Tarot decks are often illustrated with images of people. And those people are almost always thin, white, and able-bodied. With the exception of deliberately diverse decks such as the Collective Tarot, the Motherpeace Tarot, Thea’s Tarot and a few others it can be hard to find a tarot that isn’t irritatingly homogenised or outright exclusive in its representation.
This is changing, slowly. With a slew of radical new decks in production (almost all from queer-identified creators) the people we see on our cards are set to slowly grow more diverse, and that’s a cause for celebration. Still, many of these won’t be available for some time and besides, ‘diversity’ isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you’ll find it easy bond with your cards.
If you’re struggling to identify with the people you see in your tarot cards, or you simply want to explore different ways of representing the archetypes and experiences discussed in the tarot, another option is to go for a people-free deck. Many tarots use animals to illustrate the cards, others use elemental symbols, objects from nature, trees plants and more.
Here’s a selection of people-free tarot decks to check out!
The Tarot of the Magical Forest
By Hsu Chin Chun and Leo Tang
A too-cute-for-words animal tarot based on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Each suit is ‘peopled’ by a different animal: foxes for pentacles, cats for swords, frogs for wands and rabbits for cups. There are also owls, pigs, sheep, bears and loads of other critters. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a ‘gentle’ deck, however — reading with it I found that the cards pulled no punches and delivered sharp, to-the-point readings.
The Laughing Eye, Weeping Eye Tarot
By Rebecca Shoenecker
A colourful tarot with strange, cheerful images. Though the cards are sparsely illustrated, the symbology used is intriguing and there’s still plenty to get your teeth into. Personally, I really love working with this great little deck.
Rebecca Shoenecker is also the creator of the awesome Unicorns of the Universe Tarot!
The Tarot of Trees
By Dana Driscoll
This beautiful, colourful deck is inspired by Druidic teachings and the author’s profound relationship to trees (check out her blog to read more about these topics, it’s a good read). One thing I really love about this interpretation of the tarot is that the four suits are replaced by the seasons, a substitution that feels especially relevant to trees. The cards are smaller than average (good news for small-handed shufflers!) and the most recent edition contains an extra card: Regeneration.
Here’s a lovely review of the deck by Asali Earthwork.
The Wooden Tarot
By AL Swartz
The Wooden Tarot is a weird, witchy deck filled with bones and decay and haunting creatures, both recognisable animals and mystical creatures. It has a darkly elemental feel, with the four suits renamed blooms, plumes, stones and bones. AL Swartz’s artwork is finely detailed and this is a deck that resonates deeply with its fans.
Here’s a detailed review of the deck from tarot writer Benebell Wen.
Tarot of Plants
By Heather Enders
I adore the simplicity of this lovely deck — so much so that I just ordered it. Like the Tarot of Trees, this deck replaces the four suits with the four seasons, which again feels appropriate for the theme. Each of the small poker-sized cards contains just a simple line drawing of a flower, herb or tree with the name of the card and the plant. There’s no guidebook, so prior knowledge of the tarot system would be helpful. It’s also fun to look up the traditional meanings of the plants to add depth to your interpretations.
I find a comfort in the natural world i cannot find anywhere else. Standing still, and existing in this moment can be difficult, but when i am outside or bonding with plants suddenly i can stop and focus on now.
The Badgers Forest Tarot
By Nakisha Elsje VanderHoeven
Here’s a whimsical watercolour deck illustrated with the animals of the forest. It has a gentle feel, like a children’s story, where all the creatures of the forest are friends, ready to help you on your journey. Artist Nakisha also created three other people-free tarot decks in a similar style, The Blue Dog Rose Tarot, The Rabbit Tarot and the gorgeous rat-themed Ta-Rat.
The Mystical Cats Tarot
By Lunaea Weatherstone and Mickie Mueller
I’ve never used this deck, but of all the cat-themed decks I’ve seen online, I think this is my favourite. The suits are ‘cat clans’ of fire, sky, sea and earth, and these felines get up to all kinds of cool stuff, like climbing towers and performing spells.
To add to the magic, artist Mickie Mueller uses herbs in her paints…including catnip! Reviewing the deck for publisher Llewellyn, Barbara Moore writes: “One of my favorite parts of the book is the appendix: Sketches from Mickie Mueller’s Old Wooden Art Table. There are thirteen of the initial sketches for the images with annotations by Mickie. For each sketch, Mickie shares which herbs she used in each painting, such as ginko leaf, olive, milkweed, althea, and many others.”
The Hidden Waters Tarot
By Ana Christina Tourian
This abstract deck is illustrated with images created through a process like the Rorschach Inkblot Test. I’ve never used it — I only came across it doing research for this post — but I’m fascinated by its premise of exploring the subconscious via projection (though this is something you could argue applies to all tarot decks):
Vibrant colors of reds, violets, blues and gold are used throughout the imagery in order to induce certain emotional aspects by sympathetic associations. There are no visually accurate or inaccurate interpretations to the images. There is no wrong or right way of interpreting them, except using our own personal connection to the extrasensory perception. The paintings were created by using ink and paint, creating vibrant colors that were then mirrored. Gestures and lines were incorporated to vary the visual patterns and create distinctive non repetitive images.
Ana Christina Tourian
A minimal tarot deck
By Anna Foos
This deck doesn’t actually have a name! It’s a super-simple, self-published deck with black-and-white line drawings of the minor arcana suits, and basic Rider-Waite-Smith -derived symbols on the majors. Brooklyn artist Anna Foos created it with a Sharpie marker when she couldn’t find/afford her perfect deck. It strikes me that you could continue Anna’s DIY colour the cards in yourself if you fancied.
The Wild Unknown Tarot
By Kim Krans
A beautiful animal-based deck with a huge cult following, the Wild Unknown Tarot is a pen-and-ink deck, starkly illustrated with clever use of colour and symmetry to create images that are both simple and powerfully symbolic.
This is my favourite deck for client readings, and is the one I use almost daily and carry around in my bag. The four suits have the regular cups/wands/swords/pentacles structure, but the court cards are renamed daughter, son, father and mother which doesn’t jam with everyone.
There are plenty more people-free tarot decks out there. If you know of a people-free tarot deck I’ve missed, add it in the comments!
Right so… one of my partners believes in this sort of thing. I’m a hopeless nerd who is obsessed with science. I don’t get it! Any resources that can explain?
Better yet, anyone in a similar condition and have any tips on how to be supportive without seeming patronizing? I’m not trying to just humor it, but be genuinely aware and encouraging while maintaining my own personal skepticism and disbelief.
Firstly, there are many hopeless nerds obsessed with science that also enjoy tarot. There are many ways and reasons that people get into tarot:
1. Straight-up believe in divination/fortune-telling
2. A way to trigger a different perspective or thought related to the topic
3. Creative inspiration
4. Getting a better idea on what they actually WANT the answer to be (sort of like this thing where you set out a Heads or Tails decision, toss a coin, and your hope about the coin toss actually tells you more about what decision you should be making rather than the coin itself)
5. A myriad of other things
How do you treat your friends with other religions than you? Those who are passionate about different things? Those from different cultures than you? Are you able to recognize that there are different things they prioritize in their life, that they don’t necessarily need you to be interested – they just need you to respect their interests?
I’m also a pretty sciencey person – at least, I like to watch educational shows about science for fun because nature is amazing. I started tarot as a way to get more in touch with myself. I think I read it on Beth’s blog that tarot sort of “cuts through the bullshit” and forces you to think about things that you maybe didn’t want to in a way you haven’t before. It also gives me a chance to meditate on problems without sinking into over analyzing them, which is something I do a lot!
However, the more I do it, the more I am beginning to feel a spiritual attachment to my cards. Even though rationally I may know (or have known, I don’t think about it much anymore) that it’s just random cards decorated with symbols assigned with meanings that may just happen to remind me of something or spur a thought, it feels like the cards are my freinds who give me advice.
(I use the wild unknown, by the way, and it’s so beautiful in person!)
I hope this helps understand at least one perspective from a (perhaps former?) sciencey and super rational person. :)
I’d just ask your partner, though! Some of the most interesting conversation give had have been with other readers and people I’ve read for about what they beleive about the tarot!
I mean, I’m literally getting a Ph.D in microbiology and I read tarot on the regular, so it’s not mutually exclusive. As the other’s have said, there are a lot of ways to use tarot. I’m less into tarot as a divination tool, and more into tarot as a means of reflection. I think that when you’re thinking about an issue you’re having, it can be helpful to pull cards, because they might force you to look at it in a way you hadn’t considered.
Mostly, I would just try to be respectful of how your partner reads tarot. If it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not your cup of tea, but don’t be dismissive of it.
It might be helpful to look at it from a more psychological/reflective perspective, like other folks who have commented already have suggested. Jung and his theories/paradigm can be an interesting way to look it.
I’m a social worker, so I’ve already got that background, and I’m also a firmly science person who IDs as agnostic-atheist. I love science, I love evaluation and looking at things in a rational life. I also read tarot and I also recognize that not everything in life can be viewed through a purely rational lens bc humans are not purely rational creatures.
Tarot can be a hell of a spiritual tool, and I love it for that. It’s not a tool that everyone uses, but it’s a valuable one. And also, spirituality (in whatever form it takes) can and does and should co-exist alongside Science Minded Stuff – in fact, science has a long history of being intertwined with religion and spirituality. I sincerely doubt we’d be where we are scientifically without that connection.
No idea if this is helpful, but it’s something. I like the questions and POV Tiara provided as well; they’re great for self-reflection and it may be beneficial to at least go through them.
ALSO Beth’s other articles in this column are a great starting resource to understand tarot better; it’s what got me jumpstarted 2 years ago.
Last one, sorry!
There’s a Science Tarot deck, and I love it. It’s a lovely deck that bridges and connects traditional tarot concepts with a wide range of scientific theories. It also speaks to how I connect science to my personal view of spirituality, but that’s for another conversation.
Hello name twin!
As others have pointed out, there are many reasons why people love tarot that do not necessarily contradict a skeptical view of the universe. I would ask your partner what draws her to it. She will probably enjoy the opportunity to speak about something that she enjoys and you will have shown her that you take her interests seriously. Even if she is in it mainly as a divination tool, you don’t have to believe as she does to be supportive. By listening
(Sorry I accidentally clicked submit)
By listening to her without expressing judgment, you are being supportive. You can say something like “well sounds cool. It is not my kind of thing but I am glad you found something you enjoy”.
Hello back, name twin! I didn’t provide a pronoun for my partner. Just a suggestion that when in doubt, ask or go neutral! “She” is not correct in this case, although it would certainly be accurate for my wife!
To everyone who replied (and thank you), listening, being supportive, being respectful… all no-brainers. I guess my problem is that I’m not trying to be supportive from the sidelines, but that I want to be more involved. I’ll check out more of Beth’s articles and see what else I can find. I actually want to learn how this stuff works, what it’s supposed to mean, etc… I’m not just a, “Oh you go do your thing” person. If it’s important to someone I love, I want it to be important to me. It doesn’t mean I’m going to believe in it, but it doesn’t matter if I do. I just want to understand so I can be more involved and supportive.
Plus, there’s always the bonus that I can tell my abusive fundamentalist parents that I’m into divination now. ;)
@joanna1701 So great that you’re looking for ways to support your partner’s interest in tarot! I’d start from that idea of ‘belief’, as it’s a question I get asked all the time. As in ‘yeah you’re a tarot reader, but do you actually believe in it?’
The question is, believe in what? When people ask me this, I think most of the time they’re making the assumption that I use tarot to tell fortunes or predict the future. In fact, I use it like most of the folks here, to get to know myself better and to help others do the same. There are lots of reasons people use tarot cards.
So you could start by asking your partner what it is that they believe? How do they use their cards, or how did they get into tarot? Put aside your feelings of ‘skepticism and disbelief’ until you’ve heard their answers. It’s likely they get something really empowering and enjoyable from those cards, so there’s no reason this would be patronising. You’ll probably find out some really cool things about them.
Also as lots of people here have already said, tarot and nerdery go together beautifully, (I’m sure @alioh and @meyrude will back me up here too!) Especially comics and hero stories – the major arcana in tarot is a classic ‘heroic journey’, filled with amazing archetypes. There are lots of sci-fi themed decks, there’s a Buffy tarot (never published, sadly), and lots more. So if you’re up for it, another fun way you could explore this with your partner would be to get a nerdy deck that appeals to you aesthetically and explore it with your partner!
Also here’s the first post in Autostraddle’s tarot column – in it I shared my own story about how I got into tarot, which was when I were working through some major poly stuff.
I suppose my original comment was a little exclusionary. I didn’t even bother to think about that before I spoke (a common failing). The thing is, he’s a total nerd and a geek too. He’s a social science major. All right, he’s just fuckin’ awesome in every way and is totally dreamy and I’ve been floating on a cloud the last year. Ahem. Moving on…
He believes in a lot of things I don’t. Palm reading, ghosts, divination… oh my! I finally sucked it up a couple months ago and apologized, then asked for a full explanation. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to learn more. I just get frustrated with sorting it all out. Another problem is that I was raised by crazy Christian, abusive, radical religious extremist fundamentalists (Westboro is too “liberal” for them. I shit you not). Some of that brainwashing on “witchcraft” can be pervasive to this day. I get superstitious about things or irrationally afraid—and I hate that! I’m trying to navigate all my personal shit at the same time. It’s complicated! I appreciate your comment and articles, Beth. Thank you!
Right, I am sorry!
If nothing else, there are some fun card games you can play with Tarot card decks that aren’t playable with a 52-card deck!
“Tarot” is one I know of off-hand (since I’ve actually played it):
Wikipedia has some others listed:
I don’t ‘believe’ either, I just treat it like an exercise of the subconscious – my hindbrain telling me what I already knew.
@Beth – try Chris Richford’s deck – absolutely beautiful drawings https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/254061381/mercurial-travel-tarot-deck-first?ref=shop_home
I’m a Rider-Waite-Smith user. I hated it at first, but over many, many years have come to rather like it.
I love this column so much! Great article (I especially love it because it gently reminds us to embrace anti-oppressive practices in tarot) and beautiful decks.
This is such a timely article. I’ve recently started trying to really learn about tarot and one of the biggest obstacles has been finding a deck I really connect with. So far I’ve been using a pretty generic deck but still feel a disconnect because of a lot of the reasons listed in this article.
Oh gosh it’s so hard to find the perfect deck. Fellow ‘straddler Elisabeth wrote a great essay about the agony and ecstasy of finding a tarot deck you connect with. Also, here’s another Autostraddle post with some ideas…and here’s another with some queer decks!
Also you may have already check out Aeclectic, since all google tarot searches seem to lead here eventually, but there’s a neat section where you can explore decks by theme, style and other parameters.
Hope these help you to find the right deck for you :)
Well I know how I’ll be spending my night. Drinking wine and browsing tarot decks. Thanks for all the great info ?
I have the Cat’s Eye Tarot; while it’s in the same vein as the other cat ones here, I love the distinctly cat POV it has.
Ooh yeah! (The someday post on cat-themed decks will be the longest list yet methinks!)
The Animal wise tarot, the Celtic dragon tarot, the fantastical creatures tarot and the crystal tarot are four decks that I have that are people free. The Celtic dragon tarot is my favorite!
Ooh I love the renaming of the suits in the Animal Wise tarot!
The Anna Foos deck is so gorgeous!
Not a tarot person (runecaster in learning) but I started doodling simplified little icons for the major arcana during my battle with a graphic design class from well intentioned hell.
It’s haaaard as a person not to at people or human like figures unless you’re going with a non-people theme from the get go.
My Hermit quickly became a Yoda head and my Strength a stick figure Atlas-ish thang that I am stupid proud of because it’s STICK FIGURE that effectively looks to be bearing weight.
A stick figure pencil doodle on scrap paper.
I learned tarot with The Wild Unknown Tarot which is wonderful. Recently I have started using the Mystical cats tarot and I am quite amazed at how great it is. It’s easy to relate to the cute images, it’s less abstract. It makes a great way to start when you read for someone who is shy, impressed or hesitating. Like a way to break the ice with the tarot practice. It’s also very useful if you have a practical question, something very down-to-earth. In just a few weeks, I grew a nice relationship with this deck. I would recommend it to anyone fond of animals or looking for something reassuring and not too ‘mystical’ in tarot actually.
So I was really excited about the Ta-rat deck idea, because, yay rats and also I reckon my rats have taught me more hard wisdom about cycles of existence than I ever even wanted to know. But…and I can’t believe I’m saying this…all the rats in the deck are *thin and white*! If we ever needed a ridiculous sign of how deeply that toxic aesthetic has permeated our culture, right?
Though it only has the Majors, the Muroidea Deck is a really fun piece of illustration, and it’s got a little more ratty diversity ;) (Also, the Death card is really beautiful) https://society6.com/product/muroidea-rat-tarot-whole-set_print#s6-1022779p4a1v45
Off to go hug me some fat rats :D
@ratscantknit! I had been meaning to tell you about this deck since I first saw it, but didn’t even think about the homogenised whitewashed rats. Agh.
That Muroida deck though… it’s great!!
This inspired me to make my own deck of little sketches. I made imagery I could relate to the meanings of the Major Arcana cards and then pretty much kept the suits the same but without people in them.