In this episode T. Susan Chang plays host to interview me about my new deck from Llewellyn – The Orisha Tarot. We talk about my 18 year journey with the Lukumi tradition that brought me to this point. This episode is a deep dive into the how and why of this deck an dthe role the spirits have played in its creation too.
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SUSIE: Hello, everybody! You’re hearing a different voice as the host of this week’s Hermit’s Lamp podcast. I’m Susie Chang, friend of Andrew, and Andrew has kindly invited me to come on the show in order to interview him about his new deck, the Orisha Tarot, since he obviously could not interview himself! [laughs] Normally, at the beginning of an interview, what I would do is introduce the guest, but since the guest is the host, I guess I’ll just do a very cursory introduction of what I know about my friend, Andrew. As you know, he is the proprietor of The Hermit’s Lamp, the store, which is a touchstone for all of us in the tarot community, and he is the voice behind The Hermit’s Lamp podcast. He is an artist in his own right and a creator of beautiful works, decks, and he is also a priest in the Lucumí tradition, and we’ll be talking about that some more. But the reason that we’re here today is to talk about the Orisha Tarot, which is coming out from Llewellyn in September … What day is it?
ANDREW: Basically, today, according to Amazon.
SUSIE: For real! Fantastic! Yeah, this is very exciting. So, I understand decks are already shipping out, and I was also particularly interesting — interested — in doing this podcast because we’re both Llewellyn authors. I’ve got a book coming out from Llewellyn on tarot correspondences just next month. So, shout out to Llewellyn for supporting the work of tarot lovers everywhere.
SUSIE: Yeah! So the Orisha Tarot is officially out. Congratulations!
ANDREW: Thank you!
SUSIE: It’s been many years in the making, hasn’t it?
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean it’s … It’s always one of those things. Where do you count that from? You know?
ANDREW: I signed my contract for it about two years ago, maybe a little bit less than that. So that’s probably as good a time as any. But even at that point I had already made a dozen cards and had spent five or six years prior to that thinking about it and trying to figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. So. You know?
SUSIE: Right. And actually, I’d like to back up even further, to the beginning of your story in this tradition. And to find out a little bit. Because it’s been about ten years, I think you said? Something like that?
ANDREW: Ten years as a priest.
ANDREW: As of August. It was 2000 when I started getting involved in this tradition. So it’s been about 18 years that I’ve been involved.
SUSIE: Wow. So that’s … Really, it’s been a long journey for you. And I was listening to your wonderful interview with our friends at the Tarot Visions podcast, and I think you mentioned that you came into it through kind of a circle of friends who were exploring different esoteric traditions, and I kind of wanted to know a little bit more about what drew you. You mentioned that you were, you know, a friend had brought in his own explorations of Lucumí, and I wanted to, first of all, sort of talk a tiny bit about the context of Lucumí, since not everyone will be familiar with it, and also, a little bit more about your attraction to it. Now, as I understand it, Lucumí is a Cuban offshoot of the greater Yoruba African traditional religion, yeah?
ANDREW: So, the story you get will depend a lot on who you talk to. Like many things. Right?
ANDREW: You know, so, at the time of the Atlantic slave trade, Yoruban wasn’t really cohesive at all. That whole area was a bunch of city states and so on, right?
ANDREW: So, this idea that there was sort of one cohesive African traditional religion, or ATR, which these things spread from, isn’t really historically accurate. You know?
ANDREW: If you came from, you know, the city of Ife, then, you know, your tradition slants in one direction, certain deities are, you know, held above others; if you come from Oyo, then, you know, that’s going to have a different set of traditions and sort of a different kind of more primary veneration and tilting towards certain deities over others. If you’re down sort of in the coastal parts of kind of western Africa, towards the south end of that sort of prominence, the way in which some of the Orisha are going to manifest, especially the water Orisha, are different than if you’re sort of further north, or inland, or in other places. You know, and so …
ANDREW: It’s important to understand that these sort of … All of these Orisha traditions and their diasporic manifestations, you know, as they found themselves in different countries, throughout the Caribbean and North and South America, they all varied depending on which groups of people were enslaved and brought over, which traditions survived, what happened in relationship to the indigenous culture that was present, you know, in Cuba indigenous culture was sort of pretty much wiped out, so there wasn’t much inclusion of that into the traditions, whereas in other parts, you know, especially in South America, you know, some of those cultures continue to sort of live alongside and there’s sort of more sharing of ideas.
SUSIE: Yeah, it seems like in many of the diasporic manifestations, you see fates that have been heavily syncretized with whatever was going on locally.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and I think that, you know, the question of syncretization is always an interesting one, you know?
ANDREW: The story that some people like to say is that they were syncretized in order to conceal them and to prevent …
ANDREW: And to protect them and to allow them to practice covertly, you know …
ANDREW: And I’m sure that that’s true in some ways. But also, you know, there’s a lot of … In nonwestern approaches to magic and to spirituality, there’s often a real sense of “hey, what’s that guy good for? What’s that spirit …?”
ANDREW: “What’s that one going to do for me?” Whereas this sort of very practical notion of, you know, you come across somebody and you’re like, “well, I read about this guy, what’s that saint good for?”
ANDREW: And there’s the syncretization that happens, for sure, but there’s also the notion of like, having more spiritual people in your corner is not a bad idea at all. Right?
SUSIE: Exactly, exactly.
ANDREW: And so, so I think the history is interesting to try and unravel, but I think that we’ll never really fully understand exactly what was going on with everybody involved.
SUSIE: Exactly. And I think that, you know, people of faith kind of make faith work however they can, right? You know, it’s sort of like you’ll always have schools of thoughts that try to keep, you know, try to distinguish and separate and go towards a purist mentality in terms of practicing faith, and then there are others who’ll say, well, we work with what we’ve got, you know?
ANDREW: So, and so, to kind of answer your kind of like, about my lineage … My lineage, as far back as we know it, originates with this woman Monserrate, you know, she’s the farthest back that we can trace that, and my lineage originates in Cuba and through those sort of Cuban traditions. So. Variations of the diasporic traditions, for sure.
SUSIE: Right, right. So we’re talking about … We’re specifically talking about a tradition that came to Cuba through the slave trade.
ANDREW: Exactly, yeah.
SUSIE: And do … You actually have some reference to that in, I think, your Ten of Swords card.
SUSIE: Which seems really appropriate, yeah. So, I wanted to know a little bit more about your personal journey, in terms of whether you yourself grew up in any kind of faith community, or whether you were … you know, did you have to rebel against one? did you long to belong to a faith community? What was that like for you and what was discovering this community like for you?
ANDREW: So, I think that one of the best things that my parents did was not raise me with any traditions at all.
ANDREW: My parents weren’t particularly religious, you know …
SUSIE: So what did you rebel against? [laughs]
ANDREW: I didn’t rebel against any- I mean I rebelled against everything. But we’ll get to that. But what that meant was, you know, when I said to my mom, I want to go to the psychic fair and find some books on magic, when I was 12, my mom was like, okay. You know, when I like, picked out Alistair Crowley, she was like, sure, go ahead.
