Finding missing pieces with the Conference of the Birds Tarot

Guest post by Nevena.

For me, interacting with the spiritual has always been a balancing act.

From home, I carry traditions and superstitions that my family has passed to me from eastern Europe, but in the queer community – my new home – I’ve found radical reimaginings of old systems and power in the act of creating new spaces. I felt stuck between two systems, unable to fully claim either one.

So I lit candles and drank chamomile and sat outside to watch the robins and sparrows pick at bugs in the grass. I sought out queer witches around me and delved into my family history. I found amazing people who were connected to the world around them and could help others, healing their communities in ways that I deeply admired. And most importantly, I took the first step of pulling out my old tarot deck and reconnecting with the cards.

I came back to tarot at a time when I was also returning to another part of myself that I had ignored: my art. I decided to combine the two for something that I thought would be a small personal project. I knew I wanted to illustrate the tarot in a way that spoke to my magic, and only after long conversations with friends did I come the idea of the birds.

I see birds as standing right on the border of magic and mundane.

Take the confrontational pigeons of New York, the frightened sparrows of Baltimore. They’re everywhere you look, beautiful and goofy and very much home. However, despite their modern mundanity, all through history they’re been recognized as messengers of the mysterious. The language of the birds is the mythical language of wisdom. Nursery rhymes are reminders that seeing them streak across the skies was once a way to look into the future.

As I worked my way through the illustrations, I began to realize that I would actually be able to create an entire deck. I had friends and strangers say that they liked the illustrations, asking me for a copy of the deck before I was even sure that I would be able to make one. And so the deck was born! I pulled together species that were meaningful for me; some from places that I had lived, some from stories and legends that I had read and heard.

So the Fool became a baby Baltimore oriole, the symbol of the city that gave me new beginnings. The Knight of Swords became an osprey, one of the powerful fishers nesting all along the coast near my home town. The deck acquired its title and final card from a story I remembered about a group of birds and a journey for something bigger than oneself.

The Conference of the Birds deck, just like the story that is its namesake, ends with the Simurgh.

The Simurgh is many things: it is the king of birds, it is a collective, it is both greater and exactly the same as the sum of its many parts. For me, the Simurgh was important to include as a contrast to the traditional end of the major arcana. Where The World encourages us to see the whole, the Simurgh shows us strength in difference.

In a flock every bird is still an individual, but when they fly together, they move as one and the wake from each bird helps the one behind it stay aloft. The Simurgh is our community and ourselves – many disparate pieces that each need to be given their own time and attention but only reach their full potential when put together.

I am still early on in my tarot journey, but I hope that this deck can give something back to a community that has been incredibly important to me as a place of healing and learning. I want to share this deck with others whom it speaks to, and I’m using Kickstarter as the platform to do this.

The deck is 79 cards and comes with an optional guidebook that details the meanings that I approached the cards with, the species shown, and some facts about it. The guidebook also contains different spreads and background on tarot and the deck. The Kickstarter campaign is live through November 15th.

About the author

Nevena Marinkovic considers herself an illustrator-in-progress. Stuck between engineering student and wannabe artist, you can find her trying to balance the two with the help of copious amounts of tea on instagram @nmsketches.

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