Folklore Card Deck

Welcome to the playing card project.

This year I set out to create a full deck of playing cards, with each Face card, each Ace and each Joker hand carved in linoleum, each representing a story. These stories were from all over the world, all through time. Some of them are popular stories many have heard; some are lesser known, but all are significant. On this journey I sought the help of many friends listening to their favorite tales. Countless hours were spent reading and researching the right stories and narrowing them down.

 I had two prerequisites, they had to be widespread (from all over the world), and they had to easily create an image in my head that I could carve into a card. In the beginning 18 stories felt like a huge task and by the end it was hard to stop there. After each story was chosen, it was drawn, carved, printed and scanned into the computer to fit the card template. Each of the number cards were created from a single carving including all the suits and numbers then assembled digitally. Once this was done the cards were sent to the printer.

The tales

Many of these stories were chosen from printed books or through conversations with others. This means I then had to take to the internet to find a suitabe web based link to provide. This was easier said than done in some cases but for the most part each card has a link to the story or reference to the story. The internet is such a big place with so much to offer but I found in this project I was reminded of how small it can be and limiting.

List of tales

King of spades– Koschei the Deathless [Slavic]

There are many Slavic tales that include Koschei the immortal. Gnarled evil looking man who keeps his soul in the eye of a needle, inside an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a chest buried under an oak tree.

Here he stands holding an egg containing the needle that contains his soul.

Queen of spades– Little Red Riding Hood [German]

With diversity of stories being key, I decided to chose one story that is represented in the Grimms stories. Narrowing it down wasn’t easy but in the end Red won.

Here she stands with the big bad wolf even though in this picture they look more like friends than foe.

Jack of spades– Goblin Market [English]

The poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1962, doesn’t quite count as a folktale. Its inclusion almost made me change the name of this card deck. In the end I stuck with it since most do, and this poem is based off the same folk beliefs that conjured up the rest of the stories on this list.

Here Laura is being seduced by the fruits of the fae and giving a piece of herself in return.

Ace of spades– Th’owxeya, The Cannibal Woman [Sq’éwlets]

This story was included out of sheer determination. My first introduction to it was from a family member and when I set out to find reference to it at first, I found nothing. Then I found several versions from all over the Pacific North West. All are different but they all end the same. In the end I chose this version because it was the closest to the one I heard originally, but yet still not entirely the same.

Here is Th’owxeya the cannibal woman turning into a cloud of mosquitos as she burns.

King of hearts– Creation of Enkidu [Mesopotamia]

I thought including the earliest surviving written story was probably a good way to go for this project. It just happens to be a great story too. Enkidu is the king of hearts for the love he portrays in the stories, the love and kinship he has with nature and his love for Gilgamesh.

Here is the wild man surrounded by trees and a running antelope.

Queen of hearts– Alice in Wonderland [English]

Alice doesn’t need much introduction, her role in pop culture is still very current. Being written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll it makes this the most modern of all the stories. However, like many of the stories collected here the roll of it continues today. This is another story that might not be considered a folk tale, but all stories come from somewhere. I didn’t want to leave Alice out.

Here is Alice, this time as the queen of hearts herself with the trusty white rabbit at her side.

Jack of hearts– Jade Rabbit [Chinesse]

There are many stories about a rabbit or a hare in the moon. A side effect of the shape of the moon’s craters and a great example of how what we see shapes our stories and beliefs. This particular rabbit is a significant Chinese tale with beautiful imagery.

Here is the Jade Rabbit pounding the elixir of life in its mortar.

Ace of hearts– Kupe and the wheke [Polynesian\Maori]

This is a story that I had never heard, and once I did, I was reminded about how much I don’t know. This is no small tale, here we have the discovery of new land, the spread of people around the world and how entire groups of people can migrate all because they really had to get that octopus.

Here we have Kupe’s canoe encroaching on the giant wheke (octopus).

