Skip to content

Playing Card Divination, Spades 1

January 27, 2012

The suit of Spades is universally recognized as indicating mishaps, ill-chance and maladies. One website explains that its primary meanings cover: Difficulties, troubles, trials, illness, and bad luck. It is clearly equivalent to Swords in the Tarot. Another website dubs it the suit of warnings, meaning that it warns of worries and obstacles ahead. These are the types of event the reader would need to warn the inquirer about, hopefully so that she or he could take steps to avoid or, where avoidance was not an option, minimize the effect of the impending woe.

Ace of Spades. – Great misfortune, spite.
Ace: Emotional conflict, obsession, death. Things coming to a head.
Ace: Bad news, loss of someone close, possible death to someone near, or an illness, miscarriage, and the like.
Ace of Spades: Misfortune; sometimes associated with death or, more often, a difficult ending.
Ace: conflicts, a difficult love affair, misfortune, bad news, tidings of death.
Madeline Montalban – Ace: A lawsuit (if such is afoot). Otherwise an offer of business or love. Reversed – Unhappiness in love.
Hilda Marie – Ace: A big building. [I traced another set of meanings that had this Ace signify ‘an imposing building, like a hospital’.]
Gypsy – Ace: Business affairs, can mean sad news received.
Minor Arcana – Ace: Misfortune, bad news, tidings of death; spiteful emotions.
Etteilla – Ace: Fructification, Wrath, Rage, Quarrel. Reversed: Pregnancy, Beginning, Growing, Augmentation.

All the ‘troubles, trials and bad luck’ one could wish for fall within the purview of this Ace. Commentators describe it as forecasting ‘bad news, loss of someone close, possible death to someone near, an illness, a miscarriage’, ‘conflicts, a difficult love affair’ and ‘matters coming to a head’. Even the Gypsy meaning, with its neutral ‘business affairs’, tags on ‘can mean the receipt of sad news’. In the same vein, Hilda Marie’s ‘big building’ we find interpreted by another reader as ‘an imposing building, possibly a hospital’, introducing an undercurrent of illness or death. Madeline Montalban agrees with the gypsies in so far as ‘an offer of business’ goes. The lawsuit she says the card may also signify is in line with the ‘troubles, trials and bad luck’ motif, since most people are seriously stressed by the prospect of being taken to court and even of initiating a lawsuit themselves. This is an instance where commentators and practitioners agree that the general significance of a card is unfortunate and quibble only slightly over the aspect of the inquirer’s life about to be disrupted. Cards surrounding the Ace will make plain whether a breach of friendship, the death of someone the inquirer cares about or bad news concerning business are in the offing.

Etteilla’s notions about the Ace of Spades don’t seem to have affected later interpretations of the card. I don’t see his Wrath and Quarrel as mirroring ‘conflicts, a difficult love affair’ and ‘matters coming to a head’. I think it more likely that the parallels are coincidental.

As far as coloring goes, the Spade court cards represent very dark-haired people. On that point there is consensus. Some see Spades as denoting those who are not only dark-haired but also dark complexioned: the swarthy and those with olive skins. As I have said before, in an increasingly multi-cultural world, this type of significance given to court cards becomes more and more outdated and redundant.

The character of the Spade court cards is another matter. They are said to describe people who are either of questionable morals (the Queen is portrayed as ‘an unscrupulous woman’) or not interested in helping the inquirer (the King, it is said, is ‘a man whose ambition over-rides everything else’; in other words, his self-absorption precludes him expressing a scrap of interest in the querent). The two types must be handled differently, so it is important that readers do everything in their power to distinguish one from the other for their pronouncements to be of the any use to their clients.

King of Spades. – A dark, ambitious man.
King: An ambitious and authoritative man. A very dark-haired man.
King: A man who will cause problems in marriage or relationships. One who will get in the middle, divide and conquer . . . and then destroy.
King of Spades: Dark-haired man; or a man with Air predominating in his chart. An ambitious man, perhaps self-serving.
King: dark haired man, ambitious, usually successful, his ambition overrides everything else.
Madeline Montalban – King: A judge or wily lawyer. Reversed – He is not lucky for you.
Hilda Marie – King: A dark man, probably a business man.
Gypsy – King: Untrustworthy man, widower.
Minor Arcana – King: A man whose ambition over-rides everything.
Etteilla – King: Lawyer, Man of the Law. Reversed: Ill-intentioned.

