(This section precludes much cleaning up of the minors sections for the printed draft.)
They came before, and they remain in use long after the message of the Triumphs was tied to the legs of the most beautiful game. I have long stared at the classical table of names for the minor arcana, trying to pry open some memorable way of intuiting each one, besides rote memorization. It’s fortunately not required for all storytelling, and I’m always on a look for a story to remember all of a system by. I have long thought, there must have been a simple scheme that decided them in the first place, and if it was well known, far less likely due to memory, there must have been some simple rhyme. So I have created simple rhymes, to reverse engineer these things, or at least discover if it was done that way. I think I’m correct, and the suited cards are the result of multiplication – each number and court rank is translated in terms of the most raw, oblique reading of the suit. There are many fine philosophical orders and celestial lamps that have been applied to every number, but there is also a common way each tool is understood, and this is the key to their meanings.
On their own as before with the Mameluke deck, to today in casinos, the cards have mostly been marked in uniform pips composed of each symbol, that highlight their sameness modified by suit, rather than individual personality. For those interested in the tradition of reading cards, this poses a challenge without some help. Pamela Smith resolved it for many of us not long ago, by creating a dramatic and dedicated drawing for each, offering the mind so much more to weave stories from, and in a way she completed the incarnation of tarot as fortune teller’s cards. These were the creation of a dedicated group of occultists interested in enhancing the form into a formula of their own design.
Smith’s narrative minor cards, created centuries afterward, sealed the Rider-Waite as first among many for readability. But how do they compare to the meanings you are familiar with? Readers with more personal systems may find it says too much.
With the cards entirely woven or arranged as pips, reports of fortunes being read was first recorded in trial documents and criminal registers in Spain, as far back as the 12th century. So they managed it with fewer prompts. But there must have been something to help remember what was long in use, because so may of Smith’s modern cards match it well.
In the late 1700s a woman in Marseilles was shackled in public with her tarot pack made into a bonnet for three days, as a sentence for ‘ill gained profit’, after which the cards were ripped up.
So in writing these things I have intuited as usual, the pattern I see and merged it with the experience I’ve stored. It seems my hunch was right, though it has taken a long time, and it’s tied to seeing all the twos as one thing, all the threes as another. It’s also tied to seeing the objects as more mundane, than the philosopher within would like to see hidden there. But it helps to recall that so many of the questions fielded back in the day, related to topics that are much less of a mystery. It wonderful that our notions grow together with our solutions.
Then I will move on to the court cards, I see a pattern relating to ambition and kinds of power, and I explore what I see in the folkloric names of the court cards from the 15th century, a tradition dwelling on names 500 years before, that may conceal a rather anarchistic story. Finally, a few trial notes, some of the earliest records of cartomancy, dating well before the tarot, by the uncontested masters of perversion of justice themselves, the Spanish Inquisition. No one expects them!
Smith was in good company adding narrative to the cards, this is the famous, satyrical hand painted Flötner deck from Nuremberg, 1545. At least one contemporary example that elaborate critique was applied to the game.
THE FOUR SUITS
(Finding an intuitive pattern relies on a mundane telling of the 4 suits, only then bring the subtler meanings.)
Some say Staves are
for passion and poise
but it’s really a club,
to beat power’s noise.
Some say Cups is for love
and for all of its actions,
but it’s about what’s in them
and if it’s to your satisfaction.
The sword is sometimes confused
with wisdom, but it isn’t really true.
A blade is exactly as it does, however
sharp the steel, or folded and blue.
By the time we reach for a coin
all our understanding returns.
On hand, little difference in opinion,
between what is meant, and earned.
The modern French pattern that we know best. The arrangement of pips on the number cards may also help remember the lines of the memory poem below.
One is for the animals, one is for wine,
one is for fighting, and one likes to shine.
(Multiply the raw meaning of a suit’s object by the line in this poem.)
Clubs is clubs, and hearts are cups,
swords into spades, diamond over coin.
One is for animals, one is for the wine,
one is for fighting, and one likes to shine.
The Ace is elemental, down to one of four,
too simple to be much more than a door.
The Deuce is for two of a kind in one place.
Three is what it would mean to raise up the Ace.
Four is what would happen if you stacked them in a wall,
and Five is the sort of thing that just might make it fall.
