I wasn’t expecting to like The Linestrider Tarot by Siolo Thompson. It was a deck that, on the surface, didn’t fit neatly into my preferred deck type. Yet, I was drawn to Siolo’s art. The stark white backgrounds which held a mix of expressive watercolor and inked lines fading in and out of view was enticing. I didn’t think, though, that the deck would fit into my personal or professional practice.
But the art of tarot is full of the unexpected, and my journey with the Linestrider has turned out to be surprisingly magickal and healing.
Throughout the review, I’ve interspersed a short interview I conducted with Siolo to answer some of the questions that came up for me when working with the deck and when reading other interviews with her. Let’s begin then with Siolo’s own words about her deck:
The Linestrider Tarot is a deck that dances on the edge of magic and logic, animal and human, the conscious and unconscious. Drawing inspiration from the edge while still moving forward on the Fool’s journey – that is Linestriding.
-The Linestrider’s Journey, 1
I resonate with the concept of linestriding, and within my spiritual community we call folks who dance between the worlds with ease edgewalkers. I, like many of you, journey between the worlds and stride the lines of identities too, and I was intrigued by a deck which tapped into that energy. But I hesitated for a long while on purchasing it, as I had heard that it featured all-white folks and limited body diversity. And yet, I still felt drawn to the deck. I was intrigued by Siolo herself, a biracial and bisexual woman, who has admitted that artists like her were responsible for showing more diversity in their work and committed to doing just that in future projects.
When I was able to receive a copy via trade with the agreement to write a review for it, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity to meet this deck without having to feel pressured to make it fit into my personal practice if it ultimately didn’t.
I read in your interview with Ethony that you describe yourself as having an American mother and Samoan father. Is this a description or your nationality, ethnicity or both? If it is a description of your ethnicity, do you identify as a person of color?
I think this is a complex question for anyone bi-racial, because it is not a question that can be answered by simply stating how one feels about their internal identity. Yes, I was born in Western Samoa. My father’s family is Polynesian and my mother’s family is white. Additionally, my parents separated when I was very young and I spent a significant portion of my childhood and all of my adolescent years in South America. I don’t speak Samoan; I am fluent in Spanish… it’s all a big cultural mishmash.
But here’s the thing: no matter how I feel or how aware I am of the various multicultural forces at play in my genes and my internal culture – I look like a white person. I can’t consider myself a POC, because if I get stopped for a minor traffic infraction I don’t have to worry that I might be shot because of the way I look. My appearance is not criminalized by the public or by those who are supposed to protect me. I might present something of a racial enigma, but I don’t present a threat, and I am very aware of all the advantages that affords me.
In your great interview with Spiral Nature you talk about the queer nature of your deck. I actually have the same feelings about the Magician as a gay man. Do you identify as queer?
Yes, and this is a much easier question than the prior one! I am bisexual, and I have had significant same-sex relationships. I’ve never identified as straight. It’s been important to me that the things I create reflect all the various and wonderful forms of human sexuality.
The Linestrider Tarot is one of the most coherent alternative interpretations of a Rider Waite Smith deck that I have come across in a long time. There is real spirit and heart in these cards as opposed to so many “themed” decks that our amazing renaissance in tarot decks has produced. The art is consistent and is more decorative than a minimalist deck but less busy than most typical decks on the market.
I find Siolo’s animal-only or animal-dominant cards (which make up half of the deck) to be truly inspired. I had a harder time connecting with the human figures, with a few exceptions shown below, primarily because they felt statuesque as compared to the energy of the animal cards. But I realized something rather intriguing about this dynamic in my readings with the cards, which was unexpected but really useful. I’ll speak to that later in the review, but first a bit of tangential tarot storytelling both mythic and personal..
Part of the lineage of tarot is the work of the eighteenth-century French magician Ettellia, aka Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who brought tarot to the masses. He proposed that the tarot came from the Book of Thoth written by the mythical figure Hermes Trismegistos, connecting it back to ancient Egypt. Ettellia believed that the early prototype for the tarot was engraved images found within the Book of Thoth (check out The Mystical Origins of Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Uses by Paul Huson for an in-depth view of Tarot’s origins).
Early in my tarot studies, I was introduced to a meditation technique in which I was instructed to enter a great pyramid where each of the figures of the cards of the major arcana stood there like statues. During each meditation one statue was supposed to come to life (I didn’t know which one ahead of time) and I would be allowed to ask it questions and interact with it. It was an informative exercise, especially since sometimes the statues would only partially animate (such as a moving arm or blinking eye) which would further inform me about the meaning of a card.
The humans illustrated in the Linestrider tarot feel reminiscent of these mystical statues waiting to come to life when the querent is ready. These statue cards are juxtaposed with the often more dynamic energy of the animal cards in the deck. I found that this pattern played out in intriguing ways within a spread.
Take the Queen of Wands, for example. The energy of the card resides in the movement of the flowers and windy energy shifting on the sword. The Queen is still and statuesque, with a detached gaze, but pay attention to their hands – awkward, hesitant, unsure, and afraid of being cut by their own blade. I think this wonderfully illustrates the conflicting energy of the Queen of Swords card – someone who isn’t always aware of the ways that their words are cutting and can be emotionally detached from the impact of their actions.
