Tarot of the QTPOC: Searching Within The Slow Holler Tarot, a deck review and reflection

Earlier this year, I broke down after circling the project for a while and finally took a deep look at the Slow Holler Tarot project. Looking back at my first Tarot of the QTPOC post for the Slow Holler Tarot, I can still feel how tense I was about it- a trepidation borne of past disappointments with projects that claimed to live in the stars but hardly made it off the ground. To me, that post reads like someone reluctantly dipping their big toe into ice cold water in the middle of winter. The promise of a queer southern tarot deck felt too big of a promise to fulfill.

I’m excited to hold the Slow Holler Tarot in my hands. I’ll admit, I am tense about it as well. Mostly because it holds or hopes to hold so many of my identities, there’s a catch of breath in my throat that won’t be released till I hold the beautiful black-gold-red cards in my hand and hopefully see myself. Perhaps unfairly, I’m looking for southern Black complicated gris gris realities that we live right along with those magical escapist imagined futures we seek out in our magic and in each other. Yes, I know, it’s a lot to ask for from one deck, to ask from a community of artists, people, who may be looking for all of these things for themselves and the ones they love in the art that they create.

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I’ve intermittently kept tabs on the project- occasionally browsing through their website for deck updates and card image previews. Cut to November and the first few Kickstarter donor decks were shipped out and folks who’d been waiting for months got to finally hold the physical deck in their hands. I lingered around these posts, still unsure if this was a deck I could find myself in. So far, I’m glad I went for it and gifted myself the deck.

I didn’t actually expect to receive it so soon. It was a relatively recent purchase and I figured they’d be sending off Kickstarter orders first before wider pre-sales were available for folks who came after. I’m not complaining either way because it meant I would finally be able to evaluate this much-hyped and truly gorgeous looking deck for myself.

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On aesthetics alone, the Slow Holler presented beautifully. The deck arrived well-protected and beautifully wrapped in a handkerchief and bound with red string. I loved that little detail- my mind’s eye showed flashes of nimble fingers tying off spell bags and candles with red string, sealing and grounding the magic in. A favorable sign, to be sure. Usually I wouldn’t feel too hot about tying off a tarot deck in a black bag, but this feels right for this deck- and the hankie is gorgeous in metallic gold illustration on black cotton giving a preview of the renamed suits: Knives, Vessels, Stones, and Branches.

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Inside the handkerchief were the cards and accompanying LWB. The cards are just about your average tarot card size, on matte card stock that I have to mention feels a little thin. My deck is new, so some of the cards stuck together but the shuffling is like a dream so I won’t call it a deal breaker. More on the cards and the breathtaking art within them later.

The LWB for the Slow Holler is worth the perusal. It’s constructed beautifully, and it’s the size of the cards themselves. It gives a brief introduction on how to read the cards which can be summed up to “follow your heart” as well as a couple of suggestions for spreads and daily card draws. Following that is the card descriptions, but not before your eye is treated to some truly gorgeous illustrations interspersed throughout the book that remind you that this is an art project as much as a tarot one.

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The Navigator and Death, my birth cards

The descriptions are brief, including a suggestion for reversals and they give a good first start on the imagery. The explanations are clear while still leaving room for your own intuition to choose the path of its own understanding. I do wish that the LWB was bigger, if only because it might have meant more space for the artists to share more about the symbolism they chose. This deck is filled with tapestries that tell intimate and collective stories- sometimes a whole novel packed into a single card. I appreciate the space left for my intuition and I would also love the artist’s perspective on their work.

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The Storm, The Sun, and The Precipice are some of my favorite art pieces from the Majors

What we do receive from the LWB is grounded in the Slow Holler’s queer southern collective based mission. Throughout the descriptions a theme of community, resistance, beauty, and survival emerge- principles that are as queer and southern as anything. As a reader you are asked to consciously investigate your relationship to power and where you are located individually and as part of (or apart from) community.