ANDREW: So, that meant that I like had a lot of space to really get involved and think about other things, you know?
ANDREW: You know, other than sort of when my parents split up and we started going to Anglican church, mostly I think because my mom wanted some community …
ANDREW: I didn’t really have a lot of connection or experience with any kind of organized religion. But what happened was, when I was 14, I almost died in a car accident.
ANDREW: And after that I wanted to understand everything. And so, I didn’t rebel against anything as such, but what I really wanted to know was, like, what does this all mean? Right? Like all of it. You know. At that point I’d already been reading tarot for a year …
ANDREW: I’d already been studying Crowley for a couple of years. It was already really invested in sort of a magical world view. And at that point then I just started reading everything I could get my hands on, right? So I’m like in grade 9 and 10, and reading Nietzsche and …
ANDREW: Picking out, you know, people who can talk about these things. The youth group at the church was run by an ex-Jesuit, and so I would like corner him and be like “hey, tell me about this, tell me about that, tell me about this,” and for the most part, people would indulge me and have conversations with me about it, you know?
SUSIE: Mm-hmm. Was there another organized religion that you were drawn to? Before Lucumí?
ANDREW: No. I mean, Crowley’s work. You know?
ANDREW: For me it was basically all about Crowley’s work.
SUSIE: And you were in the OTO?
ANDREW: Yeah. When I was in my … It wasn’t until much later though. It wasn’t until I was, you know, well into my 20s that I actually even considered … I was like, oh, maybe the OTO exists here in Toronto. Maybe I could find people. Mostly I just practiced independently and pursued and tried to talk to people.
ANDREW: Yeah. And then basically I left the OTO and the Armed Solace, which was another initiatory group, and moved into practicing Lucumí, you know? That was my journey.
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah. And it’s been, as you said, like an 18-year journey at this point. And, so that’s something I wanted to sort of ask you about, in terms of doing the artwork, telling the stories, introducing the wider world to this tradition. You know, often when we are talking about faiths we didn’t grow up in, you know, there’s this question of whether it’s your story to tell, or whether, you know, at what point do you become a representative? And so that’s a question I have for you, at what point did you feel that you were invested enough or, you know, that you had a strong enough sense of belonging to be able to bring this to other people?
ANDREW: Sure. So, there’s a whole bunch of pieces to that answer.
SUSIE: Mm-hmm. It’s a complex one. [laughing]
ANDREW: Yeah! We’ll start with this. When you … When you become a priest, right? You become initiated into a lineage, right? So, you know, and when we talk about ancestors, the word we use most of the time is Egun. Right? We mean Egun to mean, ancestors by blood, and ancestors by initiation, right?
ANDREW: And so, you know, my Egun are those priests of the Orishas, going back to Montserrate and beyond, you know, and they’re lost to history beyond that. And so, part of the conversation for me is, this is my lineage, this is my, these are my ancestors at this point, right? And this is something that we take pretty seriously within the tradition, right? Initiation and lineage are really significant.
ANDREW: And so that’s part of the thing. Part of it is, although my parents did not practice this tradition, I am initiated into this lineage in a traditional way.
SUSIE: So, so there’s a difference here between blood lineage and spiritual lineage.
ANDREW: But the word does not differentiate. We don’t differentiate, right? So, if you … We could … You could get a reading, and, your traditional reading, and your reading could come in a good way or a bad way, depending on what’s going on with you, from the Egun, right?
SUSIE: Right, right.
ANDREW: And when we’re divining, if it’s possible, we want to mark who that is, and we would ask, ancestors from the lineage, and ancestors from the blood line, and depending on what the reading came out as, it would guide us. And we could narrow it down, and be like, “Oh, yeah, the ancestors are upset with you, and in this case it’s someone from your blood family, or in some other case it’s somebody from your initiatory lineage,” but we don’t differentiate, the word means the same, right?
SUSIE: Yes, I seem to remember reading something this past week about the idea that your, your, they’re sort of one set, one bloodline sort of over one shoulder and spiritual guidance over the other, but they sort of combine and you need both. And I guess, you know, speaking about the outlook and cosmology of the faith, would it fair to say that, you come into this religion, but the religion itself proceeds from the assumption that everybody, no matter where you come from, no matter who your parents, or grandparents etc. were, has a relationship, or a potential relationship they haven’t yet realized, with the Orisha?
ANDREW: I don’t think that that’s actually true.
SUSIE: Okay. So that’s what I’m trying to get to the bottom of here.
ANDREW: Okay. Before we come to Earth, we choose our destiny. We choose our Ori, right? Ori is sort of, not easily translated into one thing, but if you think of it as sort of your guardian angel, your destiny, and your higher self, all as one entity, that’s probably a reasonable set of points to make sense of it, for people who have those ideas already.
ANDREW: And when you choose your destiny, before you come to Earth, it’s sealed, right?
ANDREW: And so, we don’t know what all it entails before we come, but if it’s part of your destiny to get initiated into the Orisha tradition then opportunities will present themselves for that. It’s not to say that you couldn’t force them otherwise, but those wouldn’t be in alignment with your destiny. And really, when we’re talking about sort of initiation, and sort of connection, and those kinds of things, they really all ought to be dictated by either divination, or dictated by Orisha in possession of people, right?
ANDREW: It’s not really, you know. There are many people who will come, people will come and Orishas are like, “yeah, okay, we’ll help you,” right?
ANDREW: Or the people will come, and they’ll be like, “no, you should go do something else,” right?
ANDREW: Either direction, go over that way, go look at these people, you know, like go look at these other traditions. It’s definitely not for … It’s not meant for everybody, per se, and it’s not closed in any, you know, in any particular way, although certain houses and certain, you know, lineages, might be more closed to outsiders than others, based on a whole bunch of different factors, but …
ANDREW: It’s much more so that, you know, if it’s part of your destiny the opportunity will arise, if it’s not, then, you know, you might run into it, but they might say, no, you’re good, go to the other side.
SUSIE: Right. Well, this is interesting to me because I’ve noticed that there seem to be a lot of people who are clearly didn’t grow up within the culture who have become drawn to this religion or some form of it, some form of the faith, and, you know, taken it on. And, it seems as though there is, you know, a certain openness to those who commit themselves, whether or not they grew up or had family or, you know, understood the culture. Right?
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean I think that, I think that there are opportunities definitely for people to engage and connect with these traditions. And there are definitely practitioners around who are, you know, open to people who didn’t grow up in these traditions and so on, for sure, right.
SUSIE: Right, right.
ANDREW: That’s definitely a thing, and you know, I mean that, I think one of the things I see that’s going on is that, certain people seem like they’re looking for tradition, right? They’re looking for … They’re kind of doing something that doesn’t have a long living history, and they’re kind of looking backwards for, or looking around for those things that do, you know?
