The King of Hearts playing card has an intriguing, even mysterious image. People have long noticed the King of Hearts’ curious pose. It shows the king holding a sword behind his head. Or is he stabbing himself? Because of his pose the card has been called the suicide king.
In some playing cards the design makes it appear as if the sword-wielding hand belongs to another person: a third hand. Perhaps it belongs to an assassin? On many of these designs the sleeves of his two hands don’t exactly match. The reverse side of the card also gives the appearance of both hands holding his wardrobe while a mysterious third hand appears from behind wielding a weapon.
Above is an example where the sleeves have different colors. The hand with the sword has a red sleeve, plus an additional bracelet. Who is actually holding that sword if not the king? It’s not hard to imagine this was the intent of the designer, hidden in plain sight for centuries. Could there be a subtle rebellious, anti-royalty/authority element created by the original designer? Down with the world power structure!
There is another more esoteric, occult possibility behind the mystery of the King of Heart’s curious sword position. Tarot decks inspired modern playing cards. The tarot is filled with strange imagery in strange poses. The awkward stance of the card’s characters served a symbolic purpose; they are not by accident or due to poor artistry.
An example is the tarot’s first card, the Juggler or Magician. The occult symbolism in the Tarot of Marseilles was recognized and made more explicit in later renderings. The strange stance of the juggler, the very design of the card all has meaning. The table in the lower half forms a square, which is an alchemical symbol for matter and the physical world. And so the top and legs of the table frame a square containing the soil of the earth. On the table are the tools of juggling/magic, used to manipulate the world of matter.
In the center is the body of the juggler. His left hand points to the sky with a wand, his right hand points to the table, or the world of matter. The shape of the arms and body resembles the Hebrew letter Aleph. His motion signifies action, which is the result of the mind’s will.
On the juggler’s head is a hat that forms the symbol of infinity. The magician/juggler is summoning divine/celestial forces to influence the physical world of matter. As above, so below is a central esoteric belief. The role of the juggler/magician is to tap into that higher reality.
What does this have to do with the King of Hearts? The awkward pose of the heart king reminds me of the tarot’s juggler/magician. In early renderings of this card, it seems he is not holding a sword at all, but a wand of some sort aimed at his head. His right hand is pointed downward towards the earth. Could the symbolism of the tarot been transposed onto the King of Hearts?
When it comes to weird, bent-out-of-shape imagery in playing cards, there is a history of occult significance. Did the first card of the tarot, the Juggler, inspire the King of Hearts? Below is a site showing some images of very old playing cards. Check out the King of Hearts and his wand:
Establishing a Standard