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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 )
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.
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.
With oracle decks, it just, it depends. So historically oracle decks used to have more traditional structure. So if you think about some of those early decks, like Lenormand decks, for instance, which is a type of oracle, [00:17:00] and those continue to be produced now also with very interesting variety and adjustments—different cards, additional cards. But for instance, a classic Lenormand deck would have 36 cards. They would be certain cards. So no matter how the art might vary, you'd expect to see that certain system presented.
Now it's much looser. So when we hear the word oracle, we're thinking, well, we're probably not thinking anything very specific. We're thinking a group of cards. Maybe they will have a certain theme to that oracle; they might have a structure, but if they do the creator has determined what that structure is. So when we just think generally about oracle decks, there is no one set structure that would be coming to mind. So that's the difference for me.
Charlie: Yeah. It's funny that you say that because while you were speaking [00:18:00] about historical oracle decks and you mentioned Lenormand, like, I don't even think of Lenormand and as an oracle deck now, because my conception of oracle decks is just something that's so free and loose that it doesn't have a set system that it's working on. And so things even like a Lenormand deck, or there's some illustrated playing card decks that are also used in a similar way, that I don't even think of those as oracle any more because they have a set system.
Coleman: Well, technically speaking, the tarot is an oracle, right?
Coleman: An oracle in the broadest sense is anything that we would be consulting in order to predict the future, you know, do any kind of divining or, as they are more commonly used now, some sort of self-reflection process of self discovery through the cards. So in, in that sense, yeah. Any, any of these card decks would be oracles.
Charlie: Yeah. Yeah. So I love that. I love the [00:19:00] freedom in that and I love that spirit of creation and, what's the word I'm looking for? It's very, I don't know, just a very liberated--
Coleman: Super flexible, like basically whatever you're feeling, whatever you want to accomplish. It's a great vehicle for expressing that.
But with freedom comes responsibility, as they say, in my opinion.
Charlie: So with that in mind, what do you think makes a good oracle deck? Or what do you think makes a bad one, if you want to go there? (Laughter) But I do find there are things that really do help make an oracle deck functional and useful and things like that. So what might some of those things be?
Coleman: I mean, that's the whole point with these kinds of tools, right? Yes. As artists who make these things, we are expressing ourselves. They [00:20:00] are art in that way, but 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, rather than just look beautiful. I believe.
So to me, thinking along those lines, that sort of user-friendly kind of mode, I like some sense of structure. The oracles that I gravitate towards using, they'll have a strong theme maybe. Like I'll look at the thing and feel like, oh, this really has a reason to be, this needs to be, and I can feel the brain of the creator working when I use the cards. They make sense. There's a logic to them. It doesn't have to be a high degree of structure. It doesn't have to be that they've worked out a system that's [00:21:00] as intensely organized as the tarot system would be, but some sense of cohesion.
Like unless the theme is randomness, I think the randomness would probably bother me-- like I think more than random is a lack of consistency is what bothers me. Like if all of the forms of the names of things are just all over the place, right? Some things are, you know, nouns, some things are actions, and that's not part of the concept of the thing, that starts to feel just a little lazy to me. Like things weren't totally thought through.
And redundancy also. You know, especially in oracles where, since we're not working with a set number, there's no cap to it. So sometimes you see these huge decks, and there's maybe groups within it that are essentially saying the same thing. Like, okay, well edit, you know? Maybe not every single one of [00:22:00] these cards needs to be there unless they are grouped in that way. Like they're all shades of one theme or something, and so that's part of the structure: you have all these sub-groups within it. Things like that are very interesting.
But yeah, if it feels really arbitrary, I feel like that's harder to get into.
Charlie: Yeah, that makes me think of, I mean, I'm working on an oracle deck right now, and one of the things that I've been thinking of a lot is that redundancy thing, which is also something that you mentioned when you and I taught a class together at Seagrape, like... in 2019?
Coleman: When was that? Yeah, I guess so.