ANDREW: I think that’s part of why the Tarot de Marseilles is sort of resurfacing.
SUSIE: Right, right.
ANDREW: You know, it’s, I think that it’s why the Orisha traditions are shifting and coming forward more. You know?
SUSIE: Right. That’s one of the things that … I guess that’s why I was asking you so much about your own background in terms of, you know, working independently versus belonging, right? Because I think that that’s something that a lot of us struggle with, especially those of us who grew up, you know, in an era where religious community isn’t something that one takes for granted.
SUSIE: Yeah. So anyway, I think that we should probably turn a little bit to the work itself.
ANDREW: Well, let me finish answering … Cause we started with this question of me and sort of, you know, doing this deck, right?
ANDREW: You know, sort of … And we kind of started talking about the ancestral piece and drifted away, and there are a couple of other things that I want to sort of …
SUSIE: Okay, good.
ANDREW: So I mean, one of the things, like I did a bunch of things around creating and starting this process, and getting permission before I started this process, and certainly one of them was sitting with my elders and talking about what I wanted to do, and, you know, getting advice from them.
ANDREW: And certainly part of it was asking the Orishas themselves, asking Elegua for, you know, his blessing to proceed with this project.
ANDREW: And also, you know, sort of sitting down with people and sort of showing my art with, you know, with different people and people of color and so on to kind of consult with my choices around representations and so on, so.
SUSIE: Absolutely, absolutely.
ANDREW: I really wanted to, you know, you can never please anybody, and I’m sure there’ll be some people who’ll be upset by the deck, and well, you know, that’s life. Right? But …
SUSIE: Right. But it sounds as though you have a lot of support. At least within the community you have access to for the work that you undertook.
SUSIE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Cool. So I wanted to talk a little bit about making a tarot deck, approaching a tarot deck, coming out of the various traditions you come out of. So I know that you started out with Crowley and the Thoth deck — or, I know you pronounce it “Toth,” [laughing] and also that your primary commitment as a reader for quite a while has been the Marseilles deck.
SUSIE: So, how … Why did it seem like a natural choice to you to translate or to represent what you know from Orisha as a tarot deck? You know, I think a lot of people would say, well, you know, since there isn’t an obvious 78 card structure, you know, number of deities, all the sort of correspondences that tend to underlie at least the Golden Dawn-derived decks, or the general tradition of tarot reaching back to the 15th century, you know, why, why do a tarot deck and not something more free form like an oracle deck?
ANDREW: Well, because, one of the reasons why I made this deck was because I wanted to create a bridge between the people who have traditional experience with the Orishas, and people who have experience with the traditional tarot structure.
ANDREW: And I wanted to use that … those two pieces as a way of creating a bridge so that people could sort of have more understanding of each other. And of what’s going on, right?
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW: And so, I really, you know, I mean, I’ve got nothing against oracle decks, I mean I released one earlier in the year. But, in trying to think about something as large and expansive as the Orisha traditions, it really … Having a clear structure, like the tarot structure, allowed me to frame and set the conversation in a way that allowed me to finish it [laughing] cause otherwise …
SUSIE: [laughing] Right, it’s … otherwise, how do you know when it’s done? [laughing]
ANDREW: Yeah, right? I mean, we divine with, you know, upwards of 256 different signs.
ANDREW: Each of those signs is as complicated or as a trump card, or as sophisticated as a trump card …
ANDREW: and then there’s, you know, depending on who you ask, you know, a bunch of primary Orishas and maybe, you know, like even hundreds if you start getting into different paths and roads, it can expand infinitely in every direction, right? So.
SUSIE: Mm-hmm. I’m curious in whether there’s much crossover between the two communities, that you’ve noticed. I mean tarot, and Orisha.
ANDREW: Sure, lots of people. I know lots of people who are initiated. You know, I mean, that sort of … syncretic piece, kind of “what can I do with this?”, you know, that continues to be a problem with a lot of Orisha practitioners’ lives, right?
ANDREW: It’s more purely, just the Lucumí Orisha stuff. Many people practice some combination of, you know, Paulo Moyumbe, and espiritismo, and card reading, and, you know, other things, depending on who they are and what they feel is important and what they have access to. So there’s not like … There’s not a lot of hard rules …
ANDREW: About the Orisha tradition. Certainly not the tradition I practice.
ANDREW: I mean, definitely don’t mix them in one ceremony.
SUSIE: But it’s okay if you practice them separately.
ANDREW: If you go to church on Sunday, and then you tend your ancestral Boveda, and then you have some Orisha, and you go between them, depending on what you feel and need, it depends on where you go, it’s a really common experience for a lot of people. So.
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah, I’m glad you addressed that, cause that’s something I was really curious about. You know, you don’t dilute your practice by sort of mixing a bit of everything. On the other hand, you’re one person, and, you know, if you’re drawn to different practices, then perhaps you’re drawn to different practices for different needs.
ANDREW: Sure. And if the Orisha don’t want you doing that, they’ll tell you! For sure.
SUSIE: [laughing] Right.
ANDREW: They’ll be like, “stop it!”
SUSIE: That’s not cool. Yeah.
SUSIE: So, a little bit about what people can expect when they’re approaching the cards. Now, it’s not like there’s a particular Orisha per card. There’s Orisha in some representations of some cards, some cards have concepts from Lucumí, some cards have one of the Odu on them, so, sort of like, how did you approach how you wanted to impart all of this information structurally into the deck?
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. So, I really, I wanted to try and avoid what I had seen done in other decks in the past.
ANDREW: Not because it’s wrong per se, but because it doesn’t give the conversation enough meat. Right? You know a lot of decks would say, well, Shango is the king, and therefore, he’s the emperor, and so when I draw the Emperor I’m going to draw Shango.
ANDREW: And that’s fair, you know, I mean Shango is the emperor, he’s the king of the Orishas.
ANDREW: But, but there’s a lot more to it than that. What does that mean? In what way does kingship or power in that way show up in a variety of different contexts, and what are the different conversations that we could have, right?
ANDREW: And so, when I was sort of working with the trump cards, I wanted to embody the ideas that I see being behind, you know, behind the cards themselves: spiritual authority, earthly authority, fortune and chance, you know, like different things. I wanted to sort of embody those bigger ideas and kind of avoid kind of just a straight, this symbol = this symbol here …
SUSIE: Yeah, I call that the matchy match. [laughing]
ANDREW: Right? Exactly.
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ANDREW: When I was looking at the number cards, which for me often represent sort of more the what and the how of life, right? I wanted to kind of focus more on stories, and those things that tend to be more about particular patakis, or stories or ideas from the lives of the Orishas and the lives of their practitioners and where that kind of overlaps and integrates with those numbered cards. And then when I got to the court cards, I wanted to, I wanted to really kind of explore the way the court cards can be sort of seen to line up with roles people might play in the community. Right?
