Myths and Legends of Playing Cards

Playing cards are an everyday object used for gambling and game playing the world over. But the familiar deck of cards conceals many hidden meanings and inspire questions. Why are there four suits and why hearts, spades, diamonds, clubs? What is the significance of the picture cards? What is the meaning of the symbolism of the Tarot? Questions we will not be answering this evening because it is STORYTIME!

Cards have become part of the fabric of folklore in many many stories and legends that have evolved since their intriguing journey from their much disputed roots in China, Persia, and Egypt. Although the designs have changed to mirror the cultures and beliefs of the people who used them through the ages, what emerges is an extraordinary history that is intimately entwined with the occult, witchcraft, magic and diabolism, and man’s fascination with mystical beliefs.

Aside from base needs humankind driven by desire for material gain (wealth, influence, success) and a curiosity about the future … since time immemorial shamans, priests, witches, withcdoctors, druids soothsayers have read signs, omens and auguries, the bones and the entrails of anmials even of human sacrifices, cast the runes and looked into a glass darkly. Hence the enduring and universal appeal of playing cards aka the Devil’s Bible … pieces of pasteboard printed with an infinite variety of designs. Deriving from the Tarot, also known as the Devil’s Picture Book, that comprises 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana – from the Fool, the Magician, Emperor, Empress, Heirophant or Pope and High Priestess through the Lighning Struck Tower and the Devil to Eternity – represent both the path and the journey of life. The Tarot – esoteric and deeply philosophical embodies the sum total of arcane knowledge known since the great initiatory temples of ancient Egypt.

Over the centuries cards assumed a particularly medieaval and therefore Christian gloss concealing a deeper knowledge within and we can see in their symbolism a christianised version of an ancient knowledge. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – symbolism – Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles / Pantacles – Merlin, the Grail, Excalibur and the Round Table itself.

It’s thought by some that, fearing the loss of this universal encyclopeadia of knowledge, the great initiates in their wisdom knowing that human vice and greed would never cease evolved the set of playing cards we know today – 52 cards 1 thru 10, Jack, King and Queen.

The Jack being probably a weird hybrid of the Knave and the Fool. And the Joker perhaps represents the Fool and only a fool would be brave enough to ridicule a King and of course in medieaval courts the Fool or Court Jester was the only one allowed to do this oftentimes demonstrating the idiocy of the King’s decisions or actions and therefore a powerful figure echoed in the words of Shakespeare “Methinks it doth take a wise man to play the fool.” And who but a fool would gamble with the Devil?