When I first started out working with the tarot, the search for decks that I could identify with was tough. Lately though, with more and more conversations about diversity growing along with the boom in crowdsourcing, indie tarot creators have been killing the game. In my Tarot of the QTPOC aggregation project, the list of forthcoming decks is growing every day. Even better the number of recently released and available inclusive decks is growing exponentially.
One such deck is the Shrine of the Black Medusa tarot. A visually rich and gripping deck created by Casey Rocheteau. A quick browse on the hashtag on Instagram and I just had to know more. Blessedly, Casey was happy to chat and I got to know a bit more about their creative history as well as what sparked the creation of such an important Black and queer project.
Interview with Casey Rocheteau, visionary behind the Shrine of the Black Medusa
Hello Casey, please share a bit about yourself!
I use they/she/them/her pronouns. I am a working class black queer poet, historian, cartomancer and visual artist . Gemini Sun/Pisces Moon/Libra Rising.
That is a magical astrological combination and so I have to ask, you also identify as a sea witch in Detroit! I’m so intrigued.
I was raised on Cape Cod, which is where the sea part of sea witch comes from. I was raised without any kind of religious upbringing, but my mom is definitely witchy. She once cleared a psychic’s moonstone just by touching it. She never taught me anything about magical practices, but reincarnation was an accepted truth in our house. She would casually say things about her past lives or about how she’d been to the fifth dimension and how it was filled with pianos. So that’s why I say I was raised as a sea witch, I was raised by the sea and by a witch.
As for how I came to live in Detroit, I won a house through the Write a House program in Detroit. It’s an organization that rehabs abandoned properties and gives them to writers to live in. I moved here three years ago this November, and now own my house. I love Detroit a lot. It’s been the only place I’ve ever lived where when I travel I can’t wait to get back, which is how I know it’s home.
So how does a sea witch come to work with the tarot?
I started reading playing cards when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old, and probably a few years after that someone gifted me with a Rider Waite tarot deck. I’ve been reading my own cards since then, so for 18 years or so. When I was in my early 20s I found a Thoth deck at Boomerangs in Jamaica Plain, MA, for like $2 and became really enchanted with the deck and with the story of Frieda Harris painting the deck.
And now you've created the Shrine of the Black Medusa Tarot!
I’ve always felt the Gorgon was a badass Black woman with some even more badass hair. Do you share this view and if so, how did it influence the title of your deck?
Such a great question! So yes, I concur.
I was reading something that said some scholars think the ancient Greeks thought of the Cape Verdean islands as the home of the Gorgons, which set my mind to working. The Rocheteau family is Cape Verdean, and I was like “ooooh, these Ode to a Grecian Burn heifers tryna come for our hair!”.
The name of the deck is both a play on that and a nod to the Shrine of the Black Madonna that has a powerful legacy here in Detroit.
How did the Shrine of the Black Medusa Tarot come to be?
Right before I moved to Detroit I had offered handmade postcards as a perk for an Indiegogo campaign I had run trying to raise funds to get to Bread Loaf Sicily (a writer’s workshop). When I got back from Sicily, I was trying to get all of the cards made to get out to the people who had donated. For some reason, I love to make things more complicated than they need to be, so I thought I would make the post cards tarot cards.
I started making some of the major arcana cards when I showed them to my roommate Emerson, they got really fired up about the fact that I was giving away these original pieces of art. They had been like “these are beautiful, they belong in a museum!”
I was like “ok, slow your roll… but you have a point”. So from there, I ended up completing the first draft of the original collages for the deck in about three days and scanning them before sending them to people.
After scanning them, I didn’t do much with the cards for the next year and a half. As I continued to share some of the cards with friends, I got more and more encouragement to make the deck something that was available for other people. About a year ago, I ran another crowd sourcing campaign to get a small batch of the decks finished, and it’s taken off in ways that I really never anticipated.
Who did you create this deck for and what space do you see it taking up (and shaking up) in the world of tarot? How do we present ourselves before the Shrine of the Black Medusa?
In one sense, I made the deck for myself. I never had a game plan about who I wanted the deck to reach, I was just making the kind of deck I wanted to see. In another sense, I made it as a celebration of black and queer cultures, and so anybody who wants to come to that party will hopefully connect to and see themselves reflected in it. I’d never seen a deck with collage images before, and have rarely seen a deck that specifically reflects black queer culture that was produced by black folks.
The order of the cards and the names are largely inspired by the Thoth deck, and the images are some queer amalgamation of remixed Rider Waite imagery, Ebony magazines from the 70s and 80s, mythological creatures, pop culture iconography and hoodoo.
I haven’t given much thought to where I’d situate it in the world of tarot. Somewhere in the process of bringing the deck to life, I’ve been considering the correlation between the Kabbalistic concept of there being 72 names for God and there being 72 cards in the tarot, and considering every card to be a new aspect of the same divine energy.
If I were curating an archaeological exhibit, it would be in a gallery with the House of Ladosha’s Rihanna shirt, The Yerbamala Collectives “Witches vs. Fascists” zine, video installations from Black Trans Media, Jova Lynne Johnson’s “white fragility” sculpture, Vanessa Reynold’s Tower card painting, Tiff Massey’s Whaddupdoe chain, and garments created by Randal Jacobs.
The deck has been spreading in a pretty organic word of mouth way. I owe a huge debt to Adrienne Marie Brown who has been pulling tarot cards every day on Instagram with the hashtag #movementtarot or #resistancetarot and using my deck sometimes. I also have to shout out the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis for making the deck a part of the library for Glen Ligon’s Blue Black exhibit.
What card(s) in the tarot do you most identify with or find yourself most attracted to?
That always depends on what cards are coming up for me a lot. Recently, it’s been the Hierophant. I always feel a pretty strong connection to the Knight of Swords, which I think is astrologically connected to my birthday. I also have the Death card from the Thoth deck tattooed on my thigh. It’s a huge piece, and it was my first tattoo, and when I got it colored, I didn’t know it yet but it precipitated one of the biggest upheavals of my life. I liked the card for its imagery of regeneration, but it really invited wild change. For a long time I’ve been considering getting another Thoth card on the other thigh, but I haven’t cemented which one yet. I’ve been trying to figure out what card is the opposite of Death. I know one thing for sure, it will not be The Tower or The Devil, because I don’t want to find out what that will invite in.
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