ANDREW: So, when we’re looking at those, we see … One of them, the Aleyo, the new person who’s just coming to this tradition, who’s ready to learn, and they’re making an offering to, you know, the butcher, who is a very skilled and important part of the ceremonies in the community, to the elders who run the ceremonies, and the singers and the drummers and the artists and all of those things, so I kind of went through and sifted those ideas into where I felt they aligned with the court cards best.
ANDREW: So, the court cards then become really positions or roles one might find oneselves in, in religion, and over time, with the traditional idea of the court cards, over time we might [00:29:27]. Over time we might be, you know, we might play this role in this community and that role in another community. And so on. So.
SUSIE: Right, right. And I think hat underscores what I think sometimes we forget about court cards, which is that we can be any of them, and we are any and all of them at different times.
SUSIE: So, about that … A word you brought up just before, which I think is pretty important for us to discuss, the word Pataki, the story. So can you tell us a little bit about how that is contextualized within the faith and also, we should mention, that that is the name of the book that goes with the deck, Patakis of the Orisha Tarot. Yeah.
ANDREW: So, patakis are the stories of the Orishas and their practitioners that are meant to be instructive, right?
ANDREW: The word parable, you know, is a way to maybe give a different word for it in English.
ANDREW: And, you know, especially when we’re divining, right, we’ll often give a proverb, and we’ll often, you know, tell a story about the Orishas. And, this is part of this oral tradition of it, that we are expressing these ideas in ways that allow us to tell the person things, in ways that are easier to hold onto, easier to integrate, that give us some meat, rather than just saying, “hey, don’t do this thing,” which we might also say …
ANDREW: We might also tell the story of when one of the Orishas did that thing and what happened to them.
ANDREW: “Oh yeah yeah, okay I see that. I shouldn’t do that thing, cause this is gonna happen,” right? There’ll be a problem.
SUSIE: There’s something about these stories that’s so human and relatable, right? You know? I mean is it not the case that the Orisha themselves were at one time human or before they became more than human?
ANDREW: Well, that’s a … That’s a contested … Somewhat contested point of view. Many Orisha are what’s known as urumole. They came from heaven. Right? They originated purely from spirit.
ANDREW: There are Orishas who are considered deified ancestors, Shango being one of them, you know, Oduduwa being another one. You know, there are these spirits, these people who led great lives and led their communities and so on, and became, you know, deified after their death. The question that comes up in those conversations, then, also is were those lives that Orisha descending and living on Earth for a period of time?
SUSIE: Yes, right. Yeah.
ANDREW: So, I mean, I think that it … I think that there’s no clear answers to that. But in general, the majority of the Orishas did not start as human, but originated as part of the unfolding of creation, and then came to sort of live these lives and, you know, have these stories and experiences that we now understand. And also, when we’re talking about some of these stories, I think that we also need to understand that some of them, and there’s no easy historical way to say which ones are not, but a good chunk of them were probably stories about priests of those spirits.
SUSIE: I see.
ANDREW: Made these mistakes in their lives. It’s like, “Oh yeah, you’re Bill, the priest of Obatala who lived down the road …”
ANDREW: “Remember when you did this?” “Yeah, I remember,” right?
SUSIE: [laughing] Right, right.
ANDREW: And those stories become, you know, part of the myth, right? Part of the lexicon of these traditions.
SUSIE: Yes. I guess what makes me wonder, you know, what their relationship with mortality and humanity is, is because these stories, the emotions and the sort of currents that they represent are things that anyone can relate to. You know, there’s jealousy, there’s anger, there’s, you know, there’s infidelity, there’s theft, there are things that you don’t sort of in the same way that in the Greek mythology you see people, you see deities acting badly, right? Or in ways that show that they can make mistakes too.
ANDREW: Definitely. One of my elders likes to say, you know, “They made those mistakes, you don’t need to, okay?”
ANDREW: Right? But, you know. We’re all human. We’re gonna learn or we’re not gonna learn. But we’ll learn one way or another. Right?
SUSIE: Right, right. So, a little bit more about deck structure. So, first of all, I noticed immediately that there were some sorts of ways in which your experience with tarot informed the deck. First of all, there’s a little bit of a thought sensibility, in that your Strength and Justice are ordered in the way that the Thoth deck and the Marseilles deck do, rather than the Rider-Waite-Smith. I noticed that you have ordered it wands, cups, swords, disks, fire, water, air earth, which is a very hermetic thing. And the very fact that you call them disks also comes out of the Thoth tradition. But, I also wanted to know a little bit, for example, of … I can sort of understand where the structure for the majors comes from, but what I wanted to know a little bit more is about the pips. Because your primary reading background comes from, as far as assigning meaning to the pips, I guess would be based in Thoth originally? I wondered if there was sort of more relationship …. Would someone who comes from a Rider-Waite-Smith tradition instantly recognize, or from a Golden Dawn tradition, instantly recognize the concepts in each of these minor cards?
ANDREW: Well, I mean I think so. [laughing]
SUSIE: [laughing] I can tell you that I certainly did.
ANDREW: I mean, here’s my hope about this deck. You know?
ANDREW: I mean, so, obviously, I started with the Thoth deck, and I read with that deck for many years, exclusively. But I also read a ton of books on tarot, right, during that time. And had a lot of conversations, especially once I started branching out in the communities more, and you know, I mean, I’ve read lots of books on the Waite-Smith tradition, and, you know, all of that sort of and a bunch of that older stuff, you know?
ANDREW: Hermetic or otherwise. So when I was, when I was creating this deck, there are … People who are reading the book, you’ll come to some spots, you’ll hit a few cards where it’s like, you know, in the Marseilles tradition, people often think of this card this way, and I’ll give a little bit of context, and then when you go and read it, it’ll make a ton of sense.
ANDREW: And, that’s really mostly because I could have, you know, I could have written ten times as much about these cards as I did. But Llewellyn said, you can only make the book [cross-laughter [00:37:02]
SUSIE: Right, right.
ANDREW: And, and I really endeavored to sort of kind of hold what I see as kind of the middle of the road on these meanings, right? I mean I didn’t … the numbering is the numbering, and to me ultimately the numbering … I mean, this might be blasphemy from a hermetic point of view, but to me the numbering of the trump cards is really largely irrelevant.
SUSIE: I think it’s arbitrary, yeah.
ANDREW: It’s a historical precedent that’s [inaudible at [00:37:30].
SUSIE: Although, although, Andrew, I think it’s important that you made Elegua the Fool. I think, you know.
ANDREW: For sure!
SUSIE: Yeah. As the Orisha who comes first.
ANDREW: For sure, yeah, yeah. But, but, you know, choosing Justice to be this number or that number, I’m like, eh. I almost never read the numbers when I read cards, because I just see the cards, right?
SUSIE: Right, right.
ANDREW: So, you know, this deck is really meant to be, you know, a kind of relatively even representation of tarot as it exists today, right?
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW: And so, there’s not … none of it’s slanted too much one way or the another. There’s no like “Well, you need to know that Crowley called this card the Aeon means, you know the goddess Nuit means this…
ANDREW: It’s just not like that at all, right?
