I feel like I start every single tarot creator interview with the phrase, “I’m so excited…” It’s always true, but today it feels especially accurate, because I am completely chuffed, utterly thrilled, exceedingly delighted, so excited, that I got to pick the brain of a new tarot creator whose work has captured my heart.
Oubria is one half of the vision behind the newly released Melanated Classic Tarot. Produced in collaboration with artist Julia Goolsby of Blaque Penn Comix, the Melanated Classic Tarot reimagines the classic Waite Smith deck with all of its archetypes and characters depicted as people of colour. As the creators say, representation is vital, and especially in matters of powerful, archetypal magic, so I’m very happy to be able to share Oubria’s story below, and to have this awesome deck in my shop!
Tell us about you! What’s your spiritual story, and what kind of work do you do?
Wow! That’s a big question. My spiritual story started at birth. I’ve always been super sensitive to people’s feelings and moods. I also grew up with a violent and angry father & and an emotionally repressed mom, so I think I learned to read feelings as a barometer at home. I had to know how people were feeling so I would know whether to talk to them or stay out of their way.
And of course getting older and being an outcast, and a black sheep, and the one who made wild choices that people whispered about. If you’re being taught to use your intuition and trust your inner voice, I’ve learned the universe will consistently put you in situations where the only person you can trust in yourself.
The work I do now is just the work of being myself, and I’ve worked really hard to be able to say something so simple. I am a stay-at-home entrepreneur mom of five; this deck is my first really successful financial endeavor but it’s definitely the whole ten-years-to-become-an-overnight-success sort of thing. Growing up I always thought I would become a poet or fiction writer. My parents thought that was cool but steered me toward teaching so I would be sure to eat. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in creative writing; if you google me right now you’ll find hundreds of little information articles I’ve written for ehow. com and the like. I’ve taught English at the community college level, I’ve taught after school programs, I’ve worked retail, reception, production (my mom was a producer & my dad is a cameraman and my mama was big on nepotism). But the thing I’ve always been best at is listening intently to people, permeating their metaphysical space, reading their feelings and giving sharp but loving advice. It’s like a chiropractor in the spirit- I know what to adjust. I know how to make a soul pop, crack and release. I asked the universe over and over to show me a way to make money doing that one thing, without having to go back to school be a minister or therapist. Eighteen months ago I picked up my first pack of tarot cards, and the store where I bought my first deck hired me to be a reader a couple of months later. Things just took off from there.
How did you come to tarot, and what part does it have in your personal and professional practice?
I came to tarot slowly, with a side eye at first. I was raised black girl, south side of Chicago Christian, so tarot cards and fortune telling and psychics are all spirits from the devil, according to my family. I didn’t even get my first tarot card reading until 2014, when a woman I was in a fb group with put up a 3 card, $5 reading sale. My reading was so positive but scary. It said I would lose everything but that I shouldn’t worry about it because everything I lost would be restored, and it was necessary to shake me free of some toxic ties, and then I would be wealthy and perhaps go into publishing. Just typing that now - it's crazy to realize every word of that reading came true. Except for the “wealthy” part, but honestly I do feel richer than I’ve ever been, but it’s in my spirit, not my wallet. A month later I got another reading from her because I was pregnant with my 4th child unexpectedly, and even though I was grown, married, and working as a salaried teacher on a fellowship, I was scared to tell my mama. I was scared of what people would say. And that reader told me to grow the fuck up! Ha!
When I first started reading cards I started putting tarot-scopes on facebook (I’m a writer, I can’t help it) to practice reading better. I had advertised a bunch of free readings but people stopped taking me up on it so I was just looking for another way to practice. My aunt emailed me reminding me that tarot cards are from the devil and our family doesn’t do this. I told her it felt alright with God to me. God didn’t feel mad at me.
And the only reason I felt strong enough to say that was because I’d been through the hardest year of my life, including being pregnant and homeless in San Francisco with my husband and four children, and no one in either my or my husband’s family stepped in to save us, or offer us a place to live. We got through that all on our own, trusting ourselves and trusting God. So I knew that if I felt called to tarot cards after everything I’d been through, then that’s what the fuck I was supposed to do and I was grown and I didn’t care what anybody said. Tarot cards was a big step in using my own mind and thinking for myself in every way. I’ve read for myself nearly every day since getting my first deck. It’s actually connected a lot of dots for me, concerning what the bible teaches. The tarot is very practical and common sense wisdom, like the book of Proverbs. It also teaches that the most important element in life is a sense of inner value. I had really low self esteem, but the tarot has worked with me to recognize that if I am connected to the source of life, how can I possibly have low self esteem? And the more you realize you are inherently worthy, the more you will be financially worth. The tarot and bible are both practical tools to removing the issues blocking your abundance and pentacles.
How did you arrive at the decision to make your own deck?
My first three decks were Rider Waites - two Radiants and then a borderless. I love the Rider Waite deck because I felt it told a story. I didn’t know what the story was, but those pictures were so… alive. You know I’m a writer, lol. I know when there’s a story afoot. Except nothing I read told the story. They tell the individual meanings of the cards, but I needed the story. I don’t know how I came across this but there’s a website that talks about the astrological and cosmological designations of the cards- for example, two of cups as venus in cancer, five of wands as saturn in leo, etc.