Six is the cheering heard from all its parading ranks,
while Seven is the shadow seen beyond its river banks.
Eight seems to go on forever once it’s had its way,
but Nine is a better example of being under its sway,
and Ten is when it has completely won the day!
Now taking this knowledge, of the base character of the suit’s object, and the little memory poem for each number, see if it matches the more traditional array of titles…
Commentary on THE FOUR SUITS
Though timber is for houses
its fire is for glory
light or heat, for strolling or sleep,
and on to the gallow’s creepy story.
Celebration can offer its brand
of eternal youth in a dram
among pleasure, delirium and
a grain of truth, a scent of scam.
If supremacy is the heights
of a folly so high in the air
It’s no surprise the cards get worse
the more total swords there are.
The first coin pressing was like
a monument in stone, fortune’s token,
but it tends to remind us of burdens
about which it’s loud and well spoken.
Modern German (Saxonian) deck with the forest pattern – bells instead of coins, leaves in place of swords, and acorns rather than clubs. I like how the lines, “One is for animals, one is for the wine, one is for fighting, and one likes to shine” have been given a different spin in the forest pattern….heart for wine, bells for the shine (have you never heard a bird that shines?), leaves for weapons (now you’re talking), and acorns for the squirrels and raccoons.
Every court card is reversible.
(The court cards are read intuitively when you assign their respective duties, while their design reminds you that every noble role is reversible… ironically, when the playing card convention turned to making them in mirror images, this virtually negates how usefully reversible they could be. And reverse of duty has more than one way, by its performer, or performance, or simply by running away.)
Where the layered game ended
and the deck was whittled down,
on princess, page or squire decided,
that two ladies was too many, so
the younger was told to retire.
So if you’ve got but 52 to read
and want to balance the sexes,
let upside down queen be king,
and all princes reversed, princesses.
Whatever the princess does deserve
as Page is how the suit is served.
Begun with Knight, you’ve won a name,
each suit reveals its questor’s game.
The Queen is to what the suit would aspire,
how it would take its winnings & retire.
The King has only his head to blame, it’s true,
plus all fame the suit can press down on you.
Court Cards in Folklore
(The names for the cards (in bold) are drawn from 15th century records in France, and make much use of legends of Charlemagne’s founding of empire already five centuries old, among other myths and characters any local children might once have known as well. My take is that the lost rhymes are penned by someone who was pissed of by Charlemagne, or the Charlemagnes of the world perhaps, for the precarious state of the world, that the conquests of so many small cultures had left in the name of a larger one. This poem was written to give further memory clues to enhance each card’s specific role, if you want this particular one. Each runs Knight – Queen – King, so it was compiled after the modern convention. )
Lancelot’s1 spear went on a quest staked on reputation,
’til Argine’s2 silver halls filled with the culture of nations,
sure as Alexander had horns, and ample fortifications3.
In cup of truth La Hire found a blind eye,4
that may have cooled a bit of Joan’s5 last fire.
Both drank at the feast Judith6 prepared for.
For want of this, we give blood and perspire,
so Charlemagne can give himself Excelsior!7
That eye-patched8 Goliath, his general Ogier9
conqueror by Curtana, plain as he was Dane.
Yet strange-born Pallas10 had another weapon in mind,
and David composed as poet, made a king all the same11.
And Roland12 his paladin before reluctant Bretons
until he finally gave to the Basque his very last hour.
Rachel bore the whole estate, saw it loom and tower,
but Caesar was half blind13 by the glamours of power.
1Known colloquially as The Lady’s Servant.
2A play on the word silver, and a scramble of the word Regina, or Queen.
3Bawdy to use it, or swap it out for ‘gratifications’.
4Referring to this as a One Eyed Jack. La Hire: this nickname may come from Wrath of God or possibly Hedgehog, but still means ‘irritable’ to some.
5Joan of Arc. He gave Joan her command, and his partial handlebar mustache is the inspiration for the Jack of Hearts.
6Of removing sleeping general Holoferne’s head fame.
7A play on his sword’s name Joyeuse, and Excalibur, this card is also the so-called ‘suicide king’.
8This is the other one eyed Jack.
9Possibly pure pre-lore – a giant. The Danes say they have no record of him, but he was famous there by the 16th century. Best known as the giant knight of Charlemagne, who was betrayed by and nearly killed the emperor for it, then slayed a few other giants, and now rests in Avalon.
