Black Lives Matter: A Statement from TABI’s Chair, and a Deck List
June 22, 2020
Black Lives Matter: A Statement from TABI’s Chair, and a Deck List
A message from TABI’s Chair, Katalin Patnaik
As Tarot readers, we are often involved with helping people cope with grief, catastrophe, and confusion in their personal lives by guiding them in the direction of transformation. We can’t fail to recognize that this moment of global outrage against the injustice of anti-Black racism is a moment of transformation on a large scale, with all the pain and possible beauty inherent in such change. We recognize that this is a period of grief, resistance, and accountability. We raise our voices to join in the chorus decrying racist violence, and we also recognize that violence, discrimination, and disenfranchisement don’t just happen in a vacuum. This is a time when it is appropriate for everyone to pause and ask ourselves how we have contributed to the context that allows Black lives to be treated as exploitable and disposable.
We’ve seen major institutions and businesses begin to claim responsibility for their part in perpetuating racism. I am inviting the members of TABI, as well as our readership in the broader Tarot community, to do the same. No matter where in the world we live, racism is part of our global cultural context, and nobody is immune to it. As Tarot readers, we often try to be positive in the face of life’s difficulties, but we also know that glossing over oppression, trauma, and grief is to turn away from life’s important lessons, to refuse transformation, and to fail to grow on The Fool’s Journey. I invite us all to be brave in confronting racism wherever we see it, even within our own group and within ourselves, even when it is not brutally obvious. We are listening when Black people tell us what is hurting them, and we are invested in a future where we are all part of healing this pain. We recognize that Justice comes first, and then Peace, and we’re willing to work for it. We believe in the power of transformative life experiences and we stand with Black Lives Matter in order to turn tragedy into empowerment and redemption.
A Black empowerment guide to Tarot decks
by Alana Davenport, Blog Coordinator
Part One: Black-centered decks
One way to uplift Black voices and materially support those who are deprived of equal resources and representation is to pay Black creators for their work. Tarot decks created by Black artists are not as widely known, purchased, or used, even at a time when it has started to become popular for white artists to feature more racial diversity in their artwork. Here are four amazing decks by Black creators to be aware of:
The Dust ii Onyx Tarot by Courtney Alexander is one that I own and can give the highest recommendation to because I’ve actually held it in my hands. It’s the only deck I’ve ever purchased that impressed me so much that I sent the creator more money after I received it because I felt I had underpaid for the quality I received. Every single detail is breathtaking, from the feel of the cardstock to the almost imperceptible textural elements worked into every card. The art is so clearly a labor of love that took every ounce of passion and spiritual connection an artist can possibly channel. It is truly mixed media art, produced traditionally on canvas, and I dare you to compare it with most other collage art decks, many of which are purely digital, for a true sense of deep time with respect to how much effort it takes to put together an art collection like this one.
Courtney Alexander writes in her beautiful hardbound guidebook: “I want to make sure that I am very clear on my heart and intentions behind this work, so there’s no confusion or minced words about them. This work was created to honor my Black heritage. This work is my homage to the Black matriarchs and leaders of our community. This work is a love offering to the Black LGBTQIA+ community whose voices and identities are vastly underrepresented. This work is a tool for every person within the African diaspora to feel a connection to, without prejudice. Most of all, this work was created to heal and elevate the least protected among us, so that we all can evolve to our best and highest expression. This is not exclusion or discrimination; this work was created in spite of exclusion and discrimination. Therefore, I refuse to apologize or make room for the erasure of my voice, my identity, or those represented in Dust ii Onyx: A Melanated Tarot.” This deck was created by and for the Black diaspora. It isn’t going to be for everyone, and it isn’t meant to be. I greatly admire Alexander’s ability to release the need to please everyone.
When I did a deck interview of my copy of her deck, I got the clear message that it wasn’t for my personal use because I’m white, and that I would have to do some deep work to change my view of Black people as primarily victims of oppression, and come to fully appreciate Black joy, before I can understand and use this deck. I have respected that message and not used the deck to read for myself or for other white people, but I do offer to read from it for Black querents who want to see cards that were made by someone divinely inspired by their shared ancestry.
