This feminist tarot deck taps into the alchemy of history's most powerful women
Sarah Shipman didn’t exactly set out to create Our Tarot. But after a particularly rough few months, and some history lessons, she wanted to create something that combined her passion for art with her love of strong, fierce women. It was through this sort of alchemy that Our Tarot was born. The 78-card deck features both the major and minor arcana, the two sections of the classic tarot deck, and all the classic cards. But, with a twist — each card in this deck features a woman who has changed history. So whether you’re looking for your next feminist art obsession, a new tarot deck, or a history lesson, Our Tarot has it all.
With her extravagant style of collaging, and her concise and touching stories, Shipman invites us into a world of sheroes who have helped shape the world as we know it. From Mary Shelley as The Moon to Frida Kahlo as Death, this deck invites you to explore powerful feminine archetypes in a new way. We talked to Sarah about feminism, tarot, and her favorite card in the deck.
HelloGiggles: How did your journey with tarot begin?
Our Tarot: I was raised in a religious family; my mom was actually a minister at the church our family attended as a child. Even though we were evangelical Christian, which is pretty steeped in patriarchal values, there was something about having a mother as the spiritual leader of the family that made everything a little different. I bought my first tarot deck (a mini Rider-Waite) when I was about 14 or 15. I hid it from my mom, but I also had trouble connecting with it or feeling good about using it. Later, it disappeared from my room and I always assumed my mother had taken it, but (now that I’ve asked her, over a decade later) she says she didn’t. So I was tarot-less until a couple of years ago, when a friend gifted me with a Thoth deck. I connected with that deck immediately, and learned the cards by using it. Now I have another Rider-Waite deck (and several other kinds of tarot), and I feel much more confident with all of them.
HG: Why, and when, did you decide to create Our Tarot?
OT: I’d been using the tarot daily for a year, so the cards were just a regular part of my life. Summer of 2016, I was going through a rough patch. I was several months into the emotional turmoil of my Saturn return, and that was manifesting in some big ways: I had just been dumped and I was devastated, and I was scrambling to finish my applications to graduate school. And, also, it looked like maybe Donald Trump was going to be elected president later that year. So I was a mess. I have a cool day job where I can listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks a lot, so I was distracting myself from my despair by listening to stuff about history, especially anything that had to do with historical women. My academic background is in art, and I love to make things, so I started wondering how I could incorporate what I was learning into an art project.
At some point, the two interests — historical women and tarot — finally collided in my mind. At first, I figured I would just slowly create the cards over a number of years, mostly for my own pleasure…but then I got so angry about the presidential election that I went ahead and launched a Kickstarter to fund the project, so that I could get Our Tarot into the world as quickly as possible.
HG: What has this process been like?
OT: Overwhelming and absorbing, in the best way. I love that I don’t get tired of making these cards. I’ve never been the type of artist who can work on one project for several months, much less over a year, because I get bored. But because each card represents a real woman, it’s like 78 projects at once. As an artist, I’ve learned to just create for myself and try not to get too wrapped up in the audience’s reaction. So on a certain level, I’d given up on making something I would be able to joyfully share with people. And then this deck happened to me, and sharing my process with people has been so amazing.
HG: Why do you think it’s important, during this political climate, to include iconic feminists alongside an esoteric system like the tarot?
OT: Like I said, the presidential election really sent me into omg-I’m-so-angry-what-can-I-do-can-I-even-do-anything-ugh-this-sucks mode. I think spiritual nourishment, and spiritual guidance, is super important, now more than ever. I’m hoping that the ladies featured in Our Tarot can offer flesh-and-blood examples through which folks can access the powerful archetypes and wisdom that’s present in many tarot and oracle card decks. That’s been one of my favorite things I’ve heard from my supporters, actually; a lot of them are folks who are feminists but have never been interested in tarot until hearing about my deck.
I will say, though, many of the women included in the deck are feminists or at least proto-feminists, but some of them aren’t. Not every woman in the deck is necessarily someone I would want to be buddies with, for sure. But they’re all women who changed history.
HG: How do the women you feature inspire the artwork of the card itself, if at all?
OT: They definitely inspire the artwork of each card. A lot of them come together so beautifully, that I feel like I’m channeling the woman I’m making a card for. For instance, when I created Octavia Butler’s card, Three of Pentacles, I wanted to convey a sense of a masterful artist working in a holy-but-also-space-age environment. I’ll admit, I’ve only read a small amount of Butler’s writing at this point. But then, when I showed the finished card to a friend who has read her entire oeuvre, he was struck by how evocative the card was of her last two works (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents).
It does sometimes really feel like these ladies are whispering in my ear exactly what they want their card to look like, and I’m just delivering it to them.
HG: What has this process taught you?
OT: The most important thing it’s taught me is that I can be unapologetically and authentically myself through my artwork. I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about how to present Our Tarot, or how to present myself, because apparently folks just like the deck and they seem to be pretty okay with me. A good friend recently told me, “Sarah, your deck is just you, but in tarot form.” And she’s pretty much right. Our Tarot is the product of me just spilling my history-nerd, artsy guts, and I realize now that’s totally a great thing to do.
HG: Do you have a favorite card?
OT: My answer to this question changes every time someone asks me. I think today, my answer is Mary Shelley’s card. She’s the Moon in the Major Arcana. Her card is dark, simple, and eerie, but she definitely gives you that feeling like she will provide you with enough light to get you through the darkness.
OT: Oh, so, so much. I am already working on an oracle deck inspired by Our Tarot (the working title of which is Our Oracle, of course!). In my research, I’ve come across so many great quotes by these women, so I’m going to put together a deck of cards featuring the quotes. I think, eventually, I will create a second Our Tarot deck (Our Tarot, Part Deux?) featuring another set of 78 women. Maybe even a third deck, too. As you might imagine, I researched hundreds of ladies for this project, so it was hard leaving so many candidates out. I’m also in grad school studying clinical mental health counseling, so I’m hoping to eventually incorporate tarot (and Our Tarot, specifically) into my practice as a psychotherapist someday.
Our Tarot is available for pre-order on our-tarot.com, and you can also find them on Instagram as @ourtarot.