SUSIE: Yeah, I mean, my sensation as I was getting to know the deck was really that it was about the stories, and which story fit which card best.
ANDREW: Yeah. It’s one of the things that I actually really … I wouldn’t have guessed that I would have felt this was so important, but the feedback that I’ve gotten from the people who’ve gotten their books already, or gotten their copies already, who I shared advance copies with and stuff, is … including some non-tarot people who just are reading it because they really like me.
ANDREW: The feedback I keep getting is that the material is really accessible. And to me, that’s like a really important thing. You know? I didn’t want to make this difficult, I avoided using as much jargon, or like, you know, Lucumí words, as much as possible. I really, you know, I didn’t get into hermetic philosophy particularly anywhere. You know there are all these branches and wings of my own personal experiences and practice, that I just brought them all down to the dining hall, I was like, “All right! Let’s all have lunch to talk about stuff in a general way.”
ANDREW: You know, it’s hard to make that happen, so.
SUSIE: Right. Well I think that, you know, I think it’s really important for anyone coming to this deck to get to know the book, to read the book, really read the book, because it’s, you know, it’s 350 pages, it’s real, it’s got every single page not only has a story that’s associated with the card, but also sort of breaks down the symbols that you included in the card, what its divinatory meaning might be, and sort of what the advice might be that goes with it. And I found that incredibly helpful in terms of, like, you know, if I came across a card where my own sort of tarot background wasn’t making it immediately obvious to me what you were trying to do, I could just go to the book and it was really clear, you know, like within a minute. So, I think that it’s … This is one of those things where … And I generally am not a person who believes that readers always have to go to the book, but I think it is really enriching and helpful to contextualize using what you wrote for this deck.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think unless somebody has a strong living practice with like, you know, with a traditional Orisha practice, yeah, it might be hard to start just by looking at it …
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW: Most people who come from those traditions and read cards, as well, then maybe they don’t need the book as much, you know. It’s always interesting as I share the images on the, you know, on social media and stuff, I get, you know, priests jumping on the thing, and like, “how you choose to represent this here! it’s perfect!” you know?
SUSIE: [laughing] right.
ANDREW: They just get it, right? Because they have both of those pieces. But it’s so nice to see people be moved to see themselves and to see the tradition in this way, which is really gratifying.
SUSIE: Mm-hmm, Mm-hmm. Before we move off structure and start talking a little bit more about the art and the specific cards, is there a sort of through line in each suit that we should be looking for? Something that’s going on in wands only, something that’s going on in cups or swords or disks?
ANDREW: That was … That was a notion that I abandoned along the way. You know, in making a deck there always comes this point where the reality check steps in, and you’re like, this is the limit of what I can do, you know.
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah.
ANDREW: And the sort of the idea that there was sort of one through line for each set of suits, I didn’t really, I couldn’t really find it, and you know there are a couple other ideas about levels of detail and symbolic representations that I just realized I’d be spending another five years like hand-drawing beaded things all day…
ANDREW: I’m like, that can’t happen.
SUSIE: Right, and if … I mean there are certainly color and number correspondences you could have worked with but, by forcing it into you know, existing tarot structure or hermetic structure I think you would have been doing something that was not necessarily conducive to the most rich environment of reading these cards.
SUSIE: You know what I mean? Yeah, although, I’m looking at … I’ve sorted it out, separated my deck out, Ace, Cups Swords, sorry, Wands, Cups, Swords, I’m looking at the Aces, and there’s definitely, I get at least just from my background, I get an elemental feeling off of those cards, you know, a fire, water, air, earth feeling, and even if that’s not something that you intended to do or carried throughout the deck, there’s still something there, I think.
ANDREW: For sure. I mean, in making this deck it’s definitely … A lot of stuff just emerged in the creative process. And although I spent a lot of time thinking and writing and making notes about what went where and why and so on, when I sat down to make the cards, a lot of stuff just emerged as part of that process, you know, from the news, from the creativity, by chance or whatever, my own conscious formulated it, so there’s a lot of stuff in there that happened as I was making the cards, it wasn’t necessarily fully thought out …
SUSIE: But which is just part of you, as a reader and a practitioner.
ANDREW: Yeah. I mean, you spend 32 years working with the tarot, right?
ANDREW: It’s a lot of ideas in the back of the brain there that are trying to come out in one way or another.
SUSIE: Right. So, let’s talk a little bit about the way the cards look for those people who haven’t been lucky enough to pick up their decks yet. It’s a gorgeous production, first of all, I think you, you know … the artwork’s just stunning, and Llewellyn did a great job, I think, as well. First of all it’s a borderless deck, which, thank you! [laughing]
ANDREW: Llewellyn let me do something that they had never done before, which was: all of the titles are handwritten.
SUSIE: Yeah! Yeah!
ANDREW: [crosstalking [00:44:55] to the cards. They’re not obscured, they’re easy enough to see when you’re looking …
SUSIE: You can find them.
ANDREW: [crosstalking] Off of the bottom. They fit in more with the artwork, so it’s easier to kind of just look at the artwork, or just look for the title when you need to.
ANDREW: That was something that we had a bunch of conversations with …
SUSIE: I think it was a brilliant choice. Because, you know, it really foregrounds the story of the art. The art fills the frame, you know, everything about it allows you to immerse yourself in what’s going on in that picture, and then secondarily you, you know, check out whatever title it was so you can sort of match it up with your own tarot knowledge. But I really appreciated that and I’m really glad that they made that decision and you, you know, suggested it. And also, the colors are so saturated and so bold. So the texture and look that you were going for was based on Gwash, right?
ANDREW: Well, so, actually, what I was … So, I used to paint in Gwash a lot, before I had kids. But, you know, having kids, and having a space to set up art, you know, a small, urban space, isn’t really that easy, right?
ANDREW: So certainly, that’s a piece of my sensibility and my aesthetic, but part of what I was really looking for was, you know, starting, it’s hard to date now, but starting quite a while ago, I went from being super structured and really trying to sort of make everything perfect, to really kind of moving to a more gestural and looser way of working. And so, you know, this kind of comes out of that, you know, sort of move away from you know, sort of pursuing absolute realism to pursuing something else. And then, the other piece of the aesthetic is, you know, I wanted to include different pieces of symbolism, but I didn’t want to make it look like the Thoth deck where there are so many symbols that you don’t really know what to look at sometimes.
SUSIE: Yes, yes.
ANDREW: And so, one of the things that I decided along the way was, you know, there’s a lot of use of textiles, especially in Africa and west Africa, and the Orisha traditions, there’s a lot of use of textiles in making thrones, in making ceremonial outfits, you know, in making panuelos, which are these elaborate cloths that we put on top of the Orisha sometimes. And so I wanted to kind of have a reference to that without trying to like emulate it or create like, recreate specific patterns, but use that visual idea to create a space for that symbolic language to hold, right?
ANDREW: For the use of number, and through whatever other symbols got added to those designs and so on. So.
