“Who who who” hoots the owl. I wonder who is out there in the dark as well. As I looked out my window, I caught an owl flapping his wings with his kill in his talons. It is bushy with brown feathers with eyes as big as an uncut gemstone. It landed on a tree branch and began feeding on its prey. Halfway feasting on its catch, it stopped and lifted its head to stare at me. Its eyes so crystalline clear that I was transfixed.
Without a warning, the owl dropped its prey and spread its wings. I was taken aback by the wideness of its wingspan and took a step backwards out of instinct. My left heel tripped over something, a rock perhaps, and I fell backwards.
I woke with a shout and realised I was only looking at the owl of Strigiformes Playing Cards on kickstarter. For readers who are not crazy fans of birds like the creator, Renee LeCompte, you will be as clueless as to what is Strigiformes. Basically, it refers to the owl. Owls are further divided into two families, barn-owl, Tytonidae, and true or natural owls, Strigidae.
Hope I have piqued your interest in owls enough to continue the reading the rest of the article. For Strigiformes Playing Cards, the illustration of owls is done in a realistic manner, capturing the essence of owls’ expression and figure. I liked the fact that the pencil shadings and sketchings are so detailed. Without further ado, let me present the royal court portraits for your visual indulgences.
There are other interesting designs I must highlight because you dear readers might miss it completely or simply overlook it as just a design choice.
Besides having the suits pip appear at the the top left corner of the cards, Renee also put the pip at the centre portion of the card along both edges. She has put in effort to differentiate the look of the pip by including a motif that looks wing-like.
Next, I’m going to bring your focus to the items the owls are carrying in the portraits. If you have been collecting playing cards with tarot elements such as the Arcana Playing Cards and the recent tarot edition of Bharata Playing Cards. These playing cards with tarot elements have a separate set of symbols that correlates to the poker pips such as the following:
- Clubs to Wands
- Hearts to Cups
- Diamonds to Pentacles
- Spades to Swords
Renee chose to replace the Pentacles with a Globus Cruciger. Reason being that she wanted to use items associated with royalty and a Pentacle is more associated to religion so she replaced it with a Globus Cruciger. You might rebutt and say “oh, but isn’t the Globus Cruciger also a religions item since churches and priest use it?” If you dig a little further into ancient history, the Globus is a Latin word for globe and the symbol of the world. There are archaeological records that shows ancient rulers and Gods either holding or stepping on the Globus signifying that they hold the world in their hands or they rule over the world by stepping on it. With the spread of Christianity and adoption of Christianity by western rulers and kings, the Globus Cruciger has become a symbol of Christianity dominance over the world and also as a symbol of royal regalia in some kingdoms. (This is a very interesting subject on its own with rich history and complex relationship between Christianity and kingship so I will urge you to research this on your own.)
Also, she changed the sword to a scimitar because using a scimitar while you are moving on horseback has more advantage compared to using a sword. A scimitar has a better slashing capability and it will not get stuck compared to a sword if you use a sword to stab your opponent. If you are a cavalry unit, being constantly on the move and mobile is your primary objective and this is where scimitar is advantageous. Using this thought in mind, she decided to give scimitars to the Spades owls since they fly through the air and having a scimitar to cut down their prey is more deadly.
Another small detail which not many people will notice is the replacement of crowns for halos. Ah ha, now you are looking at the designs again. Now, let us point out also that the halo is absent for the Jacks. Renee explained that because Jacks are not strictly considered royalty, only the Kings and Queens are. Therefore, there are not halos for the Jack cards.
Lastly, and this is very difficult to notice if you do not look at the card in larger resolution, are the trees in the background of the portrait cards. Yes, now you have to click on the images above and enlarge the image to look at the trees. Besides tarot symbology, Renee also included the fours seasons:
- Clubs – Spring
- Hearts – Summer
- Diamonds – Fall
- Spades – Winter
This is most apparent in the Spades cards, where the trees are mostly bare. Additionally, she used oak leaves for the Clubs cards, as in Germany, the Clubs suit is Acorns.
Take a look at the card back. Take a good hard look at it. It looks intense like an album cover for a hard rock band. Or just a power rangers poster.
Such a lengthy article and we have yet to cover the Aces. Yet more symbology! Each suit here symbolises a theme. Starting with Diamonds suit, you see a owl clutching a cracked egg which I believe symbolises birth with a hatching of an owlet.
We move to the Ace of Clubs which shows an owl above a flame. Renee associate this with a phoenix rising from the flames, like a rebirth of sorts.
With the Hearts, the owl is clutching an uprooted rose. The most obvious message is love since roses are used in modern times to convey love. I also believe it to mean nurturing and care as well.
Finally to end the circle, the owl in Spades carries a skull which is universally associated with death.
I love how every single card has so much details in them. One would think this is Renee’s Magnum Opus. Even the number cards is very well done. All number cards have a black background and all have 10 pips printed on them regardless of the card value. In order to show the value, she highlights the number of pips according to the card value. You can see examples below. If the card value is 2, then 2 pips will be highlighted. If the card value is 8, then only 8 pips will be highlighted.
I have to comment that Strigiformes Playing Cards is truly a masterpiece with so much details incorporated into all the cards. However, too much of a good thing can be bad. There are too many themes in the royal court portraits. The tarot symbology, the halos, the trees in the background associating a season all seems too much to cramp into a small playing card. It takes a keen eye and much research in order to fully appreciate the gargantuan effort to make everything fit together. I am not saying it is bad but taking the limited size of a playing card into context, certain design meaning may not stand out or be obvious to the collector.
It seems like we almost forgot about the jokers. Interestingly, the design for the two joker cards are much simpler.
As of right now, the project is less than half funded, not for the lack of pledges but simply because the goal target is $10,000. This is quite high to achieve compared to other projects. Considering the fact there is only one edition in the project, many backers will not pledge for too many decks which might also explain the limited funding it receives.
I would like to share this clip of an animated movie featuring owls, Legend of the Guardians. They look so cute and badass at the same time which might sway you to pledge for Strigiformes if you haven’t already done so.
For those who had wondered which owl species were used in the deck, Renee has so kindly and graciously provided the list. As far as I know, you’re seeing it here first! Ah ha!
Ace: Australian Masked Owl
King: Barn Owl
Queen: Oriental Bay Owl
Jack: Lesser Sooty Owl
Clubs: Strigidae – Strix
Ace: Barred Owl
King: Great Grey Owl
Queen: Ural Owl
Jack: Spotted Owl
Diamonds: Strigidae – Megascops, Otus & Ptilopsis
Ace: Eastern Screech Owl
King: Northern White-faced Owl
Queen: White-fronted Scops Owl
Jack: Giant Scops Owl
Spades: Strigidae – Bubo
Ace: Blakiston’s Fish Owl
King: Eurasian Eagle Owl
Queen: Snowy Owl
Jack: Great Horned Owl
Jokers: Strigidae – Athene