Charlie: Yeah, on, I think the class was on making a deck, or I can't remember. No--
Coleman: Writing, it was the writing--
Charlie: Yeah, it was on like using tarot for writing.
Coleman: Creative uses of the cards.
Charlie: But as part of it, you led an exercise where we were [00:23:00] writing the descriptions. Oh! It was about writing a guidebook!
Coleman: Oh yes! It was a little white book. Yeah. Yeah.
Charlie: And we were writing what the terms would be in a little white book. And then you were talking about like, okay, what's redundant? Or what word is better? The meeting is so close that do you need to say both of those words or terms in the guidebook? Like maybe sadness and heartbreak, you know. Like, do you need both of those? Are they distinct enough, et cetera?
Coleman: Right. And if you do, like, say we're going to have sadness, not just little white book, but sadness and heartbreak as cards in an oracle deck. Yes, totally justifiable! But then that imagery better push me clearly in one direction and then the other with the other card. Cause yeah, those are related words, but there's a difference there. So let the card show me that difference.
Charlie: Yes, yes, yes, exactly. Okay. You put that really well. And then I think of the balance [00:24:00] of quote good cards versus quote bad cards versus neutral cards, or the amount of ground that's being covered. That's one of the things that I'm thinking about. Which also has me thinking about things like, okay, well, does it need to be like 50-50 between good and bad? Or does it need to be like 33% good, 33% neutral, you know? And then I'm like, well, but what do we actually see in life? Is it all divided up like this? What's necessary?
So I'm just thinking about all these things. So I was wondering if that's something that you think about when you're making oracle decks. I mean, it would be easy to make just a devastating oracle deck where every card you pull is just something awful, but like, would that be used very frequently? I don't--
Coleman: By some people. (Laughs)
Because that is the other thing. Right? Even in you trying to make those classifications, you know, what might seem like a quote-unquote bad card to you might be [00:25:00] neutral to me. So it's hard to classify those things. And so I think my workaround has been to not think about it in those terms. But to actually... they're sort of all neutral in a way. They just are. They are the things. And with any one of, say, the Personal Oracle deck of mine, for example, with any one of those cards, I could give you a list of what would be positive or uplifting interpretations. And then I could also give you what might be the downfall of that card.
I can even give you an example. We didn't talk about doing any reading or anything today, but like, okay. (Sound of cards ruffling) So for people who don't know the Personal Oracle, as I've designed it, it comes with a journal, like a blank book. There's some basic instructions for how to use the cards in different ways, suggestions for how to use the [00:26:00] cards. But each user is meant to spend time with the cards and write about what the images mean to them. Right? So that's part of why it's called the Personal Oracle. It’s that the imagery is personal to me, but it's also personal because it becomes a unique thing depending on how every individual user is working with it and determining meaning.
So for instance, I have this card of the Hourglass. So that could be, in a neutral sense, just simply about time. Perhaps in a negative way that could be about pressure. It could be about feeling rushed to complete something. In a positive sense, cause there is more sand on the top than on the bottom in my card—
Charlie: Did you do that on purpose?
Coleman: Did I? Yeah, I did. I think I did. It's been so long now. I think I did have that conversation about, okay, let's be optimistic. But even then, even with more sand in the top, it doesn't mean you're not gonna feel pressure.
Charlie: Is it an egg timer? Like it might not have much time. There [00:27:00] might be like a minute left. (Laughter)
Coleman: Yeah, it’s hard to tell. But yeah, in a positive sense, you could feel like you have plenty of time because most of the sand is at the top.
So the cards are kind of flexible in that way and I want them to be. Not only is each individual person going to see something fresh in it, but also every context in which the card appears is going to suggest a new level of meaning. That's probably going to move it maybe more to the positive or more to the negative, just depending on what's going on.
So I do think about things like that in advance. With the tarot, since I know the general structure ahead of time, I'm thinking much more about the visual content, right from the start. But with oracles, cause I don't have that guide so that the art can't necessarily be the primary concern, for [00:28:00] me the structure, thinking about the structure, always comes first. I might have some ideas about what some of the imagery will be, but I don't let myself get too far down that road without having some sense of what the thing is about.
