Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Symbolism of Playing Cards, 1906 Article

The Symbolism of Playing Cards, Article in The Scrap Book 1906

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Soldier Arrested for Shuffling the Pasteboards in Church During Divine Service Won His Liberty by Convincing Magistrate that They May Be Utilized as Pages of a Prayer-Book.

IF the devil invented playing-cards, as more than once has been asserted, he was a very cosmopolitan devil; for cards have been used in every country whose people were intelligent enough to play with them. There is evidence that the Egyptians played cards in the days of Joseph. Later, the Hebrews brought cards into Palestine when they returned from the Babylonian exile. The Chinese played cards at a period when Western Europe was a wilderness inhabited by wild beasts and prowling barbarians. In India the pack contained ten suits, each being symbolic of an incarnation of Vishnu.

Europe got its cards, apparently, from the Orient, in the days of the Crusades—-for your Crusader was a great gambler. In the European history of the pack we find that the cards have frequently been used as symbols, political or social. But no more remarkable card symbolism has ever been evolved than that which is described in the following brief narrative:

A private soldier by the name of Richard Doe was taken before a magistrate charged with playing cards during divine service.

It appears that a sergeant commanded the soldiers at the church, and when the parson had read the prayers, he took the text.

Those who had Bibles took them out, but this soldier had neither Bible nor Book of Common Prayer. Pulling out a pack of cards, he spread them before him.

The sergeant of the company saw him, and said:

"Richard, put up the cards; this is no place for them."

"Never mind that," said Richard.

When the service was over, a constable took Richard before a magistrate.

"Well," asked the magistrate, "what have you brought the soldier here for?"

"For playing cards in church."

"Prisoner, what have you to say?"

"I have been," said the soldier, "about six weeks on the march. I have neither Bible nor Book of Common Prayer. I have nothing but a pack of cards, and I'll satisfy your worship of the purity of my intentions."

And, spreading the cards before the magistrate, he began with the ace:

"When I see the ace, it reminds me there is but one God. When I see the deuce, it reminds me of Father and Son. When I see the tray, it reminds me of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. When I see the four-spot, it reminds me of the four evangelists that preached—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

"When I meet the five, It reminds me of the five wise virgins that trimmed their lamps—there were ten, but five were wise and five were foolish and were shut out.

"When I see the six, it reminds me that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth. When I see the seven, it reminds me that on the seventh day He rested from the great work He had created, and hallowed it.

"When I see the eight, it reminds me of the eight righteous persons that were saved when God destroyed the world —namely, Noah and his wife, with three sons and their wives. When I see the nine, it reminds me of the nine lepers that were cleansed by our Saviour; there were nine out of ten who never returned thanks.

"When I see the ten, it reminds me of the Ten Commandments which God handed down to Moses on tables of stone. When I see the King, it reminds me of the King of Heaven, which is God Almighty.

"When I see the queen, it reminds me of the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon, for she was as wise a woman as he was a man. She brought with her fifty boys and fifty girls, all dressed in boys' apparel, for King Solomon to tell which were boys and which were girls. King Solomon sent for water for them to wash; the girls washed to the elbows and the boys to the wrists, so King Solomon told by that."

"Well," said the magistrate, "you have given a good description of all the cards but one."

"What is that?"

"The knave," said the magistrate.

"I will give your honor a description of that, too, If you will not be angry."

"I will not," said the magistrate, "If you do not term me to be the knave."

"Well," said the soldier, "the greatest knave that I know of is the constable that brought me here."

"I do not know," said the magistrate, "if he is the greatest knave, but I know he is the greatest fool."

"When I count the number of cards in a pack," continued the soldier, "I find there are fifty-two, the number of weeks in a year; and I find four suits, the number of weeks in a month. I find there are twelve picture cards in a pack, representing the number of months in a year; and on counting the tricks, I find thirteen, the number of weeks in a quarter. So, you see, a pack of cards serves for a Bible, almanac, and prayer book."

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