• Charlie Claire Burgess

Transcript: Oracle & Tarot Deck Creation PART 1 with Coleman Stevenson

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The Word Witch Podcast, Episode 20: Oracle and Tarot Deck Creation PART 1 with Coleman Stevenson


(Folksy Intro music with guitar and violin fades in.)

Coleman: (Preview clip over intro music.) So they’re art in that way, but they're, they're more than that, you know, it is also design work. These are tools, these are products, objects being made for other people, not just us. To not just view, but to use, to interact with. And so they have to actually function.

Coleman: (Preview clip over intro music.) That's a tough one. (Laughs) Cause you might as well just ask me if I believe in God.

Charlie: So do you believe in God? (Laughing)

(Intro music continues.)

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Word Witch podcast, where we talk about tarot, magic, and belief, and try to bust our thinking out of the binary through conversations with folks making magic from the margins. I'm Charlie Claire Burgess. [00:01:00] I'm the creator of Fifth Spirit Tarot; I'm the witch behind The Word Witch; and I am your queer space captain on this podcast to magicland.

(Intro music fades out.)

On today's episode, we're going to be talking with Coleman Stevenson of The Dark Exact. This is such a good episode and such a rich conversation. We're talking about oracle decks and tarot decks and creating oracle and tarot decks. Coleman has created so many of both of those. She is a true pro and truly prolific. So we talk about that; we also talk about being independent deck creators and the publishing side of that: printing your deck, the things of running your own business as an independent creator, and all of that sort of stuff. We talked for so long that I couldn't fit it in one episode, nor could I make decisions to cut stuff out [00:02:00] because it's just so useful and so good. So I decided that we're actually going to do a part one and a part two.

So on today's episode, we'll be doing part one of my interview with Coleman. We'll be talking about oracle and tarot deck creation from the art side and the planning, the structure—especially with oracle decks, choosing a structure for the deck. And then next week, one week from today, we will be releasing part two in which we go into the other juicy details about printing and publishing and running your own business and stuff like that. So I can't wait to share both of these with you!

Also, Coleman was kind enough to answer some questions just for my patrons on Patreon, and so my patrons on Patreon will be getting an extra, like, 30 minutes on top of that even, with some questions that are not on the podcast. So you can of course go and [00:03:00] check those out at patreon.com/thewordwitchtarot.

And now let me read you Coleman's amazingness! Coleman Stevenson is the author of three collections of poems, Light Sleeper, Breakfast, and The Accidental Rarefication of Pattern #5,609, several books about divination and creativity, including The Dark Exact Tarot Guide and two collections of card spreads, and a book of essays on creativity accompanying the card game Metaphysik. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies and on the website tarot.com. In addition to her work as a designer of tarot at oracle decks through her company, The Dark Exact, her fine artwork exhibited in galleries around the Pacific Northwest focuses on the intersections between image and text. She has been a guest curator for various gallery spaces in the Portland, Oregon, area and has taught tarot, [00:04:00] poetry, design theory, and cultural studies at a number of different institutions there, most currently for the Literary Arts Delve series, which includes seminars at the Portland Art Museum. She is the co-creator of the divination series Third Eye Sundays. Find her work at colemanstevenson.com and @darkexact on Instagram. And those are also in the show notes for ya.

Also before I forget, you'll hear some background noises. Coleman and I recorded this in person. It was my first in-person podcast interview since the pandemic started, and so that was really exciting! It was also right as the Portland, the Pacific Northwest heat wave was ramping up, and so it was already in the mid or upper nineties and the window was open, and so occasionally you'll hear a bus going by, or you'll hear our ice clinking in our glasses. So enjoy the ambience! I hope you feel like you're sitting there with us.

So [00:05:00] without further ado, here is part one of my rich and amazing conversation with Coleman Stevenson. Stay tuned next week for part two. Okay. Here we go!

(Transition music )

Coleman: Hey!

