the Kings must be laid away in order of Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, and Hearts. As this is done, the player recites aloud or to himself those lines originally from the chorus of Sting's song "Shape of my Heart": "I know that the Spades are the swords of a solidier; I know the Clubs are weapons of war; I know that Diamonds mean money for this art; but that's not the shape of my heart." Finally, before shuffling the deck, the player places the pile of Hearts upon the pile of Spades, and the pile of Clubs upon the pile of Diamonds, incanting as he does: "May the heart rule over the sword, and the hammer over gold, and all be in balance." The deck is then shuffled thrice before being put away or before another game begins. Incidentally, the player must also shuffle three times between each game.

If the game is so completed, then the successful construction and dissolution of a representation of an ideal cosmological world order is held to beget an emanation of that orderliness which positively influences the generally disorderly human world, or at least grants the player some protection of good luck. If the game should not be finished, one may play again until it is. However, as a loose rule one doesn't play more than three games at a single sitting, as if continuing to play after three failures were somehow importunate.

Divinatory Solitaire
Unlike an apotropaic game, a divinatory game is less about finishing the game than about observing the configurations of significant cards which become available, and exploring the consequences to the game of those configurations. While a preference for forming the ideal courts prevails, it is just a preference, rather than an imperative. The game may proceed with the Jack of Diamonds laid upon the Queen of Clubs, to use our previous example, but that pairing is regarded as representing a choice on the part of the player which, at least, may be against the cosmological grain of things.

However, since a divinatory game is not intended to construct a representation of a cosmological ideal, but a representation of the player's (or inquirer's) circumstantial situation in cosmological terms, looser pairings of cards don't necessarily carry the negative connotations they would in other contexts. Indeed, the suits — particularly the face cards — need not be interpreted in terms of the strictly positive and negative characterizations which they carry in the apotropaic game.

Along these lines, in the divinatory game, the player usually must have a face card with which to identify their person in order to understand the cards' representation of their situation and how it might progress. Naturally, a player's card should match up as closely as possible with their own personality. In this way, the assignment of face cards serves as a kind of psycho-spiritual profiling.

Interpreting any state of a game of Divinatory Solitaire can be quite difficult, as none of the cards have specifically fixed meanings. The interactions of face cards tend to be regarded as primarily significant, while number cards' meaning can be almost totally disregarded, or simply totally opaque. Simply put, too few divinatory games have been played for the methodology to develop much.

Holy Solitaire
In actual fact, I have yet to attempt to play this version of cosmological Solitaire, but the idea of it has crossed my mind. The premise of the variation is that cards may only be laid upon cards of their own suit, Spades upon Spades, Hearts upon Hearts, and so on, from the deuces on up to the face cards.

The cosmological notion informing this game is similar to that behind an apotropaic one. The game is an effort to build a representation of an ideal cosmological order. However, unlike the apotropaic game, which represents a dualistic human world precariously balanced between good and evil, the holy game represents a truly ideal world in which all human forces are harmoniously aligned without conflict. All cards in each of the suits would be regarded as embodying their positive characteristics.

Since in this variation each card could only be laid upon one other card, the game would be considerably more difficult than a regular round of Solitaire. I imagine this variation would be reserved for high holidays in a hypothetical community sharing this card-based cult, perhaps with one person playing on behalf of the whole congregation, playing as many games as necessary till one should be finished; or perhaps with each member taking a turn at playing a single game till one fortunate person should manage to complete a round. In either case, completion of a round of Holy Solitaire would be held to bring great good luck and might portend well or ill for the community as a whole depending on the ease or difficulty with which the game was finished.

Why Solitaire?
That Solitaire should be the cosmological card game par excellence may be a relatively simple matter of the fact that the card cosmology was revealed to, or fabricated by me in the course of long hours playing Solitaire by myself. Indeed, had I been more sociable at the time I took an interest in card games, I may never have had so much free time on my hands to contemplate such things in the first place. Alternatively, I might've spent my time playing Poker or Hearts or other games with friends, and come up with a different cosmological order altogether. In any case, I must emphasize that the dualistic nature of the card cosmology we've outlined is indebted to the game mechanics of Solitaire probably more than anything else.

Having examined the general ideas of this card cosmology, and its application in the context of Solitaire, in one additional post on the subject we shall explore the possibility of a full-fledged card religion. Until that next post, may the cards favor you.

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