The art in this deck is something to behold. In a miracle of cohesion, 29 different spirits took on the tarot tradition and managed to bring forth a vision that is at once collective and disparate. No cards look the same, and they aren’t meant to- and while it is fun trying to guess which cards might belong to particular artists (without looking at the credits of course) you are meant to move from perspective to perspective and appreciate the whirlwind for the gift it is. Once again, the aesthetic choices are superb. The chosen color scheme of red, black, white, and gold is simple but bold enough to contain the many stories being rendered in the cards. I also love that it does so without borders around the cards! The images are allowed to take up space on your reading surface and fill your mind. Necessary for the amount of detail that can be packed into a single card.

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The Aces set the tone for how diverse and exploratory the art in this deck is while still remaining accessible to a wide range of tarot experience. I also enjoy how some of the pieces require you to look even closer to pick out the details that make the image. Like the Ace of stone possibly being a well washed deeply set river stone.

And this is primarily a storytelling tarot deck. There aren’t as many people rendered in the cards as I’d expected. This works for me almost as much as it doesn’t. I wanted more bodies in this deck. Actually, I should qualify that. There are bodies in this deck, and where there aren’t bodies, there are body parts. Fully human and beautiful and grand even where the mood is quiet and somber, like in The Hermit or Strength cards. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to look for mine and my communities’ faces in the images.While we are present in this deck, it sometimes feels fleeting and implicit, hiding around the corner or beyond the borders of the cards.

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…and sometimes it gets a bit weird and I lose the plot for a bit, with these cards especially

Whose queer is this? Whose South is this? It doesn’t feel like enough to me. And I am asking for a lot. I won’t stop asking for more boldly and compassionately rendered southern, black, brown, and indigenous queer bodies living out both our material realities caught up in and imagined fantasies free of webs of power. Even as I acknowledge that we are more than our bodies- we are these stories told, passed down throughout our lineages black and/or brown and/or indigenous and/or queer. I am asking for a lot.

I also don’t meant to take away from the fact that many of the artists involved identify with these experiences- and are black, brown, indigenous, queer, southern, poor, femme, disabled, neurodivergent, and otherwise marginalized- and are telling their stories and the card they created as best they could. I honor their truths even as they provoke my questions.

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the beauty of the minors, some of my favorite details are the vortex horizon in the Three of Branches or the balance harnessed in the Two of Stones or the switchblade under the pillow in the Four of Knives or the tea leaves swirling and waiting to be read in the background of the Nine of Vessels

One question that is answered is that this deck has no use for binary definitions and traditional labels- evident in the re-visioning and renaming of the Major Arcana journey and the suits. A feature of the LWB is that each suit is introduced as a whole and is located in relation to the other suits- once again emphasizing the deck’s focus on intersection and insisting on our connectivity. The minors got as much attention as the majors and every one of them shows evidence of artful care. The courts received the same treatment and broke away from gender and hierarchy and focused instead on the value of wisdom and experience by choosing the Student, Traveler, Architect, and Visionary as the court titles.

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No doubt that this is a consequential deck. Its mission and vision places it firmly in the lineage of The Collective Tarot- and doubtless there will be endless comparisons for a while yet. I’m also looking forward to the decks following in this lineage that shake up boundaries and offer up more mirrors for us to love our reflections in like the Dust II Onyx Tarot, The Next World Tarot, and The Numinous Tarot.

I am happy to have the Slow Holler Tarot with me, and I do look forward to working this beautiful creation. I am thankful for the collective of creators who contributed their skill and magic to this beautiful project. Learn more about this stunning curation of artistic voices here at the Slow Holler website, and support their work. If you’d like to see more of my series on inclusive tarot, check out my Tarot of The QTPOC list and blog series to learn more about decks that are breaking through normative boundaries and representations.

[Deck Interview Here]

So what do you think? What are your first, second, or even ninth impressions of the Slow Holler? Did you purchase a deck for yourself? You thinking about it? Let me know below in the comments, I’d love to chat!

8 thoughts on “Tarot of the QTPOC: Searching Within The Slow Holler Tarot, a deck review and reflection

  1. Abbie says:

    Absolutely beautiful review. This deck holds so much promise, and because I’m not a member of the culture this deck celebrates, I was really curious to see what you and others had to say!

    I bought this deck with very high hopes. This deck isn’t meant for me, but felt like home in a strange way. Being a Midwestern Queer, a lot of the folklore feels both relevant and foreign. But I really love it.