SUSIE: Yeah, I really picked up on the fact that the design sensibility behind this had that sort of sense of, you know, scope and flow and bold lines that you get in textile. And, you know, that’s not something you always see in tarot, and so it was really kind of a relief to the eye to sort of not get too, I don’t know, bound up in the busy?
SUSIE: Yeah. I think what we see is sort of a looseness of the line, and … But at the same time a real exactness in terms of what symbols you wanted to portray and the way that you foregrounded them in each card. So, so, you did this actually on an iPad, right?
ANDREW: I did, yeah. I did all of this digitally. I’ve been working pretty much exclusively digitally for the last five or six years now, I guess, ever since …
SUSIE: Yeah. And does that have to do with being busy, being a parent, you know, just trying to live life in addition to being an artist?
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean I don’t have a studio space, you know, I don’t have … Toronto is apparently one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, thanks for that, whoever’s responsible for that …
ANDREW: But space is certainly at a premium. And, you know, the only space where I maybe could do more studio type work is at the shop, and I already spend lots of time at the shop seeing clients and doing other stuff. I don’t really want to be at work even if it’s sort of as a creative outlet. And the iPad, you know, it’s always with me, and when I was making this deck , I would just be like, oh, I’ve got an hour, time to work on one of the cards a bit. You know?
ANDREW: Here’s some writing. Or whatever. It’s just, it’s always at hand, it’s super portable, and especially, I got an iPad Pro, like one of the big ones, and an Apple pencil, which finally I was able to make happen through the process and you know, it’s the best thing ever, it’s just …
SUSIE: Yeah, and if you get interrupted, you can just save it, and pick it up later.
ANDREW: And I’m sure, like from a production point of view too, you can work in layers, like in Photoshop …
ANDREW: It’s a real treat. So all the backgrounds are their own layers and all the symbols
SUSIE: That’s great, yeah.
ANDREW: The line work symbols and stuff. So if I make a mistake, if I change my mind later …
SUSIE: Right, right. Plus it gives you more freedom. I mean if you’re doing a background you don’t want to just stop to make room for the foreground, right?
ANDREW: Right? Yeah. All also, I just sent all the Photoshops to Llewellyn, and they asked me if they could take some of them apart and use pieces for making the box and other stuff, which they did, which is fantastic. I’m so delighted with it. It just, it allows for a variety of options in a way that traditional mediums just don’t, you know?
SUSIE: Yeah, I was really excited to realize that you did this in a digital format like that just because I didn’t know that you could create art like this in that way and have it come out looking so good. You know?
SUSIE: And the other thing is that I just, I thought it was really funny, that just practically speaking, that it made so much sense for you. This is one of my hobby horses, the idea of just how difficult it is to be both a parent and a practitioner, you know, just to live your life and try to do this work is a constant struggle. Like, you know, you’re in the middle of a banishing ritual and some kid is like, coming through saying, Mom, I missed the bus!
SUSIE: I mean, it’s like it’s every day, you know, trying to make that work is tricky for a lot of us. So I’m glad you found a way to make this happen.
ANDREW: Me too.
SUSIE: Okay, so I’d love to, if you feel like it, I’d love to talk a little bit about specific cards. If you could just give me a second, I have to plug … My laptop’s going to run out of charge. I just have to plug it in real quick.
SUSIE: Just, be right there. [pause] Okay, we’re good. And I can strip that out of the tape, later on, if you want. Okay. So, let’s talk about a couple majors. I wanted to return to the Fool card, cause I think that’s super important, where you have Elegua, who is, I guess, you know I don’t want to make the mistake of trying to do too much equivalency here, but he is the one who makes communication possible as I understand it.
ANDREW: Yeah. Elegua is the Orisha we speak to first in every ceremony, because he opens and closes the ways, and Elegua is all of the communication everywhere, on every single level, right. If we think about the communication between every cell in your body is that communication between the parts of the universe, you know, nothing exists or could happen without Elegua being there to facilitate that transfer of information from one place to another.
SUSIE: Right. Right. And so, I think, you know, that’s what makes it so important and so appropriate that he’s the first card in the deck. You have to, even to open your mouth, to gather the air to speak, you have to be there, right, although he also has a presence in a number of other cards as well. And what people will see, when they look at it, is, I guess the, a common representation of Elegua is the kind of stone or concrete head with the cowrie shells embedded in it, right?
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yeah, when people … A common solution, a relatively common solution to troubles in people’s lives is to receive what’s referred to as the Warriors …
ANDREW: Which is Elegua, Ogun and Ochossi. It’s an initiation that you don’t have to be a priest to have. Anybody can receive this if it’s marked or required. And they come into your life to help you fight your problems and overcome your obstacles and so on. And what there’s actually, people are really accustomed to seeing these cement heads with the cowrie shells, but traditionally depending on your lineage, Elegua is … they have marked the path of Elegua, and there are many ways in which Elegua might be made. But I chose to make the one that people understand the most because I wanted it to be somewhat familiar to people, for sure.
SUSIE: Right, and this is actually a symbol that ordinary people might have in their homes, right?
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah. Well, just real quick, after I got your deck, I had the craziest dream, where I dreamed that I got up and I went outside. And this was around midnight. And the UPS truck comes, [laughing] and gives me a package with my name on it, and I open it and I suddenly start to feel really strange like I’m high or I’ve taken something or ingested some kind of substance, like, just through opening the package. And then I was instantly transported into some kind of rite that was going on in my dining room. And Elegua was there. [laughing] And I thought this was, obviously this is not, I knew almost nothing before this week about this tradition, but, and I certainly have no way of knowing what significance that had or what, you know I certainly can’t speak for the tradition in any way, but I thought it was, so interesting that, you know, my dream maker chose to take the delivery of your deck to me as this kind of mind-altering frame-shifting event. and then introduce, you know, this personification of communication, the opener of the ways, into the dream.
ANDREW: Yup. Indeed.
SUSIE: So I was very grateful for that experience. Okay. The only other major I really wanted to make sure we talked about was the Priestess card.
SUSIE: Because it’s not what people would ordinarily expect to see in a Priestess card, and I thought you could talk a little bit about what we’re looking at and how it relates to the High Priestess we know and love.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. So, this is actually one of the cards that gave me the biggest trouble.
ANDREW: I spent a lot of time working on this card, they’re a bunch of drawings that got scrapped along the way, because I was just like, no, nope, no, no, no, that’s not gonna cut it, that’s too simple, that’s too this, that’s too whatever, right?
ANDREW: You know, so what we see in the Priestess card, is we see a bunch of cowrie shells, right?
ANDREW: And the dillogun, or the cowrie shells, are you know one of the traditional tools of divination. For olocha, for priests in the way that I’m a priest, it’s the way in which we speak with the Orishas. And, when we divine with the shells, we pray, and we invoke an opening with Elegua or whoever, for an Odu, for a sign, like a, the idea almost like a card to sort of … But those energies, those Odu, are the living unfolding of the universe, right?
