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A playing card deck inspired by Celtic myth and culture. Designed by Medieval Studies Professor, James Acken. Printed by the USPCC. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on November 1, 2013.

A playing card deck inspired by Celtic myth and culture. Designed by Medieval Studies Professor, James Acken. Printed by the USPCC.

About this project

If you are just seeing this now and this project or any of our add-on products interest you, please visit www.culturlan.com or our Facebook page.  

You can also speak with us in person at the following events!

*Not definite. Awaiting approval from vendor chair.

If you’d like to be notified when these decks will be available to the general public (hopefully before May 2014, but definitely after Backers have been sent their pledge-rewards), please send us an email at info@culturlan.com and write “Celtic Playing Cards” in the subject line. Cheers!

We will definitely be Kickstarting other projects in the future. To find those projects, please enter “Culturlan” into the search field at the top of the page.

Thanks to everyone who offered support!! (be it in money or time and effort helping to get the word out)

  • Two decks of playing cards with original artwork in the tradition and style of the Book of Kells
  • Imagery drawn from Celtic culture, history, and legend - the significance of which will be shared via Kickstarter updates and free downloads
  • Professionally printed by the USPCC

THE DECKS

Blue Deck: This asymmetrical full-color deck will have a unique back and will display two figures in opposition to each other upon each Court card. This deck will also contain two unique Jokers. Two examples are featured below:

Red Deck: This symmetrical full-color deck will have a unique back but will display a single figure upon each Court card in the style which has become commonplace upon playing cards. This deck will also contain two unique Jokers.

NoteExplanations of the symbolism contained in each card will be made available to all backers (for both decks).

A short time ago, a small group of us got together to form an arts and entertainment company dedicated to preserving and promoting the wisdom found within history and legend and making it more accessible to as many people as possible. From that goal grew this project: To transform a regular deck of playing cards into one with professional artwork influenced by the rich history, myth, and culture of the Celts.

Our Creative Director (ok, there are 4 of us, so he doesn't do much directing - but he is incredibly creative) is also our primary artist and he has put his rather impressive education as a Doctor of Medieval Studies to good use on this project. Drawing from well known myths to the more obscure, highlighting historical figures, and drawing upon the influence of evolving Celtic traditions, he is in the process of creating two decks of playing cards in the tradition and style of the Book of Kells. Each face card will be painstakingly composed and inked and will detail two prominent figures from history or legend. And every card, regardless of rank, will contain artwork rich with symbolism - the significance of which will be shared via Kickstarter updates as each card is completed (and via free downloads on our Facebook page when the cards are shipped).

We think Kickstarter is the perfect vehicle to help us bring the project from idea to reality as it provides us with the opportunity to interact with backers and create a collaborative product with wide appeal. As a result, we intend to host open Google+ Hangouts at various times throughout the project to provide backers with the opportunity to provide input and guidance on specific artwork to be included in each deck. A successful Kickstarter campaign will also enable us to have the decks professionally printed by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC).

So please, pledge your support for this project and help us spread the word in order to make this goal a reality! Thanks!!

James has loved history for as long as we have all known each other (which is an embarrassingly long time now). Despite early aspirations of becoming a professional artist, he pursued that love through his undergraduate years, and again through his graduate studies, eventually earning a Doctorate in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto in 2006. He is currently employed by the University of Victoria in British Columbia, with prior employment at Simon Frasier University in Vancouver and the University of Highlands and Islands. His deep and broad knowledge of Celtic history and legend is readily apparent in the beautiful renderings he is creating for this project - a small sampling of which are detailed below:

Artwork, Symbolism, & Our Process. The cards are designed to be pieces of art in of themselves. Each card will be intricately detailed and inked, with a number of components containing symbolism rich with meaning. Throughout the project, we will be displaying a small number of cards below - both as works in progress and as completed works - to help make our process more transparent and to provide you with a peek behind the curtain regarding the evolution of each card. We will also include an explanation of the symbolism contained within every card we display here.

Opportunities to Influence the Art. We will also be hosting a number of open Google+ Hangouts throughout the project, to provide community members with the opportunity to watch Jaime in action, offer input, and provide suggestions for cards as they are being drafted. You can join any Hangout and leave as is convenient for you. We'll be posting the date, time, and a link to each hangout here and via project updates.

