It’s crucial to reflect everyone in the tarot…
By Eleanor Tremeer
Why do you turn to the tarot? We pick up a tarot deck when we want answers, on everything from career choices to personal development. Over time, the tarot has become a powerful tool not just for divination, but for self-reflection, which is why many psychologists use the tarot in their own therapies. Inclusivity really is the name of the game for tarot, because when you reach for your deck, don’t you want to see yourself reflected?
This Pride month, we’re diving into the intersectionality of LGBT identity and tarot. We’ve already talked about what queer themes already exist within the cards, why LGBT people turn to tarot, and how the tarot plays with gender. But while we can queer the tarot all we want, ultimately what we need is to see more LGBT people on the cards themselves. And here’s why.
Tarot As The Great Mirror
Tarot is a tool of divination and self-reflection. By its very nature it must reflect the diversity of life, so that when we shuffle and reshuffle the cards we can see ourselves within the patterns they make. Which is why when AE Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith designed the quintessential Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, they made very deliberate choices in terms of what they showed on the cards.
The Major Arcana is the great journey of life, in terms of self-development but also spirituality. These cards can be seen as big life moments and turning points, communicating what’s coming or how we need to respond to it. Just as the Majors are something that happen to you, they also are you, as you evolve into the most fully realised version of yourself. Which, really, is also what the queer experience is all about.
The Minors, on the other hand, represent everyday life — but that’s not to minimise their importance. There’s a reason why there are more Minor Arcana cards than Majors. This is what we confront everyday, and artist Pamela Colman-Smith had a big impact on how she represented daily life in the Minors. It’s also the magic of the everyday, helping us to understand our passions, community, finances, and our connections to others.
So what happens when only one kind of person is depicted on these cards, which encompass pretty much everything in this life and beyond, into the realm of spirituality, existentialism, and myth? Well, then the tarot ends up becoming the antithesis of what it is meant to be: monolithic, exclusionary, and, ultimately, just not a full reflection of life’s great diversity. When you think of it that way, representation isn’t just benficial to the tarot reader, but essential for the tarot to fulfill its own purpose.
How Can We Include Queer People In Tarot?
The LGBT community is vast, and when you start to think about representation you have to consider how you’re going to include the entire community. Same-gender couples are most artists’ first port of call, and they can easily be represented on The Lovers card, or other cards that traditionally feature romantic couples or parents, like the Two Of Cups or Ten Of Pentacles. This positions romantic love as being something that can be shared by anyone, offering a more inclusive view of relationships and loving connections.
But the LGBT community is much more than this. Gender is also an important consideration, and the tarot seems to depict traditional gender roles: the female cards all relate to fertility, virginity, purity, nature, care, and nurture, while cards with masculine/male figures are much broader (while there are typical patriarchal roles, most of the Minors use male as a default for almost all figures).
This can be isolating to readers, especially those who are female, trans or non-binary. Some modern tarot artists have responded by taking a more egalitarian approach to gender in the tarot, especially in the Minors where the figures could be any gender, but sometimes even mixing it up with the court cards: Kathryn Briggs, creator of The New Chapter Tarot, chose to paint two of her Princess cards as men instead of women. The Modern Witch Tarot uses female, trans and non-binary people as a default instead of male, while the Cosmic Slumber takes a more androgynous approach to pretty much every figure.
However, for some people, having traditional gender roles in the tarot can help them understand themselves and their own relationship with gender. One professional tarot reader describes a time when the tarot did exactly this for a young gay client of hers.
“I remember a reading I did for a young gay man who was a drag queen, and dated drag queens. In his Celtic Cross, every King was present, but no Queens. We talked about the lack of Queens from the perspective of his dating life. It turns out he had decided not to date a particular guy who performed in drag with him. He took the “no Queens” as an affirmation that he was right to end the relationship.
Later in the reading, I discovered that my client was unhappy that there were not many opportunities for him to perform. This gave another meaning to the absence of Queens. He wanted more opportunity to be a Queen.”Chritiana Gaudet
In this way, we can see how what appears to be a traditional gender role actually takes on a different meaning depending on the reader. For this person, the Queens represented his relationship with femininity, but specifically his approach to drag, and the men in his life who also did drag.
Representing this community doesn’t just mean throwing in a same-gender couple every now and then. Queer culture is vast. It has its own symbols: rainbows and unicorns are well-known, but what about U-Hauls, leather jackets, lilacs, and bears? It has its own modes of life: the tarot’s approach to family is to have two parents + kids, but what about non-traditional families with multiple parents? It even has its own languages, literature, and many intersectional traditions: indigenous identity in general is nowhere to be found in the Rider-Waite-Smith, let alone idigenous queer and gender identities. So many different ethnic groups and nationalities have their own unique approaches to sexuality and gender, and intersectionality is important to consider too.
So when we say the community is vast, we’re not kidding! Thankfully though, tarot is also vast. There are more tarot decks on the market now than ever before, and many are choosing to incorporate identities beyond those that are white and Eurocentric. The Urban Tarot, the Next World Tarot, the Numinous Tarot, and so many more have made an effort to represent the entirety of the queer community. As tarot is so subjective, it’s fantastic that more decks are being produced that are inclusive, as that way you can really find the one that’s right for you!