ANDREW: So, they represent all of the knowledge that was and is and all of the possible knowledge of the future, or the possible unfoldings of the future. And so, those energies that arrive when we do a reading, and come to play in the life of the person who gets the reading done … It’s actually a serious ceremony to get a reading.
ANDREW: It alters the course of your life, right? And, you know when we think of the Priestess or the Papess, right?
ANDREW: One of the things that we can talk about is knowledge, right? And it’s deep metaphysical knowledge, right?
SUSIE: Right. Which isn’t readily accessible to you at a surface level.
ANDREW: And, when we think about the Hierophant or the Pope as sort of the outer face of spirituality, the High Priestess is the inner face. She’s the inner mystery of that, right?
SUSIE: Right .
ANDREW: And she is that knowledge which is hard to get to, that knowledge which is hard won, and that knowledge which is tied to a deep respect and a deep cosmic awareness of the nature of the universe, right?
ANDREW: And so this Odu and the method of divination and the process of divination, to me mirrors that, right?
ANDREW: And so the shells become the mouth of the Priestess, right? And if we look at it in a sort of Rider Waite symbol, right? Cascarilla and the Ota, the black stone?
ANDREW: They mirror, we use those in the divination process, but they mirror those two columns …
SUSIE: The boas and jacim, yeah.
ANDREW: The positive and negative vibrations that are in that sort of duality.
SUSIE: And those are a kind of … Are they a yes/no kind of stand-in?
ANDREW: Yeah, we use them and other things to ask specific questions within a reading. We each have … There’s about a half dozen Ibo that all have ritual significance, and we use them in different ways depending on the nature of the question we’re asking.
ANDREW: And then the other thing that’s going on in this card is, usually people divine on a straw mat or a tray …
ANDREW: With cowrie shells. And some people use a wooden tray, maybe, but more often than not a straw mat. So, I wanted to create this idea of the straw mat, but then this idea that below it is this sort of cosmic opening, right? This connection to everything.
ANDREW: So, this is actually probably one of the most abstracted cards in the whole deck …
ANDREW: In that it doesn’t really show an Orisha or a thing that is sort of easily connectable, but I think that it really represents a sort of, that depth of knowledge and connection, direct connection to the voice of creation, that I associate with the High Priestess and that you know I associate with this divination process.
SUSIE: Yes. Now the Odu themselves, they’re transmitted orally, right? It’s not something that you just pick up a book, and not anyone can do it.
ANDREW: Yes. If you’re not a priest, you cannot do cowrie shells, right?
SUSIE: Got you.
ANDREW: There’s no … The best thing we could say is that you don’t have the spiritual license, and my elders would be quite clear, you know, you can do anything you want with these shells, but they don’t speak for the Orishas, therefore whatever you get is irrelevant.
ANDREW: You know …
SUSIE: So it’s not like what we think of … As tarot readers, we just pick up a deck and anyone can give it a go, this is something that you really need to go through initiation and be crowned as a priest to do.
ANDREW: And spend a long time studying, right? You know you need to understand that there are 256, technically 257 signs. Each of those signs has a specific hierarchical order of Orishas that speak in them. Each of them has proverbs, songs, ceremonies, offerings, taboos, patakis, and then each of those signs can come in ire, like the sign of blessing, or asobo, the negative sign, and then there are many kinds of ire and osogbo, and if you start to multiply those out, you start to realize how many different permutations are possible in this system .
ANDREW: It takes a very long time and a lot of study to really come to understand what all those things mean.
SUSIE: Yeah, and is that something that … So, this is something that you might do as a priest, correct?
SUSIE: And did you internalize all of those 256, 257 signs or was it, is it an ongoing study? How does that work for you?
ANDREW: There’s no end to the study. [laughing]
SUSIE: Right. [laughing]
ANDREW: Like hermeticism. When do you know enough?
SUSIE: Oh, you never know enough. No no no … [laughing] Right. Okay. Well that’s really helpful in terms of getting into the card. Are there any other majors that you’d kind of like to draw attention to before we look at minors?
ANDREW: No, I’m happy to take your lead.
SUSIE: Great. And honestly I would like to go through every single card in the deck, and I was having a lot of trouble sort of singling out a few that might be interesting to talk about, but given our time constraints, we’ll just focus on some. I was looking at … the Nine of Wands, we’re kind of going in order here, Nine of Wands [static at [01:04:39] see in this card, it’s so interesting, because as I understand it, from your story, this is a representation of Yamaya, or one of her avatars I guess …
SUSIE: And there’s a shipwreck, or an underwater ship, and [static] got a knife, and the knife has clearly just been used. So, maybe you can tell us a little bit about that.
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that people … In making the deck, I wanted to disrupt people’s preconceived notions, right?
ANDREW: Of certain things. You know, like people, it’s common for people to say, yeah yeah yeah, if you want love, go and talk to Ochún. Right? And Ochún will help you find love.
ANDREW: He might, it’s possible, but sometimes [inaudible] Ochún in what context and so on and so on, right? But you know, Ochún also doesn’t really dig people complaining very much, it’s not a thing that she’s really that into …
ANDREW: So, depending on the attitude that you’re feeling about this, Ochún might also be irritated by you approaching her about it, it’s very hard to say.
ANDREW: Which is why, you know, traditional practitioners divine, right?
ANDREW: Because the good answer is, in traditional divination, any Orisha that offers to help you with a problem can help you with that problem.
ANDREW: Whether we sort of generally associate that with being their purview or not, doesn’t really matter, because if they say they’re gonna help, they’re gonna help, and you just say thank you, right?
ANDREW: And, so when we think about Yamaya, people think about Yamaya as a sort of loving mother energy, as a sort of always supportive energy, right? You know?
ANDREW: We really sometimes people are sent to work with her when they need sort of grounding and stabilizing of emotions …
ANDREW: But, you know, Yamaya also has many roads and many avatars, right? So we’re talking about, you know, Obu Okotu, it’s not gentle, she’s really a lot more like a shark, right?
And so, you know, the idea, the thing that people often say, is that when the ship wrecks, she grabs the sailors and takes them down to their fate, right?
ANDREW: And so there’s this real sort of show of strength and power with her that isn’t what we would normally associate with it, but which is 100 percent a part of her personality, or at least her personality on that path, right?
SUSIE: Right. And I actually thought that this was … You know, the more I thought about it, the more it tied to my own understanding of this card. I mean when I think of the Nine of Wands, I think of someone who has been derived their strength from the vicissitudes of life, from the experiences of having suffered and having learned.
SUSIE: And I think that … I also think of it as a very lunar card, so that made it kind of feel familiar to me as well. But also, the fact that power has a personality and ruthlessness to it, as well.
ANDREW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I mean the Nine of Wands often turns up to speak of people who are strong clear incredibly competent, and sometimes hard for other people to relate to because of those things, right?
SUSIE: Yeah. They’ve been through a lot.
