For this week’s Tarot Talk, we had the honor of speaking with Mary Evans—the creator of an insanely impressive five (yes, five) different tarot and oracle decks since 2014 (with a sixth one on the way!)—on finding herself through divination, expanding her art into clothing, and re-evaluating her crystal collection.
How were you first called to Tarot? I’m not sure if I was “called” to tarot. I don’t remember it feeling like a mystical awakening or a message from the Universe—I was just experimenting at first, I was curious. I was gifted my first deck from my older brother around the age of 12—but he didn’t practice tarot, so I’m not sure why he had it. My family was Christian, so although I accepted the hand-me-down, I felt a little uncomfortable about having it in my possession at the time. It wasn’t until I left home for Olympia, Washington that I brought the deck with me and started playing around with it. I’ve been studying tarot for around seven years now, and for four of those years I’ve been creating my own decks. In 2008, a deck called The Collective Tarot was published, and I see it as one of the most important decks in the development and progression of how we see tarot today: In most traditional decks we often find patriarchal values, heteronormative relationships, and a lack of racial diversity. The Collective Tarot created and published deck that had a political focus and intentions of giving a queer, inclusive, and diverse lens on what we had previously known the tarot to be. Something that I find so important is looking at tarot as a radical act of self-reflection and -healing that falls outside the paradigm of western medicine and psychology. Decks that can shift the otherwise traditional and limiting depictions of this ancient symbolism are what I value most. I found out about The Collective Tarot around 2012, at a time when I was getting more serious about learning the cards. I was utterly inspired by what they were doing—it made me feel free and it influenced me to think about making my own deck one day. It wasn’t until many years later when I was living in Oakland, California that I started my first deck in 2014 as part of a group art show.
What was this first deck?! My first deck is the Spirit Speak Tarot. It was created as part of a group art show in Oakland and my objective with that body of work was to simplify the symbolism and make the cards easier to read and understand for myself. I didn’t think too much at first about publishing it, it was just for me. It wasn’t until after it was finished that I started contemplating reproduction. I started the creation of this project at the same time I had stopped drinking and going to shows. I had a lot of open space and time to work on the deck and to embark on what I didn't know then, but what became a spiritual change within me. The name Spirit Speak came from a dream I had in Mendocino, California after rubbing flying ointment on myself. Flying ointment is a type of salve or oil that traditionally has slightly poisonous or psychotropic herbs in it—it’s said that witches who were being persecuted would rub this ointment on themselves and sit by the fire (this activates the herbs) and would meet in other realms to gather. In the dream, I was a woman living in the city with my husband and child, but whenever I would return home they would push me out, they didn’t want me to be there, and for some reason I could not communicate or speak to them. It was heartbreaking—I had a home and loved ones, but I couldn’t reach them. I realized in the morning that I had been a ghost, and I had experienced what it meant to have a spirit but with no way of speaking, so that’s where the name Spirit Speak came from—I wanted to honor her, to give her a voice.
Wow, that’s amazing. I know you created many other decks after Spirit Speak, can you please expand on the creation and inspiration for each of those decks as well? Publishing the Spirit Speak deck, reading cards, and teaching tarot became a big part of my life after that experience. What started as an art project became one of the more saturated areas of my life. Oracle decks were a way for me to try something new while still continuing my divination studies—since Tarot can get really heavy and serious sometimes, I felt that oracle decks could be a little easier to chew on. I knew I wanted to make another tarot deck, but I wasn’t ready to go ahead and begin that huge undertaking. Vessel was the next deck I created—it’s an oracle deck—and it was a way for me to pick up where I left while also doing something new. The title Vessel came from the idea that our hearts are vessels—they are these containers for all of our emotions. The deck has a focus on emotional feelings, with cards that help you take a look at your tender side.
Next came Iris, another oracle deck, which is what I believe to be the most unique representation of my understanding of divination. After losing my partner of four years and leaving our home in Oakland to move in with my parents in Tennessee, I had a lot to reflect on and process. I was starting over again, I felt lost and like a total loser. My ties with Oakland and many of my friends there were left on rocky terms—I felt so alone, but Iris was this project that became like a close friend—she helped me talk about all the things I was feeling or ideas I was thinking about. I was originally going to name the deck “Messenger” after a Tiffany stained glass window in the church where I grew up, but after doing the artwork for the box, I realized there was already a Messenger oracle deck. I was really disappointed, but figured the deck must have wanted to be named something else. But of course, right? My deck wouldn’t want to be named after a piece of an institution that had suppressed and silenced me through my upbringing. The idea of delivering messages was important to convey through the name. Then I thought of Iris, the goddess of rainbows and delivering messages. During the creation of the deck, I had been taking a flower essence formula by my friend Liz Migliorelli of Sister Spinster Apothecary. On the day that I had come up with the name Iris I took the last drop of the essence and thought, “What is in this again?” When I looked on the back I saw that one of the main components was Iris flower essence, so the naming felt very auspicious.
