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TV SHOW SUMMARY
Playing cards are an everyday object used for gambling and game playing the world over. But the familiar deck of cards conceals hidden meanings that have links to secret societies and the occult.
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?
We look beneath the surface of the playing card and reveal an intriguing journey from their much disputed roots in China, Persia, and Egypt.
And we uncover the secrets of card design, investigating rumored Masonic links and the way the design has changed to mirror the cultures and beliefs of the people who used them through the ages.
What emerges is an extraordinary story that reveals the mysteries and meanings of the humble playing card--a history that is intimately entwined with the occult, voodoo, and man's fascination with mystical beliefs.
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OVERALL CARD HISTORY AND FACTS
Playing cards are thought to have originated in China around 950 A.D. Ancient Chinese playing cards used four suits – coins, strings of coins, myriads of coins, and tens of myriads. Each of these suits represented the value of cards in ascending order, respectively. It is suggested that the first cards may have been actual paper currency, representing the stakes played for as well as the tools of the game.
The 52-card playing deck, as we know it today, first entered Europe from Egypt in the late 14th century. These cards were made by hand and imprinted on woodcuts. Thus, they were considerably expensive. Around 1400, soon after the first recorded manufacture of paper in Christian Europe, the printing of playing cards was transferred to paper.
In the 15th century, most decks had four suits, although five suited cards were common as well. In Germany, typical suits included hearts, bells, leaves, and acorns. These suits are still used today in particular games in Eastern and Southeastern Germany. Italian and Spanish decks used cups, coins, swords, and batons.
The four suits used in most of the world today – spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs – originated in France in about 1480. It is assumed that the club was derived from the acorn and the spade from the leaf of the German deck. England originally used the Italian and Spanish suits but ultimately adopted the French suits.
In earlier games, the King was considered the highest card in the deck. Over time, however, the Ace was given special significance and ultimately surpassed the King. It is thought that the 18th century French Revolution specially accelerated the rising of the Ace as a symbol of the lower class gaining power over the royalty.
During the 18th century French Revolution, Kings, Queens, and Jacks were substituted with Liberties, Equalities, and Fraternities. This was due to the belief that a good revolutionary would not play with symbols of royal designation. However, in 1805, the suits were reverted back to Kings, Queens, and Jacks with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The United States introduced the Joker into the playing card deck. The Joker was created specifically for the game of Euchre, which gained popularity during the mid-19th century. It is thought that the name “Joker” was derived from the name “Euchre.”
Starting in the 15th century, French card manufacturers designated each of the four Kings in a playing card deck as a historical figure. The King of Spades is King David, King of Hearts is Charles, King of Diamonds is Julius Caesar, and King of Clubs is Alexander. The King of Hearts is known as the “suicide king”, as he is represented as sticking a sword into his head. The King of Hearts is the only king that does not have a mustache. The King of Diamonds is the only king carrying an axe instead of a sword and so he is called “the man with the axe”.
French card manufacturers also designated each of the four Queens in a playing card deck as a historical figure. The Queen of Spades is Athena, the Queen of Hearts is Judith, the Queen of Diamonds is Rachel, and the Queen of Clubs is Argine. While English playing card manufacturers did not designate a historical figure for each of the queens, it is thought that the Queen of Hearts in an English deck is Elizabeth of York. The Queen of Spades is known as the “bedpost queen” and the “black lady”, and the Queen of Clubs, holding a flower, is known as the “flower queen”.
The Jack was originally called the Knave, defined as a male servant of royalty. In 1864, Samuel Hart published playing cards substituting a “J” instead of the “Kn”. One reason for the change from “Kn” to “J” was because “knave” and “King” created confusion among players. In a French style deck, the Jack of Spades is Ogier the Dane or Holger Danske, the Jack of Hearts is La Hire, the Jack of Diamonds is Hector, and the Jack of Clubs is Lancelot. The Jack of Diamonds is known as “laughing boy”.
The Ace of Spades is called the “death card”. While all the face cards are drawn up-front, the Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds are drawn in profile. These particular cards are called “one-eyed”.
While earlier cards did not have a standard design, current decks are designed with the value of each card imprinted at the corners. This design allowed the players to hold their deck of cards in one hand in a fan-like shape, with the value of each card exposed. The first Anglo-American deck with such design was the Saladee’s Patent, printed in 1864. However, the design was actually patented in 1875 by the Consolidated Card Company.
The Ace of Spades in the common playing card deck usually displays the manufacturer’s logo. This tradition began in the mid-16th century, when King James I of England required an insignia on all decks as proof that a specified tax on the manufacture of playing cards was paid. Until 1960, all playing card decks printed in England were subject to this tax and the insignia of the manufacturer imprinted on the Ace of Spades and the government duty wrapper was proof that this tax has been paid.
Legend holds that each of the 13 suits of cards, that is, the Ace through 10 plus the Jack, Queen, and King represents the 13 months of the traditional lunar year. The number of cards in a deck, 52, represents the number of weeks in a year. As a year is comprised of 364 days, the 52 cards in the deck, denoting the weeks in a year, account for each of the 364 days.