Monday, May 6, 2013

Lunar Cards

"Water Card"

There is a wonderful history in what we call Playing Cards. Rooted in an ancient Judeo-Christian tradition the system of the cards gives us a window to a way of thinking about the world that is hidden from us today.

The Calendar

Everyone knows that the Moon has phases. That is called a Lunar cycle. The Lunar cycle as reckoned from new Moon to new Moon is 28 days which is a Lunar month. There are 13 Lunar months (or cycles) to one Lunar year. There are 13, 28 day months or 364 days in the Lunar year or one day less than the typical year we use; known as Gregorian year. The Gregorian (or solar) calendar year is 365 days.

Neither calendar is completely accurate. The solar cycle is actually 365 ¼ days. The Lunar calendar year is 364 days.
Here’s where it gets a little dodgy. In much of Christendom we use the 365 day Gregorian calendar but to compensate for the ¼ day we add a “leap year” every 4 years placing an extra day in February. In the 364 day Lunar calendar I study, the compensation is done each year by adding a “day out of time” usually at the Winter Solstice. Some say that in ancient meso-America an extended Summer Equinox was used to compensate the calender deficiency.

At this point in the discussion the information becomes very scarce. Experts on historic calendars start to argue with astronomers. Historians dispute astrologers. The farther you go back in time the worse the disagreements get.

But for our discussion we can agree on this. The advantage to the Lunar calendar is each of the 13 months is exactly 28 days, 4 weeks each with 7 days per week; 52 weeks per year. The length of the year is 364 days.

Card Theory

How does that relate to “common” every-day playing cards? With the cards: 13 cards in each suit, 364 divided by 13 = 28; 4 suits x 13 = 52 (the number of cards in the deck), 364 divided by 52 = 7; 7 x 4 suits = 28; therefore 13 x 28 = 364. Note all the relations between the cards and Lunar calendars.
Another relationship: if you count the jack, queen, and king numerically it would be 11, 12, and 13. If you then add all the numbers represented on all the cards it will total 364 or the number of days in the Lunar year.

Of course our ancient forefathers knew these relationships and more. They utilized this data in ways we barely understand. Certainly they knew other things in this relationship we don't understand.

It is only the Lunar calendar that is referenced to cards. The cards mirror the Lunar calendar; 13 months-13 cards per suit; 52 cards per deck-52 weeks per year; 4 seasons (or 4 quarters) 4 suits and 13 weeks per season. The Lunar driven cards are the touchstone to both our most important celestial relationship and the unconscious mind that is fueled by references to the Moon.

Water Card, 16"x 12", Oil on textured hardboard, 2012, DS Reif


  1. Flaw in your information. You're defining the ace as 1, which means it is the lowest card. In many games, the ace is the highest card, and its numerical value would be 14 (one rank above the king, which is 13.) Thus, the total of all card values is not 364, but 416.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Yours is an important perspective. Although I do not “play” card games myself I am well aware that there are different values placed on cards for specific gaming purposes. So in some games the numbering system is asymmetrical with the first card (ace) “placed” at the end of the deck and assigning a greater value to it while leaving out the number one. As I understand there are games that have systems that are even different from the one you mention. I think there are any number of value systems placed on cards for gaming purposes. In cartomancy (card-reading) the deck is seen as numerically coherent. The symbols (or spots) are read literally one through ten and the last three cards imputed with the complete sequence. I have seen pictures of decks that include the 11-13 numbers on the face cards, evidently for ease of reading for the cartomancer or perhaps it is used in some game I am unaware of. The formalism reflected in the lunar aspect of cards seems to have little bearing on gaming. But it is quite important in card reading theory and practice. Perhaps I should have made the context more evident but I did tag the essay under “Cartomancy”. dsr