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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!