Image via spirit-speak.com
Spirit Speak dawned on me like a little lightning flash in a significant place, and it has since become one of my favourite reading decks because of its thoughtful imagery, and the space that its spare illustration affords the meditative seeker
I must admit, for me, the Spirit Speak Tarot was a slow grower. I saw it around the traps, Instagram, blogs, and so on for a long time before I decided it might be a deck I could work with. As often happens with spiritually significant objects, though, it’s more a question of timing than anything else.
After naught but a glance and a fleeting thought at the images of this deck I’d seen online, I found myself on a solo journey in a spiritually significant locale, and lo, the Spirit Speak Tarot made its way into my hands. The rest is, as they say, history!
That would make a pretty boring story, though, and a vague beginning to a review. I will say that the place I found myself in was in fact, San Francisco, just across the Bay from where the Spirit Speak Tarot was created. Conceived, drawn, and designed in Oakland by the artist Mary Elizabeth Evans, the Spirit Speak Tarot puts one in mind of certain strands of American folk art, DIY culture, and the landscape of Southern California and the American Southwest.
For me, this deck obviously has a strong association with place, but in fact, it is designed to be interpreted by many different readers in many different contexts. Mary’s deceptively simple drawings trigger a deluge of meaning, mood, and association for every card. Although the deck is grounded in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, the cards don’t depict scenes so much as moments or symbolic images, and the stark, black and white illustrations allow the reader to make their own colourful connections between the symbols depicted and the context of the reading.
Therein lies the power of this deck – as a good tarot deck should be, it is as much an activator for our own unique experiences and associations as it is a guide to fixed symbols or archetypes. Some readers may be pleased to know that the majority of the cards are illustrated with objects, animals, and symbols, and the few people that populate this landscape tend to be more figurative sketches than they are representations of specific races or genders (although those that are recognisably gendered are mostly women). The only court card that depicts a human figure is the Queen of Pentacles (pictured below).
While some of the other courts feature human eyes or hands, they appear as symbolic parts of the greater image rather than in the context of a specific body. This intentional sparseness makes the Spirit Speak Tarot a flexible and spacious deck to read with.
Some highlights – The Hierophant is my birth card, and also my deal-breaker card for any new tarot deck. What can I say, I’ve just got to love that stiff and proper old Pope before I can really get into a deck! When it comes to Hierophants, Spirit Speak does not disappoint, taking an aged saguaro cactus as its symbol of divine order on earth.
I love the added freakiness that Mary has brought to the High Priestess; so many decks make her seem kind of vanilla, when in reality, any High Priestess worth their salt is surely scaring people’s pants off. The snake eating, black lipstick, ouroborus vibe seems way more on-theme to me. Other favourites include a humanless Strength card, the crazy compass of The Moon, and the cashed-up Queen of Pentacles, just so money.
In terms of practicalities, the Spirit Speak Tarot is a standard, 78-card deck. Suits are standard Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. One of this deck’s other unique merits is that the cards are rather tiny compared to standard tarot cards. They’re around about playing card size, making a good deck for those who find standard tarot sized cards too large to comfortably shuffle, and a handy deck for throwing in your bag on the go. The deck comes in a super sturdy box (also good for throwing in your bag – especially, if, like mine, your bag is a torture chamber for precious objects), with a handwritten, bound booklet of card meanings.
Image via spirit-speak.com
In this most current edition of the Spirit Speak Tarot, there is a minor printing error that has caused both Justice and Strength to be numbered XI. Fortunately, a glance at the deck’s guidebook shows that it was the artist’s intent for Justice to be number VIII and Strength, number XI, so readers can bear that in mind should the mis-numbering cause any confusion! For my part, I really dislike this configuration of the Major Arcana – it’s just my preference that Strength be VIII, so I’ve taken the liberty with this misprint to assume that I can impose my own, preferred order upon the cards. Either way, whatever works!
Spirit Speak dawned on me like a little lightning flash in a significant place, and it has since become one of my favourite reading decks because of its thoughtful imagery, and the space that its spare illustration affords the meditative seeker. Somehow it both retains its unique character and invites you to use it as a canvas for your own associations and connections. A truly unique – and definitely weird – creation!