Here we find ourselves, in the very last few days of 2020 – a long, strange, eventful year. There’s plenty to reflect on, plenty to mourn, plenty to be mad and disappointed about, but along with all those feelings, I’m also giving a little energy in these dying days to things I’m looking forward to and hoping for as we move into a new calendar year.
One of those things is the publication of The Gentle Tarot.
Thank goodness that human creativity is infinite, right? I feel so lucky to be in the midst of a period of very fertile creation in the tarot community, as artists and mystics continue to create beautiful decks and expand upon what we know and love about the art of tarot.
Indigenous artist Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Tovar has created The Gentle Tarot, inspired by the landscapes of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a tool for both self-reflection and reconnection with the natural world. It’s due out in early 2021 (and will be coming to the Two Sides Tarot shop, naturally!).
Mariza kindly let me pick her brain about her art practice, the creation of the deck, and the unique land that she lives on, so that we can all learn a little more about this wonderful project.
I love that Yarrow Magdalena always starts their podcast interviews by asking about nature and the landscape, and given the subject the beautiful deck you’ve made, it seems appropriate to borrow that question! Could you tell us a little about what the natural world is like at the moment where you are?
Yes I would love to! The island where I live is almost all white, covered in snow. The volcanoes are cozily tucked-in with their fluffy white winter blankets. It is treeless due to the high winds throughout the year. Out in the Bering Sea, we are pretty far from the “mainland,” but that is the beauty of embracing the wild here in Unalaska. The weather is always a mix of dramatically beautiful and dangerously extreme. We cohabit with many lovely creatures here! Bald eagles, wild foxes, sea lions, otters, many species of seabirds and more.
You’ve described yourself as a “nature-inspired illustrator” – I’d love to know more about your journey to becoming an artist, and how you came to incorporate your love of Alaska’s ecosystems into your work.
Since childhood I have drawn my natural surroundings. Being raised amongst ceremony and tradition where nature is central, my art has always been heavily influenced by our environment and our connection to it.
Upon arriving to this island in 2017, from the moment I saw it from the air, I knew this place was special. Indigenous people lived very fruitful lives here for millennia; they developed highly useful technology for seafaring and hunting in the open ocean without the use of any metal or foreign materials. There is a place in my heart full of respect and humility for this way of life. It was taught to not take more than what was needed and people respected nature’s bounty. Unfortunately, the wildlife populations have drastically changed in the last 50 years, as it has all over the world. The immense beauty here – as if it were a being of it’s own – inspired me to share life here on the Aleutian chain. This is part of why I choose to donate 10% of profit to ocean and climate change research. Heal your self, heal the Earth.
We just love a tarot origin story around here! How did you come to learn and love tarot? Are there any decks by other artists that you love and recommend?
I was introduced to tarot in college, but truly embraced it in 2010 during a very special reading. I was living in Seattle, I had just quit my three jobs, reduced my belongings to a single backpack, and I was about to hitchhike alone down the West Coast. A couple of close friends of mine gathered for a tarot reading before I left and every single card gave me chills. Tarot, to me, is much like other serendipitous events in life. Whether or not we decide to listen is up to us, the magic is everywhere. I love that tarot allows the magic to be witnessed and shared. Since then tarot has felt like a close friend, always there whenever I need a fresh perspective.
And now, let’s talk about the gorgeous Gentle Tarot. How did the idea for the deck come about?
Thank you! The Gentle Tarot began this summer, however it had been incubating for many years. Honestly, I never found a deck that quite matched the loving, supportive energy that I feel with tarot so I decided to create one myself. I always struggled connecting with the suit cards, for example, and really felt that I was missing something from readings that included them. I had never taken upon a project this huge, and the momentum after starting was like no other I had ever felt! I often say that this deck created itself because it truly felt like it did. During my meditations with each card before illustrating, visions came to mind that often made more sense after they were finished. I am incredibly thankful and humbled to offer this deck to the world.
You’ve completed work on this deck during a very strange and challenging year. What was it like to burrow into this project and into working with nature during this time of so much stress and upheaval?
Working on this project has been my saving grace. Really. I find that I am most creative when my situation is stressful – drawing and making music is my medicine. The neural release of creativity as well as the stimulus of bright colors to the brain help me get through the rough chapters. I hope that this colorful deck uplifts others as it enlivened me while creating it.
I always love to see how artists pair up the traditional concepts of the tarot with their own chosen images and symbols. Could you tell us a little about translating your environment and its inhabitants into the language of tarot?
I started illustrating the Gentle Tarot while working remotely (even more remote than where I live – only accessible by small boat when the weather allows) collecting data on wild salmon. This work is pretty much camping for two months straight, no reception, no contact, sharing the wilderness with one other person. This lifestyle invites one to be completely enveloped in the natural environment. The eagles, the salmon, the whales out in the bay, the many birds, the spiders and bugs, they all become friends and guides. Starting a tarot deck project while in this wild space really let me allow the tarot images to surface instead of trying to translate them. The images in the cards depict the wildflowers and island life. The land and the elements here are both healing and challenging – a perfect mix for conjuring up a tarot deck.
I can see you’ve made some variations to the traditional structure, with different names for the court cards. What was the thinking behind that, and what do you hope your chosen names bring to the experience of reading with the deck?
My mom actually helped me come up with the seed idea. I’ve always envisioned the court cards to be our stages of growth and I wanted to get away from symbols that remind me of colonialism, as well as get rid of the masculine and feminine dichotomy. I hope that the choice of using Seed, Root, Flower, Harvest inspires us to feel more supported in our journey and be able to connect with the court cards in a deeper way. It is another avenue for inviting gentleness into a reading. I hope those who experience this deck can feel the love here!
Your beautiful cards will now be able to travel the world, and I imagine they will be a window into a part of the world that many readers (myself included!) have never had the chance to experience firsthand. What would you like folks using your deck to understand about the place that has inspired you, and the creatures and ideas and intelligences that live there?
What a wonderful question! I definitely aimed to create an Alaska-specific deck. The animals are all found here in Alaska and the nature depicted is mostly inspired by life in the Aleutian Islands – no trees and lots of water all around. Living in such a remote place where wilderness is vast and “civilization” is a mere handful of miles of gravel road, connection to the land feels like a loving friend. The use of colorful flora and fauna and the ease in which the nude figures place themselves within their natural environment is a hopeful effort to connect us with nature and remember that there is no divide. Connection is important for mental and spiritual health and nature is always there – full of the love and support that we need. It is my hope that we also remember our responsibility of taking care of our beautiful planet.
Finally, where can we learn more about you and your work?
Please follow the Gentle Tarot on Instagram at @mariinthesky for fresh art and sale updates! The Gentle Tarot Pre-Order sale is about to end in mid January, so you can snag a copy of the deck at pre-order price on my Etsy.
Thank you so much for the time and space to share with you here! Much love to our journeys, Mari.
Thanks so much for visiting, Mari!
And I hope, dear reader, you are looking forward to seeing this beautiful deck in person as much as I am. As we mentioned above, you can pre-order the deck from Mari’s shop – it’s a special price until mid January!
If you’d like to find out when The Gentle Tarot makes its way across the world and is available here in the shop, you can add yourself to the waiting list here.