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Old 8th December 2011, 05:06 AM   #9
Jim McDougall
Research Consultant
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Posts: 7,021

Great perspective Glen, and we are really entering esoteric territory which is tremendously complex. I like your ideas about the symbols used in card suits and tarot having potential influence in the selection of some of these design elements in the hilt motif. It seem that evidentially there is little association with the various Tarot symbolism which can be directly associated to anything in Masonic principles or philosophy, however the last decades of the 18th century into the early 19th were times wrought with fascination with esoterica.
While the intrigue surrounding secret societies, arcane philosophies and political and religiously oriented groups seem to have rampant in the society of these times, the Freemasons stood out most predominantly. As has been observed for some time, the makers marks, guild marks and stamps along with trademarks and merchants marks in general have largely seemed to carry some allusion to various kinds of esoterica. Much of this is directly related to cabalistic symbolism and various amuletic values as used talismanically, along with some religious in nature and even alchemical allegory. It is of course quite difficult to separate most of this in trying to identify these kinds of symbolism in items now profoundly out of context, and try to imagine what secretive ideas might have been intended to be conveyed.

As always, in approaching these kinds of investigations, we do not need to believe or follow what ideas are represented, but the difficulty is in finding and trying to understand what the individuals either producing or using the sword or weapon believed or followed.

It would seem that in these times with the preoccupation with neoclassicism and as mentioned, arcane elements, that these symbols which were also present in varying degree in heraldry, might have been quite appealing to the pretensions of the gentry and social elite. It is known that much of the symbolism found in the so called talismanic blade markings of the 18th century began in large degree with hunting swords, which of course were for this level of society. Following in this manner were markings and decoration on court swords and of course officers swords. It is not surprising then that the motif in hilts would adopt such character in designs. With that, it does not seem unreasonable at all that the symbols present in arcane context such as Tarot, esoterica and heraldry might enter favored designs for these rather elegant hilts.

Its good to be able to discuss these ideas on these kinds of motif, and I really appreciate being able to share thoughts with you. I hope maybe others will join in with thier views as well.

I am attaching the four suits of cards and the arm holding a wand (in tarot, corresponding to clubs in playing cards). This symbol is often seen on the 'talismanic' motif on 18th century European sword blades as an arm holding a sword extending from a cloud.

All the best,
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