Explorative Black Tarot: A Black Queer Feminist Practice in Creative Writing and Oracle
Author: Junauda Petrus
February 21, 2023
When I shuffle my cards, there is a palpable feeling of anticipation and possibility I feel within me. Tarot cards are the perfect kind of softness and tangible in my hand, their humming electricity is potent. There are tingles in my body as I hover my palm over the cards splayed out, like berries to be picked, like oracle, like a rainbow of tickets each with their own journey, a story to tell me, a message to portend. Cards that I used to be afraid of (death, ten of swords), I have learned to understand their necessity in life for growing and teaching and leading us into transformation. Other cards that I love, such as the High Priestess or the ace of cups, are yummy and affirming to me when I’m in a heavy moment in life and they give me hope amid all of my angsty interiority. Sometimes, when I’m very emo, the only person who I feel understands me is my tarot deck. She is that friend who will tell you the truth, with the realness, but in a soft, metaphorically, layered and deep way. And homegirl is always there for me.
For me, tarot feels like a queer technology in that it is mystic, liminal and fabulous at storytelling… as well as reading the soul of somebody with poignant and cutting pizazz. Purrrr. The capacity of oracular explorations has been useful to me as an artist and writer. Each card is soaked in archetype and meaning, a story and feeling. There is always a character, theme, and plot embedded in each handheld artwork. Each time we pick up the card, we are automatically implicated in the narrative. This child magician, pointing to the ground with their finger and winging their magic wand to the sky is you. The lady in front of the shallow lake, blindfolded with two swords crossed across her heart is you. The non-binary angel dancing naked in the cosmos is also you. Tarot for me shows the versatility and multi-dimensionality of the human experience and that to me is inherently queer and intellectually alchemizing.
I started doing Tarot fifteen years ago when I was living in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and was dealing with my typical mental cocktail of depression, anxiety, and insecurity. I was in my mid-twenties and living away from my hometown of Minneapolis, in a city that felt like a more tangible version of what home should feel like to me. I was a Black girl who always felt like an outsider, as a first-generation Island kid in the midwest, with gap teeth, a wild soul and was a closeted frantic poet, a repressed queer femme. But, in New York, I made sense, even if I still struggled with my mental health. Black people of all flavors and dimensions from the diaspora of Black southern, Trini, Jamaican, Haitian, Afro-Mexican, Brazilian, Dominican, South African, and Nigerian. This Blackness, this majesty existed with fluidity in a sacred ecology of co-diasporic-existence that was elixir to me, being from the Tundra of whiteness and midwest. Harlem and Brooklyn loved up on me, melted me with creativity, spontaneity, and pleasure. After a summer gig teaching theater in Harlem, I told my mother that I wasn’t moving back and to send me a box of sweaters and some of my books. I was the wide-eyed fool, stepping into the unknown with a simple bag and a heart of wonder. And I was also the 9 of swords, filled with fear and trepidation, and started having panic attacks. This season of change led me to begin keeping an altar, saying daily affirmations to myself, and pulling tarot cards. I was supported through my fears and my anxieties by grounding in the messages of the cards and support of my ancestors.
A few years ago, I started using tarot as an oracle in writing projects, almost like an interactive mood board. I had been using Tarot for years as a spiritual tool, yet had never explored it with my writing, even though writing has always been a space that felt like I was channeling from other realms. When I began intertwining these two aspects of my personal divination, it felt like an intuitive and limitless union. I would use the tarot to ask questions about characters and their motivations and worries. I would assign characters different cards that they symbolize or use cards to lay out a storyboard for all that was happening so that I could live in the visual and symbolic storytelling of the cards and see new things in what I was writing. What emerged for me was generative and explorative in ways that allowed new narratives, or new understandings of my work, that simply looking at a white page with Black letters couldn’t do. The visual component of the cards helped me see the worlds I was creating and the micro-worlds within them and let me feel their energy in a way that makes sense with my neuro-divergence. At times, when I’m struggling to make headway in a character or a situation in my life, I take it to my cards and ask them what it is that they know that I’m missing, what stories within the story I need to pay attention to. And every time, the cards give me the gift of knowing that the answer was always dwelling somewhere in me and the cosmic collective .
Tarot and Writing Activity:
Get a deck of tarot cards, or any oracle cards and shuffle them in any way you want, even clumsily. Lay the cards all out in front of you. Without overthinking it, pick a card, any card. Let it be intuitive and know any card you pick is the right card for you. Look at the card and take it all in. What is happening in the card, what general feeling does it give you? Is there a protagonist or a story you see happening? Are there symbols in the card? Do any of them have any meaning to you, personally? For example, does a lion make you think of a favorite stuffed animal or the astrological sign of a crush or do you dream of lions when you are exhausted? Write all of these details that come up for you and take them in.
Next, write something inspired by this card or the elements in it. It can be a poem, about an emo man, who listens to Sade on repeat, every full moon inspired by the king of cups or a memoir about heartbreak from your first gay crush at church camp inspired by the 3 of swords, or a journal entry of how to navigate a difficult conversation with a friend. Either way, receive the insight and flow on the page.