Charlie: Hi Coleman! I'm so happy to be sitting here in your beautiful self- rearranging apartment—every time I walk in here, it's different and gorgeous and beautiful—to talk about tarot and oracle decks and being an independent deck creator. And so to start, I thought that I’d say a little bit about you and I, Coleman. Because Coleman and I go way back.

Coleman: Way back!

Charlie: We grew up around the corner from each other, and then lost contact, like lost touch for a long, long time. I [00:06:00] won't say how many years—

Coleman: A long time.

Charlie: A very long time. And when we connected again, when I moved to Portland, we discovered that we were both into the exact same things, were both tarot readers, and I wasn't yet a tarot creator but Coleman was, and also writers—Coleman’s an amazing poet as well as all the work that she does with creating decks and creating all of your other products, like deck cloths and essences and all of your herbal things.

Coleman: That's what I call them too. (Laughing)

Charlie: Yeah. Herbal things?

Coleman: All my herbal things.

Charlie: Oh good. I'm glad that's the technical term. Thanks. (Laughing)

Coleman: Everything is very vague. (Laughing)

Charlie: And yeah, so there must've been something in the water where we grew up.

Coleman: Um, fluoride. (Laughing) I also have very good teeth.

Charlie: I used to, and then I moved to Portland where they don't have fluoride in the water.

Coleman: We have not been hired by the fluoride commission! Can we just say, nobody's

sent me to say these things.

Charlie: Nobody send us hate mail! [00:07:00] About fluoride in the water. (Laughing)

Coleman: It's a hot topic! So I actually try to steer clear, but I actually do credit never having a cavity to that.

Charlie: Yeah. Yeah. So that's, I mean, this was a surprising detour. This is now a podcast about dental health, dental hygiene. (Laughing)

So Coleman, I was wondering if you wanted to talk about what you've been doing recently, or any current work that you have going on that you want to share?

Coleman: Sure, sure, sure, sure. It's been a year of redoing things. I've new things as well, but several major revamped projects. So The Dark Exact Tarot which is the first deck I did like what was that? Six years ago now? Maybe a bit ago. The black cards. I just did the fifth edition.

Charlie: Wow.

Coleman: That deck made some significant changes to the shape and size. The coating is different; [00:08:00] it's matte finished now. The cards didn't change a ton. There are some changes, mostly small changes, one entirely revised card. But overall it feels really different and it also comes in a two-part rigid box. So I got a box professionally printed with white foil stamping. It's pretty amazing. Also amazing to not sit there and have to label every single box by hand. Cause I always try to keep costs down for these projects and so I was just printing labels myself and hand cutting them and sticking them on—

Charlie: On metal tins, which was a really, it's a really good, well maybe work-around isn’t the right word, but that other possibility, instead of getting a tuck box or a box printed by the printer. But yeah, hand-stickering those.

Coleman: Oh, it gets old, but I'm still hand-stickering on some of the other decks. But so, I also did a second edition of The Personal Oracle deck. That just [00:09:00] came out like last week. They just got here, very excited about that. That one also changed shape and size, and it has a different finish, also as a matte finish. There are 13 added cards for that deck now, so it keeps growing. I'm really happy with how it turned out.

And then I also did a major revision to my tarot guidebook, the full length guidebook. It has quite a lot of new content in it and that just came out a couple of months ago. I've lost all sense of time, but what is time? What is time anyway, when you're self-employed.

Charlie: And the guide book is one, your guide book is one that I love and that I've learned a lot fro—the previous one, I haven't read the new content in the new one yet, and so I'm excited about that. And like, I cite your guidebook in my guidebook!

[00:10:00] I was actually wondering, could share a little bit about your revision of the Hierophant? I know this wasn't in the questions I sent to you beforehand, but I love the revised, the choices that you made with how you re-illustrated that card. It's got a tree on it, and I'll let you describe it more, but I was wondering what inspired that change?

Coleman: So the original card it had guardian lion on it. A lot of the objects in that deck are just things in my life, things I have around the house, things I collect, and I just, I never loved the illustration that I had done for that card. It just didn't feel as solid to me as some of the others. Also as much as I love the object that I illustrated that I have at home, it just didn't feel as personal.

