2010-05-26

Card Cosmology, Part IV: A Church of Cards

Throughout our discussions of the playing card cosmology, I have hinted at the possibility of a whole religion based upon that cosmology. Today, with reference to the much-beloved definition of religion provided by Roy Rappaport, we will speculate on the substance and character of such a hypothetical Church of Cards.


What we have already catalogued of the card cosmology constitutes the cosmological axioms which occupy the second stratum of Rappaport's four-tiered model. To flesh out our sketch of the religion, then, we must identify an ultimate sacred postulate to stand at the apex of the idea system, suggest some rules of conduct which might proceed from the cosmology with which we're already familiar, and finally anticipate some practical, from-the-ground pressures which might be encountered by this religion.

As an aside, it is interesting to note an observation made by my teacher, Professor Brashier, in regard to Rappaport's four-tier model. Back when I was first reading Rappaport in Religion 201, Brashier suggested to our class that in the actual course of a religious idea system's formation, the cosmological axioms — descriptions of how the world is structured and how it functions — would precede the inclusion of ultimate sacred postulates — exceedingly abstract ideas which provide the whole system a font of discursive sanctity. Whatever may be generally the case, this seems to be true of the Church of Cards.

An ultimate sacred postulate suitable for this Church might be as simple as the idea of the dualism which the cards represent. Put in postulate form, we might say "The cosmos is divided." This formulation leaves plenty of room for the cosmological details to fill in just how that division manifests. However, this postulate might prove too vulnerable to the notion that the world is fundamentally unified. Something even broader may be necessary, a postulate which itself isn't a cosmological definition.

Such a postulate could derive from the vague superstitions which already surround card playing, such as the belief in luck, perhaps sometimes incarnated as a personified Fortune. "Luck" is so broad an idea that it may hardly even make sense to articulate it as a postulate phrase. This vagueness suits it well to sanctify the card religion, all the more because the idea has currency among card players to begin with.

If Luck is the ultimate sacred postulate of the Church of Cards, the whole idea system is sanctified because the unquestionable truth of the postulate requires recognition that every element in a card game behaves with significance. That is, when one plays Solitaire, the placement of each card, precisely in being apparently random, is meaningful and perhaps even intentional. Shuffling the cards so as to ensure randomness in their distribution allows the influence of Luck to take hold and arrange the cards for the player. Accordingly, sanctity flows downward to imbue the cosmological order which the cards themselves represent.

We have already, as a matter of fact, encountered some third-order rules of conduct. For instance, the stipulation that the cards be shuffled three times before and after each game of cosmological Solitaire; the general guideline that one not play more than three games at a single sitting; the procedure for finishing a game of Solitaire, and the accompanying incantations; and so on. We can easily imagine further rules developing around the tradition. One which immediately comes to mind is a simple injunction to treat the cards themselves with respect, since within this Cult of Cards they are the most important ritual object. Perhaps this broad directive would lead to more particular rules concerning the treatment of decks. For instance, it could become customary to burn a deck which has been worn out. We might also anticipate the development of rules about what sorts of decks may and may not be used for cosmological Solitaire and other ritual card playing. Unusual decks with round cards, reversed colors for the suits, portraits of pin-up girls, cats and dogs, wanted terrorists, and the like might be regarded as unsuitable for ritual use.

In addition to rules about the cards themselves, other stipulations about how a follower of the Card Cult should behave could well arise in time. It might not be surprising to eventually find commandments specifying which days or what times of day are suitable and unsuitable for cosmological Solitaire, where one should or shouldn't play, who may or may not witness the game, &c.

Finally, we must ask what manner of fourth-order pressures might be brought to bear upon this religion. An obvious place to start may be the likelihood that outsiders to the Church of Cards could disapprove of the whole religion on account of its being based on playing card games, rather than worshipping deities or some other more typical religious activity. If such disapproval were widespread, and membership in the tradition became a cause for opprobrium, rules of conduct on the third order might change to preserve the idea system as a whole. It could be the rule that initiation and membership in the tradition are secret. In fact, since people do already play Solitaire simply as a game often enough, the Card Cult could be well-suited to being hidden in plain sight, as it were.

In a different vein, another kind of pressure could arise if the Church of Cards became an actual religious community. By myself, playing Solitaire and cooking up cosmology is well and good, but had I disciples, for instance, a pressure for a more social way to share interaction with the cards. Such a pressure might lead to the development of cosmological Poker or other multiplayer card games, or perhaps to further variations of Solitaire which could support additional players.

For a third example, let us consider the possibility of the Card Cult become widespread, rather than outcast or at least disregarded. If this idea system became common, I suspect it might face a demand for further development. As it is, there isn't much to the religion in terms of complexity or depth, and indeed most people would probably be more inclined to regard everything we've discussed in this series of articles as superstition, however complicated, rather than as even a fledgling religion. However, if it were a fledgling religion, and if it became a full-fledged one in time, its adherents may well be expected to want more from it. In the last post I speculated on the place Holy Solitaire might have in some kind of high holiday observation. Just such festivals and celebrations — that is, more elaborate liturgy — might be one development the members of a scaled-up Church of Cards would require. One wonders if that sort of liturgical elaboration is what sets complex superstition apart from proper religion in most people's minds.

In any case, let us here draw our speculation to a close, and let the cards fall where they may.

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