The statue-like humans within the deck appear to illustrate that most human of traits – the belief that we are more permanent than we really are; that our thoughts, bodies, desires, perceptions, and identities are more fixed than mutable. The Queen of Swords traditionally exudes a stoic confidence in their actions, but the Linestrider deck speaks to the unpredictable nature of words and how they land – something which the Queen senses even if they are unable to bring themselves to acknowledge such uncertainty. Compare the Queen of Swords to the energy of the animal-only Ace of Swords in which the sword has become a still place for the confident still-yet-moving power of the raptor, and you begin to see these patterns of still and moving playing out between the people and creatures of the deck.
Another surprise of the deck, was the card which had the greatest visual impact for me. Never would I had thought I would write the following, but: one of my favorite cards from this deck is the Tower. (I know. That spooks some of you by just reading it. I hear ya.) I find the card to be haunting in it’s perspective. The Tower is viewed from a misty distance and has the feeling of time standing still – an experience not unheard of when folks witness disaster striking. But Siolo illustrates the tragic but hopeful energy of the Tower in an un-fussy way – as the humans fall, a line of birds take flight.
Humans are not the center of the story (try as hard as we have to convince ourselves of such through the ages) and our fall does not mean the end of flight. If you look closely you’ll see that one bird has back-winged in order to avoid colliding with one of the humans. In that action their eyes have locked for that eternal moment. And this gives me hope, for reasons I don’t quite understand, but I am grateful for this new view of the Tower in these times of empires falling apart.
Is there a small secret about the deck you might want to share to inspire readers to take a closer look?
As for secrets in the deck, oh this is a fun question – yes, there are lot’s of little hidden things in the deck! For example, in the Hierophant card, a hand wearing a stack of three crown-shaped bracelets is depicted. This pays homage to the importance of the number three in traditional versions of this card. Some of the cards have hidden messages in Hebrew, you can see these on cards like the High Priestess and the Four of Swords.
The accompanying book, The Linestrider’s Journey is one of the most useful companion books in recent memory.The book includes relatively standard interpretations, but then it includes notes on combinations to look out for which is such an important technique for any tarot reader to be familiar with. Here’s an example from the description of the Star:
In a reading you may see this card paired with the Hermit; if so a blessed period of quiet renewal and rest is in the cards for you. Take time to study, meditate, and be alone. This is also true of the Four of Swords: rest between battles, it is okay to temporarily lay down your swords, trust the benevolent forces around you, and allow yourself some peace. Paired with the Chariot or the Magician, this is a great omen for accomplishing your goals, getting the things you want, and having the world around you cooperate in a way that might seem almost magical.
The Linestrider’s Journey, 78
Siolo’s voice shines through, and she takes her time talking about each card. It is such a pleasure to have the artist’s voice shine not only through the cards but through the companion book. My one caveat is that she does use gendered language throughout the book, which is still a common practice way of interpreting cards that for some rings true, but for folks like myself who work with tarot from a gender-free perspective, there is some code-switching that must occur throughout the text. Still, it is one of the more delightful tarot books that I’ve read recently. She also includes numerological, astrological, birthday, and plant correspondences which I appreciate as an astroherbology practicing herbalist.
How have your identities shaped the Linestrider Tarot? Do you see a lot of you in the deck?
My identity and cultural influences are a heavy presence in everything I do. In the context of the Linestrider Tarot I think I failed to bring as much diversity to the deck as I should have or could have. Like many of us in the tarot community, I would like to see more diversity represented in deck art but it’s a difficult challenge as one wants to be as respectful as possible, never portraying a caricature or in anyway diminishing someone’s heritage. I don’t know how to do it right but I will keep trying.
As a queer witch of mix-d ancestry, I’m always seeking resources that give me space to be the complex jumble of lineages and futuredreaming that I am (and like so many of you are). At some point I realized what felt so compelling about the Linestrider in all its beauty, shortcomings, and grace – there is only one figure in the Linestrider. That one figure begins their journey with the Fool (with no lines enclosing the sacred cave of their heart and their face open to experiencing the world in order to know who they are) and they change shape and form in every card. They become the Bear of the Hermit card and the forlorn figure in the Eight of Cups; they get lost in the sharp thoughts of the King of Swords and the playful romping of the Four of Wands. There is space in the Linestrider for folks to become new forms, blur lines, and get rid of boundaries altogether.
In other words, the Fool is not on a journey to meet each one of the cards as tarot tradition often indicates, but to become each card in the process of becoming themselves. Because the Fool is never not all of the cards of the deck – it is only a false sense of hard lines and fixed states of beings that has convinced them otherwise. Moving through the temple of the Tarot, the Fool recognizing all parts of themselves through the art of re-membering. While I would celebrate a more diversely expressive Linestrider, I also know that we are rarely moved and changed by what we expect and think something should be. The Linestrider was unexpectedly powerful for me and I am (slowly, stubbornly) learning to receive such unexpected but needed gifts when they are given.
The deck is gentle and whimsical but not superficial.
The Linestrider’s Journey, 1
Do you want to speak about any of your forthcoming projects?
Yes! I’m really excited about the projects I currently have in progress. Based on a personal passion for botany I am creating a botanical series of plant knowledge flashcards that can double as a plant oracle deck. I also have a flora and fauna based tarot deck in the works called Floribuda Mìstica, which I hope to have finished by next spring. The best way to keep track of my projects is to join my mailing list at siolothompson.com.
So what is my primary takeaway?The Linestrider is that the deck speaks to the profound need to change shapes, change minds, and change identities without being punished, denigrated or condemned for those choices. And it does so with depth, gentleness, and unexpected whimsy.
Happy card castings, friends, and may you find power in the images before you.
Alexis J. Cunningfolk (she/they) is an intersectional herbalist, witch, and weaver of remedies at Worts + Cunning Apothecary.