Manzel’s Tarot by Manzel Bowman isn’t one I have personal experience with, but it stands out as another beautifully composed deck (in all of its iterations). The artwork for versions I and II are mostly sharp and colorful photographic collage, but not the 90s-magazine-vision-board type that is fairly common these days; his collages are virtually seamless. Version III is a striking contrast to the previous two iterations in that it features white line drawings on a black background that are reminiscent of metal etchings. Bowman’s decks don’t have diversity or equal representation as their goal and aren’t meant to be palatable to a white audience. Experiences of Black power and spirituality grace every card in what he describes as an “African-themed” deck.
Kaleidadope Tarot by Krystal Banner has the modern, kitchy appeal and digital art style of decks that are loved by so many young adult readers today, like Mystic Mondays for example, but it was created by a Black woman and centers Black culture. I haven’t used this deck, but my perception of it is that younger Tarot readers will be able to connect with it most immediately, like a viral Internet meme or of-the-moment slang, while those of us from earlier generations would have to work harder at it. If I had a young beginner Tarot reader in my life, I would definitely consider this one as a gift for them, as the symbolism is clear and uncomplicated, whereas the meaning of the intricate artwork of Dust ii Onyx and Manzel’s would likely take more intuitive processing and life experience to read from.
On the other end of the spectrum from Kaleidadope, The Melanated Classic Tarot by Julia Goolsby & Oubria Tronshaw is just what it claims to be – classic and traditional in feel and in keeping with the symbolism of the Rider Waite Smith deck, but revised to incorporate Black figures. This is the deck I would recommend to a reader who finds it difficult to change and holds fast to tradition. This is a deck that could help white Tarot readers unlearn the self-deception of “not seeing color” and start working through reactions to seeing Black people in exactly the places and positions where one is used to seeing white figures. This would also be a good deck for readers of any race who want to work with the most well-known and enduring traditions of Tarot without having to force themselves or their querents to identify with white figures when that doesn’t reflect their reality.
Part Two: Decks that aim for diversity and inclusion
I can imagine a white Tarot reader wondering why they would buy or use a deck that centers Black experience if they only seem to ever read for white querents. My response would be to look deeper into why it is that one receives questions primarily or exclusively from white people. It might feel easy and “right” to assume that white people are more interested in receiving Tarot readings. It might feel like it’s good enough to say that a reader is open to reading for anyone and everyone is treated the same. What needs to be understood is that claiming neutrality in the context of historical and ongoing racist brutality is to have already failed at any aspirations toward equality. It isn’t enough for any business or institution to say that they will take the patronage or participation of Black people without complaint. Especially with services like ours which require deep trust, that trust has to be earned. It isn’t “special treatment” for Black people to enjoy the same feelings of safety and acceptance that white people feel in most spaces, but it does take special effort to create equal safety and acceptance for them when the overall context is that most spaces are not safe for Black people, either because of overt racism or because of hidden, unconscious, or denied white privilege. Remaining silent and neutral on issues of social injustice is not earning trust. Using only all-white Tarot decks, or making the assumption that most or all querents are going to be white, or treating white experience as universal and applicable to anyone, is not earning trust.
Undoing unconscious white privilege is deep and difficult work. Simply buying a more diverse Tarot deck isn’t going to take care of it, but it could be a first step for a Tarot reader to start to get comfortable with the fact that the world is not homogeneous, and to demonstrate to potential querents that they are not expected to identify with exclusively white figures. If a white querent is asked to see themselves in a face that doesn’t look like theirs, then they are only doing what every non-white person has been asked to do for generations, except that white people are coming from a secure position of having been represented as the universal ideal for hundreds of years.
I can recommend a few decks for Tarot readers who are looking to begin their journey of confronting racism in their own Tarot practice, or who want a deck that prioritizes diversity, so that no matter what the race of the querent, they are looking into a rainbow prism of inclusivity through which to filter their own particular experience.
I received this deck as a gift and have been using it for about three months. It was created by a white comic book artist, Lisa Sterle, and I love how she seamlessly blends modern graphic novel imagery into traditional Pamela Coleman-Smith-style art. Each card is made to mimic Smith’s interpretation, but incorporates modern technology like cell phones and computers and is inclusive of more racial identities and expanded gender roles for women (all of the figures in the deck appear to be women, including the Kings of each suit). I would consider this deck to be a good middle ground between the Tarot traditionalism of the Melanated Classic and the modern youth-oriented design of Kaleidadope, but one that represents a mix of both white people and people of color.