So with the Personal Oracle, it started as a tiny deck. It was a 10 card thing that I made just by hand, printed and cut myself as part of a lecture I was doing at the Portland Art Museum. I wanted to give it out to everybody, and then we did an exercise together in interpretation. And so that was how this whole idea about making an oracle that didn't have a guidebook came to be.
So, what I was doing then was, okay, what are classic oracle images? Like if you looked at some of those turn of the century oracles, what would you expect to see? You'd probably see the clover. You'd expect to see, like, maybe-- I'm trying to remember which ones I used early on-- like a bell, a scythe, a bouquet. Like, you know, that's really [00:29:00] classic. The rings, the two joined rings or the diamond ring. They're just in most of those older decks and they continue to be in Lenormand decks now.
But anyway, so I had those 10, I wanted the most common common ones because I thought that would be a great conversation. They wouldn't be too esoteric. They'd be common enough that everybody would just have lots of associations with those imageries, so we could have a really robust discussion about how we make meaning. Because I knew that we'd have commonalities. So people in the audience, they would suggest some of the same things, which they did, but then there would be those nuances because as you know, we have these common ideas, but we also have different cultural associations and then different personal associations, depending on how those images or objects have or have not been part of our [00:30:00] lives.
So then what I wanted to do was expand that oracle, because it was just so much fun. So I started including things drawn in that same kind of vintage style, but stuff that I cared about. Things that you wouldn't necessarily see in one of those old oracle decks. As I did that, I started to see pairs forming. Not every card in the deck has a pair, but, for instance, there's the finch and then there's the peacock.
Charlie: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That's good.
Coleman: There's the daisy, and then there's the poppy. There's the root, the leaf, the seed, the flower, or I think it's called the bloom, and the fruit. Right? So covering all parts of growth cycle. There's the nails, and there's the hammer, right? So again, not every one has it's [00:31:00] partner. But there are these kinds of groupings within that were interesting for me.
Charlie: Yeah. So in that way it sounds like, because it's all personal symbolism, did you make a list of personal symbols and then choose from that list to make a balanced deck? Because that sounds like the imagery maybe came before the system, rather than the other way around.
Coleman: Yeah, it was both. So it started just with that handful of cards. And then I started making the list of like, okay, what else could go in here? And then, as I started to flesh it out, it's like certain cards would just suggest other cards to me. So then I'd fill those in.
With the Fairytale Oracles, it's really a different process because the story already exists. So the first thing I do with those is just read the story through again several times and figure out, okay, what are the basic things here that I would draw that would represent that [00:32:00] story. Because again, they're all objects, so there's no, I'm not drawing characters, I'm not putting things in scenes. It's just these basic storytelling components of all of the objects or the settings of the story. So those kind of tell themselves, or build themselves, I guess, because I'm working off of something that already exists.
Whereas with the other oracle deck, which is just this big amorphous thing—well, not exactly amorphous, it's corralled now—but the content in it could come from literally anywhere. Right? So it's this huge pool of information from which to draw.
Charlie: What are the what are the different fairytales in your Fairytale Oracle series?
Coleman: So I first did “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” then “Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard.” And then what I'm doing at this point is combining them. So this is [00:33:00] all already, this was the idea from the start. I would do a few of them released individually, and then I would choose my favorite cards from those, then add a couple more stories and release that as one set. And then whenever I feel like it, illustrate a few more cards from a different story, and then those get, you know, you can do upgrade packs that get mixed in. Cause the whole idea in having them blended is, well, I mean, that's kind of like how folk narrative works, in that there are certain tale types and motifs that recur.
So you know, you could have like, let's see, trying to think of a good example, maybe like a certain magical object, right? That is featured in multiple stories. All these different kinds of objects that recur story after story, culture after culture, all over the world. So it interests me [00:34:00] to have a card that has a flexibility, right? Like it could be part of this story. It could be part of that story. And then all of the cards could be used to create new stories.
Charlie: Yeah, I like that a lot. So you already started talking a little bit about your process there, with sort of the dual, the different approaches that you take when you're starting a tarot deck versus when you're starting an oracle deck. I was just wondering if you find that process-- well, it sounds like that process does change a little bit from deck to deck, depending on which one you're creating. But I'm also wondering if there's anything else that you want to share about the process of making these decks at all? Like at large, or maybe like the end parts and the editing, or even the revisions later. Cause that's a thing that you've done.
Coleman: Oh man. I know. The hardest thing to me is like calling it, like saying it's done because as you can see, many editions later in some cases, that yeah, well, it wasn't done. But I definitely would rather [00:35:00] put something out there knowing that maybe I'll will revise it later, than sit on it for two years, or worse, never finish it, never put it out there. So I have, yeah, kind of loosened up a little bit and in my thinking on that, so that I could be more productive. It doesn't mean that those early ones were flawed. It just means that I wanted to see something different or try something different, or, you know, I discovered new technologies for making a different card finish that I liked better, that I didn't have access to initially, perhaps.
Also for anyone who's used any of The Dark Exact decks over the years, they've probably noticed that it keeps changing sizes. So then, sorry, everybody! I know, I get a lot of feedback. Like, oh, well I like that size. But then for everyone [00:36:00] who says they like the tiny ones, there's an equal number of people who are saying, why did you make the deck so small? (Laughter) So that's a hard one to decide, and I don't want to have to produce multiple sizes at once. So the current one is sort of like a happy medium. The one that just came out, it's three inches by four inches, which is smaller than a standard tarot. It's also smaller than my original deck, but it's larger than the little miniature bridge size ones that I was doing for awhile. So kind of right in the middle.
Charlie: I'm very into the idea of things evolving, decks evolving, and of systems evolving. I think that that's really essential to keep a system alive and relevant, you know? And so I love that idea of just being like “this thing is exactly what it needs to be now, and I also know that that might change the future, and then it'll be exactly what it needs to be [00:37:00] then.”
Coleman: It's true. I mean, one of the things I think about a lot, I didn't change-- other than one card, I didn't change naming at all. The more I go on and the more I teach tarot, the more I think that the court hierarchy, the traditional names for that are just so irrelevant. So that's one thing I've been thinking for future projects that I might just let go of the whole Queen/King thing. There's a lot of satisfying solutions that other deck makers have come up with for that in recent years. I don't want to just copy one of theirs, so I would want to figure out my own progressive system to name those, but yeah.
Charlie: I love that, as you know, cause I'm so much about gender problems in tarot. So I love that renaming and also because like, yeah, [00:38:00] that feudal hierarchy is totally irrelevant now and nobody even knows what a Page is anymore. I mean, I chose not to do that for my first deck, for Fifth Spirit, for several reasons, but also because I know it can be confusing for readers when names change. But like it, it is something that I think about a lot, but then I can't come up with--I haven't yet been able to come up with better re-namings than the ones that are out there. And I don't want to copy, like to straight-up lift something, but then I'm also like, but what do we do when something is just so good, it gets it so right, and we just keep, like, finding synonyms for it? That just seems stupid and painful.
Coleman: I know, I know. I really am not sure what to do about that, but I also, I appreciate what you said about wanting to still make it accessible for people who maybe are more familiar with the [00:39:00] traditional system. I think that I felt like I was already deviating so much with the imagery in this deck, it was so non-standard that if I didn't give people something familiar to have as a foundation that they might not bother with this deck? I think I was, I think I was wrong about that. I don't-- I think I was thinking too harshly.
Also, you know, you and I were talking about this earlier today, actually, that if we keep coming up with excuses like that, then we're perpetuating what we've already agreed is a sort of broken system. Yeah. I need to do some more thinking on that.
Charlie: Yeah, we both do. We both do. And we all do.
Coleman: Well. We got time. We can do it. I mean, this is certainly not my last deck. I don't know about you, but—
Charlie: Oh no no no.
Coleman: I'm not stopping.
Charlie: Okay. Let's see. I want to know, just out of curiosity, do you think that tarot and [00:40:00] oracle cards serve different purposes or are better suited to particular kinds of questions or spreads or uses? Or how do you use them in your personal practice, if you're willing to share that?
Coleman: Sure. Yeah. That's a really good question. I think that they are interchangeable. I think if you're a good reader you can read with anything. You know, Tarots tend to be larger, long, longer, more cards, which—
Charlie: Not always—
Coleman: No, not always, but more often than not. But given the system with the Minor Arcana, I think that they typically contain more detailed information. So, if you're looking to do something nuanced, maybe tarot is the way to go. If you're looking to really get into the details of a situation, choose the deck that has [00:41:00] that flexibility, that has that variety.
Whereas an oracle deck, I feel it’s kind of like how the Major Arcana has... almost like they're more condensed? I feel like oracle decks sometimes have that quality. So there's a broader theme for each card. Kind of how the Majors in tarot have that broad, big idea, and then the Minors are the daily manifestation of that idea. So an oracle deck often is going to have those big ideas, but then not have those detailed details available. So you'd have to unpack it more.
Charlie: Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. I was also thinking about how a lot of oracle decks have a very specific sort of theme. So there might be one that's about healing or there might be one where all the card cards are an emotion or, you know, something [00:42:00] like that. And so that would serve itself for a very particular purpose.
Coleman: You'd know how to use it. Sure, sure. Which is something I really like about--
Charlie: It's like very tailored.
Coleman: Yes, for sure. And some oracle decks feel just like a pep talk in a box too, you know some of the ones that have a lot of text on the cards. So, you know how to use that. Like, trying to figure out how to feel that day, how to proceed that day. You know, you're stuck and you want to know how to move on. Those cards are going to just flat out tell you. Tarot is not necessarily going to do that. Right? It's going to be-- again, it's going to be more nuanced.
I like mixing them in readings. So a lot of times maybe I'll draw, I'll be doing a tarot based reading, but I'll pull a card from an oracle deck as a clarifier or something like that. Follow up questions sort of thing. So I feel like they work together really well.
Charlie: Absolutely. [00:43:00] Okay. So this just popped into my head when thinking about tarot and oracle and how they work slightly differently, and also like you and I were talking before we started recording about the tarot and about some of the magical principles that go into it, or the hermetic principles, or things like that. And so, from what we were talking about with the Hierophant too, this idea of-- let me see if I can articulate this. Some things like tarot or like Lenormand or things that are predicated on a system are carrying this history or legacy with them, which comes with a kind of power. Especially like, maybe an archetypal or a ceremonial sort of power or usage. And then oracle decks are often just sprung directly from the heart or mind of the creator, are totally new, [00:44:00] futuristic even, like who knows. So that makes me think: what gives the decks or the cards their power? And I think that applies both to tarot and oracle. Like what makes a thing magical? What makes it work? Is it this magical sort of imbuing from long use? Or is it whatever the fuck happens in our heads when we look at a card or a word? Do you have thoughts or opinions about that?
Coleman: Hmm, that is a, that's a tough one. Cause you might as well just ask me if I believe in God, so--
Charlie: Do you believe in God? I'm just kidding. (Laughter)
Coleman: I think it's a lot of things and I think it varies so much from person to person, and so therefore I think that all of those things are true because what matters is what the person using them feels and believes. I personally believe that magic is [00:45:00] carried to the cards from the tremendous amount of effort that it takes to make the deck.
So, or okay, maybe this is—I don't mean that in an ego way. I mean that in a hopeful way of I care so much about this thing and dedicate so much of myself to this thing, and not just the decks but anything that I create as a visual artist, that it is my absolute hope that the person receiving it on the other end can feel that.
And it's not that they can feel me-- that isn't what it is. But that they can feel the energy of it, the magic of it. So that would say, then, I guess that I do believe there's an energy moving around, connecting everything, transferring back and forth.
