When I was a child, I was always drawn to the mystic. I think I learned it from my mom. Back home, many black and Latino women run businesses in strip malls or out of their homes—and one of the most common of these is palm and tarot reading. Whenever my mom and I would drive past one of these businesses, she would always tell me how badly she wanted to have a reading done.
I think coming from a Mexican-Catholic family instils in you a healthy dose of spirituality and—having left the church—I think my mom was looking for something divine. She would explain to me that she and her best friend had always wanted to go together (her friend is a bit of a mystic too) and she would smile at me and tell me that one day all three of us could.
I’m still drawn to the mystic. In fact, I think I am one nowadays. And I understand that my reverence for spiritual divinity is a trait I acquired from my mom. As a child, I saw how she appreciated and shared with me her intrigue towards women palm and tarot readers, and because she was my feminine role-model I figured that her faith in their practice was something I should take up too.
These memories go pretty far back, so my mom’s appreciation for mysticism influenced me even in elementary school. It seems a bit silly now (only because we had no idea what we were doing), but when I was a kid my friends and I would sit in the playground and tell each other’s fortunes by reading the lines on our palms. I think every one of us read the lines in a different way—and each of us knew this.
All the same, all of us girls listened to each other’s fortune-telling as if they were necessary truths. As an adult, I was gonna have a dog, and live in a big house. As an adult, Katharine was going to be a doctor and have a big family. As an adult, Dushani was going to be a successful dancer and have happiness.
Reflecting on this, I realize our fortune-telling spoke to our understanding of each other but also ourselves. We were soothsayers on asphalt. Our playground readings brought into words what we hoped for each other—and also what accomplishments and circumstances we believed meant success in livelihood. I remember at the time being very careful to only speak goodness into the telling because I wanted to provide a positive sense of direction for my friends’ growth.
Now that I am older, I have my own tarot deck-- and I’ll be clear, I’m nowhere near professional. In truth, I rely on my tarot book while giving friends and family members readings. But even though I have yet to memorize the entire symbology of the major and minor arcana, I have pride in my ability to cultivate an empathic space conducive to intimate readings where my loved ones can explore and find possible solutions to things which are bothering them.
Also, now that I am older, I have la lengua to explain my fascination with feminine mysticism and—beautifully—I am finding other people who use similar language more and more often. My own exploration of this medium is why I want to share and explore my understanding of how intersectional and inclusive Feminist tarot can lend to community activism and interpersonally challenge contemporary inequalities. I have come to believe it’s in these safe and open mystical spaces where people can truly come together and explore complex questions through archetypal symbology. And, I have learned a lot of other women feel the same.
So, what exactly is Feminist Tarot?
In its essence, a Feminist tarot challenges the traditional and often gendered symbology of the cards. This sensibility understands that archetypal energies are depicted as gendered when in fact, these qualities exist in all Selves in different quantities. As Tarot artist Casey Zabala puts it, “I understand gender as an evolving aspect of Self — both female and male polarities are alive and working within each of us” (Maiden, 2021).
I think along similar lines to Casey in my Feminst attitude towards tarot: I think that decks which effectively de-gender Manichean symbology can be used as Feminist tools towards self-learning and improved understanding of each other. Tarot can be revolutionary in its practice if the deck is designed in a thoughtfully diverse and inclusive manner. That being said, there is an increasingly prevalent subculture of white Feminist tarot, in which the symbology and interpretations of the cards are lacking intersectional and inclusive subjectivity.
In response to this, many QTBIPOC Feminist mystics have created their own decks so that the symbology speaks to the diversity of our world. Activist and tarot reader Leah Lackshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha remarks, “I want decks that don’t buy into the gender binary and sexist attributions to what is ‘female’ and ‘male’ but instead presents a rich spectrum of genders… I also want decks where Black and brown folks, disabled folks, poor folks, and other folks get to take center stage… To me, an intersectional queer of color Feminist deck will depict life and the world as it is” (Maiden, 2021).
I agree with Leah fully. The purpose of a tarot reading is to confront the reader with archetypal symbology which is esoteric to the contemporary eye and instrumentally helps Self-understanding. In doing so, it’s best if the energies of the cards connect with the multiplicity of archetypal symbology (think: anekāntavāda).
I think the gender-binary needs to be removed from tarot cards so that young women can identify with helpful archetypes that are traditionally associated with masculinity. For example, consider the five major arcana cards which are associated with masculine energy: The Magician, the Emperor, the Hierophant, the Hermit, and the Hanged Man. Each of these archetypes contains a quality that is traditionally associated with masculine energy, but these qualities are certainly not unique to men. Indeed, I think these qualities are readily manifest in all persons, irrespective of gender. Let’s consider all five, one at a time.