After Iris came another tarot deck, Divina: Making Divina was almost like riding a high after the creation of Iris, I was on a roll and it felt a bit mischievous, like a trickster elf or something surprising everyone with another deck [laughs]. I wanted Divina to serve as a kind of sequel to the original Spirit Speak tarot deck, and I wanted it to have a softer and more angelic touch, since Spirit Speak has more of an edge to it. During my time in Tennessee I was struggling to figure out how to financially manage going full time with my business while I was still so confused and heartbroken. Divina came as I was starting to find my head above water—I was seeing the softness in life again, I was reunited with hope—and my intent was that others would feel this energy while using Divina. Divina is a name I made up from the word divination, I just heard it one day as I was creating the card images. It came with a sister name, which I won’t reveal yet but may be the title of an upcoming project.
Then, I started the Road to Nowhere oracle deck after moving to Joshua Tree, California in the winter of 2016. Living in Joshua Tree has been a huge change in my life. I had a lot of half baked plans where I moved across the country on a whim, but this was different. My motivation had changed, and I felt for the first time that I didn’t need another soul. I moved to this seemingly desolate area without knowing more than one or two acquaintances. I came to the desert for myself and nothing else, to build a life that was not reliant on anyone else. The openness of this place freed me from the cobwebs in my spirit. Now, I look at things differently and continue to cultivate what I prioritize in my life. Road to Nowhere was sprouted shortly after I began this new experience, I wanted it to show more shadow work and depth. Being out in the desert with your thoughts, sometimes it ain’t easy—it’s actually really fucking hard to sit in your own shit. What I believe is that in doing that challenging work, you come out on the other side stronger, wiser, and more sure of what you want. I wanted these types of ideas to be reflected in the deck. The title comes from the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere”—I connected with that song while contemplating my experience in the desert and it seemed to fit in a dark, but light hearted way. So there you have it!
That is all so incredibly impressive and inspiring! Do you have a favorite deck in both your own decks and outside of your own decks? I have so many favorite decks in general! I like to change, play, and experiment, which includes switching up what decks I use for readings a lot. Out of my decks, I think I connect most deeply to Iris—I think it does the best job of reaching a part of my creativity and imagination you can’t tap into from the surface. A favorite in my collection is The Secret Dakini by Penny Slinger. The first time I ever had my cards read—by Dreamy of Psychic Sister—they used the The Secret Dakini deck and it blew my mind. It’s a full color 65 card oracle deck made with collage, and I think you can see its influence on my most recent deck, Road to Nowhere.
I love the art in all of your decks! What is your favorite medium to work with when creating them? Thank you so much! Each deck uses a slightly different medium: Pen and ink, markers, grayscale watercolor, and/or collage. I’m not so much inspired to use one type of medium for a particular deck, but rather a medium that I’m already working with at the time.
What card(s) are you currently in? I’ve recently been meditating on the Justice card. This year we moved into the Justice year, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for the collective and also in my personal life. Justice is about aligning with our truth and making clear decisions based on practical factors—not emotions, balance, and fairness. Many people I know faced challenges in 2017, which was the Wheel of Fortune—the wheel can bring drastic and unexpected changes, but ultimately shifts that are out of your control. The lesson is about trusting fate and looking more at your reaction to events that take place, rather than spending time trying to control them. My hope is that the Justice year will level out some of the more dramatic changes that took place.
What does using Tarot for healing mean to you personally? Tarot is all about healing for me—I didn’t know that when I started though, since my curiosity grew deeper through my art practice. What I’ve learned is how powerful self-reflection can be to heal the self and others. The first step in changing a situation we are not happy in, is looking at it—I think we forget that sometimes. “How did we get here, what are we learning, why?” Using tarot to work through these thoughts helps us develop tools to strengthen our autonomy in life. This is also why I encourage D.I.Y practices in tarot. Unlike other healing practices—like getting a massage, acupuncture, seeing a therapist, and so forth—you can use tarot without the assistance of anyone else. I think that is a very powerful thing. Especially when your stressed about your life and you maybe can’t afford or don't have access to other healing services.