    I’m eager to see more decks in this tradition, and I think you’re absolutely right that this is part of a sort of family of decks.

    At this point my only complaint is the cardstock itself!

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    • Asali says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked my rambly review (and you made it through the typos lol!). I’m with you on the card stock- it’s too thin for a deck that I’m sure will be worked over and over by folks. I want it to keep its beauty.

      I agree and think the queer lineage it evokes connects the decks to folks regardless of regions. And the high hopes thing we’re both catching feels like that yearning for more decks that speak to us, look like us, make space for us to be magical and real all at once. I’m glad I did eventually go for it and purchase it.

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  2. Alex says:

    I was initially hesitant to pre-order Slow Holler, but eventually did when I realized they had renamed the courts and some of the Major Arcana. As a genderqueer person I’m often taken out of the reading by the gendered cards, and was thrilled to see an in-print deck that renamed them. In the few days since the deck arrived, I’ve connected with the courts in a way I haven’t in any other deck I’ve used. Perhaps appropriately, I keep pulling them!

    Agreed on the cardstock and LWB. I was surprised at how thin the cards were, but the cards shuffle wonderfully in my tiny hands so I can’t complain too much. I do keep wishing that the LWB included more about the cards’ symbolism, though to be fair that is a complaint I have about a lot of LWBs. I’m a little weirded out by some of the cards as well (I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way!), but on the whole I’m very happy that I decided to purchase the deck, and haven’t touched another deck since it arrived.

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    • Asali says:

      I absolutely agree about the courts! I love that it’s more about cycles of experience- and also not necessarily always pointing to a person in our lives but more about the energies present. (personally, I’ve always had difficulty with connecting courts to actual folks and prefer to see them as signifiers of active and crafting energy or space I am in so Student, Traveler, Architect, and Visionary works soo much better!).

      I just performed my first large spread reading with the deck for another person at that and it was very intense. I think I’ll step away from them for a day or so before coming back. They pulled so much energy out of me (in a good way, but still)!

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  3. Beth Maiden (@littleredtarot) says:

    Thank you so much for the review Asali – this is so in-depth and so wide-ranging. I still don’t have my deck but have appreciated reading the impressions of others while I wait.
    It’s interesting reading about the accessibility of the cards and their stories and symbols from those without Southern identities. For me, when the project was announced I was first and foremost of course excited to hear about a new loudly, proudly queer deck – I have been searching/waiting for this for a long time. Then the Southern-ness was a huge bonus for me…you know how you feel ‘pulled’ to different corners of the world despite having no traceable lineage or connection there? For some reason (literature, mainly) the deep south has always had that feeling for me. I was excited that this deck might provide a way to explore that and look forward to digging in to its symbology. Reading this, I expect I will agree with those wishing for more depth in the guidebook, to help me recognise and even understand what makes this deck ‘Southern’.
    I was of course especially interested in your review of this deck as a Black person and as part of your Tarot of the QTPOC project. I don’t think you are asking a lot, to want to see the faces of your self and your communities. I wanted this to be that deck. I look forward to your continued explorations of these cards, but felt a pang of disappointment as I read your words. I am excited for the days (perhaps not too far off!) when we have a whole canon of decks that perhaps between them can represent the infinite variety of folks that exist within queerness – the Slow Holler and many more, each bringing something special and magical to the whole.

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    • Asali says:

      I’m happy you enjoyed the review, Beth. Thanks for reading. There’s something about this deck that calls to folks of all different strokes regardless of their identifying region. A big part of that, I believe, is the queer stories that run throughout- we recognize that space no matter where we’re from. There is also interesting emerging theory exploring the South as a queer space despite its seemingly strident opposition to everything queer. There’s something of that in this deck as well. That illumination of the margins and those who cross those borders.

      I’m excited for you to receive your deck- and to read your impressions of this lovely offering. I’m looking ever forward to decks that might be inspired by Slow Holler’s work. Which isn’t to count it out at all- I’ve had gorgeous heart rending readings with it already. It’s going to call me to relentless shadow work, I can already tell.

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