Let's all take a moment to shout out the deck creators of the Tarot world!
Especially those who tackle this world as independent artists often figuring out the steps from creation to publishing to distribution themselves. An exponential heaping of love to indie deck creators who are pushing the established boundaries of Tarot and representing their community, representing us, and centering voices often left out of the Tarot conversation.
One such creator is Marisa de la Peña, the prolific creator of the Circo Tarot, Strange Lands Oracle, Persephone Tarot, and How to Deal Tarot- with much more to come. Her artistic voice is colorful, charming, and unique, clearly illustrated in her work with tarot and oracle decks. I was so happy when she agreed to participate in my #TarotoftheQTPOC Interview series and that she was down to share some real talk about what it meant for her to love art, tarot, and try to break out as a woman of color in this business in the face of ostracism, stereotyping, and tokenism.
Check it out:
Blessings, Marisa! Please share a bit about yourself.
My name is Marisa de la Peña and I am a Los Angeles based illustrator, reader and intuitive. I am the creator of The Circo Tarot along with Persephone Tarot, Strange Lands Oracle and the illustrator for both the deck and the book, How to Deal: Tarot for Everyday Life.
I am a Chicanx woman, and proud.
How did you get into to tarot cards?
I found the New Age section of a library when I was 13 and never looked back. My mother bought me my first tarot deck at 14 and it was an instant connection.
What are you drawn to in a tarot or oracle deck? Any favorites you’re working with or have an eye on?
I look for an immediate connection to the imagery and also the actual vibe of the deck. My tastes are very broad and currently my favorite decks to work with are the Iris Oracle by Spirit Speak, The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit and also a basic Rider Waite deck (the same deck from when I was 14). As for one I want, I really want The Magician Longs to See Tarot, but I can’t find one for sale!
What tarot card’s energy is closest to where you’re at in your world right now? Or alternatively, what tarot card do you identify the most with?
Death. I feel like I am going through a huge transition in my life and it has always been the card that I resonated with the most, next to The High Priestess. I don’t believe in time being linear and that has always followed me throughout my whole life. I was raised to not fear death, but instead to celebrate the beauty of the cycle. Everything changes. That’s life and who doesn’t love a rebirth?
What moved you to create your own tarot decks?
I was in this lonely isolated part of my life where I felt like I had lost my identity. I hadn’t picked up my deck in a while and as soon as it fell into my hands, it just felt so right. I had gone through a terrible heartbreak and had a patch on my eye (literally) from a painful eye infection, and that’s when I knew things had to change. I needed to make a deck and reclaim myself again.
What has your experience been as a person of color (POC), working in the tarot biz?
No one asks this and I am so happy you did.
It’s hard, insightful, frustrating, and beautiful. I have experienced so many things from one end to another. I have been tokenized and while I am proud of my roots, it’s frustrating when I am always being labeled without my consent. It’s easy to attach my identity in my work, but I am so much more than that. It can also be frustrating when you see other people succeeding in this industry through using POC and their magic.
On the other hand there are so many beautiful amazing things. I have met so many brilliant magical POC. The people I have met welcomed me with open arms and it’s a great feeling knowing that you have a strong community. I love them all and I wouldn’t be the strong woman I am now without them. Especially my dear friend Paulette Terry (IG: @bad.mamma.jama). She is one of the most loving, gifted and insightful people I have ever met.
What shifts would you like to see happen in the current tarot and larger spiritual community?
There is a shift happening in this community/industry, just like our current climate.
When I bring up industry, I mean the creators and publishers. The mainstream metaphysical companies need to step up the game to include a variety of artists and creators they publish. Harper Collins was my first major gig and I am so honored they chose me to illustrate How to Deal by Sami Main.
Prior to this I had been rejected by almost every illustration agency in North America. I even had one rejection say my work was “too ethnic.” This was back in 2015.
People of color belong in this industry. We just need a chance. In the community we need more dialogue and more education when it comes to POC and their magic. I am so tired of seeing well followed people claiming magic that isn't theirs or engaging in practices/services that they aren’t in the position to be doing. But I have also seen women like Layla Saad (IG: @wildmysticwoman) who is really changing the game of how we discuss things like this and educate those who need to wake up.
You are super prolific; let’s shout out your awesome decks:
The Circo Tarot
Strange Lands Oracle
How to Deal Tarot deck
How did the Circo Tarot come to be?
Eye patch. Broken heart. A lot of XXYYXX on repeat, and my desire to make the most colorful deck possible.
I had just moved back to LA in the beginning of 2015 and lost my grandfather immediately after. He was the closest person in my life. I knew that we remain friends no matter what time frame, we were meant to be each others half. Losing him physically was really hard, but I knew my grandfather was still around and I felt him everyday. I knew he wanted me to work on this and I did. For three months straight I worked day and night painting.
I am in love with the Persephone Tarot. What is it about Persephone’s story that inspired this deck? How do you identify with her journey?
I love Greek/Roman mythology and I had just finished the show “American Gods.” The premise is that the old gods want recognition and their power back from the new gods (technology, media). The idea of being forgotten really resonated with me. I always love the story of Persephone and feel connected when I work with her.
She is above and below. She is the cycle, she is the veil, the subconscious and also an equal ruler to her husband, Pluto/Hades. I see my life as an ever-changing cycle, because I have been low, high and in-between like her. She isn’t forgotten, but I wanted to bring her more honor and make a deck based on her world and the Pantheon. I wanted to bring old gods and deities that were not as well known or popular and hopefully bring them life and recognition. Because they still have so much to teach and share.
How did you connect with the How to Deal book project? The deck is beautiful by the way.
Thank you!!! I was contacted in April 2016 by Harper Collins. I initially thought it was joke because I was really no-one, I didn't have an agent. I had a Kickstarter and maybe 400 followers, but Harper Collins found me. After some talking I was down. They wanted to keep some of Circo, but also wanted to add some new cards for a more YA friendly look. I worked on other illustrations, layouts and patterns and then with the writing of Sami Main, the book was finished.
What are some new projects you are working on? Any new decks on the horizon?
I have two new tarot decks that I am working on. I am currently working on a tarot deck that connects more with the Strange Lands world. And working like a snail on a more detailed hand-painted deck based on of my love of film noir, 40s fashion, and the magic of my ancestors (weird combo I know, but I am in love!).
Well I'm intrigued! Where else can we find your art? How can we support you and all your future art?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for reaching out to me. This is amazing (yes I use that word a lot) but I do mean it. And also a huge thank you to the tarot community!
Thank you, for taking the time with us Marisa!