Early Access. As an added and extremely heartfelt "THANK YOU" to our backers, we will also be providing a number of backer-only updates via Kickstarter as each Face-card, Ace, and Joker are completed to provide backers with an advance preview of each piece, along with a detailed explanation of the symbolism contained within them. We'll make all of these explanations generally available as free downloads eventually, but not until backers receive their rewards.

Samples. Each suit contains intricate elements informed by symbolism that is thousands of years in the making. Though each of these samples are works in progress, we hope that the samples of artwork below will provide you with a sense of the level of detail you can expect to see in each Court card, Ace, and Joker.

The Queen of Hearts (i.e. Cauldrons) - Progression of Artwork:

Close-up:

 Note: Explanation of symbolism to follow.

The Queen of Clubs (i.e. Spears) - Progression of Artwork:

Note: Explanation of symbolism to follow.

The King of Clubs (i.e. Spears) - Progression of Artwork:

Close-up:

The Symbolism:

The draft for this section of the King of Clubs, or Rí Gae, details Lugh. When the card is finished, he will be displayed in opposition with Balor, King of the Fomors.

Lugh is the god honored by the festival of Lughnasadh, celebrated during the month of August by the modern calculation, with horse races, offerings of ale, and gatherings of every sort. Styled ildanach or multi-gifted, Lugh is as much a trickster as he is a king. When he first came to Tara, he was challenged by the door-keeper to prove that he had a skill that was not already represented at the court. Lugh listed his many skills, none of which were absent from the court. He then gained entrance by showing that no one at court was a master of all these skills. His mastery of music allowed him to control the emotions of his listeners and place them into a magical sleep. His spear had the property that no army could withstand it in battle — likely a reference to Lugh’s leading the Tuatha Dé Danann at the battle of Maigh Tuireadh against the Fomorians. Legends suggest that he sired Cú Chulainn, one of Ireland’s greatest warriors who would undergo a ríastarthae or ‘warp-spasm.’ In this state, Cú Chulainn’s body would contort horrifically, his bones reversing in his skin, his mouth gaping so that his lungs flapped visibly out of it, his hair standing out so straight that they could pierce apples, and his blood erupting into a black cloud around his head. (Cú Chulainn will appear as the Jack of Clubs in our deck.) This horrific form comes from his Fomorian ancestry, because Lugh was actually the grandson of the Fomorian king Balor.

Where Lugh is described as radiantly beautiful, the Fomorian king who opposes the Tuatha Dé Danann at the battle of Maigh Tuireadh, is described as having only one, monstrous eye, and its lid was so heavy that it had to be lifted by a chain-and-pulley system hauled by his servants. The eye itself was violently poisonous that all who felt its gaze would die, but at the close of the battle, Lugh cast his spear through Balor’s eye, causing it to burst out the back of his head and kill his own troops. The Fomorians have been modernly labeled the giants of Celtic tradition, and it is true that they share many traits with the Norse giants. They could change size, use bizarre magic, and seem to have acted as personifications of the geotectonic forces present in the natural world. It is true that they are often described as being horrific, but they could just as easily be beautiful. Lugh’s mother was Ethniu, Balor’s daughter, and was said to be a great beauty. Bres, the leader of the Fomorians in Ireland, was said to be fantastically handsome even though he was also supposed to be also of enormous size. The claim that they represent the forces of death and chaos diametrically opposed to the Tuatha Dé Danann slightly misses the mark. It would be truer to say that they represent the untamable forces of nature as opposed to the societal, tutelary nature of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The meaning of their name, fomóire or fomórach, has been a subject of confusion for centuries. Most medieval glossators explain it as meaning “by the sea,” suggesting that they are sea-faring pirates of some kind, but the fact that these claims date from the Viking and post-Viking period probably has something to do with that. The association with the sea goes beyond a simple means of conveyance, though, as there are many traditions of submarine kingdoms ruled by them. Both Lugh and Balor show strong associations with the sun, Lugh in its beneficent and life-giving role and Balor in its withering and destructive role. This card reflects this polarity, presenting the two figures in reverse of one another but unified through the penetrating force of the spear. Every card in this suit incorporates the magic spear of the Tuatha Dé Danann into the very design of the clubs.

