Editor’s Note: This month is the final installment of the Featured Poets Series. Next year, the blog will include essays written by myself and other contributors from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology as well as a new letter series. December’s featured poet is Evan J. Peterson, who discusses why the queer community loves Tarot, Tarot in pop culture, and creating his own Tarot poetry and deck.
Q: In addition to contributing poems to the anthology, you are also editor-in-chief of its
publisher, Minor Arcana Press. How did Tarot and writing become intertwined in your
poetry and in your non-profit company?
The Tarot is utterly fascinating. Even the medium of cards–I’ve always loved cards as a talismanic object. The Tarot is a muse for my writing, but it’s also a tool I use to influence my writing, prompt new strategies, etc. When I co-founded Minor Arcana Press, my former business partner and I both had a Tarot fascination. I was studying the cards deeply at the time, and so as the creative director I used the card iconography for branding as well as a way of communicating to other Tarotists. I’d always wanted to do a book like Arcana, and when we saw that you were putting this together, we said, “we need to move and acquire this manuscript now!”
Q: My anecdotal experience has been that a large number of queer folks love the Tarot.
Do you agree? Would you be willing to share your thoughts on why the Tarot is
prominent in the LGBT community or why you disagree?
I absolutely agree. I think there are several overlapping reasons. Tarot is something intriguing and rather fabulous, plus it’s feared by many religious people. Queer people, myself included, often pursue magic, occultism, and divination as a spiritual path after feeling unwelcome in other spiritual philosophies. I wasn’t raised Christian, and my family are very cool about me being queer, but I grew up in a Florida community full of meddling, holier-than-thou zealots. I’m too rad for one gender, and there was a lot of social pressure to lose my femininity. I love that Paganism and occultism often celebrate queer genders and sexualities as powerful and magically rich. The idea of the two-spirit, the human who can transverse the physical and spirit worlds as they transverse genders, has been in many pre-colonized cultures around the world. Tarot is an altar for me. My own Paganism is not much Druidic or Wiccan, far more Roman meets Lakota and other non-European traditions.
Q: When I visited Seattle for the launch party, you mentioned that your family is
multi-denominational. Would you feel comfortable exploring a connection between this
and the eclectic nature of the Tarot? For instance, does growing up with more than one
religious tradition make it easier to recognize symbols from different faiths that appear
on Tarot cards?
I grew up with a practicing Jewish mother, a recovering Methodist father, and a more devoutly Methodist sister. My dad’s side is partly Cherokee, and we were encouraged to explore various indigenous tribal traditions as well as New Age stuff. As long as I wasn’t worshipping Satan, conjuring ghosts, or using magic to hurt people, I was allowed to explore. I’ve also always been enraptured with ancient Egyptian culture. Seeing so much Egyptian, Hebrew, and witchy iconography in the Rider/Waite and Thoth decks was definitely a draw for me. However, as I work to map out my own original deck, I find that I’m disinterested in using formulaic Kabbalah, astrology, and Druidic/Arthurian iconography. It’s still cross-cultural though. You’ll find Kali, Anansi, Narcissus, Lilith, and my boygirlfriend the Baphomet in there.
Q: In addition to the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth, are there other decks–or art–that have influenced your deck/poetry? Do you seek out cross-cultural/queer/alternative decks? What makes a deck (or esoteric art) appealing to you?
A deck appeals to me when it touches something beyond the overt, beyond the simple 1:1 formula of metaphor. I want to taste the mystery in the images. I want it to make me feel things that I can’t express easily in words. The ultimate deck for me is Marie White’s Mary-El Tarot. It jacks into the unconscious so powerfully, beyond Jung, beyond surrealism. That’s the real magic–this shifting map of soft territory. I actually dislike the Rider-Waite deck. I think it’s inscrutable rather than deep. The deck I use the most often is actually rather overt and explicit in its symbolism–the Cosmic Tribe deck. I love it because it’s very queer, complete with three versions of the Lovers card for different gender combinations. I also love how naked and earthy the figures are–they seem so naturally powerful. So yes, even my taste in decks is contradictory. Such is the sacred paradox.
Q: Back in 2014, we did a #TarotChat on Twitter where we very briefly discussed Tarot imagery being popularized in Bond films and the X-Files. Would you talk a little more about pop culture and Tarot? Is Tarot a good medium for breaking down the high art/low art boundary? What do you think of how Tarot is represented in film/TV/etc?
Having grown up where I did, where many superstitious people are frightened of the Tarot, I tend to think of the Tarot as a cheap punchline in pop culture. It’s as profane in pop culture as making Superman assume the Crucifixion pose. It’s something people look at and think: “Now I should be moved.” I think Tarot can be a good medium for breaking down the high/low boundary, but so are graffiti and tattoo art. I’m seeing a great many young people getting reinterested in occultism through art and entertainment. We’re seeing that occult renaissance in hiphop, fashion, etc. Perhaps we need to make some of the sacred into profane in order to interest people in finding out what it’s really about. Tarot itself, like the individual images, can be interpreted in several ways. Is it a silly parlor game turned into sacred object? Is it an occult tradition made into a pop New Age collectible? What if it’s all of the above? I like the both/and, but I’m a trickster spirit by nature.
Below is one of Evan’s poems from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology:
Ode to God
Ace of Wands
like a duck
in my own
in Your mouth.
place each letter
of your Solar
onto this tongue.
brighten this body,
pluck my limbs
Make me a Grail,
cupful of God,
feeding You back
to Your Self.
like a cypress
switch & rub
thy slithering staff,
have me, God,
to slip down
And you can order the anthology on the Minor Arcana Press website.