Madeline Montalban’s ‘judge or wily lawyer’ is directly related to Etteilla’s ‘Lawyer, Man of the Law’. Of the card in reverse, Miss Montalban says, ‘He is not lucky for you’, hinting that when upright this lawyer is of great help to the querent, putting his wiles to work in her, or his, favor. But only Miss Montalban is influenced by Etteilla.

Other authorities find the King of Spades ‘ambitious and authoritarian’, one whose ambition takes precedence over everything else – so probably a ruthless personality. We should not, therefore, be surprised to read that this King is ‘usually successful’. In certain quarters he is painted as ‘an untrustworthy man’, one out to ‘cause problems in marriage or relationships; who will get in the middle, divide and conquer – and then destroy’. The Gypsy meaning has him down as in one context untrustworthy, in another a widower. It is not uncommon for the King and Queen of Spades to be taken to represent a widower and widow respectively. In such a case the person being described is not necessarily untrustworthy; the meaning is part of a method applied to spreads about love, identifying a possible marriage prospect as a widow or widower, depending on the gender of the inquirer. It was usual at one time too for the King and Queen of Swords to be used to denote a widower or widow; those meanings can be found in older books on Tarot divination.

The suggestion that the suit corresponds to the Element Air arises, surely, from a comparison with the suit of Swords. Although both suits represent unfortunate, often disruptive, events, it seems likely that they do not fall under the dominion of the same Element. The traditional coloring assigned to Spades gives the game away, I feel. The very dark-haired, especially those with sallow complexions, are generally placed under the aegis of Earth. (The equivalent suit to Spades in the Tarot, Swords, is taken as corresponding to Elemental Earth by authorities as disparate as Papus and Knapp (in the Knapp-Hall Tarot).) They would also be associated with peasant pursuits, such as tilling or digging (Spades) the ground. Persons of this coloring were, in the Middle Ages, considered of low born stock. Slightly later in history, Shakespeare has his Joan of Arc character explain to the court of the Dauphin of France that ‘whereas I was black and swart before, With those clear rays which she [the Virgin Mary, appearing to Joan in a vision] infused on me That beauty am I bless’d with which you see.’ Joan is presenting her credentials: her peasant looks are gone; she is now fair in every sense of the word – which must constitute a miracle and mark Joan out as the Holy Maid of France, fit to ride beside the nobility of France into battle against the English foe.

Queen of Spades. – A malicious, dark woman, generally a widow.
Queen: A widow. An unscrupulous woman. A very dark-haired woman.
Queen: A cruel woman, one who interferes. For women, a betrayal by a good friend. For men, a woman who will use them for their own gain.
Queen of Spades: Widowed or divorced woman; or a woman with Air predominating in her chart.
Queen: dark haired woman, seductive or unscrupulous, treachery, betrayal, malice, widow.
Madeline Montalban – Queen: A cunning, dark woman. Reversed – She is widowed or divorced.
Hilda Marie – Queen: A dark woman, most likely a widow.
Gypsy – Queen: Widow.
Minor Arcana – Queen: Treachery, betrayal, malice; a widow or a deserted person.
Etteilla – Queen: Widow, Widowhood. Widowed, Divorced. Reversed: Evil woman.

Where the King of Spades is a widower, the Queen is a widow. Where he is untrustworthy, she is unscrupulous. We are dealing with two separate meanings here, for not every widow is unscrupulous. A symbol that represented a widow was once part of the lore of love, or perhaps one should more rightly say marriage, divinations, common to both card reading and astrology. By means of this symbol the diviner might pinpoint the person whom the inquirer would marry as a widow. In earlier days, it was not uncommon for such marriages to take place (just as today marriages to divorced persons are not uncommon). The average span of life was shorter in the past than it is today. The astrologer William Lilly married a widow, and Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, had been married before, with Henry himself by then a widower four times over! If not widowed, the Queen of Spades might be divorced. The card might also denote a rather more unfortunate type of female, ‘a deserted person’, a woman whose husband had left her, as Charles Dickens abandoned his wife.

