Challenging structure – The Collective Tarot

the collective tarot - the four aces laid out in a 2x2 grid, beside the accompanying book and a face-down cardstack showing the backs of the cards, which is black with an ornate gold design

Rules are made to be broken.

We see all the time in tarot, often when The Tower appears, and we understand that the old order is gone, that it is time to rebuild. Or The Wheel of Fortune – a card which often says ‘stop fighting change – it will come anyway’.

The Seven of Wands, the Nine of Wands, these are cards of activism, of bringing about the changes we wish to see, of standing our ground against the established order.

Finally, here is a tarot deck that breaks so many old rules, rebuilding the tarot in line with principles I can really get behind. The Collective Tarot, created by a diverse collective of queers and activists, reinvents so many of the structures I find problematic in tarot.

collective-tarot

It has been written and illustrated from a radical perspective, deliberately challenging norms and archetypes which may seem irrelevant to the people it speaks to. Instead, it offers cards of empowerment, cards which identify patterns, structures and struggles that exist in a world I recognise, that I am part of. It shines a light on the society I live in and celebrates the diversity of my peers.

Unlike so many tarot decks, where every character depicted is white, thin, regularly ‘abled’, straight-looking, cis-presenting, these cards contain people I recognise. There are queers here, there are people of colour and people with different physical abilities. People who play with gender, who reject the boxes they were assigned.

the-collective-tarot

As you work through the deck, you find that many of these people are fighting. Personal battles within themselves to achieve peace and acceptance against years of self-hatred. Social battles, for basic rights, for recognition, for acceptance, for justice.

Despite this talk of fighting, this is an amazingly positive deck of cards. In the way that activism can be the purest route to self-love, pride and love for the people around us, these cards are intended to bring about a revolution within the reader, within the read-for, and within the wider community.

We intend these cards as a tool, which can help us in a world where struggle can be exhausting, and help strengthen our sense of community, and make hope a genuine feeling and a place of action.

Here are two major cards which I find especially amazing:

4. The Code (traditionally The Emperor)

Rather than the rules of society as decreed by our fathers and forefathers, this card explores the codes that exist among people, which help us to know how to act and communicate in ways other than the written or spoken. Here, the setting is a familiar scene: a queer bar. You are trying to surmise a boi at the bar who has caught your eye, working out where you stand, where they stand.

the-code-collective-tarot

In an instant you surmise from their posture and poise that they may be more confident in this environment than you. You glance down at the hanky in your pocket – does it match the one you are wearing? Your eyes quickly wander to their shoulder patch, shoes, drink of choice – their many signifiers.

The hanky code is just one way people can send signals to each other to let them know what they are looking for, what they like…what they are in a world where that is not always clear.

I think of a scene from The L Word where a group of women are trying to work out if someone’s crush is a lesbian. ‘Short fingernails…yeah, but she’s a chef…what about those shoes..?’ and so on.

That stuff can be helpful, and it’s so important for marginalised people to have a language to communicate with each other below the radar of what may be a dangerous mainstream. But it can also be an oppressive force, as we try to follow the code so we send ‘the right signals’, identifying the boxes into which we fit, as the book says, ‘reflecting the oppressions of the larger society’.

11. Accountability (Justice)

This card does not reject ‘justice’ as an important concept in a well-functining society, but seeks to reclaim it from the powerful connotations of a legal system that does not serve all fairly, which relies on punishments such as incarceration to maintain order, which maintains the powers of the elite and ensures the little people are kept in their places.

Accountability takes justice to it’s next level. To take accountability, to be accountable, is to say ‘not in my name’, to fight for what you believe, to take action. It does not mean that ‘justice will be done’ and that all will eventually get what they deserve. It means you and I are responsible. If we want to see change in our world, if we want to see justice done, it is down to us to make that happen.

accountability-collective-tarot


 

There are many incredible cards besides these two, cards I look forward to exploring and sharing. I’ve waited a few years to get my hands on this deck – it’s currently (Oct 2014) out of print and, having begged several friends to sell me theirs (as if!) I just happened to stumble upon a copy. I am feeling so very grateful for the internet right now.