What is the best advice you have for anyone out there just getting into Tarot? I think the most important thing is to not feel judged or like there is a “wrong” or “right” way to read the cards. We all have an encyclopedia of symbols and what they mean to us just from living daily life. For example, if I showed you a picture of a snake or a river, you would have a reaction to that. Different people will have varied feelings and interpretations just like different cultures around the world interpret symbols diversely. I always encourage my students to spend the time looking at the cards and sitting with what information they are naturally receiving before looking online or in a book for interpretations. Tarot is a tool to tap into your natural intuition and ability to self reflect. Allowing yourself to cultivate self-determination and creativity is my best advice!
Since you work with your hands so much, do you have any self-care practices you do for them? Well, I used to be super into getting my nails done, especially if I was doing an event. Nail painting is an ancient practice, linking back as far as 3,000 BCE—and it has been used not only for beauty, but also for rituals, status, and war. Did you know that in Babylon 3,200 BCE, soldiers would stain their nails with green or black kohl before battle? For me, it always felt like a protective practice. Since then, I have quit doing events and readings for the year and now my nails are short and dirty, which feels great, too!
What is your daily self-care ritual like? I’m pretty low maintenance, I don’t have many beauty products. I mostly just use Dr. Bronner's salve, oils, and chapstick. I also have a great salve by my good friend Lauren of Wooden Spoon Herbs—it’s a Heal All Salve that uses comfrey and calendula, some of my favorite plants for skin healing. I use it on my face and neck and hands, but you can also use it for cuts, bites, and burns. I also love Fat and the Moon’s Love Thyself Body Oil, lipstick from Portland Black Lipstick Company, and Floss Gloss nail polish. I try to use brands that are highly conscious about their ingredients and business practices, so these are all brands that I feel safe using and recommending.
You have such a rad personal style! What does self-expression mean to you? Thank you! I think my style is pretty eclectic. I don’t feel that I have any one aesthetic that I’m drawn too. I have an open mind about what I want to wear and I like to have fun and play, my closet feels like a costume wardrobe to me. There’s not much thought that goes into how I present myself, it’s more of a feeling, and I go with what I’m gravitated towards and what makes me feel powerful and happy. I grew up in a very conservative area and my mother’s generation was incredibly calculated about their clothing, very matchy-matchy with shoes matching their outfits, you know? I found a lot of freedom from mixing plaids and polka dots, and wearing wild colors and ripped up tights. I came up against a strong pushback towards the way I dressed. I think what I was experiencing then, not knowing yet fully being just a teenager, was how fashion can be used as rebellion and change. It’s not just vanity, it’s a voice. Think back to when girls were kicked out of school for wearing pants. Fashion does create change.
Besides Tarot, what other metaphysical practices do you dabble in? I love to build altars, make spell candles, and keep up with our planets and how they are working through the Universe. I used to be super into crystal magic, but recently have felt differently about using them as spiritual tools and actually given most of them away. I think it’s important to talk about this in the spiritual community because we tend to be a conscious bunch of people. What I wasn’t considering when purchasing crystals as spiritual tools is where they came from and how they were taken from the Earth. These ideas came to me after visiting Mitchell Caverns and feeling a deep connection to the stalactites there. The Chemehuevi people, a branch of the Southern Paiute, who lived in the Mojave Desert for thousands of years saw this place as a sacred and spiritual site. The Mitchells who turned it into a tourist attraction in the ‘30s would break off these stalactites and sell them for the right price, and in the ‘90s, the cave was defaced as part of the filming of the movie The Doors. I was incredibly saddened that people had neglected to see the importance of maintaining and protecting this natural gift. This is capitalism and colonialism at its worst, complete neglect for our connection to the Earth. When you are buying a crystal and using it in your spiritual practice, please just take a moment to think about where it was taken from, what the impact is, and what kind of energy are you inviting by using these crystals taken from the Earth. Are you grounding yourself with a rock that was uprooted and taken from its natural habitat?
*Editor’s note: This is very important to our spiritual practice and philosophy as well. All crystals and gemstones sold at House of Intuition are ethically sourced.*
What projects do you currently have in the works? I have been producing some new sew-on patches, T-shirts, zines, and brass earrings. But, my big project is my 6th tarot deck, which has a release date of fall/winter 2018! I won’t be showing any of the images until it’s release, and it may be my last deck that I create.