10Pallas Athena. who was born from the forehead of a giant, the card was as often called Black Maria, both referring to ‘virgin’ goddesses.
11Worth noting that David was also a giant slayer.
12General under Charlemagne to suppress the conquered Breton lands, chief of security. Famously defeated by a far smaller force of Basques via ambush.
13The King of Diamonds is the third court card to be drawn one-eyed.
If this was your preferred corner of the imaginarium, what historic figure would you cast as the missing fourth card, the ‘servant’? Each verse implies or mentions another character. Arthur, Gwenevir would be known as missing, or Alexander’s unnamed true love might stand in for the missing page in the first group of lines. Joan of Arc is implicated by the choice of La Hire, the only (relatively) modern and not legendary of card names used. While the unnamed loyal handmaid accompanied the unmarried Judith into that tent. For the Hearts group, David together with Ogier the giant, could infer Goliath; at the same time, this queen seems always to have had two names. For Roland, we have Oliver, or with Rachel we find Abraham unnamed, and an unnamed Caesar.
There’s also the matter of swords, as each folk grouping, in its selection of characters, points towards a different sword (perhaps several) of magical and legendary reputation. Named swords are many, and are very real characters in the old lore of most cultures.
♣ Galatine is the sword given to Lancelot by the Lady of the Lake, the same “lady” who gave Excalibur to Arthur. I don’t know what weapon the allegoric Argine would carry, but probably any sword you need. Alexander’s personal weapon didn’t go down in fame, but it is known in one story about cutting, or not cutting, the unsolvable (or rather, infinite) Gordian knot. Allegory for solving a riddle of some kind, or perhaps to explain his success, one version says that he ‘solved the sacred knot-work’ by simply whacking it with his sword’s blade. The other story goes that he found both ends, and was able to just pull the whole thing apart with a tug.
♥ I don’t know if La Hire had a legendary sword, or to just refer to Joan of Arc, whose blade did have a name – the Sword of St. Catherine. The sword Judith used, a person of probably allegorical origin (which makes three of the queens here), is the sword of Holofernes which probably isn’t its name, so let’s call it nameless. Finally, the emperor’s sword was named, somewhat creepily, “Joyful” – Joyeuse.
♠ This suit is easier. Ogier was given Tristam’s broken sword Curtana, making him an extended member of the Arthur’s round table. The symbolic weapon of Athena is the Spear of Truth. David’s weapons are both the humble slingshot, and his harp or lyre, like Jack & the Beanstalk.
♦ Roland’s sword was Durendal and was sung about for ages. In the 1530 a well known poem of magical realism called Orlando Furioso circulated in Italian. Rachel isn’t known for any specific weapon, or perhaps is meant, by the other queens, to also be allegorical. If this were all sympathetic to peoples who would be conquered, for example, it might be a card that has been ‘disarmed’; with her mythological ‘mother of all’ role, may be allegory for all people who are powerless in war. If Caesar refers to Julius, the previous character in their history that would ‘conquer’ all the cultures of France and overthrow the Republic at home, his weapon’s name was Crocea Mors (Yellow Death, probably referring to all its golden bits).
Yes, my take of this legend cycle buried in the court cards is one of feminism (and its memorial), of any minority in sympathy, of frustration with the line between ‘noble’ and outsider in matters of governance, and of the repetitive ruin that the imperial mindset, and war in general, delivers. Any or all of these could give vent, and the collection of tragic and powerful characters cover a wide range of situations and temperaments of rule. With Knights that vary from a romantic daydreamer that rode all the way into another dimension, to the raging fanatic (or luminary!), the freak of nature who turned out to be the most noble, and finally the dutiful, loyal and blind. Of course there are horses too, that were well known in olden time, to be puzzled in this manner too… for some other time. But attaching folklore to the cards also means attaching their reputations, and qualities. People with that attitude could indeed hold up a card at conversation, and say “That one’s going to spoil the parade tomorrow” or “Be careful out there or you’ll get what happened to this one” or no comment at all, and like the fortune teller, by making mention of specific people while all is just well known banter over a game.