$12,000

Black & White Deck Option: This primarily black and white deck (with some red) will feature a unique back and will display the same opposing figures upon each card as the Blue Deck, as well as the same two Jokers. As with the other decks, it will feature poker-sized cards printed by the USPCC.

James is, without question, the best artist on our team. In fact, we like James' artwork so much we've already had shirts and pint glasses produced showcasing some of it. If you'd like any of these items, simply add the appropriate amount to your pledge and advise us which add-on you are interested in when completing the follow-up survey provided at the end of the Kickstarter campaign.

NEW ACE OF SPADES T-SHIRT ADD-ON ($24):

Note: You will have the opportunity to specify size and cut (men or women's) in the Kickstarter survey which will be emailed to all backers in November. A sample of the men's-cut is featured above, and a sample of the women's-cut is featured showcasing the Dia nan Sealgairean (Spirit of the Hunt) and the Coire Dana (Cauldron of the Arts) designs in the Add-on Artwork Description section, below.

Cuairt Manannáin (Coort Mahnanahn): Manannán's Round

Symbolism. Early Irish stories tell of a great king, Cormac Ua Cuinn, who was enticed into a mystical journey by the otherworldly king, Manannán Mac Lir. Cormac was invited to take part in a feast at which a magical, resurrecting boar was roasted by the virtue of true stories told by Manannán’s swine-herd, Manannán himself, his queen, and finally Cormac. Without this exchange, the boar would not be cooked and could not be safely consumed. The tale that each told was a marvel: the swineherd told how his pig would feed everyone in the hall one night and be alive the next morning, Manannán told how his grain could be sewn, grown, and harvested in a single day, his queen told how her cattle and sheep provided milk and clothing for all people, and Cormac told the story of his life. When all the stories had been shared, the boar had been completely cooked by the fire beneath the cauldron which rested between them.

Dia nan Sealgairean (Jee-a nan Shall’g’ran): The Spirit of the Hunt

Symbolism. The enigmatic horned spirit is more commonly referred to as Cernunnos today, and almost always appears in the company of animals. Many believe that he represents an object of veneration for early European hunters, although later he took on associations with the underworld and its potential wealth. Among the tribes of Canada and the Northwest, particularly the Inuit and the Kwakwaka’wakw, statues and masks of various animals depict a fluid transformation between the animal and a human face, blurring the boundaries between man and beast, this world and the next. It is along these boundaries that the hunter runs and where the master of beasts, the spirit of the hunt, holds sway.

Coire Dana (Cor’a Dah-na): The Cauldron of the Arts

Symbolism. The Coire Dana, or Cauldron of Poetry, is an emblem of inspiration itself. According to Celtic tradition, poetic art in all its multifarious forms sprang from an otherworldly cauldron protected and tended by nine divine maidens. One among them was foremost. In Welsh tradition she was known as Morgan while in Irish she was known as an Mhorrígan: the Phantom-Queen. The flow of knowledge, poetic in nature and divine in essence, was equated with the flow of mead and ale from earthly cauldrons, both mead and poetry having their source in the transcendent action of divine agency. 

Thus the words ‘a handful of artistry is better than a handful of gold’ surrounds the upper portion of this image, while the lower portion may be paraphrased as ‘align the secret intent of your heart with you heart’s pulse.’ These two sentiments, traditional Gaelic proverbs, express the inherent nature of the cauldron of poetry — an coire dana.

am Fitheach Mòr (a’ Fee-aX Mohr): The Great Raven

Symbolism. The raven is well known among the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest as a trickster who not only brought light into the world but also aided in the emergence of the First Nations’ people. The stories of the Haida Gwaii show the raven as a sexually virulent troublemaker, a talented trickster who possessed a subversive magic and ability to shape-shift and whose cleverness and unquenchable desire occasionally lead him into distress. These are the very same qualities that distinguished the Norse god, Oðinn, among the Æsir. Known as Wodan among the Anglo-Saxons, this god of poetry, magic, and hidden knowledge was accompanied by two ravens: Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory. It was Oðinn’s propensity to foster vengeance and bloodshed through his subversive magic and cleverness that earned the raven such a dark repute among Europeans. 

