Updated: Sep 21, 2019
This past weekend I co-hosted a panel on YouTube to chat about culture and diversity in tarot and magick (which I've embedded into this post in case you missed it). I am so grateful to everyone who participated. The panel was seated with a variety of tarot readers from diverse backgrounds. The audience was attentive and respectful. The idea for the panel sparked from the controversy over the 10 of Swords in The Light Seer's Tarot, but was a conversation that desperately needed to be addressed in a public forum. 'Ethics Over Profit' seemed to be the resounding feeling of the broadcast from the topic of large publishing houses like Llewellyn and Hay House to indie deck creators undertaking independent tarot projects.
What we consume drives what is produced by creators. We have power as consumers.
If we wish to see the climate of spiritual tools and goods change, we have a responsibility to speak up in a manner so those who create can hear us.
This means that if we find ourselves at odds with the quality or content of what is being produced and distributed, it is our job to say "this is not okay." Perhaps that means, as Auset Queen pointed out, that you pack up your brand new deck and send it back and write to the publisher or creator to bring the issue to their attention. While you may be saying 'but I'm only one person,' imagine what we can do collectively if that was every card reader's response to decks found to be culturally inaccurate or offensive. This does not mean a blanket boycott on the artist, creator, or publisher. This means we do our part and wait to see if they do theirs. This is creator and consumer responsibility working together to produce better quality spiritual tools.
When it comes to tarot creators, some great suggestions were made by the audience and the panel members. In the live chat I noticed someone said 'Ethics Over Profit.' This needs to be in brought to the forefront of the minds of creators and publishers. If you want to include a culture that isn't your native culture, invest time and money into research and learning. This doesn't mean creators don't deserve to profit from their creations. What this does mean is that the quality and integrity of the product should come first. And, I don't know about you, but I am always willing to save up for more expensive purchases if the the item is high quality.
For indie artists, this may mean that your deck takes longer to produce due to money and time spent in experiential and scholarly research. If this is the message the spiritual community is conveying, then it will be a lesson in patience for tarot consumers. Whether tarot consumers like to admit it, we have been socially conditioned by our technologically advanced society that we must have immediate gratification. We want everything yesterday but quality over quantity means cultivating greater patience.
Big publishers have the means by which to ensure the quality of their products. So why are they allowing decks to be created by creators who don't know the proper way to say Ochún? Investment in cultural accuracy can do nothing but benefit publishers. The reason they haven't paid attention yet is because, we, as consumers, haven't demanded they up their game. We continue to purchase whatever they put out as fast as it goes on the shelf but maybe they would pay attention if decks were returned, books were boycotted, or we started writing into the publishers with our concerns.
Publishers could easily hire cultural liaisons and make them available to deck creators and writers in house. They could also institute authentic cultural/anthropological education programs and offer cultural immersion experiences for those wishing to diversify the cultures within their creations. In business speak the ROI (return on investment) for the dollars spent on programs like these would have infinite possibility - especially when taking into consideration that their audience is paying attention and their products are reflecting back on them as a business. In order to get our point across as consumers, we need to own our consumerist power and work collectively to create change.
In the case of The Light Seer's 10 of Swords, the deck creator changed her image due to the hurt she unintentionally caused when some tarotists found themselves extremely triggered. For some, the image conjured hereditary memories of a time when people of color experienced brutal and unjust subjugation. Though intention does not negate harm, the creator became deeply apologetic and subsequently changed the image. This brought about another controversy: Should the image have been changed given the context of the card?
The 10 of Swords is about the true death of something. It is about pain, being knifed in the back, being betrayed, being abused. And, at the same time, the 10 of Swords is also about completion, healing, picking yourself up and moving forward. The original image evoked all of those feelings and hit the meaning of the 10 of Swords like an arrow to a bullseye. Some tarot readers thought the creator did the right thing by changing the image and others thought she should have stood by the original. So what did the panel have to say about this? A lot, actually.
Sanitization of the tarot, and magickal practices, does not facilitate growth. Hiding the ugly side of humanity does not erase it, it merely sweeps it under the rug. If showing the light side of humanity was all that was necessary for sparking growth, we would all agree that The Good Tarot by Colette Baron-Reid is the be-all and end-all for tarot. The Good Tarot has facilitated growth for some who have used it but, if making tarot docile is the answer, the world only needs The Good Tarot to learn every spiritual lesson. Don't agree? We didn't either.
Tarot must be evocative if it is to do its job - to make you feel the cards through the artists expression of its meaning. The 10 of Swords, in any deck, is supposed to make you uncomfortable and, if done well, uncomfortable to the point of physically recoiling. The image on the original 10 of Swords in The Light Seer's Tarot did its' job well.
(R to L) The original 10 of Swords on the left with its replacement image on the right. Do the images evoke the same sense of emotion from you as a viewer?
There is also something to be said for the fact that any tarot reader or client will experience tarot not as it is, but as they are. We are all shaped by our culture, our heritage, our backgrounds, our experiences. One person could look at that card and be triggered due to cultural history and race. One person could look at that card and be triggered by past experiences of domestic violence. And still others will be triggered by the imagery because it reminds them of the status of women worldwide. The tarot encompasses the whole of human experience: the awesome and the ugly. That's what makes it SUCH a powerful tool for self growth and transformation. Censorship and/or segregation of art based on race, culture, or skin color is not the answer. But, what then, we wondered, is the answer?
There is no simple solution to the issues of cultu