Is there any secret, esoteric symbolism in our common playing cards? Occult significance is known to be found in tarot cards. Standard playing cards are a poor symbolic cousin compared to the tarot. Yet, I believe there exists unrecognized symbolism hidden in plain sight in our everyday playing card.
Playing cards are used for games and gambling, where one interacts directly with chance (or fate). Gambling with cards can be either a blessing or ruin lives. They are used for amazing magic tricks, pretending supernatural powers. In cartomancy they are sparks for the intuition and may even foretell the future. And they are powerful symbolic representations for numerology.
There are commonly recognized correspondences with playing cards:
- 4 suits for the 4 seasons
- 52 cards for the weeks in the year
- 13 cards in each suit match the 13 lunar months
- 365 days in the years (add the pips)
The modern deck is based on the French design, or as we know it today the English deck. These designs have pretty much stayed the same, following an original pattern, regardless of the maker. The exact shape of the pip or the design of the face cards’ colorful wardrobe may differ, but the essential elements remain the same. Card manufacturers simply follow a traditional design. But is there any hidden meaning in these designs?
I’ll offer one possibility. Let us consider the king court cards. Tradition holds the cards represent the following historic kings:
- King of Hearts is Charles
- King of Diamonds is Julius Caesar
- King of Clubs is Alexander the Great
- King of Spades is King David
The Kings of Spades and Clubs always hold a sword. The King of Hearts has a curious pose, holding his sword behind his head. He is also the only king without a mustache. But the King of Diamonds differs significantly from the other three king cards.
The King of Diamonds is the only king card shown in profile. In addition, the King of Diamonds does not carry a sword as the 3 other kings, but an axe. Why these differences? What is special about this card?
I have a theory. The King of Diamonds does not represent Julius Caesar, but the Norse God Odin!
1. The Rune Ing.
A diamond is the shape of a rune, the Elder Futhark’s 22nd rune “ingwaz” or ing. The meaning of this rune is the Norse god Ingwaz, or Freyr. As the 22nd rune, 2+2 equal the 4 sides of the diamond’s shape. If the diamond actually does represent a rune, what other Norse symbolism is in the diamond cards?
2. Odin the One-Eyed God
In Norse mythology, Odin discovered the runes by sacrificing one of his eyes in exchange for the wisdom of runes. Thereafter he was the one-eyed god. The King of Diamonds has one eye and is gazing at the diamond shaped rune. His hand is raised towards the diamond rune, as if offering it to us. His other eye is hidden from view, for if it was shown eyeless the meaning of the king as Odin would be obvious.
3. The Spear Gungnir
The king cards all hold swords except for the Diamond King. In Norse mythology, Odin’s weapon was not a sword but the spear Gungnir. The King of Diamonds has an axe instead of a sword…a shaft of wood with a blade at the end, which could be a stylized version of Odin’s spear Gungnir.
Why have symbols of Odin offering the invention of runes to humanity? I suspect the designer used Norse mythology to make a specific point. The diamond is also a Masonic symbol used in scared geometry, and this symbolism really feels Masonic in nature.
Esoteric knowledge came at a cost, especially in the past. Historically those who did not follow the doctrines of church and state were severely persecuted. One could lose far more then an eye…it was truly dangerous. Heresy! The King of Diamonds as a pagan god offering runes means unsanctioned, unconventional or non-Christian concepts. Hence only one side of the king’s face is shown, his public side. The other side, maimed and eyeless, is the side seeking freedom of thought and freedom from authority. And secretly offering it to those who seek the same.
Below is an interesting documentary about the mysteries of playing cards: