Ace of Spades – what does it mean?

Card of Doom?

Card of Doom?

In Ballad of Fallen Angels, the story begins with Spike shuffling a deck of cards. If you watch closely, you can see the bottom card is the Ace of Spades, and it remains there for as long as we are able to see the bottom card while he’s shuffling.

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 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

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. πŸ™‚

10 comments to Ace of Spades – what does it mean?

  • This is interesting too. I found this after I posted that entry:

    Standard playing cards are closely related to Tarot and are perfectly able to be used for fortune-telling, especially with this method which requires no previous knowledge of the cards’ meanings. You just need to know that in gereral Hearts relate to matters of the heart and happiness, Clubs to effort, Diamonds to wealth and Spades to decisions. Also, because in most card games Aces can be either the highest or lowest cards in their suit, the same goes for their interpretation. They represent the possibility of either extreme – a climax or beginning.

  • EdwardIV

    I was wondering about this myself, to be honest… I didn’t know it had more than one meaning, though. I’d only thought of it as some sort of “death” superstition. :O

  • Yeah, most people do. I have to admit that’s the very first thing that pops into MY mind as well, but then I catch myself.

  • wanderlike

    Hmmm. I’m not nearly as observant as I wish I were at times. To be honest, I’ve repeatedly noticed the Ace of Spades in that deck when I’ve watched. And somehow, the whole “death” thing escaped me. In fact, I don’t think I ever attached any symbolism to it at all. Though I probably should have…

    Bebop is a little too deep to throw in things with no meaning whatsoever – I think this merits a re-watch of the entire series. Again.

    • I hear ya! I have to watch something a dozen times sometimes to catch stuff.

      As far as I can remember Ballad of Fallen Angels is the only session that showed Spike handling cards (unless you want to count him at the blackjack table in Honky Tonk Woman). I mean, there is always the possibility they were being funny with it, but it showed up twice in that session, Faye got it then Spike got it. It probably means something, and they did both suffer losses near and at the end of the series. Dunno.

      I’ve had people tell me that his getting that card was a foreshadowing of his death. Well, Faye got it too. And the ace doesn’t always/usually mean that the recipient is going to die, physically.

      Like I said, I have no idea what they were thinking when they did that. πŸ˜€ If you watch it again and get any ideas, please let me know, I’d love to hear!

      • wanderlike

        I think I’m long overdue for a thorough watching for minute details and almost ignoring the plot entirely to spot them. Not sure what it will turn up. But if there’s a lot of still-screening and rewinding, I better do it alone. Haha.

        As far as the death thing, I absolutely don’t see it as foreshadowing of death. The Ace of Spades is ambiguous on that. In fact, even the Death tarot card is ambiguous. Both tend to refer to a great change or transformation rather than a literal death. After all, a good many of the tarot cards refer to things that…well, are random characters and indicate no obvious event for the future.

        If a card called “death” doesn’t necessarily mean death, than an Ace doesn’t either.

        • Sometimes you don’t see this stuff if you’re looking for it. It’s nuts. I’ve just seen it so many times and I’m still finding things that I maybe noticed but never thought about.

          And yes, you’re completely right about the Tarot’s death card. You can’t just pull the card and think you’re going to die, that’s not it at all.

    • Hey wanderlike! I almost forgot, welcome to the blog! Thanks for posting. πŸ™‚

      • wanderlike

        No problem. I needed a place for Bebop ventings and such. And you seem to do your research better than most. I’ve been lured to these sites way too often and had to deal with the first article as something like, “Why Spike is dead and get over it.”

        • Yeah, I saw those. I leave right away, because I know they’re going to be saying the same thing as everyone else. I think I watched the same show they did, but I got something completely different out of it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

          I HOPE this stuff is interesting – it interests me at any rate. πŸ™‚