Triùir Ratha (Tryoor Ra-ha): The Three Lucks

Symbolism. 

“No one can achieve good fortune by force, but it can be gotten without any difficulty at all.” 

Good fortune, rath in the Gaelic languages, is bound up with how one lives one’s life, though it is not just a function of obeying the rules or living up to any pre-scripted expectation. Cleverness, loyalty and bravery, the qualities symbolized respectively by the raven, the wolf and boar in both European and North American mythologies, were key to unlocking a good and abundant life — the root of one’s rath.

If you've read the project description at the top of the page, you already know the really important stuff about the company. However, if you are keen on learning more, definitely check out our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Culturlan.

Risks and challenges

There are the obvious risks of delay with any creative project, though we've been careful to factor extra cushion into the expected time to create, print, and deliver the pledge rewards... just in case.

We're confident we can deliver the rewards on schedule, but regardless, we promise to stay in regular and frequent contact with all backers via Kickstarter throughout the project, until the pledge rewards are delivered. As a backer you can expect to hear from us at least once per week via project updates. If you have more immediate questions or concerns, feel free to email us at <info@culturlan.com> or post comments to Kickstarter.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

FAQ

  • As you can probably tell by the video featuring James, this is a subject we are all extremely passionate about. As a result, we've intended from early on to contribute some of our own money out of pocket to help it succeed. If we are particularly lucky, we'll raise thousands upon thousands of dollars through Kickstarter and won't have to use any money out-of-pocket... but we are prepared if that isn't the case. Simply put, we've set aside enough of our own money to print two decks at 6K and 3 decks at 12K. We calculated the cost multiple times to ensure that if we reached our funding goals, we would be able to print the decks as promised.

    Last updated:
  • You may calculate shipping via whatever method you are comfortable with.

    Our default option will be to use the least expensive of USPS, FedEX, or UPS, but if you discover a better alternative, simply send us a message with the proposed carrier and we'll be happy to use them.

    The only constraint is that the carrier must either be able to pick up the package or have an office within 10 miles of zip code 32065 (Orange Park, FL).

    Please use 1.6 lbs as the weight of each glass. This should cover the weight of the packaging as well. Please insure the items for the value of the pledge level or add-on(s).

    Last updated:
  • We'll work with everyone who has calculated shipping incorrectly to sort out the issue. We'll send an email detailing how we've come to our shipping cost and inquire how you have reached your estimate - and will use the option which is both the least expensive and meets all the specified criteria for shipping (able to pick up the package within zip code 32065 or have an office within 10 miles of it & offer insurance up to the value of the total pledge). We have the ability via Square to essentially adjust any inaccurate pledge.

    These efforts will be handled by members of the team other than James, so he can focus on completing the project on time.

    Last updated:
  • Blue Deck: This full-color deck will have a unique back and will display two figures in opposition to each other upon each Jack, Queen, and King of every suit (e.g. Lugh opposing Baylor on the King of Clubs). This deck will also contain two unique Jokers.

    Red Deck: This full-color deck will also have a unique back and will display a single figure upon each Jack, Queen, and King in the style which has become commonplace upon playing cards. This deck will likewise contain two unique Jokers.

    Each deck will contain the standard 52 poker-sized cards with two additional Jokers. Please note that if you've pledged support for a Blue Deck, but would prefer a Red now that you have more information about both, you may change your selection on the Kickstarter survey provided at the end of the project.

    Last updated:
  • Hopefully. We'll print a Black & White deck (with some red) if we raise more than $12,000.

    About the Black Deck: This primarily black and white deck (with some red) will contain 54 poker-sized cards. The deck will have a unique back but will display the same opposing figures upon each card as the Blue Deck, and will contain the same Jokers.

    Last updated:
  • Yes. Please add $10 to your pledge for each add-on deck you'd like to include. You will be able to specify which color deck in the Kickstarter survey we'll be emailing you in November.

    Canadian backers, please add $3 per additional deck to your pledge. All other international backers, please add $6 per deck.