For it’s long been known that the big dreams come and go as if on their own, but the ones that we cling tightly to are always more specific as to who we are. A king and an Ace at the end of each suit’s knot, easy to pull apart. But when this card is an aunt, or the one you haven’t met, or the local bother, or the disguise everyone know well, you’re dreaming about the forest around you, not one on a hill, near a palace you’ve never seen. It all draws attention to the way stories compete, ‘It is what it is!’ you say of a sword in hand, ‘It’s isn’t that at all’ you say, usually when you want it to mean something. That each character ‘thinks’ the way the multiplication has made it to think or act, their knotwork, their fate. But stories made of them bend and conceal and complicate, and yet make little two dimensional game tokens of them. Meanwhile, when we tell a story as it happened to us, or know to us, or to delight us, of what we want personally, even of what we like about other stories, it puts our life into it, doesn’t it? Pouring out, rather than being poured into. I’m not sure if any of this is helpful.
Who would you cast in these roles? From your myths and your time? How many other people would understand them all, if you had twelve of them assigned, even with well known pop references?
In so much modernist psych, much mention of made of the 12 archetypes, but a person is more like 12×12, I think is part of the message here. Deep encryption. And now we have a more exact, larger and more complicated answer to add, of the genes, and how many we share with a blade of grass.
But try and just sit with people you really know, and do a mad libs, history movies draw from whatever you think the others in the room would also choose…. how many would hand theirs in, and have it match… closely? Remotely the same?
The most out there servant of the lady is _________________.
The true queen of the wild woods is _________________.
The wisest of all conquerors is clearly _______________.
The fiercest champion of all time is __________________.
The coolest (seductive?) assassin is ________________.
The maddest conqueror of all is _________________.
The strongest person ever is ___________________.
The most brilliant tactician has got to be __________________.
The little guy that handled something huge was __________________.
The most adventurous warrior ________________.
The most famous mother of all ___________________.
The person best known for the death of many is _________________.
Does it seem too grim? I think it’s a telling of our general, true heart that what we look for is often what we find. A philosopher will find hidden philosophical meanings. But when there’s this extra layer, when the tools are mundane and well known, we find a reminder, perhaps some advice, about other kinds of stories that rule out there. That there’s the sword, and people with goals that do not have them reciting noble characters. Now take this mad lib, and apply it to someone you’d like to understand. What would they put down for all twelve of these? Who’s living in their stories? It would serve a philosopher well to know something of the mind of a person that does not think in such terms ever, at all. It would serve a lover to know how ordinary its deficiency can be, and what that looks like, just in case they feel like jumping ship into the cold water.
So I think it’s got plenty of gripes, and lessons, and also a little cast of characters from which to see randomness and strategy together at play.
Anecdotes of Cartomancy
Given the folklore has its giants, and Jack is an old stand in for hero and fool… In 1730 there are these instruction for cartomancy from the play Jack the Gyant Slayer:
A significator is picked. The four kings are assigned to four companions, in the play, four giants. The pack is shuffled and the entire deck is laid out in rows. Interpret the cards around the significators. In this use, spades is the only ill omened suit.
Recorded from Margarita de Borja of Madrid, during her year long trial with the Spanish Inquisition, which ended in 1617. Despite many laws against them, the use of cards is reported as always having been widespread from their appearence.
Then she laid five rows of cards on the table, each row containing four cards face up. Cards coming up in pairs,such as King with a King, a Page with a Page, etc. were a good omen, but any other arrangement was a bad one.
Other trial accounts mention looking for cards to appear together in a grid of 12. The Knight and Jack for inquiries of love. Or taking out the specific card, a Knight, and laying out nine cards. If coins and hearts outnumbered the other two suits, it was good luck.
Using court cards for relationships is the classic tradition, which is why I don’t make mention of it in my book, assuming it’s already well known and covered. If you read it as a progression of qualities, the top four present a bonus challenge, and may offer a key to the deconstruction of any concept. But for most, these are the cards most like, and most likely, to be certain people in one’s life, or at least reminders of them. Long before the board game Clue was created, the court cards filled the roles of whodunnit and who might do it. One classic test of romantic luck is by indicating who is who, and then laying out all the cards in five rows, to see if they land together. What can I say? Perhaps people spent more of their time together. And I’ll leave you with a final and mysterious description, laying thirteen cards in a circle and another at the center, and then the first five are read. That one I have yet to see in any complementary guidebook.
Completely unrelated: a set of drawings of magnetic waves, of with various numbers of poles, for your consideration.