When not denoting a widow, a divorced woman or a forsaken wife, the Queen of Spades assumes a most inauspicious significance. She is characterized as unscrupulous, cunning, malicious and a seductress. All this is neatly summed up in one entry: ‘A cruel woman, one who interferes in the inquirer’s affairs. For women, a betrayal by a good friend. For men, a woman who will use them for their own gain.’

For all that, let us not forget that, surrounded by cards indicative of bright prospects, the Queen of Spades could easily represent a widowed or divorced woman who can be of substantial help to the querent in attaining the goal she or he is aiming for.

Knave of Spades. – An indolent, envious person; a dark man’s thoughts
Jack: A well-meaning but immature and unreliable youth. A very dark-haired youth.
Jack: A person who hangs around and gets in the way. Not a bad person, but a lazy one. Someone who will get in the way of progress. Takes and takes, but does not give anything back.
Jack of Spades: A youth who is hostile or jealous.
Jack: dark haired young man, well-meaning but lazy person, hindrance in all work.
Madeline Montalban – Knave: A treacherous and envious young man. Reversed – He will not succeed in doing lasting harm.
Hilda Marie – Knave: An evil man.
Gypsy – Jack: Serious young man, in law or medicine, can also mean deception.
Minor Arcana – Jack: A lazy or envious person, a hindrance in any undertaking, or perhaps an impostor, even a spy.
Etteilla – Jack: Spy, Observer. Reversed: Sudden, Without Warning.

While certain commentators see the Knave of Spades as ill-intentioned, others take the card to represent one who is essentially well-meaning but flawed. Those in the first category allot the card meanings such as ‘an indolent, envious person’, or present him as treacherous (Madeline Montalban) or downright evil (Hilda Marie). Those in the second category say this Knave is not a bad person, but a lazy one, a hindrance in any undertaking, someone whose nature is to take and take but who never gives anything back. The Gypsy meanings describe him as a serious young man but when the Knave is surrounded by cards of negative import, the gypsy concedes that the card can point to deception. Only one entry has the Knave as a spy, echoing Etteilla’s keyword for the card. Strangely, only two entries touch on coloring in respect of the Knave, one labeling him dark-haired, the other speaking of the thoughts of a dark-haired man.

It is Waite who says the card can indicate ‘a dark man’s thoughts’. The meaning is more applicable to the field of Tarot divination where Knights are at times believed to represent the thoughts of their respective Kings – the Knight of Cups standing for the thoughts of the King of Cups, and so on.

Ten of Spades. – Grief, imprisonment.
Ten: Misfortune and worry. Imprisonment. Unwelcome news.
10: A very unlucky card. If near a good card, it can cancel it out. If found with bad cards, makes them twice as bad.
10 of Spades: Worry; bad news.
10: worry, grief, imprisonment, negation of all good.
Madeline Montalban – Ten: A worrying letter. Reversed – Vexation or jealousy.
Hilda Marie – Ten: A disappointment.
Gypsy – 10: Sorrow, loss of freedom, sad journey.
Minor Arcana – 10: Another ominous card: grief, imprisonment or, at the very least, the negation of all good indications.
Etteilla – Ten: Affliction, Tears. Reversed: Advantage, Gain.

We are told that the 10 of Spades is ‘a very unlucky card’, forecasting ‘the negation of all good’. Its implications are much like those of the Ace though differently worded. According to the entries I have gathered together, it portends sorrow, worry, grief, bad news, disappointment and imprisonment. It is ‘a very unlucky card. If near a good card, it can cancel out the good. If found with bad cards, it makes them twice as bad.’

Both the upright and reversed meanings supplied by Etteilla have influenced delineations given to the 10 of Swords (not Spades) in the past, the upright meaning of the 10 of Swords continuing to be so influenced up to the present time. According to The Complete Book of Fortune, the 10 of Swords indicates: –

Unhappiness, sorrow, depression, poverty. Reversed, a slight and transient gain.

