The Ace of Spades

The suit of spades is based on the Sword of Nuadha, sometimes conflated with the Chaidheamh Soluis (Sword of Light). In at least one source it is also referred to as a 'candle' or fire-brand. This sword was brought from the Otherwordly city of Finnias where the poet-sage Uiscias presided. Like Lugh's spear, it was unstoppable in battle and is probably connected somehow with Caledfwlch, the legionary Welsh sword that would eventually become Excalibur, the gift of the Lady of the Lake. Since the name Uiscias seems to be related to 'uisce' (water) there could be a dim parallel with that more familiar sword. There is also a vast array of mythological associations with water as paralleling mantic knowledge, brewed in otherworldly cauldrons and flowing in streams through tradition-bearers.

The King of Spades

Nuadha and Breass are the two proto-typical kings of Gaelic tradition, but while Nuadha represents good kingship, Breass represents the bad. Their weapons reflect this, Nuadha with his sword and Breass with his spears. This contrast of weapons could be considered iconic of the difference between inherent discernment, represented by the sword, and learned skill, represented by the spears. Skill is important, even central, but without inherent discernment is ultimately destructive. This card thus contrasts the two through the colours of their respective cloaks. Green and red, now associated with the Yuletide and its iconic holly tree, were associated with the world of the Sídh in the Gaelic Middle Ages, emblematic of the relationship between the two worlds and eternal opposites like life and death.

The Queen of Spades

Tailtiu and Earnmbás are two shadowy figures from Gaelic myth. Both are only known from passages in the Gaelic mythological compendium Lebor Gabála hÉrenn (the Book of the Invasions of Ireland). 'Earnmbás' means 'Death-by-Iron' and her marriage to Dealbháeth, meaning 'Well-Taken-Oath' results in many of the gods and goddesses that are more wellknown, most notably the sovereignty goddesses, Fodla, Eriú and Banbha. Tailtiu, as a goddess associated with the harvest festival of Lughnasadh, had more cultic than mythic significance, but she was said to have been the foster-mother of Lugh, High King of the Tuatha Dé. Thus both goddesses were closely associated with kingship through the action of cutting: Earnmbás through battle and Tailtiu through the harvest.

The Jack of Spades

This card shows two great but little-known characters from early Irish tradition: Niall Noígeallach and Cú Roí mac Dáire. These two represent reflections of how personal heroism manifests in society. Cú Roí was a strange, sorcerer-like figure who lived in a rotating fortress, while Niall Noígeallach was the namesake of all who have the surname O'Neill. A legendary king, Niall Noígiallach secured the high kingship of Ireland for his descendants while Cú Roí judged a mythical competition between Ireland's three greatest warriors: Cú Chulainn, Loegaire Buadhach and Conall Cearnach. Each manifests a very Gaelic conception of heroism that privileges insight, courage, and the necessity of living in right relationship with the Wild.