The Magician: this card is typically associated with will, or the power of self-determination. A Feminist reclamation of this archetype is especially important because the Western gender-binary is continuously (re)structuring a culture which norms women as passive. Depicting this energy as feminine in tarot artwork could conceivably enable disempowered women to imagine how this energy might manifest in their own lives.
The Emperor: this card represents authority, which is depicted as unyielding and paternal in essence. Accordingly, it is often associated with “characteristics such as organizational skills, stability and self-discipline” (TheBeardMag, 2022). A Feminist interpretation of the ‘Emperor’ allows for women to explore what authoritative power means to them. This is especially important as many women (especially BIPOC women) are born into unequal societies that often push them into situations of financial insecurity, such that in our capitalist society they are in a position of subordination.
The Hierophant: this is a deeply significant card which illustrates archetypal “spiritual wisdom and rules the conscious, subconscious and super-conscious” through teaching (TheBeardMag, 2022). The Hierophant is a masculinized teacher, a knower of the divine. Rearticulating this archetype as feminine may direct and connect tarot participants to divine femininity. This is increasingly important in Western societies which often devalorize the goddess to center a monotheistic, masculine god.
The Hermit: this card depicts the path to autognosis through asceticism. This archetype is perhaps increasingly symbolically relevant for contemporary women. Traditionally, western norms demarcate agent-centered feminine ethics as ‘care’ while agent-centered masculine ethics are deontological, consequential, or virtue ethical. As an increasing number of women decide to focus on their careers or self-growth before having children (and some, of course, decide not to have children at all), a feminine rendition of archetypal autognoses is evermore necessary to aid in their spiritual journey.
The Hanged Man: this card symbolizes an internal metamorphosis, often paired with the beginnings of a new perspective. This archetypal energy represents flux, and often prompts a person to carry on through what may feel emotionally difficult, or liminal. In this way, a Feminist reinvigoration of the Hanged Man may intimately relate to women about the importance of patience, meditation, and awareness during difficult changes.
Here are some examples of intersectional and inclusive Feminist tarot (all available in Maiden's article):
I think a lot of women could benefit from safe environments like intersectional and inclusive Feminist tarot where exploration of the multifaceted nature of human strengths can develop separate from gendered associations. Even further, I believe the symbology of the traditionally masculine cards discussed above when understood through a Feminist vignette are a helpful heuristic for understanding how Feminists can build agency in ourselves, our friends, and our society
Additionally, I find that depictions of feminine autognosis is especially important considering the increasing number of women focusing on their careers and starting families later in life (or choosing not to have them at all). This societal shift makes it vital that women have access to associate with symbolism for self-growth, assuredness, authority, and change. As shown above, reinterpreting archetypal symbology in a feminized form is doable. When we allow dialogue to happen in this intersectional and inclusive framework, I think we might be able to grow parts of ourselves that broader culture has relegated as necessarily dormant.
Beyond the Cards
In my life, I’ve often noticed that people rely on what is familiar. Unfortunately for many people, this can result in identity confusion and frustration because familiar stereotypes are in direct conflict with our intimate Selves. Simply, what’s expected of us can be our weakness and what’s not expected of us can be our strength. As a culture, we need to facilitate conversations which build language and understanding to explain the multifaceted nature of the Self. To me, it is quite clear that gendered archetypes will never cut it.
I think the power of Feminist reinterpretations of archetypal symbolism can provide something akin to platonic ideals for women in Self-discovery. As a medium for this discovery, tarot enables women to explore knowing themSelves in relation to a real-world problem or situation. As such, tarot has the possibility of empowering feminine agency through a revisioning of archetypal symbology.
The reinvigorated ontology which intersectional and inclusive tarot decks envision can propel women towards difficult goals or choices which can enable Self-growth. Also, if it is practiced well, the agent-centered methodology of the tarot reading can dissolve power-relations between the reader and seeker. This is in stark contrast to paradigmatic gender-roles which necessarily impose and discursively structure a discourse in which women believe they should shy away from positions of authority and Self-satisfaction.
So, I think we should utilize the tool at our feet. Archetypal symbology is a form of praxis and too often it is deemed silly or irrational, likely because of its association with women, and specifically WOC. A Feminist sensibility sees intersectional and inclusive tarot for what it is: a productive feminism which creates space for autognoses in a third space. As a form of revolutionary praxis, I believe the free-form methodology of tarot reading (in conjunction with the multifaceted symbology of each card) acts as a helpful heuristic for challenging power-structures in everyday life.
Maiden, Beth. (2021) “Fool's Journey: What Makes a 'Feminist' Tarot?” Autostraddle, The Excitant
TheBeardMag. (2022) “What tarot cards say about your masculinity” TheBeardMag, TheBeardMag,