Book Report VI: Queering the Tarot

"The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all - not the car, not the TV, not the smartphone." 

Ken Burns, 2016

In our Book Report series, we'd like to introduce ourselves via our bookshelf and share the books that most shape our diplomacy. Our sixth book is Queering the Tarot by Cassandra Snow. As usual, we bought our copy from our friends at our local English language bookshop, Curious Fox

Polar Embassy is a queer-owned business, and Tarot will always be a part of our journey to the queer paradise of self-actualisation and healing. To better understand the role of Tarot in queer life and how we can create decks that celebrate queer people, we read Cassandra Snow’s Queering the Tarot

Two notes on our language: 

  • we love the word “queer”! For us, it’s an umbrella term that includes all identities outside heterosexual and cisgender including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirit, and Asexual. The word was painfully derogatory for a long time, and many people are still very sensitive to it. We choose to use it now in pride and to be explicitly inclusive of all non-heterosexual and non-cisgender identities.
  • Cassandra Snow uses they/them pronouns.

“This set of 78 cards isn’t perfect. A standard deck gives in to outdated stereotypes of gender roles, heterosexism, European centrism, and gender binarism. It pushes forward toxic capitalism in much of its approach. It weirdly subscribes to a number of Christian principles, many of which are harmful to almost everyone likely to pick up a tarot deck… in Queering the Tarot, I take these traditional ideas and remix them into something relatable and significant for people who are not straight and cisgender.“

A self-described “writer, tarotist & theatre maker” based in Minneapolis, USA, Snow has written the queer version of events behind the Tarot and explains how the cards can relate to the unique experiences of queer communities. They refreshingly break the usual one-by-one approach of most Tarot guides; going through the Major Arcana, grouping the gendered duos like Empress/Emperor allows them to write in a way that acknowledges the experiences of non-binary and transgender people. And for the Minor Arcana, cards are grouped within each suit by storyline, so it’s easier to understand how cards connect to one another without the interruptions!

Reading Tarot for someone else is damn intimate, and a powerful way to help them reflect. This book gives advice on how to be mindful of the specific experiences of queer communities when you read Tarot for someone queer (including yourself!). Snow covers topics like internal and external homophobia, transition, coming out, self-doubt, social justice advocacy, chosen family, kink as experiences and identities, biological and chosen families, and difficult relationships with health care and government bureaucracy. These realities must be considered by any respectful reader, and this book does a graceful job covering so much of queer experiences. 

“If people take one thing away from this book or need a single starting point for becoming a reader who is accessible to LGBTQQIP2SA+ seekers, it should be this: never assume someone’s gender, pronouns, or sexual identity, and always ask respectful, relevant questions of any of it comes up in a reading.”

The card Justice is a great example of how cards can be extra-layered for queer audiences. Snow pushes past the usual themes to explore the “rights and dignities” of queer communities and how they relate to the law. Issues like hate crimes, red tape around transitioning, housing, employment, and incarceration “impact queer people disproportionately and specifically, and that needs to be recognized when we’re talking about Queering the Justice card.”

We highly recommend this book for readers at any level! Snow’s wit and humour make it approachable for everyone, and their explanations are valuable insights into nuances of reading Tarot for queer people. For example, some cards might have subtle messages about dominance, control, power, and exploration for kinky folks. And some cards, like “the Hanged Man[,] can be a metaphor… but it can also be just what it is.” ;)  

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