King of clubs– Namazu the Earth Shaker [Japanese]

This story is a great example of how the natural world shapes our stories, how we explain the things around us and how that in turn shapes us and our cultures. Our stories are the perfect place where history, science and the divine mix. As an aside, it took me way too long to figure out the right species of catfish Namazu is portrayed as.

Here Numazu while busy shaking the world is being pinned down by Takemikazuchi.

Queen of clubs– The Corn Mother [Penobscot]

This origin story like so many others, paints a fantastic picture of our relationship with food and plants. The life changing effect certain foods have had on people, culture and civilisation is evident when we hear stories like these. As a mother this story hit me as particularly special, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for our children.

Here the first mother lies buried underground having given her body to the land, corn grows all around and in the spot she lies the sacred tobacco grows.

Jack of clubs– Sleipnir; The Fortification of Asgard [Norse]

Norse mythology is a treasure trove of great stories filled with humor and the folly of the gods. Sleipnir is commonly depicted in Norse imagery and is known for being the eight-legged horse of Odin.  The origin story of this majestic horse is a bit different than one might expect. Being somewhat of a cautionary tale about what happens when you make promises you don’t intend to keep, and a look at some of the unique circumstances that some up when you’re a shape shifter.

Here we have Sleipnir showing off eight powerful legs.

Ace of clubs– Berry Picking [Newfoundland]

This is the only card without a single dedicated story. While many of them can be attributed to wider origins than one story, they also have a single point to refer someone to. Not this one though, this story is the kind that gets passed around in whispers as cautionary tales. It is an example of legends brought by settlers taking route in new areas, the way so many stories travel and change through time.

Here someone wanders the berry bushes gathering fruit unknowingly being led astray by the fairies.

King of diamonds– The Thunderbird and the Whale [Chalá·at and others]

From the origin of this project, I wanted the thunder bird to be a part of it, taking the roll of the king. This gave me the chance to immediately get anyway from the expected rolls you might see some figures in. This also gave the chance to show the power of this figure, both physically and culturally, being a part of so many mythos throughout the Americas

Here the Thunderbird takes on a whale who has been causing problems.

Queen of diamonds-Scheherazade; One Thousand and One Nights [Persian]

1001 Nights is a significant collection of tales that I figured should be included. Instead of picking one of the stories from it though, decided to make it the story itself. Who better to be in a deck of cards depicting stories than the storyteller herself.

Here she sits calmly in a room of luxurious silks and pillows.

Jack of diamonds– Fearsome Star Maidens [Amazon]

I wanted to include this story because the imagery is so fun but it also doesn’t contain any really significant figures, there’s no god, no divine or any heros. Just a story of which there are so many in this world we’ve never heard.

Here is the star maiden safe in the gourd and the grotesque dancing skeletons having a great time.

Ace of diamonds– Sehkmet the blood thirsty [Egyptian]

All of us have seen Egyptian art depicting the wonderful stories that made up a rich mythology. However, when it comes to the details of those stories, they seem to be lesser known. This story for instance, seems to be retold countless time and yet still new to many people. I found it while searching for tales that involve beer, knowing how significant it has been in human history. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Here Sekhmet finds the river running red with what she thinks is blood to her delight. While the red coloured ale is poured in upriver.

Joker– Anansi and the pot of wisdom. [Ashanti]

To me the jokers in a card deck are special, they are different then the others and stand out because of it. I wanted to be extra careful when picking who got to be a joker. The two I chose are both notable in mythology around the world, both are not just considered tricksters but also major figures in creating the world as we know it.

Here is Anansi in his web still keeping the pot of wisdom to himself.

Joker- Coyote in always-living-at-the-coast [Kwakiutl]

It was important to me to choose a Kwakiutl story as well as a coyote story. Coyote is such a notorious trickster for so many of the peoples of North and South America, I figured he should definitely get to be one of the joker cards.

Here he sits among the masks of the wren, the grizzly bear, the deer and the mountain goat.

Story : ‘American Indian myths and legends’ selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz