I didn’t really start to have an interest in tarot and astrology until I was in my early twenties. At that time, I was dating a lot and hearing a lot about how bad Scorpios are, so I decided to dig into the mythos on my own, with help from a dear friend who lent me a copy of an astrology and sex book.
I had my first tarot reading during a time when things were in flux in my life. I was about to be a defendant in a sexual assault trial, and I came to a friend who read cards to ask if they could see anything about my situation that would assuage some of my fears. There were lots of sword cards and lots of mental unease, which felt right, not entirely helpful, but on-the-nose for where I was at the moment.
I didn’t really do much more learning about tarot until 2018, when I met Genevieve Barbee-Turner, a friend and illustrator who was working on her own tarot deck at the time, after completing an initial one a couple of years earlier. Bridge Witches Tarot explored the city we lived in, its people, its issues, and more.
When I met Genevieve, I was taken by how cool she was and how she had a life I totally wanted for myself. She was a creative making a living through art, which was a goal of mine. She was tattooed, listened to really fun music, and just had an overall warm and engaging personality.
So, when I learned she was working on HAUNTED, I was intrigued. The mission statement for HAUNTED reads:
“HAUNTED is a Rider-Waite-based tarot deck that tells ghost stories and lore from Southwestern PA, Eastern Ohio, and West Virginia. Tarot is a visual narrative system that uses large concepts and broad stories that are shuffled and combined in infinite ways. These spreads are interpreted by the reader for their own personal reflection or with a querent. Our deck’s theme taps into the unique history and culture of this region in Appalachia. We are highlighting the people, places, & history and connecting them with the universal truths of life, love, and death that even outsiders to Appalachia can appreciate. It is a daunting but thrilling task.”
Queer people are not a monolith, but a lot of us are drawn to practices like tarot and astrology for reasons that aren’t cut and dry. For me, it has something to do with choosing an untraditional life path and what comes with that, namely not being afraid of the unknown. When I came out, I didn’t know what life would look like on the other side of it. For years, I grappled with questions of getting married and having kids, deciding eventually that I didn’t want either path for myself.
Many other queer people share a similar story, rejecting the nuclear family and Christianity because of those institutions’ rejection of us. Also, and I think more commonly, we reject tradition because there is splendor and beauty in the margins.
LGBTQ people aren’t afraid to contend with ghosts, because we all have had our run-ins with things that haunt us, with things that have threatened to kill us or killed someone we loved, and we’ve come out on the other side. As Genevieve and her co-creator Sarah McKenzie state:
“Ghost stories are a lens into history, a way for history to preserve stories that aren’t typically told in history books, especially stories about women, people of color, and queer people,” says Barbee-Turner. “They reflect what we don’t want to discuss in the daylight. Shedding light on this history opens up our connections with humanity.”
When I talk to Genevieve about HAUNTED, we end up talking about queer elders, and the stories they share with us, having come of age or been adults in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. There’s a lot of queer folklore, even in a small city like Pittsburgh.
What ghosts are you going to find in the deck? Here are a few:
- The Mothman
- The Squonk
- The Burning Bride of Conneaut
- 13 Bends Road
- The Pig Lady of Cannelton
- Raymond Robinson aka The Green Man
- Madame Bartell the Millvale psychic
- The ghosts of the different Carnegie libraries
- The spirits from the Homewood massacre
- The urban legend of killer clowns
HAUNTED is Genevieve’s fifth tarot deck. The previous four have been made independently and produced in small batches. With HAUNTED, she hopes to bring her illustrations to a larger stage. The deck will feature 78 illustrated cards that are well-researched and beautifully made.
What I love about previous decks Genevieve has made is her ability to not shy away from the ugly, disturbing elements of humanity. I think with this new deck, and telling ghost stories, she is unearthing the things we don’t want to talk about, giving “boogeymen” a face, some context, and some empathy.
The HAUNTED deck is not just about ghosts, explains McKenzie. “The past echoes through our land as time marches on, holding stories of the blood, sweat, and tears of every person that has ever stepped foot here. The stories we tell each other may be about legends but really they hold the key to ourselves. Haunted is our effort to tell just some of the stories of this land, and to allow you to discover your own.”
Genevieve’s previous decks have been self-funded, but with this new venture, she has launched a Kickstarter campaign to make 2,500 decks instead of her usual 100. The campaign features three tiers: one deck, two decks, or ten decks (good for your favorite local occult shop). You can learn more about Genevieve and HAUNTED at her website.