    Last updated:

Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    26 backers Limited (74 left of 100)

    Red Early Bird

    1 red deck. Free shipping within the U.S.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    53 backers Limited (47 left of 100)

    Blue Early Bird

    1 blue deck. Free shipping within the U.S.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    1 backer

    20 oz. Pint Glass

    1 Satin-etched pint glass displaying artwork and symbolism from Celtic history and legend, with an additional design laser etched in the base of the glass. Please calculate your own shipping with insurance from Jacksonville, FL and include that amount with your pledge.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    4 backers

    Canadian Supporter ………. 1 Blue or Red Deck (your choice). Add-on decks are $10 each. Please add $3 per item included in the shipment as the shipping expense (excluding glassware).

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    5 backers

    World Supporter ………. 1 Blue or Red Deck (your choice). Add-on decks are $10 each. Please add $6 per item included in the shipment as the shipping expense (excluding glassware).

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $20 or more

    144 backers

    Bundle of Cards

    1 blue deck and 1 red deck. Free shipping within the U.S.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $20 or more

    9 backers

    20 oz. Pint and Cards

    1 pint glass and 1 deck of cards (red or blue, your choice). The Pint glass is satin-etched with designs and symbolism from Celtic history and legend, and is also laser-etched with a design inside the base of the glass. Please calculate shipping with insurance for 1.75 lbs from Jacksonville, FL and include that amount with your pledge.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $35 or more

    41 backers

    Cards and Glasses

    2 glasses (one 20 oz Pint & one 16 oz Bavaria) and 2 decks of cards (1 red deck and 1 blue). Glasses are satin-etched with designs and symbolism from Celtic mythology. The glasses are also laser-etched with a design inside the base of the glass. Please calculate shipping for 3.5 lbs with insurance from Jacksonville, FL and include that amount with your pledge.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $40 or more

    42 backers

    Deck Collector

    4 decks of cards (any combination of red or blue decks, your choice) with 1 box signed by the artist. Free Shipping within the U.S.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $60 or more

    2 backers Limited (248 left of 250)

    Small Art Bundle

    1 blue deck, 1 red deck, and 1 signed and numbered 5x7" art print on high quality textured paper. Free Shipping within the U.S.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $75 or more

    1 backer Limited (99 left of 100)

    Red Art Collector

    One signed and numbered limited-edition uncut sheet (Red deck).

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $75 or more

    0 backers Limited (100 left of 100)

    Blue Art Collector

    One signed and numbered limited-edition uncut sheet (Blue deck).

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    3 backers Limited (247 left of 250)

    Large Art Bundle

    1 blue deck, 1 red deck, and 1 signed and numbered 8x10" art print on high quality textured paper. Free Shipping within the U.S.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $110 or more

    4 backers

    Brick

    Brick of 12 decks (your choice of assorted decks), four of which will be signed by the artist (note: those four decks will be sealed, but will not be wrapped in cellophane).

    Estimated delivery:
    Only ships to: United States
  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    0 backers Limited (100 left of 100)

    Art Package

    Your choice of any 8 signed and numbered 8x10" art prints on high quality textured paper.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $3,000 or more

    0 backers Limited (10 left of 10)

    Art Director

    Work with the artist to bring your own vision to life. Over the course of up to three 1 to 2 hour sessions, collaborate with the artist via Google+ Hangouts to create your own exclusive art print. 2 signed physical copies mailed to you, along with a digital copy of the work. Free Shipping.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $7,500 or more

    0 backers Limited (4 left of 4)

    Cape Breton Excursion

    Spend two days touring Cape Breton, home of the Celtic College, with the artist. Spend a quiet evening on the porch or by the fire as James entertains you with stories of Celtic mythology and history, or a not so quiet evening as he plays traditional Celtic instruments and sings old and new songs. Two signed decks of cards (one red and one blue), two etched pint glasses, and two etched Glencairn whiskey glasses featuring project artwork included. Whiskey tasting, meals, and lodging over the two day and two-night period included. All other expenses excluded.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $10,000

    0 backers Limited (4 left of 4)

    Celtic Explorer

    Visit some of the Celtic sites and memorials which influenced the artwork for the project with the artist. Travel with James over a five-day period as he shares his knowledge of the history and mythology of the region. Food and lodging over the five days included. Travel to and from the launching off point at own expense; all other travel included. Backer is responsible for his/her own required travel documentation.

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (39 days)