The Numinous Tarot by Cedar McCloud (formerly known as Noel Arthur Heimpel) was created first and foremost to represent nonbinary gender experiences and multiple sexualities, but all forms of diversity, including race, ethnicity, body type, ability, and age are also lovingly attended to in this deck. As I’ve mentioned before on TABI’s blog, this is one of my most beloved, well-worn, and often used decks. I have used it for many Free Readings for TABI since requests come in via email from all over the globe and there is no way to know the racial identity of the querent. I feel comfortable using this deck for practically any querent because the approach to inclusivity is done in such a warm and gentle way. In fact, the vibe of this deck and the amazingly supportive encouragement to be found throughout the accompanying guidebook is so comforting and loving, it’s my go-to for any question I have for myself where I am feeling vulnerable, fearful, or am having trouble seeing any positive side to a situation.
I consider the Next World Tarot to be the bold and brazen cousin to the Numinous Tarot. If the Numinous Tarot is like a warm blanket with milk and cookies, then The Next World is like meeting up with friends for a street protest with plans to go to a punk rock show afterward (in fact, the creator of this deck, Cristy C. Road, is a punk rock musician herself). The Next World doesn’t shy away from pointing out the forces of oppression and destruction that have made building another world necessary. Like the Numinous Tarot, valuing non-binary gender expression, multiple sexualities, racial diversity, and diverse ages, abilities, and body types is reflected throughout the deck, but instead of gentle encouragement and a pleasant vision of what the world might look like free of discrimination, The Next World highlights resilience and is both confrontational and inspirational in its gritty images of survival. I use this deck when I need a push out of complacency, a reality check, or some tough love. One note about the deck itself is that I find the extra large, high-gloss cards impossible to shuffle, so they are better used on an altar for setting intentions around social justice and personal accountability than as a reading deck. However, I see that there is now a travel size edition available, and my guess is that I would get more use out of that version.
The True Heart Intuitive Tarot deck is the creation of Rachel True, the African-American actress who played Rochelle in the witchy 1996 film, “The Craft.” Watching the movie again in my 40s, I was surprised to see the character directly confronting racism at school, which I hadn’t remembered and now have a greater appreciation for. The actress calls herself a “lifelong occultist,” and reads Tarot herself. This deck is due for release in October 2020, according to amazon.com, and is described by the publisher as having a “multicultural aesthetic.” I’m excited to get a closer look at this deck when more images are available, and I anticipate that this could be a good deck for someone who can’t afford to buy many different decks or the necessarily higher pricetag of independently published work, but still wants to have a diverse deck for use with any querent while supporting a Black creator at the same time.
Finally, a word of caution. One can’t simply pick up any deck with non-white faces on it and claim to be a champion of diversity. There are decks out there that, intentionally or not, can be hurtful and offensive. Tarot of the Orishas is not the only one like this, but it’s one example of a deck that I would not recommend, and it serves to show the need to be careful and do your research. One look at any reviews for Tarot of the Orishas will show you that people of color have purchased this deck, drawn in by the claim to be inspired by Afro-Brazilian spirituality, only to find that the artwork, created by a white person, depicts white deities and heroes. This is at best disappointing, and at worst appropriative and offensive.
It may seem hard to “get it right,” and it is. I can’t make any claim to be doing anti-racism perfectly in my writing or in my Tarot practice. But I’m listening and learning all the time and always trying to do better, not so that I can self-righteously defend myself against accusations of racism, but so that I can work on being an active contributor to a healing and empowerment process instead of an obstacle to it. I hope that being open about how I’ve tried to do this myself as a Tarot reader will inspire others to find their own ways to step up and contribute to a future where Black lives are held by all to be precious and irreplaceable. The reason for this isn’t because Black people are “no different” from white people. It’s because, like each unique culture on this planet, Black experience, knowledge, art, culture, history, spirituality, beauty, emotion, and physical existence are all, in fact, precious and irreplaceable.