"The divine secret is not hidden, it is right in front of us. Whether we see it or not depends upon the level of attention we give to observing the details and establishing ties between them." - Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Way of Tarot
I was sitting around thinking, "I'd rather be playing poker," and while cutting the deck one-handed, I decided to lay the cards out and see what was what in a deck of standard playing cards. I happen to be using a generic no-name Made in China deck which companies use as promotional items, though I do have a Gemaco and Bicycle deck for comparison.
First, a rundown of what you'll find, in case you've lived in a cave all your life. A deck of playing cards has 52 cards and 2 jokers. It's split into four suits, which in America, France, and just about any place that isn't Germany, are: Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts and Spades. The Diamonds and Hearts are red and the Clubs and Spades are black. Each suit has 13 cards, an Ace with a value of 1, numbered cards from 2 through 10, and 3 face cards (royal, or court cards), also called "paint" in poker: the the Jack, Queen and King.
It has been suggested that some meaning might lie behind these cards. For instance in a lunar calendar there would be 13 months of exactly 4 weeks (28 days) which equals 52 weeks, for the 13 cards per 4 suits totaling 52 cards. Of course, with 28 days per month and 13 months, that comes out to only 364 days leaving us with the extra "day out of time" whose place might be filled by the Joker. Chances are that this is all incidental, but it is a nice mnemonic device as there are still 52 weeks in our solar calendar with the 13th month broken up among the rest. And the 4 suits could instead be seen as the 4 seasons, with Spring and Summer as the red/sunny months, and fall and winter as the black suits.
The Aces can be played as a low or high card, Alpha or Omega, for example: as a straight from A-2-3-4-5 with the Ace as the lowest card, or 10-J-Q-K-A with the Ace as the highest card. Playing them high came about during the Revolution in France where it was a symbol that the lowest can reach the highest. Seeing the 4 Aces as high, we might separate the deck into 16 High cards (J-Q-K-A x 4), and 36 Low cards (2 thru 10 x 4). I'm using the terms "High" and "Low" to separate numbered cards from the court cards (and sometimes Ace). The number 36 can symbolize 666 (1+2...+35+36=666), the Magic Square of the Sun numbers from 1 to 36 with 6 rows and columns adding to 111 (6x111=666), and 36 is the number of degrees of each internal angle of a pentagram. So, as you can see, there's some baggage there! However, when grouping Aces with the Low cards we end up with 12 High cards, and 40 Low cards. The number 40 can represent a period of trial, purification or preparation before the "birth" of something new, as in: the 40-weeks of pregnancy, the 40 days of the flood (birth waters), 40 years of wandering the desert (tribulation, purification), and so on. A rainbow is seen at about 40-42 degrees of light refraction, with 42-degrees being the spectrum of red light (the 40 Low cards plus the 2 Jokers, perhaps). "The number 40, by the way, is employed interchangeably with 42 in ancient numerical systems, thereby making an even multiple of weeks." - Symbols, Sex, and the Stars by Ernest Busenbark
The Tarot, still used as a card game in it's own right, has 4 suits of 78 cards split into 22 Major Arcana (the picture cards) and 56 Minor Arcana (the numbered cards and court cards). The reason for the 4 extra Minor cards of the Tarot is the addition of one more court card per suit, giving us: the Page, the Knight, the Queen, and the King (or in the Thoth deck: the Knight, the Queen, the Princess, and the Prince).
The Tarot has been connected to the Torah due to the similar spelling, and symbols such as the Tree of Life with it's 22 paths being connected both to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot. The difference between the Tarot's 78 cards and modern 52-card decks is 26. The numeric value for YHWH/Yahweh/God in Hebrew is 26. One could say that "god was taken out of the cards" to make playing cards for gambling. Note that 52 is 26+26, two more "gods." So, the whole set of cards could be seen as a trinity of gods, or a single triune god: 26+26+26, which reduces to single digit 8+8+8 which totals 24 hours of a full day (12 day/red, and 12 night/black), and is symbolically the number of Jesus Christ: 888.
Speaking of letter-number values, if we assign a number for each face card and Ace based on that letters position withing the English Alphabet, we get: A=1, J=10, K=11, Q= 17, for a total of 39. Taking the total 39 multiplied by each of the 4 suits gives us 156, which is 2x78/Tarot cards, or 2(26+26+26).
