After he sets down the cards and leaves, Faye is sitting in the spot Spike just vacated. Jet storms off just before a call comes in for him from a musician informant alerting him to something big. A card falls to the floor as Jet storms off, Faye picks it up – the ace of spades.
At the end of this session, Faye whacks the injured Spike with a pillow, feathers and cards flying. He picks up and looks at the card that had landed on his head – the ace of spades.
What does this card MEAN anyway? In the minds of most people, it portends death, but is that ALL that it means?
The answer is decidedly no.
The ace of spades has multiple related meanings, death being only one. I have to admit to learning and practicing cartomancy (reading cards) using a standard deck of cards when I was young and foolish. This card means not only death, but challenges and change. Endings and beginnings. In fact, “death” – or physical death – is a very superficial and not entirely accurate description of the meaning for this card.
This is a tough subject to find references for, because the meanings of playing cards varies somewhat among different cultures and even societies. It’s also difficult because in this area, there aren’t many (if any!) objectively recognised authorities that one can quote and I no longer have my reference books. I can provide links, but most of this is based on my understanding of the ace of spades that I’ve had since I was a pre-teen.
Below are my understandings of the meanings associated with the ace of spades and what I think it means with respect to Cowboy Bebop.
Essence: Karma. Manifestation: Imposing buildings, the authorities, institutions.
Interpretation: The Ace of Spades is known for being baleful and sinister, and there is certainly some basis for this reputation. It’s essential meaning links it with the ancient concept of karma and destiny, however. [In an interview in session #0 on the remix set, Mr Watanabe did say that Cowboy Bebop was about Spike's karma] Certain things must come into being, or pass away, for they are part of the larger pattern decreed by fate. In the ancient Greek worlds the three Fates (atropos, Clotho and Lachesis) answered to no one, but sat spinning the thread of destiny over which even the gods had no influence.
Similarly, the Ace of Spaces cannot lightly be dismissed. In its most positive manifestation it promises worldly power and influence, but at a price. Generally, it augurs a challenging phase ahead, in which obstacles must be overcome by the power of positive thinking, faith in oneself and, if necessary, a stoic acceptance of present difficulties and reversals of fortune. This is not a good time to initiate any kind of legal battle, nor to expect a favorable outcome to any kind of dispute.
Reversed: Fundamentally, the Ace of Spades reversed warns of negative thinking, depression, and lethargy in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles. A serious reassessment of life is required if the damage is to be limited and curtailed. Unexpected difficulties and hidden enemies may surface at this time. Caution is advised in all things; this is a time of decay. However, do not worry – decay is eventually followed by renewal and regeneration.
The card that Spike and Faye both looked at was not reversed (upside down), so I include the ‘reversed’ paragraph for completeness. In this case, the second paragraph I think fits in with Ballad of Fallen Angels in that neither Faye nor Spike had the favorable outcome that they desired – Faye didn’t get the bounty for Mao that she was after, Spike failed to kill Vicious. Both had challenges ahead and obstacles that needed to be overcome by “…the power of positive thinking, faith in oneself and, if necessary, a stoic acceptance of present difficulties and reversals of fortune.”
There is also http://www.guntheranderson.com/cards/feb97/lyle.htm. Here is what it says about the ace:
Ace – 1) When the Apex or point of the Spade points up in the reading it means a conclusion, an ending. Considered the Death Card, meaning the death of circumstances, not people, 90% of the time. Remember, with death, there is always a new beginning. Death in reading cards is a door offering a new beginning. 2) Apex pointing down: The card is telling you about someone or something at a distance, not in this location, usually quite far away.
Then for me there is the most interesting of interpretations that can be found in http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_a_tattoo_of_the_ace_of_spades_mean
The Ace of Spades is traditionally symbolic of two things, which themselves are often linked. Those two things are Metamorphosis and Death.
To flip over the Ace of Spades in any kind of card reading is to get a warning of impending death – whether it be your own or someone linked to you. However – it doesn’t always have to be a literal death – it could be a death of a certain self, or a phase of life, thus opening to path to a new existence or new identity.
This is important. I’ve had people tell me that because Spike picked up the ace of spades, that’s a foreshadowing of his death. Not necessarily. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say “no.”
The card CAN mean physical death, but if it does, it’s not necessarily the physical death of the person who gets the card. It could portend the death of someone close to the card’s recipient. For Spike, this goes without saying – Mao, Annie, Julia were all close to him and they all died. For Faye, her whole family and everything she knew but temporarily forgot was dead and gone.
As far as transformations, endings, beginnings, metamorphoses go…
Faye got her memories back. She remembered her past life and the hollow shell that had been walking around for the three years since her revival from cryosleep was transformed into a whole human being.
Spike answered the challenge of the past of his that was shooting at him and his friends, effectively putting it all to an end when he killed Vicious. There was a death, but a death of his past life – for REAL this time. Everything tying him to the past he tried to escape was gone, effectively ending it totally. There was an end. The end of Spike’s former life in the syndicate and all ties to it. Of course, the end of Spike’s ties with the syndicate coincided with the end of the story, the end of Cowboy Bebop.
For myself, if I’m going to try to interpret the meaning of the ace of spades with respect to Cowboy Bebop, I’m inclined to use the ‘metamorphosis’ meaning, which would be consistent with the use of butterflies in the Cowboy Bebop movie, as I wrote about in Heaven’s door, dreams and butterflies a few months ago.
Standard disclaimer – I can’t say this is what they were thinking when they wrote in the ace of spades (or even the butterflies for that matter). This is what it means to me. Your mileage may vary.