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Published February 20, 2021
An Ancient Initiatory Rebus: The Mystery of the Jack of Diamonds
Symbolism of the Jack of Diamonds in the old portrait of the Dauphiné in France (17th and 18th centuries)
“Only Kings, Queens and Jacks have the art of talking both ways. Since you know nothing about it, it means I’m worth more than you.” (Jostein Gaarder, "The Solitaire Mystery," Oslo 1990)
What can this enigmatic phrase mean in the mouth of a Jack of Diamonds, whom for cardologers represents the initiate to the transformation of values?
It is obvious that the humble playing cards know a double language whose comprehension by the initiate in Cardology is all the more fascinating and profound as it speaks to us of ourselves…
But since when can we listen to this secret language discovered by Cardology? For far longer probably than we think today.
This is the beautiful story that tells us behind the window of time, if we listen carefully, the fantastic Jack of Diamonds…
Playing cards appeared in Europe in the 14th century. Their presence is found first in Catalonia in 1371, then in Germany and Florence from 1377, in Spain between 1377 and 1381 and in France from 1381.
The first playing cards published in Europe make use of traditional Latin signs (cups, deniers, sticks, swords), probably adapted directly from card games from the Muslim world.
The simplest French signs (hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades) in two colours were invented by the French cartiers (i.e. manufacturers and card printers) at the end of the 15th century. The historians of playing cards have stated that these innovation in the 15th Century permitted easier reproduction with lower manufacturing costs and mass production by xylography. Mass produced cards quickly became more prevalent than the card varieties of other European countries that were generally painted by hand.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, France then became the playing cards breadbasket of Europe thanks mainly to two important market cities of the kingdom of France, Rouen and Lyon. Rouen, a large maritime port, became the exclusive supplier of the British Isles, while Lyon, a city of paper and later fabric printers, supplied Savoy, northern Italy, Switzerland and part of Germany.
The French card game, as printed in Rouen (also called, « Portrait of Rouen ») was first exported to England then copied and exported to the United States and finally to the rest of the world. It is at the origin of the current international standard of cards (figures similar to those of the Bicycle brand cards).
However, in France in the 17th and 18th centuries, in addition to the portrait (i.e. card style) of Rouen, there were eight other distinct regional or provincial portraits: the Portraits of Paris, Lyon, Auvergne, Limousin, Provence, Languedoc, Guyenne and Dauphiné, whose drawings of the figures (King, Queen, Jack) are significantly different either by the clothes, or objects, flowers or animals held in hand, or silhouettes or attitudes of the characters from one portrait to another.
The portrait of the Dauphiné has several characteristics that are not found in any of the other French portraits, especially concerning the figure of the Jack of Diamonds. The Jack of Diamonds wears on each of his legs, below the knee and at the level of his boots, a human face drawn in whole with distinctive eyes, a nose and a mouth. With these two strange drawings is also associated on the card that represents him, a kind of rebus, composed of three words: « Mais bien vous », which can mean in old French « It is indeed you »; as these cards were produced in the 17th and 18th centuries, the significance of the phrase should be viewed within the context of the time period.
Could we see in these two unique peculiarities in the figures of the old cards a sort of symbolic message addressed to the players?
This could then be a possible hidden allusion to the common identity of cards and that of human persons; all together participating in the game willingly or being enslaved to it in spite of themselves?
Is there an esoteric message or rebus that approaches the theories and postulates of present-day Cardology? This is, of course, a hypothesis.
The Portrait of the Dauphiné is, according to specialists, derived or copied from the old Portrait of Lyon before the 17th century. Since the Middle Ages, the city of Lyon, a great merchant city at the gates of Italy, has been the secret but renowned capital of occultism and alchemy.
Michel de Nostredame alias Nostradamus (1503-1566), the famous astrologer, came to Lyon several times, in the middle of the 16th century to have his various works printed. On May 4, 1555, the printer Macé Bonhomme published in Lyon the very first edition (353 quatrains) of the Prophecies of Nostradamus which would bring him fame for many centuries. The same year Nostradamus was also invited to the royal french court by Queen Catherine de Medici, who was also a great lover of astrology.
In another field, and very much later, Allan Kardec, founder and propagator of spiritist or spiritist philosophy, was born in Lyon on October 3, 1804.
One of the 18th century portraits of the Jack of Diamonds, the only one found and exhibited in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, dated between 1740 and 1750, also contains a second message: « Joue bien », in English « Play well ». What does this second message, associated with the first, mean? Play well with the cards you have in your hands or with those of your own destiny?
To continue on this path paved with riddles, we might now ask ourselves: why did the inventor of these drawings and messages form them as a rebus specifically on the Jack of Diamonds rather than any other Jack or other figure of the game of cards? The published books of Cardology answer the question; in most of them, it is precisely written that the Jack of Diamonds symbolizes in particular the initiated to a higher order of values.
Learn more about Olney H. Richmond, author, publisher and Grand Master of the Order of the Magi and the Father of Cardology
To conclude with this symbolic interpretation of the Jack of Diamonds initiated and carrying a hidden message in connection with human figures drawn on his legs, we can also notice that he carries in his hand a simple stick contrary to all the Jacks of Diamonds of the other provincial portraits who most often hold a halberd.
This stick is representative of the cosmic axis, which controls time and space. It is the axis of the universe and the cosmic wheel of reincarnation (i.e. birth, death, and resurrection). This symbol of the stick worn by the Jack of Diamonds in the Portrait of the Dauphiné persisted until the end of the 19th century. As a testimony, this inverted Jack of Diamonds reproduced by Gassmann of Geneva in 1873 found in a collection with this notice.
In conclusion, this is actually a lot of conjectures or hidden meanings for a modest playing card printed three centuries ago for the distraction or passion of our ancestors!
Does this enigmatic figure of three and a half centuries (1650 - 1750) past, in the province of Dauphiné in the Kingdom of France, with his faces, his Sibylline words, and his stick, still have a message to convey to us?
Perhaps one of the possible signs or clues of the real mystery of Cardology, found there at least two centuries before Olney H. Richmond wrote The Mystic Test Book or The Magic Of The Cards*.
Four of Spades
* Does not Olney H. Richmond himself write that Cardology was taught to him during the Civil War in 1864 by "a tall, thin, hollow-cheeked Frenchman"?
[DISCLAIMER: Any explanation, information, opinion, terminology, theory, and/or any cardological method or reference included in this article are not necessarily approved of or endorsed by the International Association of Cardology. This article's publication on the IAC website is purely for entertainment and informational purposes only.]
Valet de carreau au portrait du Dauphiné. Gassmann Genève 1873. Source: Gallica.bnf.fr