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A couple years back I happend to buy a nice, glossy, Printed in England, book of

Solitaire games, which I still have with me. And nice set of playing cards to go with it
as well. Both items were chosen for their beauty, and they cost me a total of 200
rupees.

I hardly played with those cards, but I got to know them very well. The book and the
cards were so well-made, so nice to look at and handle, I'd try to lay the cards out in
various sequences, just for fun.

I discovered that each king, queen, and jack, in a playing card deck have a unique
character. And if the cards are laid out hierarchically, they appear to be telling a
story.

As it happens, ordinary 52-card playing card decks are also used for divination. Two
correspondences can be considered:

1. There are 52 cards to the playing card deck; and there are 52 weeks to a
year.
2. The 52 cards are divided into four suits; and there are four seasons to a year.

The four suits can be correlated with the four classical “elements” or states of matter.

Element Suit
Fire Clubs
Air Diamonds
Water Hearts
Earth Spades

In the playing cards, the story or narrative suggested by the kings, queens and jacks
is not very clear. The figures have been formalized to a degree where they have
become more or less abstract: it's all line and shape. There is no hint that the
cardmakers saw any deeper meaning in it.

However, the same story, or a version of it, also appears in the minor arcana of the
tarot deck of cards. I have a certain version of the Marseille tarot deck with me,
called the “Spanish Tarot” and published by U.S. Games. It is said to be recreated
from a design first created in Piedmont in 1736.

It has more details than playing cards do. And one gets the feeling that the
cardmakers had some idea of the “story” told in the cards. But the Spanish tarot is
also rather crudely made. The little details: a missing throne, the facial expressions,
aren't always reliable. I know that from comparison with similar tarot decks.

The Jean-Noblet deck is said to be closest to the original tradition. The Jean-Noblet
was created while the tradition was still alive, at a time when cardmakers and
engravers knew the real import of the cards and strove to express it in their designs.

For example, the Jean-Noblet uses seven colours throughout, and each colour has
meaning! In the Spanish deck I have, the figures are the same as that of the Jean-
Noblet, if cruder, but the colours are not the same. The colours appear to have been
simplified: the inner significance of the cards was lost by then.

I should also add that, thanks to the simpler colours, the Spanish deck is well suited
to game play. Each suit has a signature colour:

Batons – Green
Coins – Yellow
Cups – Red
Swords – Blue

It is likely the Spanish tarot was created specifically for play. Tarot games used to be
very popular on the European continent.

The Jean-Noblet suits do not have signature colours. But that is just as well.
Because each colour has significance:

“On the Jean Noblet Tarot, Flornoy presents a very interesting commentary on the
cards. On Noblet himself, Flornoy makes the statement that that he belonged to a
time when knowledge was still transmitted from master journeyman engraver to his
apprentice. Something that I was not aware of was that there were seven symbolic
colors used in decks: white, the color of emotional saturation; black, representing the
earth; red, representing blood and suffering; blue, representing blows to the body
and soul; yellow, representing perseverance; green, representing hope; light blue,
representing awareness; and the additional flesh color.”

[http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/jean-noblet/review.shtml]

White – emotional saturation


Black – the earth
Red – blood and suffering
Blue – blows to the body and soul
Yellow – perseverence
Green – hope
Light blue – Awareness
Flesh colour

And this wonderful tarot is being reprinted after 350 years! And it costs just 22 euros,
Rs. 1300-odd rupees. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! And all
beginning with that glossy book of Solitaire games I bought in late 2008 because it
was on sale for just 100 rupees.