I really believe that a lot of what makes, what powers the tarot [00:46:00] is in addition to just natural energy, it's symbolism. The way that symbolism works, the way that every human experience is in the cards. So what that's calling up for you when a card appears is every experience you've ever had with that thing. And in ways you don't even realize, right? So all of these layers of meaning constantly shifting around, recombining to make new meaning.
So it's maybe not even necessarily that like, oh, it's magic: you've got exactly the card that fits your situation. It's more that the way that we're structured, we're calling up so much content that we're making a meaning. We're making a connection. We're finding the way that the card that came up is relevant to our situation, is guiding us. Right? It feels like magic and [00:47:00] maybe it is magic, but it also is just a really complex working of our fascinating brains that speak all of these symbolic languages.
Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. I think that was a great answer.
Coleman: I don't know what I just said. It did not come out smoothly. (Laughter )
Charlie: That came out perfectly. Yeah, I love that.
Coleman: It doesn't mean I haven't had incredibly uncanny experiences during readings. I have. Things that do feel like pure magic. So none of that is to say that I am any kind of disbeliever and I, you know, right now I'm side-eying all my decks in the room, like trying to send them little vibes to not be mad at me. Because I do feel like they are creatures. I do feel that every single one of them is alive in some way. That is also why I favor vintage decks. I like objects that have been [00:48:00] handled by lots of unknown others. I do not believe that that can be corrupting because when the thing transfers to me, it's mine. They're not, they're not tainted. But just the collected energy from just sheer use really infuses an object with power.
Charlie: Yeah. That's what, that's like one of my personal answers for the impossible question that I just asked you, is that it comes from the act of using it and the weird thing that happens between the card and the making the meeting in our heads in relationship to it, like you were talking about, but also I do think that objects accumulate power over use. And I think that that can come from many different places. So I think it of course comes from actual use--handling, reading with it, doing whatever--but I think it also comes from [00:49:00] that symbolism that you were talking about. Like powerful ideas or symbols that really are arresting for people and have particular meaning. Or like, I think of words that have been said over and over and over again, through the course of centuries, whether it's like in prayers or whatever. I think that those kinds of things, they take on power with use.
Coleman: Yes. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. And that's why like the creation process is part of it for me too. So me, you can tell the difference. There's a completely different vibe that, say, a fully handmade deck has from some mass produced deck that you bought on...
Coleman: Yeah, some store somewhere, we'll just say. You know, thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of copies of those decks were made on a machine. There's still a lot of energy involved. And at some point, you know, humans touched them all. Packed them. [00:50:00] And so even just that frenzy of activity I imagine is infusing the decks with some kind of essence. But that, never been used to read by anybody, has a vibe. A deck that I, say, carved blocks for and print on my press, cut apart myself, hand round the corners. Something like that, just sitting there next to that other deck, one of them is going to be still, and one of them is going to be completely vibrating. Which one do you think is vibrating. Right? Not the Amazon deck.
Yes. I believe in that. It makes a difference.
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Charlie: Wasn't that amazing? Wasn't that rich? Where'd you taking notes? That was part one of our conversation with Coleman Stevenson. This is just a reminder that [00:51:00] there's more to come. Don't forget to tune in next week for part two, where things get even spicier! And until then, stay magical!
Thanks for listening to The Word Witch! This show is produced, edited and everything, all entirely by me, Charlie Claire Burgess. Our theme music is "Counting Rice" by Bitches in the Beehive. If you like what you hear, you can support the show on Patreon for as little as $2 a month at patreon.com/thewordwitchtarot, where you'll also get to hear extras from this very conversation that didn't make it into the show because we talked for an hour and a half.
Please check me out on Instagram @the.word.witch or at my website, thewordwitchtarot.com, where you can find my tarot deck, Fifth [00:52:00] Spirit Tarot, along with other goodies and cool things. Thanks for listening, and stay magical!
(Ending Music Fades Out.)