So I put the cards in order according to the way the signs appear. I emptied out a closet in my house and turned into a tarot chamber, and I used pushpins to arrange the entire deck on the wall, as a grid, with the sun signs across the top (not in order but as they appear in the tarot), Aries (Emperor), Leo (Strength), Sagittarius, (Temperance), and then coming down in a row from the major arcana cards were the minor arcana cards, two of wands (Mars in Aries), etc. I was trying to see the story. And all these faces were staring back at me, telling the the story.
And I just felt like I would hear them better if they were black, like me. I just sort of casually mentioned it to my husband and he was like, yo, you should do that. He knew a couple of artists and and messaged them on fb to ask them what they would charge per picture, to just replicate it but make it black. The first dude flaked out but Julie didn’t. Julie is AMAZING. A-MA-ZING.
What was that process like? And what was it like to collaborate with an artist to realize your vision – or was it a shared vision?
The process was shockingly easy. We first asked her to replicate a coloring book page and her drawing skills are just freaking phenomenal. There ain’t nothing Julie can’t draw. After that, I sent her a non-disclosure agreement. After she signed it, I explained the project and negotiated a work/ pay schedule. We started in June 2018 and she finished in January 2019. We worked in batches of ten cards roughly every three weeks. I would send her photos of the original deck and she would send back the melanated version. And we became friends in the process. It’s crazy because we’re both from Chicago and she still lives in Chicago, but I live in California. We have hella mutual friends but we’ve never met face to face. We’ve done this amazing thing and we’ve never met. Isn’t that crazy?!
And wait -- let me say it was easy on my end but not on Julie’s. She worked while going to school, taking care of her daughter and other relatives, deaths in the family, her computer breaking down… but she’s such a positive person and just always came through. She even gave me pep talks! She’s dope. I feel like I said that already but I want to say it again.
The deck shows so much love and homage to the Rider Waite Smith. How did your relationship with that classic deck inform the process of creation?
I feel like I sort of answered that already but, I already felt super drawn to the Rider Waite because other decks are sort of based on it. And then I don’t know what made me look it up but when I found out Pixie was biracial it felt meant to be! Also if you look at the High Priestess in the original Rider Waite, her features look black. That’s a black woman if you ask me. I think Pixie snuck her in.
I feel like more black people would read tarot cards (which is great for spiritual AND entrepreneurial growth) if there was more representation. I love the basics, the fundamentals- because you can build anything you want from a solid foundation. I just really, really, really, really wanted a solid foundation that looked like us.
We’re arguably in the beginnings of a very fertile moment in terms of representation of varied identities, bodies, and experiences in tarot, but of course there’s still so far to go before we can say that our decks and vocabularies and spiritualities are decolonized and inclusive. How do you feel your work sits in this moment? Any thoughts on what work still needs to be done, or where this might all go from here?
I feel that our work sits perfectly in this moment, and I think that’s one of the benefits of being psychic actually, is being mystically drawn to where things are most fertile. I think this deck is just the tip of the iceberg. I would love to see somebody draw an Asian Rider Waite, one that represents Latin and Southern Americans, etc. I think there is room for EVERYBODY. In fact someone emailed me and said they were glad to see this deck and there needed to be one for brown people. And I thought, you right, so do it lol. It’s not my responsibility to do that for you. I did this for mine, now you gotta do it for yours. That’s the point. The tarot teaches you to do shit for yourself. The tarot cuts co-dependecy away in the five of pentacles. From there on it’s about standing on your own and marvelling at your own strength. Like the bible says, when I was a child I thought as a child. Once I became an adult, I thought as an adult. I think this is the moment where other races begin to realize nothing is stopping them from doing this and this market is WIIIIIIDE OPEN.
How has working with your own deck (assuming you do!) informed or shifted your own practice, whether for yourself or for clients?
Not really. But it’s made me really happy and it feels like a dream come true. If anything, it makes my readings more clear, because Julie is so good at drawing facial expressions that the cards are more detailed. The emotions really come through, which translates to the reading.
Apart from your own creation, are there any decks you’d want to be stranded with on a desert island? What are your faves?
I love the Rider Waite borderless, and the Isis Oracle, and this weird little amazing deck I got in San Francisco called the Tarot of Personal Experience.
Finally, do you have any advice, guidance or insider tips for working with the Melanated Classic Tarot? Is there any way you would like to see it used or shared, now that it’s out in the world?
My deck has a lot to say. It likes to be asked questions, lots of them. If you see someone holding a cup, say, what’s in that cup? and pull another card. If someone’s holding a sword, say, what are they saying? and pull another card. With wands ask, what’s he/she doing? and pull another card. Ask what the pentacles represent. Ask what the Empress is creating. Ask the High Priestess her secret. Ask what the Emperor is warding off on his left and holding onto with his right. Ask what the Hierophant’s rules are. Ask what will come between the lovers. Ask what the Strength is holding herself back from. Ask, ask, ask.
What better imperative could a tarot reader hope to hear? Ask, ask, ask.
The Melanated Classic Tarot is in stock now right here in the shop!