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Card Suits

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The ten of disks (or coins) from the Thoth tarot deck
The ten of disks (or coins) from the Thoth tarot deck

In both playing cards and the occult tarot, a suit is one of several categories into which the cards of a deck are divided. Each card generally bears a symbol showing to which suit it belongs; the suit may also be indicated by the colour of the symbol. Most card decks also give a rank for each card, the ranks consisting of numbered pip cards and hierarchical court cards, plus optional special cards that belong to no suit, such as jokers, or a separate non-suited group of cards, such as trumps.

It is said that the four suits derive from the four Medieval feudal classes or castes of populace: clergy, merchants, peasants, and nobility, but the symbols that represent them as suits vary tremendously across the spectrum of published card decks.

The clergy are represented by chalices or cups, which can also be seen as hearts and as the element of water. In divinatory symbolism, this suit stands for emotionality, love and romance, and spirituality.

The merchants are represented by coins, disks, or pentacles, which can also be seen as diamonds and as the element of earth. In divinatory symbolism, this suit stands for material possessions, wealth, and financial security. In some decks from Europe and Asia, this suit is depicted as cookies, square tiles, or golden bells.

The peasants are represented by staves, wands, or fighting sticks, which can also be seen as clubs and as the element of fire. In divinatory symbolism, this suit stands for physical health, industriousness, enthusiasm, and creativity. In some decks from Europe and Asia, this suit is depicted as crosses or clovers.

The nobility are represented by swords, which can also be seen as spades (in Spanish swords are "espadas") and as the element of air. In divinatory symbolism, this suit stands for adversity, challenges, court cases, and decision-making. In some decks from Europe and Asia, this suit is depicted as pikes, lances, or shovels.

In playing card packs, the pip cards typically incorporate their suit icons as the basis their design. Often the pips are set out into patterns of rows and diagonals, or are woven or stacked together in a decorative manner.

Within fortune-telling Lenormand decks, a small suited pip card or court card may be featured as a sequestered portion of each overall card image. The card's suit is predictably reflective of the business which the card depicts in emblematic form; for example, the suit of hearts is used on cards that deal with love matters.

In oracle card decks the suits are dropped completely in favour of a graphic and thematic image for each card (the Letter, the Stranger, the Bridge, etc.).

Suits within tarot decks are conventionally four in number, and are usually associated with a particular element and range of human experience. In certain tarot decks the items featured as suit icons may be stacked or arrayed as they would be in a deck of playing cards. In other tarot decks, a pictorial scene or tableaux is presented on each card, with the pips of the suit superimposed over the image or incorporated into it.

Some card decks feature five suits. The best known of these is the Rhine ESP deck, in which the suits are circles, crosses, wavy lines, squares, and five-pointed stars.

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