The Ace of Clubs

From the city of Goirias, presided over by the poet-sage, Esras, came the spear of Lugh which, like the sword of Nuadha, was irresistible in battle. The spear went further, however, because while the sword would win the combat, the spear would win the battle. It was thus the weapon of a skilled war-leader. Spears and swords together formed the core of the Gaelic warrior’s complement of weapons, his gaisceadh (mod. Ir. gaisce). There is also a suggestion that the spear took more skill to use as Lugh is the master of all skills. This is emphasized by the poetsage’s name, Esras, which seems taken from the word esraiss meaning an outlet, passage, or opportunity.

The King of Clubs

Lugh and Balor fought their iconic battle in the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh, when the Tuatha Dé Danann won their freedom from the oppressive overlordship of the Fomorians. Called ildánach for his mastery of every skill, Lugh possessed an unstoppable spear, the pattern for the suit of clubs, but it was a stone from his sling that destroyed Balor's single poisonous eye. This eye was so monstrous that its lid required four men to lift it with a chain and pulley system. Understanding the Fomorians as symbolizing the chaotic powers of fertility and magic and the Tuatha Dé Danann as symbolic of the powers of social cohesion, the battle between Lugh and Balor becomes a moment of triumph by aesthetic intelligence over overwhelming darkness.

The Queen of Clubs

Often described as the war goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann, these four figures are as enigmatic as they are prevalent in the mythology. The Neamhain inspires madness and battlefury, usually appearing as a horrific apparition above battles, while Macha lends her name to Emhain Macha, the royal seat of Ulster. At times, Bodhbh and Morríoghan seem to be more descriptive titles, the former referring to crows or women who could foresee the future and the latter referring to phantom women, the banshees. The image here suggests that each of these women represent manifestations of a common Celtic mythic reality tied to battle and mantic knowledge and resonant with the sovereignty goddesses found in the suit of hearts. The Neamhain's partial death's-head emphasizes her bridging of the boundary between this world and the next, her hair spiralling around her in trance-like whorls.

The Jack of Clubs

Fergus and Cú Chulainn are as tragic as they are heroic. Fergus was tricked out of his kingship of the Ulstermen while Cú Chulainn mistakenly kills his only son. Bound through fosterage, Fergus raising Cú Chulainn to adulthood, they find themselves on opposing sides of the Táin Bó Cuailgne (the Cattle Raid of Cooley), Fergus warning Cú Chulainn that his own fosterbrother, Fear Diaidh, was coming to the fight. In loneliness and despair after killing Fear Diaidh and wounded terribly by the hosts of Connacht, Cú Chulainn succumbs to hisríastarthae (warpspasm). This card places the two figures at odds, underscoring the tragedy of war represented in the suit of clubs.

The Lia Fáil