Many people I know use this and only this deck for their readings. I think that’s brilliant. For me, it will be a deck I use besides my other favourites – watching the interactions between corresponding cards, developing my personal understanding of tarot through the messages of each of my decks.

As I said, this deck is currently out of print. But if you’d like to read more about it, its creators and its influence on the tarot community, here are some cool articles.

Bitch Magazine: Taking back tarot with the Collective Tarot

Lambada Literary: The Collective Tarot

Here’s the Kickstarter for the third printing – it’s great!

And best of all…

Annie Murphy, one of the collective members, has an Etsy shop! Grimoire Press is a venture Annie runs with her friend Nikki Levine focused on print, comics, magic and queer delights.

I can heartily recommend her book Symbology (review to follow on this blog!) if you’re looking for an awesome and original gift for a witchy-punk friend, and her tarot journals are just beautiful.

Take a look!

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13 comments

  1. The Collective Tarot is my main deck and I treasure the crap out of it! I recently got the Symbology book and Tarot Journal as well, love! With the purchase I was able to get a reading done by Nikki and it was purely amazing!

    • Beth says:

      Oh wow Jess, that’s so cool! I didn’t realise Nikki offers tarot readings…she might just be the person I go to next time I’m in need (kinda now, actually…)

      Isn’t Symbology great? I stumbled across it and that led me to Annie and to Nikki and their projects and all of it. I’m looking forward to writing about it on here…at some point!

      I noticed you had a special love for the Collective Tarot…it’s all over your blog 😀 I’m so glad to be in the cool gang now with my shiny new deck!! xxxx

  2. chloetarot says:

    The Code is a great card! As for Accountability, I love the concept, but don’t quite get the visual that accompanies it. Will be interested to read more, though it’s also cruel to tease us with OOP decks 😉

    • Beth says:

      Hey Chloe – yeah the Accountability card does bear some explanation as it’s not at all obvious from the image what’s going on!
      From the book:
      At the centre of the card is an action, and that’s no coincidence. Two arms extend from two modern vessels of collective conscience. The hands are holding forth the image of a pope and a priest and they tear it forcefully apart. One arm belongs to Sinead O’Connor, who, in 1992, performed her a capella version of ‘War’ by Bob Marley on SNL. At the end of the song she held up a picture of the Pope and ripped it up, sating, “Fight the real enemy.” As an abuse survivor and devout Catholic, she was expressing her rage and disillusionment that the Catholic Church in Ireland was protecting priests who were known to be sexually abusing children.

      The other arm of accountability belongs to Barbara Blaine. She is an attorney, an activist, and founder of SNAP, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. She struggled for decades to hold accountable the priest who abused her as a teen in 1969. As she broke her silence, other survivors came forward and through SNAP she helped bring them support, unity and political will. It wasn’t until 1992 that the priest that abused her was dismissed from activity after she informed his superiors she would openly name him in an upcoming appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

      Surrounding these two women are burning candles representing the many others who have broken their silence and come forward, as well as those who must remain in silent solidarity.

  3. Gill says:

    I cannot express how jealous I am you found a copy of this deck! I’ve been looking all over for one that someone is willing to sell, but of course no one wants to let theirs go 🙂

    • Beth says:

      Sadly no – I believe most people who are lucky enough to have got one are holding fast. I’ve heard rumours of a reprint though, which I’m trying to stay abreast of – I’ll mention it on the blog if there are any developments 🙂

  4. Sadie says:

    I love this deck and have been using it a fair amount lately….I have pulled the code card 4 readings in a row now……not sure what to make of it yet but thanks for your bit of writing on it!

    • Beth says:

      I wish! I prod gently every few months but no news… if I hear anything I will let folks on my mailing list know, though 🙂

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