And so I I ended up using that tree image, [00:11:00] the idea of the tree for the Hierophant. It connected more to the other plant life that is in that deck. So that felt like a more natural fit right there. I also was thinking about just the age of some of those old Oak trees, how massive they are, how connected they are. It seems like a good symbol of something lasting, which connected to the concept of tradition and longevity that I so associate with the Hierophant card.

The other thing about using the Oak tree or any tree, really, as the symbol for the Hierophant is, you know, also about flexibility, like we've been discussing, or renewal, right? A chance for renewal with the rules and traditions that the Hierophant represents. Sometimes you get stuck in your ways. But with the [00:12:00] tree, it sheds, sheds its leaves, right? So it's this kind of cycle. There's this constant opportunity for renewal, for re-examining these long-held beliefs, making sure that they still apply. So that was important to me too, to depict in this. It's like an opportunity to sort of push out corruption, I guess. So that's important. At the bottom of the card I also have the chemical symbol for iron repeated. That's what appears to be as the roots of the tree, to symbolize the strength…

Charlie: I like that you added that because that makes me think of this year being a Hierophant year, especially what you were saying about corruption and stuff.

Coleman: Oh yeah. Right. But also about renewal.

Charlie: Yes, absolutely.

Coleman: And, and—

Charlie: Like weeding it out—

Coleman: Yeah, yeah, yeah. True. Also just thinking about, you know, okay. So classic depictions of the Hierophant, it's all about the central figure of the Hierophant, [00:13:00] right? And maybe you have the sycophants kneeling in the front but—excuse me, the devotees in the front. (laughter)

But here, I like to think about the beliefs, the shared beliefs, as the foundation, the roots, the trunk of the tree. But the community, every person involved, every person who says, "yes, I believe in this, I'm with you in this, let's work together," is like a leaf on the branches of this tree.

Charlie: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Coleman: We're all here. Not just that figurehead, not just the rule-maker.

Charlie: It's more collective than that. Yeah. Snap snap, snap, snap. This is me snapping my fingers. (Fingers snapping faintly.) I can't actually snap my fingers. I can't do it. (Laughter)

Coleman: I could do it but I have a bandaid on this one because I have a hangnail.

Charlie: Haha then we're even.

So let's talk about, let's get into some stuff about tarot versus oracle, because you create both of them. [00:14:00] Coleman has, I don't even know how many oracle decks, cause you have the Fairytale series, which has multiple pieces of it. Like the blue beard one and the red riding hood one. And then also the Personal Oracle, the Dark Exact Tarot, and the Vitriolic Tarot. And I'm probably forgetting some.

I think it's probably actually helpful first actually, before I launch into it where I was going with that, to define the difference between tarot decks and oracle decks. Just, to set that out there. So how are tarot and oracle decks similar and how are they different, in your opinion? Or what defines an oracle deck? I think we probably—or a tarot deck, actually. I was going to say, I think probably we know what that is, but I don't know. You might have an interesting answer.

Coleman: Yeah, well, probably just the common answer, but the biggest difference for me is that it tarot is a particular set system that you're more [00:15:00] or less following to make a deck. Oracles can have systems as well, but with the tarot, it's a certain one certain cards with certain meanings in the very traditional sense. Those cards have certain expected names. There's a certain number of cards is divided into the same suit.

So within tarot history, and especially now in contemporary tarot, there is more variation. You know, names are changing or have changed, there are decks that have a fifth suit. I added an additional card to the Major Arcana. I have two Fools in my deck, which I have since seen several other creators doing as well. The whole idea of adding another card to the Majors you see in various forms in other decks. And so it is flexible. People are finding [00:16:00] very creative ways to work with that, to refresh it, to shift it where they feel as creators that it needs to go.

But still even with all of the changes that we're experiencing in the realm of contemporary tarot, everyone is still pretty much working off of the same general structure. You're going to have around 78 to 79 or so cards, you're gonna have the four suits, even if maybe they're called something different. They probably are still going to have the connection to one of the four elements that we commonly see. So the structure stays about the same.