The ‘slight and transient gain’ descends from Etteilla’s ‘Advantage, Gain’. By some quirk of fate, Etteilla’s meanings affect more pervasively those of the Tarot’s minor arcana than those assigned to playing cards. In this instance, his ‘Affliction, Tears’ bears some relation to the 10 of Spades’ sorrow, disappointment, bad news and grief, but such matches are not typical, and may have come about by accident rather than design.

Nine of Spades. – A card of very bad import, foretelling sickness and misfortune.
Nine: Bad luck in all things. Depression and low energy. Destruction, deaths. Extreme anxiety.
9: The worst card of all: Illness, loss of money, or misery. Even when surrounded by the best of cards. Defeat, lack of success.
9 of Spades: Illness, accident, bad luck. The querent is at his/her personal low.
9: bad luck, can mean delays or quarrels, all kinds of unhappiness in all things.
Madeline Montalban – Nine: Illness, misfortune. Reversed – The omens are reinforced.
Hilda Marie – Nine: A quarrel, or trouble.
Gypsy – 9: Loss, thwarted plans, bad omen, health problems.
Minor Arcana – 9: Reputedly the most ominous card of all: it may signify sickness, misfortune, all kinds of unhappiness.
Etteilla – Nine: Ecclesiastic. Priest, Unmarried Person. Reversed: Justified Mistrust.

There’s a degree of confusion over which is the most malevolent card in the pack. For some readers it’s the Ace of Spades; others favor the 10 or the 9. I lean towards the 9 of Spades myself on the grounds that as the 9 of Hearts is the most auspicious card, granting querents their hearts’ desires, the worst card ought also to be a 9. The comment applied above to the 9 of Swords, ‘Reputedly the most ominous card of all’, leads me to wonder to what extent these supposedly minor arcana meanings are actually adapted from playing card meanings.

Whether it is the most evil card in the deck or not, the 9 of Spades is certainly an omen of sickness and misfortune. Various authorities allot it meanings ranging from delays or quarrels to thwarted plans, loss of money, and general lack of success. When operating at a lesser level – when associated with more upbeat cards presumably – the card is thought to suggest depression, low energy or great anxiety, still retaining a baleful influence. Parallels between this reading of the card and the Waite-Smith design for the 9 of Swords are obvious.

The meanings awarded by Etteilla to the 9 of Spades/Swords (Ecclesiastic. Priest, Unmarried Person) have had no impact on the playing card meanings (nor on the Tarot meaning, come to that).

Eight of Spades. – Warns a person to be cautious in his undertakings.
Eight: Trouble and disappointment. Plans go awry. Friends let you down. Cancellations.
8: False friends, traitors, someone who will betray. Most of the trouble can be avoided if caught early on. Examine all relationships closely.
8 of Spades: Temptation, misfortune, danger, upsets.
8: disappointments and opposition, be cautious, friends might turn out to be rivals.
Madeline Montalban – Eight: Impediments. Bad luck. Reversed – Danger, temptation, which will be fatal if yielded to.
Hilda Marie – Eight: Illness.
Gypsy – 8: Low spirits, disappointments.
Minor Arcana – 8: Be cautious in all your undertakings: those who seem to be your friends may be revealed as rivals.
Etteilla – Eight: Criticism. Reversed: Exceptional Situation, Difficulty, Obstacle.

By now it must be clear that Spades is an unfortunate suit almost every card of which denotes trouble, friction, obstacles, illness and bad luck. At best a Spade card will presage a period of anxiety or a difficult phase ahead that can be risen above only by the application, on the part of the querent, of hard work and attention to detail.

In this vein, the 8 of Spades points to false friends and possible betrayal. In addition the inquirer is counseled to ‘examine all relationships closely’, as so-called friends might turn out to be rivals. It is a symbol of approaching trouble, disappointment, great opposition and impediments to success. One authority has ‘temptation’ and ‘danger’ as meanings for the card, both of which are echoed by Madeline Montalban in her reversed interpretation. Hilda Marie has ‘illness’, but no other list agrees with this.

Etteilla’s Criticism is not taken up by others. The 8 of Spades’ upright meaning seems more influenced by Etteilla’s suggested reverse significane: Difficulty, Obstacle.

From → playing cards

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: