The True Secrets In a Deck of Cards

Sep 16, 2007
Sydney, Australia
Here are some facts I discovered all by myself when I was thinking long and hard... no, I'm not that insightful... I got these facts from Jeff McBride's Art of Card Manipulation Disc 3. I found this information really interesting and I wanted to share it with my fellow magicians. I thought it would be good for us card magicians to know a bit more about the pieces of cardboard we use to amaze than the average person. Here is a short history and facts about a today's modern deck of cards:


There is a history and origin to how the modern deck of cards came to be created. A few hundred years ago, magic was viewed as a heresy and people were even put to death. Two thousand years ago, all the ancient mysteries, sacred knowledge, mystical teachings were kept in one place, the Great Library of Alexandria. Religious fanatics kept on raiding the library, burning all the books and the magicians. Something had to be done, so the magicians formed a mystical alliance of secret knowledge to protect the ancient knowledge, and gathered in the city of Fez, Morocco, and they agreed to create one magic book, one book to contain all the secrets of magic. All the magicians were from different lands and spoke different languages, so artists and scholars created a picture book of symbols containing all the mystical teachings which surpassed language, boundary, and time itself.

What would ensure this book was not lost to another fire? The book was cut up, disguised as a game of cards, playing cards, for the magicians knew man’s appetite for greed would live eternally, and it was natural that all the sacred advice was hidden in a form of vice, if man stayed true to his vice, his very vice would remain his true advice. Thus, the tarot cards were born. The tarot cards were taken out of Egypt, and spread through northern Europe in the 1400’s by the gypsies. The gypsies used the cards for two things: gambling and divination (or fortune telling). They believed your own intuitive magical powers could be awakened through contemplating the images of the cards. The highest card in a Tarot deck is the magician. The magician teaches us how to live in balance with the miracle of nature around us and within us. One arm pointing toward the heaven, and one toward the Earth, it is a symbolic gesture of as above, so below. The magician reminds us that the power of the entire universe exists within us, and we all have the power to transform reality.

The modern standard deck of cards is said to contain all the secrets of the Kabbalah, the greatest known collection of esoteric knowledge known to western man. The pieces of paper are still a magic book. Each page a lesson in life. Although there are differences, there are astounding correspondences between the modern deck of cards and a tarot deck. Here are some interesting features in a deck of cards very few know:


• The black and red represents night and day respectively
• There are 24 even cards in a deck, representing the number of hours in a day (I made that one up :p)
• There are a total value of 364 on all the cards in a deck, 365 when the joker is added as the 365th, representing the 365 days in a year. Adding an extra joker makes it 366, the number of days in a leap year. It can be used as a solar calendar.
• There are 52 cards in a deck, representing the 52 weeks in a year
• There are 4 suits in a deck of cards, representing the 4 seasons of the year
• There are 13 cards in each suit, representing the 13 phases of the moon. It can be used as a lunar calendar.

The suits symbolise the magicians toolkit of the magical elements. They have other symbolic meanings:

Represents the sword, air, the power of the breath and mind. Also said to represent a rudimentary phallus (from the book The Da Vinci Code).
Represents the chalice/cup, water, the power of subconscious and of the healing. Also said to represent female genitalia (" ").
Represents the wand, fire, willpower, transformation. Also said to represent the Trinity(" ").
Represents the shield, earth, strength, endurance and abundance. Also said to represent the pentacle(" ").

To the uninitiated, these cards are simple pieces of paper for a gambling game. To an initiated magician, each card is an esoteric key that can unlock the doors to our own magical potential.

Here is some extra information found from Wikipedia:

Paris Court Cards Traditional Names

King of Spades: King David
King of Hearts: King Charles
King of Diamonds: Julius Caesar
King of Clubs: Alexander the Great

Queen of Spades: Pallas
Queen of Hearts: Judith
Queen of Diamonds: Rachel
Queen of Clubs: Argine

Jack of Spades: Ogier the Dane/Holger Danske
Jack of Hearts: La Hire
Jack of Diamonds: Hector
Jack of Clubs: Judas Maccabeus, or Lancelot
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Sep 2, 2007
Stockholm Sweden
Great ... uhmm thread. I really enjoyed reding this. I did know some the faqs that was in here but the story about how the cards where made i had no idea. Thank you.
Sep 3, 2007
wow....I think every card magician should know these facts about the tool they are holding to. I also think you can get much more mystical flare into your performance mentioning these facts e.g. someone picks a card....tell him what this card actually means.
I enjoyed reading this.


Sep 2, 2007
I enjoyed reading this too. It's very interesting, I'b like to learn more about the history and symbolism of playing cards. Does anybody knows any books/videos on this subject?
Sep 1, 2007
I remain skeptical towards that supposed explanation of the origins of playing cards. I intend on researching this further.
Sep 24, 2007
Who knew there was so much behind a deck of cards, i feel like i'm holding so much more in my hands now that i know all this. thanks for sharing. definitely something worth knowing
Sep 1, 2007
on Theory11.
Wow. That was really cool. Thanks for sharing... Yes- you could definately put a mysterious flare in your performance with that kind of stuff!

Thank you, History class!

Edit: Yeah, I just printed your post, joey. It's that good.



Sep 1, 2007
looks like the intro to Card College from Roberto Giobbi.
Nice posting.

You guys should read it. VERY much information about the history of cards.


Sep 1, 2007
No, this is from Card College Vol.1 by Roberto Giobbi. Awesome book by the way.

Understatement :D
Its not an awesome book.
Its THE book for card magic.
Some pro magician once told me "Learn the sleights in Vol.1 and you know more then 80% of the other card magicians".
Jan 28, 2009
Yeah this forgets that Tarot cards started as game cards, for games. All the Kabbalistic mumbo jumbo came out of the OTO during the 19th Century Occult revival, and it is extremely unlikely that it was on the mind of the Italian that first put the deck together....
Jul 2, 2008
Hm... I seem to have a book that says the Kings are different people. Let me go and find it and I'll tell you! If I remember correctly, I think it said Hearts was Charlemagne, Diamonds was Caesar, Clubs SPades was Solomon... I'll go check.
May 13, 2008
St Albans, UK
Some lovely facts there.

Some other little tidbits i've heard elsewhere: there's only one King that doesn't have a mustache, only one Queen faces the other way and there are two "one-eyed" Jacks.
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