the queen of spades, part 5: significance and interpretation

Cards have long been used in fortune-telling (although not so long as they’ve been used in game-playing). The standard French (aka Anglo-American) deck of 52 playing cards in 4 suits is closely related to the traditional Tarot Minor Arcana, which consists of 56 cards in 4 suits. Beyond iconographical conventions, the only differences between the two decks are a fourth court card given to each suit (a Knight, who places between the Queen and Page, aka Jack), and the Latin naming of the suits (that is Batons – aka Wands, Staves, Staffs, Rods – for Clubs; Pentacles – aka Coins, Disks – for Diamonds; Cups – aka Chalices, Goblets, Cauldrons – for Hearts; and Swords – aka Blades, Daggers – for Spades).

Each card in the Minor Arcana draws significance from its rank and its suit and holds unique significance of its own. For example, it is helpful to think of the Queen of Swords as not merely the Queen of Swords – an individual – but also as a Sword and as a Queen.

The suit of Swords is represented by the intangible and unseen, yet keenly felt, element of air; and the Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius star signs. Sword cards symbolize thought, reason, communication, and the mind in all its creative and destructive glory; and they also symbolize the forces of truth and justice, both of which can function as sharp and penetrating double-edged challenges in our lives. In a spread, Sword cards can represent a person or personality phase characterized by strength, authority, courage, temperance, and ambition on the one hand, or arrogance, aloofness, judgement, and the need for control on the other; they can also represent an involvement in a formal arrangement, or in the legal, political, or judicial systems; or they can represent the querent’s mentality – his or her ability to learn, remember, analyse, and determine, or his or her perceptions of, biases against, or insights into the issue at hand.

Queens are represented by the element of water. They symbolize creative force, and signify growth, development, and realization. It is often argued that queens, like all court cards, are most likely to represent actual people, but they can also represent an aspect of a person’s personality, a personality phase, an event, an engagement, etc.

The Queen of Swords is perceptive, intuitive, analytical, cunning, and astute. She has a graceful manner and a dry sense of humour. She is intelligent and widely learned, and makes a great conversationalist; but she is also private and reserved, and she does not take lovers or friends lightly, without first developing a secure foundation of trust and intimacy. To her loved ones, she is loyal and honest, and her wise and measured vision of the world is of great value to those in need of support. If she has been betrayed or abandoned, or otherwise feels insecure and vulnerable, she will be fiercely self-protective, solitary, and focused on survival: her attitude in this case will be cold, judgemental, cynical, unforgiving, and even manipulative.

It seems to me that queens also bear a call to action. Of course, to determine the contents of this call, the Queen of Swords must be interpreted in the context of the spread. Perhaps the querent must adopt aspects of the Queen’s personality for the development of a written or verbal project, or a legal or formal engagement; or to help a friend in need of support. Perhaps the querent has adopted certain negative aspects of the Queen’s personality in response to a trauma in her or his life, and must now shed these characteristics and focus on healing his or her wounds. Perhaps the Queen represents a person the querent knows who ought to be understood and befriended, or else acknowledged as a destructive force and removed from his or her life. Etc.

In card play, the Queen of Spades sometimes holds a negative significance. In the game of Hearts, she is the Black Lady, worth negative 15 points; in Eights, she is the pick-up-five, the worst card for the opponent at your right to play; and in Gong Zhu, she is the pig, to be avoided at all costs.

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the queen of spades, part 4: family C and some loners

The third queen of spades design family is less cohesive than the other two. Really, the only common feature is a down-turned hand: a drooping fist with the index and pinky fingers pointing downwards.

a queen of spades; see text for descriptions
Figure 1
a queen of spades; see text for descriptions
Figure 2
Queen of Spades
Figure 3

I have two copies of the queen labelled “figure 1” in my collection. She is very much like the ‘B’ family of spade queens – see the shield, the middle division section, the upturned eyebrow, the staff, the headscarf, and the neck/collar. On the other hand, she is facing the opposite direction, her crown ornamentation is like that of the ‘A’ family, and her breastplate is unique.

The queen pictured labelled “figure 2” shares some elements with the ‘B’ family (see the headscarf and staff), and her placid expression is similar to that of the ‘A’ family, but she is largely unique: notice the dress, the middle division section, the crown, and the total absence of hair.

The queen labelled “figure 3” features a total deviation from the standard flower which all my other spade queens share to one degree or another. The expression is one of surprise. The cuff, staff, crown, shield, and dress are also unique. Some shared characteristics with the ‘B’ family are the shape and colouring of the headscarf (although the ornamentation on the outside of the scarf is unique), and, like some queens in the ‘B’ family, there is the hint of an earlobe peeking out from beneath the headscarf.

I have two spade queens which I can’t properly fit into one of the 3 design families.

a queen of spades; see text for descriptions
Figure 4
a queen of spades; see text for descriptions
Figure 5

The queen labelled “figure 4” shares characteristics with the ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ families, but doesn’t properly fit into any of them. Her shield is similar to the ‘A’ family, but replaces the arrow-points with spades. Her middle division is also similar to the ‘A’ family, although more detailed. Her hand is closed, as the ‘A’ family; but it is also slightly down-turned, as the ‘C’ family. Her staff is like the ‘C’ family, but features a prominent spade design on the top. Her neck is like the ‘B’ family, as the lines are horizontal (suggesting a collar), not vertical (suggesting hair, as the ‘A’ family). Her headscarf flows like the ‘B’ and ‘C’ families, but her face is drawn in blue ink like the ‘A’ family. The cuff on her wrist is most like the ‘A’ family. Her crown, breastplate, brooch, and facial expression are unique.

