My Favorite Tarot + Oracle Decks of 2016
It was two years ago that I invested in my first indie deck. I had been gifted two previously (The Collective Tarot and the Dirty Tarot) and it felt good to be able to be able to support the work of 30+ queer and southern artists when I saw the Slow Holler deck come across my feed. The Slow Holler deck was just sent out to investors like myself in November and in celebration of its arrival and the fantastic tarot year it has been, I wanted to write about all of my favorite indie decks of the year.
Now, my list is limited to decks that I own which is not the full glorious range of indie decks that were produced this year. If you have a favorite that didn’t make the list be sure to share in the comments below.
Are any of the decks I’ve mentioned your favorite, too? Let me know in the comments!
Let’s start with one of the most anticipated decks of the year. Slow Holler “is a fluid group of creative people and makers” based in the South with an emphasis on amplifying southern and queer voices and the intersections therein. The Slow Holler Tarot is one of many projects that the group is working on, so I recommend following them to keep up-to-date with their adventures.
I know most folks (myself included) can’t help but to compare the Slow Holler deck to the Collective Tarot. I’ll be offering my thoughts about the two decks and their similarities and differences, because I think the comparison is useful, but I think the tendency to compare the two highlights something more important. We desperately need more unapologetically queer decks. Not decks with some queer folks thrown in for diversity-sake, but deeply, wildly, rapturously queer decks. And ones that are easy to access (come on Collective Tarot folks, it’s time for a reprint). Are you working on a queer deck or have you produced one? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll be writing a much more in-depth review of the Slow Holler in the months to come, but here are some of my initial impressions. Over 30 artists contributed their work to the deck which is one of the most impressive aspects of the Slow Holler deck - it is beautifully consistent and readable given that it is a collaborative deck. I have found most collaborative decks which have crossed my reading table to be difficult to read and lacking that cohesive flow that I like with my cards. The Slow Holler tarot never stumbles in it’s consistency and I am impressed! Their choice to have a limited color palette of red, gold, white, grays, and black is beautiful and what ties some really disparate art together as a whole.
In the tradition of queer decks, the Slow Holler tarot has renamed suits, court cards, and some Major Arcana cards. There are some real strokes of genius with the renaming. The transformation of the Hierophant to the Guild has made my job of explaining the card and it’s difficult to connect with traditional name to my students tremendously easier. And it’s such an inspired change! Other changes include the Fool to the Fledgling and Justice to Intersection. The suits have become the Branches, Knives, Stones, and Vessels while the Court Cards emerge as the Student (Page), the Traveler (Knight), Architect (King), and Visionary (Queen).
The deck is deliciously southern (of course) and filled with folkloric nods to the past and modern mythicism. There is a good mix of humyn and humyn-free cards. I *love* the suit of vessels and I can’t wait to use this deck more and more in the coming months.
I found Lottie Winchester on instagram and became enamored with her sweet adventures in art and magick. I didn't get her deck right away, not because I didn't think it was lovely, but my tarot heart is rarely lured by oracle decks (but then 2016 happened and apparently it was a year of oracles for me). I'm glad I did finally get a copy of her Sacred Cocoon deck because it carries the same sweet but powerful energy Lottie embodies. Lottie channels art and wisdom from the kingdoms of plant and fae, of ancestors and wise ones. It is dreamy and abstract but never loses its meaning. I find the cards incredibly easy to read with - which is part of Lottie’s magick. The deck is accessible and mystical without being needlessly opaque. She is able to accomplish this because she has a clarity of vision regarding her magick and how she presents it to the world. Lottie is currently working on a new oracle deck as well as some clay creations of some of the enchanted creatures you find in her art - I highly recommend that you check her work out.
Now I wrote that I wasn't often called by oracles but I might have to change that narrative. Especially given that there have been so many indie oracles produced this year. I'll admit that the reason I was drawn to the ExtraOrdinary Oracle (by Natalie Perez and Amanda) was the way it reminded me, just a little bit, of Dori Midnight's infamous Dirty Tarot (which I love and was my first and only oracle deck for many years). The ExtraOrdinary Oracle is the Dirty Tarot’s kid cousin - it’s not sexually explicit like the Dirty, but has similar playful power. I get consistently smooth and easy to read card castings with the ExtraOrdinary Oracle. The deck feels like snapshots of a magickal person’s life and I really enjoy that. The Oracle is glancing at the very mundane but, as the title implies, it all take on an extraordinary gleam. The cardstock of the deck is different than the typical flat matte or gloss of most decks. The cards are matte but textured which create a bit of a textile experience which is an unexpected aspect of the deck that sets it apart from others.