Alchemy traditionally has 3 main stages: the Black, White and Red (sometimes with an intermediary Yellow or Rainbow stage before Red). In taking out one "26/God" from the Tarot, the Major Arcana and the 4 extra court cards, perhaps the White phase was also taken out of playing cards, leaving only Black and Red. You can separate the 52 cards into 26 Black and 26 Red. Seeing as how 26 can symbolize a god, we can see this as two gods on opposite ends of the spectrum, or two stages of God: beginning (Black) and end (Red).
The 52 cards can be split up in a number of ways. For instance, you might break up the deck using the line of horizontal symmetry to separate the cards out. Some cards are mirrored top to bottom, like the 2-Hearts which has one heart at the top of the card, and an inverted heart at the bottom. Some cards aren't mirrored, such as the 3-Clubs which has 2 upright clubs in the top and middle, and one inverted club at the bottom. The symbol of the Club is not horizontally symmetrical, but the Diamond is, making the 3-Diamonds a symmetrical card.
Going along like this, and counting Aces among the Low cards, we end up with 18 symmetrical to 22 non-symmetrical Low Cards and 12 face cards which are technically not mirrored across the center line, but do display the same image if inverted. That is, the Suicide King would still be stabbing himself with his left hand and looking to his right, even if the card were spun 180-degrees. The symmetrical 18 cards can be seen as 6+6+6, and the non-symmetrical 22 cards number the same as: the Major Arcana of the Tarot, letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and paths on the Tree of Life. It is also the highest double-digit in numerology that is not reduced to a single digit.
Jodorowsky on symmetry, from The Way of Tarot:
"I remembered that during my first trip to Japan, the guide leading me around the ancient imperial palace pointed out that no windows or doors were ever constructed in a straight line and that no windows or doors were divided into symmetrical squares. In Japanese culture, the straight line and symmetry are considered to be demonic. Actually, the study of sacred art shows that it is never symmetrical. The door of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris that is located to our left is wider than the door situated to our right. All symmetrical art is profane. Nor is the human body symmetrical: our right lung has three lobes, while our left one has two. The Tarot reveals that it is a sacred art because the upper portion of any card is never identical to the lower, nor the left side to the right. There is always a small detail, sometimes very difficult to make out, that breaks the resemblance."The reason that the face cards appear the same when flipped around is that it would be quite telling if a poker player were to turn their cards around because he wanted all the face cards to be heads up and feet down. So, unlike the pictures in the Tarot, playing cards have only a torso and head and one or two hands, and the same image is repeated on the bottom half to keep people from being tempted into flipping them around. The Gemaco decks have the suit symbol in the center of the face cards, making the Hearts, Spades and Clubs into non-symmetrical face cards, as those symbols have a definite top and bottom.
Totaling the values of all the cards from A to 10 times the 4 suits equals 220. (There's the 22 again.) And adding up all the numbered cards, or rather adding all the individual pips on the cards (2 thru 10 x 4 suits), we get the sum of 216. 216 is a number which relates to a Hebrew concept of God, this time being the combination of 72 3-letter names, collectively called the "divided name" (72x3=216). And going back to the reckoning of time of our lunar calendar cards, 216 and 72 are numbers associated with the precession of the equinox: 72 years to move one degree in the precession with 12 Ages/Zodiac signs of 2,160 years each.
Alexander Jodorowsky uses the World card, Le Monde, as a template for the mandala of the Tarot. Below is how the symbols on this Tarot card are laid out, with the corresponding playing card suits listed next to each Tarot suit:
Cups/Hearts (top left) Receptive-Sky
Swords/Spades (top right) Active-Sky
Pentacles/Diamonds (bottom left) Receptive-Earth
Wands/Clubs (bottom right) Active-Earth
Jodorowsky explains that in Western religious art, we are meant to mirror the god or temple. A Cathedral would have the receptive elements on our lunar/left and active elements on our solar/right, because in the West, the best we can do is to emulate God. Alternatively, Eastern art and temples are oriented as if we are to change places with it: the solar side of a temple would be on our left, and lunar side on our right. This is because we are supposed to aspire to become the Buddha or the temple and switch places with it, where those elements would then be on the correct sides.