The queen labelled “figure 5” is from a novelty “fortune-telling” deck. The traditional images are miniaturized in one corner of each card, and the rest of the card face is used to depict particular fortune-telling symbols (similar to Tarot). This spade queen has no spear. Her shield is a circle behind a thick bar. The middle division is a horizontal bar without the diagonal section. The dress is very simple, although the breastplate is reminiscent of the ‘B’ family; so is the headscarf, although the crown is entirely unique. The neck and chin are mostly in shadow, and the collar below is much more prominent than on my other spade queens. The execution of this design is somewhat crude, and the colour-fill, irregular. Her hair is minimized.

the queen of spades, part 3: family B

picture of the queen of spades 'B' family standard
Figure 1

The queen labelled “Figure 1” is the most prominent example of the second spade queen design family within my collection. I have three decks that feature exact copies of this design, all of them tourism decks (from Australia, Saskatchewan, and Costa Rica).

The common features of this family are an upturned right eyebrow (her right, not ours; figure 2); a waving hand and tri-divided shield with block-fill on the one side, a single graphic image on the upper-half of the opposite site, and a patterned-fill on the lower-half (figure 3); a triangle above the horizontal bar in the middle division section (figure 4), and a strip of spades within the horizontal bar (figure 4).

Queen of Spades detail (head and crown)
Figure 2
Queen of Spades detail (shield, hand, and flower)
Figure 3
Queen of Spades detail (middle division section)
Figure 4
I have three variations on the B family in my collection which could be categorized as belonging to a sub-family. They all feature the same modifications to the standard depicted above: the triangle in the division is empty, the patterned section of the shield if filled with lines instead of a grid, the curlicue designs on the breastplate are much simpler, the spade is missing from the brooch, the cuff is coloured red, and the thumb and index finger make a loose V shape.
picture of a spade queen in the 'B' family
Figure 4
Queen of Spades
Figure 5
queen of spades
Figure 6

Figure 4 features a spade on the shield, although the other two cards I have in this sub-family feature a fleur-de-lis’, like the standard. Figure 4 also uses a light-blue colour in many areas that, on other cards, are black. Above the collar we also see the suggestion of an ear lobe.

Figure 5 is from a miniature deck, and is a very close copy of figure 4. Some subtle changes are: the breastplate is oriented lower on the dress (closer to the division bar), the tips on collar are less rounded, and the V shape on the palm is tighter. The face also looks more worried to me.

Although I classify figure 6 as belonging to the same sub-family as those pictured above, there are many differences in design. The staff is more reminiscent of the ‘A’ family than the other ‘B’ family staffs are. The spades in the horizontal division bar are alternating right-side-up and upside-down, rather than all facing left or all facing right. The collar on the neck is less severe/detailed. The crown features very different ornamentation. The shield is missing its gold rim on the upper edge. And the expression on the face is mischievous, rather than upset or worried.

the queen of spades, part 2: family A

Queen of Spades, Bicycle deck
Figure 1

I’ll call the most prominent queen of spades design family in my card collection the “A” family. The standard for this family seems to be the Bicycle spade queen (figure 1). Aside from my Bicycle decks, an exact copy of this queen is found on two other decks in my collection. I have two more decks which feature crude copies of the same design. On one, the black stripe on the sleeve and an arrow-point on the shield (the right-side point on the second line from the top) are missing. On the other, the red gem is missing from the staff, and the colour is much paler and the fill doesn’t match up with the outline.

Some consistent features of the A-family queen are the closed hand (figure 2), the diamond shape on top of the staff (figure 3), the half-diamond/V pattern in the centre of the breastplate (figure 4), the bent bar above the horizontal bar in the middle division (figure 5), the flower design on the crown (figure 6), and how the neck section looks like long hair (figure 6).

Queen of Spades detail (shield, hand, and flower)
Figure 2
Queen of Spades detail (staff)
Figure 3
Queen of Spades detail (breastplate)
Figure 4
Queen of Spades detail (middle division section)
Figure 5
Queen of Spades detail (head and crown)
Figure 6

I have two other queens who belong to this family.

Queen of Spades
Figure 7
Queen of Spades
Figure 8

One (figure 7) is a crude copy of the bicycle queen, but features a few unique design innovations – see the rim on the crown, the outside edge of the breastplate (the gold on black curlicues), the dress section below the breastplate (white on red), and the right patterned of the shield.

The other (figure 8 ) is even more unique. Although based on the same design, the image appears to be entirely redrawn. This queen is finely executed, and every detail is slightly different from the bicycle standard. I got this deck at Lee Valley.

the queen of spades, part 1: an introduction

drawing of the queen of spadesThis is a basic queen of spades with her elements represented in different colours. Most spade queens follow this pattern, although some face the opposite direction. The yellow section is the crown. The brown section is the headpiece — usually, the top strip is hair, the side strips are a scarf, and the neck area varies. The light blue section is a shield. The grey section is a hand with cuff, holding a flower. The light green is the dress — the centre is a breastplate with a brooch at its base. The pink is a staff. And the orange section is the division — there’s often a diagonal shape above a horizontal bar.

In my collection, I’ve identified three queen of spades families.