A little aside about the creators. When I first received the deck one of the cards was bent and when I informed them they quickly dispatched a new card. I really appreciate responsive customer service so the ExtraOrdinary Oracle folks get another gold star for that.
Tree Wisdom Cards + Plant Ally Healing Cards
These two plant-themed decks are the creation of Lisa McLoughlin and they are currently the only oracle decks that I’ll occasionally do my professional readings with. Not because the other decks aren’t worthy, but because I connected with these cards as a professional serving others with unexpected suddenness.
This was a year of stretching beyond my typical deck investments. I wasn’t sure that I was going to connect with the art, but as someone who works with herbs I found myself drawn again and again to these plant-based decks. Maybe it is something to do with oracle decks themselves, as opposed to tarot decks, but I found myself connecting with these cards faster than nearly any other deck I have worked with.
The decks are two-sided: one side is the image of the plant or tree and the other is the name of the plant or tree and a short description. The Plant Ally Healing Cards are slightly more serious in their depiction while the Tree Wisdom Cards are more playful, even goofy, at times. But if you’ve spent times with trees, I’m sure you’ve met a plenty of goofy ones in addition to the stoic ones.
There is a lot of room for building up a fun practice with these cards, especially if you were to collect specimens of each plant or tree, whether as dried material, tinctures, oils or essences to use as you work with the cards. If you work with plant magick and healing, you’ll probably love these decks. Lisa is also working on a new series of oracles and also sews card pouches and more in her shop.
The Wanderer’s Tarot by Casey Zabala is a simple black-and-white linedrawn deck rooted in feminist folklore and lunar energy. Overall, I find the Wanderer’s Tarot to be a pleasing addition to the lineage of feminist tarot. I do have some hangups about it which I’ll mention first so I can get it out of the way and back into what I do like about the deck.
First, I’m not the pickiest when it comes to card stock, but the choice of high-gloss card stock for an all-black background deck means that it looks smudged with fingerprints real quick. Now some might really like the effect, but I find it a bit distracting. Second, I find it strange that the majority of naked bodies proudly display breasts, but no vulvas (or any external genitalia). Casey is hardly the first artist to make this choice, but I find it to be an odd one with it being a feminist deck. There is also not much body-size variation which is something I expect with a feminist deck. But my first defiantly feminist deck was the Daughters of the Moon which celebrated all aspects, shapes, and sizes of womyn-identified bodies, so I have a high bar when it comes to the representation of the physical form in tarot.
Ok, on to what I do like about the Wanderer’s Tarot and why it just made it on to my top of 2016 list. This deck has one of my favorite depictions of the minor arcana pips of any new deck of the past few years. The suits have been renamed Moons, Stones, Knives and Feathers and are elegant and evocative. The characters of the court cards are curious and compelling.
The major arcana is less exciting thought I really do enjoy the Sun card which is not a typical favorite of mine. Casey has just sent out her accompanying guidebook which I have not had time to read, but I am interested in her perspectives on the cards and her especially unique interpretations of the minor arcana.
Linestrider Tarot. Not officially an indie deck since Siolo Thompson’s project was picked up by Llewellyn and it was originally published in 2015, but I wanted to mention it because I met this deck a few months ago and had a surprising connection with it. You can read my full review on Little Red Tarot.
Allison Marie Garcia Tarot (aka Blind Person Tarot). I’m not even sure how I came across Allison Marie Garcia’s deck but, Goddess help me, I love a black and white tarot deck. This is a super limited run deck that follows a standard RWS interpretation but animals are predominant throughout the deck with a few humyns thrown in. My major hangup with the deck is that it’s formatting is a bit sloppy which distracts from the the tarot world that Allison has created. Which is really too bad because the card stock is fine stuff (I wish the Wanderer’s Tarot was made with it) and if the deck had had one more edit before going to press it would be solidly in my favorites. All that said, she only has a handful of decks left and I think it’s a worthy investment. I’ll definitely be watching Allison for future tarot and oracle card projects. Check out her shop here.