The World card of the Marseilles Tarot shows a woman with an active element, the baton, in her left hand (our right as we view her), and with the receptive retort in her right hand (our left). This shows that the Tarot, a Judeo-Christian creation, is oriented like a Western temple: a mirror. Looking at the suits, we find the receptive Cups/Hearts on the left, and the active Swords/Spades on the right. Again, a mirror. Also, we find that the red cards are to our left, and the black cards are to our right. This is interesting because I would think of red as an active color and black as being receptive, which would put the colors we see into an Eastern orientation. Tarot cards, however, don't have set colors for the specific suits because the colors add meaning to each card, and change accordingly. For playing cards at least, we might see a coincidental merging of Western and Eastern symbolism when the suits are laid out to match the World card.
Further investigation of the Tarot brings out an interesting symbolic formula:
"Out of four parts, three are almost identical, and one is different. And out of the three that are equal, two have more resemblance to each other. In other words: ([1+2] + 3) + 4." - Jodorowsky, The Way of TarotSome examples:
In the four elements, three are similar (air, water, fire) and one different (earth). Among the three that are similar, two are more so (air, fire), and one is different (water). In other words: ([Air+Fire]+Water)+Earth.There are many more examples of this formula, especially in religious themes, but what of playing cards? In the standard suits, we have 3 symbols with a definite top-bottom orientation, and one (the Diamonds) which is horizontally symmetrical. Out of the 3 left, the Spades and Clubs both have a stand upon which they rest, so: ([Spades + Clubs] + Hearts) + Diamonds.
On the human face, the ears, eyes, and nostrils are double, whereas the mouth is single. The eyes and ears are separated, while the nostrils come together into one nose. In other words: ([Ears+Eyes]+Nostrils)+Mouth.
Another example of the-one-that-is-most-different theme is found in the Tarot of Marseilles among the Queens of the Minor Arcana. The Queens all hold the symbol of their suit, but the Queens of Cups, Pentacles, and Wands are all holding an additional object; the Queen of Swords is not. An interesting inversion occurs in playing cards where all the Queens are holding a flower, yet this time it is the Queen of Spades(Swords) who is holding the additional object: a scepter. The same card is singled out, but for the opposite reason this time. The Queens of Spades is also the only Queen looking to our right. All the Queens have a crown with a red bottom-edge, except for the Q-Diamonds who has a black base on her crown. All the Queens have uncolored lines across their necks, except for the Q-Clubs whose neck is partially colored in. (This is not the case in the Bicycle deck where 2 have necks lines and 2 have white necks.)
Among the Jacks, they all have blue on red in their crowns except for the J-Hearts. (Again, among the Bicycle face cards, there seems to be more of a pairing of cards. In this case the J-D and J-H both have white space in their crowns, though the J-Hearts sticks out among the 4 with a black crown base, and as the only one with yellow hair covering his whole neck.) The J-Spades is the only one with a leaf coming out from behind his crown, and is also the only one without a mustache. The J-Diamonds' hand is mostly hidden, with only his fingers showing, unlike the rest. The J-Hearts holds a leaf/feather while the rest hold a staff or scepter. He is also not seen holding the axe which is behind his head. It might be interpreted that he is about to be decapitated by someone else, not seen in the picture. They all have lines across their necks except for the J-Clubs whose neck is colored in with solid red. The next oddball is the J-Hearts whose neck has the lines but is colored yellow, leaving the J-Spades and J-Diamonds as having the most similar necks. Two are in profile and two are partially turned:
"In these early cards, the Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds are shown from the rear, with their heads turned back over the shoulder so that they are seen in profile; however, the Rouen cards were so badly copied in England that the current designs are gross distortions of the originals." - Wikipedia, Playing CardsAmong the Kings, the "Suicide King," K-Hearts, stands out as being the only one with his weapon interacting with him, as the only one with both hands visible, and also, as the only one without a mustache (and in the Bicycle deck, as the only one lacking the color red in his crown). The K-Diamonds, the only King in profile, is also the only one with a curved crown base. And the K-Clubs is the only one with blue in his crown rather than green (the green is black in Bicycle cards and 2 have blue along the base of their crown). The K-Diamonds, like the J-Hearts, has a axe coming from behind his head, though instead of holding another object, his hand is up as if in prayer.
Perhaps other symbols have significance. Such as, that the Jacks have 6 eyes total among them, the Kings have 7, and the Queens have 8 eyes showing (for a total of 21, 7+7+7). However, I think I've taken up enough of your time, and given you something to ponder the next time you shuffle up and deal, so I'll color up and call it quits here. (Did I use enough poker slang for ya?!)