ANDREW: Yeah, for sure.
SUSIE: Yeah. Okay. Fascinating. And plus, it’s just beautiful. You see the body of Yamaya, but at first you may not even recognize that it’s a human form because of the blue on blue, it’s a very underwater card. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Looking at — Oh, you know, one of my favorite cards of all is your Ten of Cups. And, which I did receive this week, once, and what I love about it is the story that goes along with it. So maybe you could talk about that a little bit.
Sure. So when we were talking earlier in the podcast about picking your Ore or picking your destiny, right? This card represents that process, right?
ANDREW: You know, when everybody’s hanging out in Orun, up on the other side, you know where we’re all spirits, eventually, people for whatever reasons decide it’s time to come back to earth. You know, decide it’s time to come back down here, you know, to the marketplace, to hang out and party, to fulfill something they haven’t fulfilled, whatever it may be. And when they make that decision, they go, as my elders described it, you go down the hall to this room where Adela, who is the Orisha who crafts these destinies, as a series of sealed gourds …
SUSIE: And that’s the picture that we see on the card, we see Ajala with the gourds.
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean I think of it more as a person choosing their destiny.
SUSIE: Oh, I see!
ANDREW: But maybe.
SUSIE: Could be.
ANDREW: Adula, as far as I know, I’ve never come across any personifications of them …
SUSIE: So this, so in your mind, this was the soul choosing which one.
ANDREW: But, and we don’t have a sort of super clear sense of karma or carry over from one life to another. It’s not really … it’s a mystery that we acknowledge that we don’t fully understand, right? So you go into a room full of sealed gourds, and you pick something, and you really don’t know, it could be horrible, right? It could be great, whatever. But if you’ve been good friends with Elegua, you know, and you’ve kind of kept good faith with him, maybe you reach out for something and he gives a little cough and says hey, not that one.
ANDREW: Don’t take that one. Right?
SUSIE: And I love this that you have this little sketch of Elegua under the table, you know, very quiet. Very subtle. Yeah. [laughing] Just giving you a hint.
ANDREW: Yeah. So once you pick your destiny, you go back and see your creator, and then your soul goes into a body.
SUSIE: And you can see in the background of the card, you can see the outline of the Earth, so this idea that you’re outside the material realm at that moment, choosing your fate, yeah, mm-hmm. I think that’s just really beautiful. And I think it’s quite relatable to, you know, in a traditional sense to the Ten of Cups, which I at least think of as the end of a cycle, you know, I often think of it as the end of the complete sequence of minors in some ways, because if you go through correspondences it immediately precedes the Two of Wands. But there’s also this feeling, you know when you see the family on the Rider-Waite-Smith Ten of Cups, of this sort of being, they’re taking a bow. This destiny is finished! And we’re looking towards the next.
ANDREW: People … the belief is that people tend to reincarnate along family lines, right?
ANDREW: So you’re returning to that family.
SUSIE: Right. So there’s definitely a feeling of kindred. There. Speaking of which–
ANDREW: Go ahead.
SUSIE: Yeah, I was just going to look at the Eight of Cups as well, because I think that that one is a little … It may not be as obvious to people when they look at it, what the relationship is to the Eight of Cups we know and love.
ANDREW: mm-hmm. Yeah, so, in the Eight of Cups I chose to represent sort of all of the ancestral traditions, or pieces that get practiced.
ANDREW: You know, in the background there’s this sort of, you know, boveda practice, or spiritism practice, represented by cups or the cup with the cross in it. In the front, the practice of feeding the ancestors, and sharing with them as part of the Egun practice and the stick that we use when we’re praying to the Egun, and then there’s this other sort of abstract shape which is Inifa. There’s this tile that’s made, that goes where people worship their ancestors to help balanced that energy. The Eight of Cups is, you know, it’s a card where … It can deal with loss, it can deal with lack of direction, with being stuck, and one of the places that we point people often, and especially for people who are beginning to find their way in these traditions, is to go and sort out their stuff with their Egun, right? And sort out their stuff with their ancestors, to take care of those spirits and start building a relationship with that. Because one of the things is, if we don’t have a good foundation with those ancestors, they can block everything else that we’re doing, even the Orishas. You know, there can be times when the Egun won’t allow anything to happen because they need something, or they want something.
ANDREW: So this is a card where we sort of run into that energy that can sort of, that can lead to open the roads, but often isn’t where people want to start because, you know, lots of people, well, lots of people have issues with their ancestors, right?
ANDREW: [crosstalking [01:14:15] Yeah, and I thought it was interesting — So, the sort of central element in the card is a tree, and it made me sort of think of the family tree, the connections with those who came before and those who will come after you. Before the tree is the offering. And, so, you know, to me, now that you explain it, I can see the relationship with what I know as the Eight of Cups, the idea that in your darkest moments, where do you turn?
SUSIE: Mm-hmm. Absolutely, right?
ANDREW: Yeah. And what drives you from that moment? What brought you to that moment and what brings you out of it?
SUSIE: Uh huh.
ANDREW: And, you know, I think that that card, even though we normally see it as a person turning away, and walking away from something, or walking toward something, it’s ambiguous, I think that there’s a real sense of passing between realms.
SUSIE: Absolutely, yeah.
ANDREW: And I think that that makes a lot of sense as far as this … the symbolic representations that you have on the card go. Yeah. Okay, so, swords — Oh, you know, I think that, I was talking with a friend about your Three of Swords because I thought that it was such a powerful story, and the Three of Swords is a card that, I think it’s really important for people to get to know and face better, because, in, you know, for example in Rider-Waite-Smith you have those three swords piercing a heart, and it’s such a, you know, viscerally striking image that sometimes, people almost don’t want to engage with it, in any kind of detail …
SUSIE: For sure.
ANDREW: So I think it’s really helpful that there’s not just a sorrowful story attached to it in your deck, but one that has complexity, that has nuance, that has human psychology that you can dig into. So, the card itself is, rather than showing three swords, we have instead the figure in the front, who is Ochosi, and then Ochosi the Hunter, and then you see the figure in the background, and would you tell a little bit of that story?
SUSIE: Sure. So, Ochosi is a hunter, and Ochosi is known for being just. And Ochosi is like the letter of the law, no exceptions, no mercy kind of justice. So, if people, you know, need justice, and they go to Ochosi, you 100 percent better be in the right, because Ochosi will, you know, let the blame fall where it needs to fall, and if that’s partly on you, be aware of that before you approach it. Right?
Right. And there are several concepts of justice within the tradition as well, which I think you mention on your Justice card.
SUSIE: For sure, right?
ANDREW: So one day Ofun, one of the aspects of the Creator, asked Ochosi to go and catch this bird. And being a masterful hunter, Ochosi went and did that. And brought it home and left it in a little cage before he was going to take it down. And his mother, Yamaya, came out and seeing the bird, assumed it was for dinner, and you know, killed it, plucked it, and started cooking it. And then when Ochosi came home, he saw that the bird was gone, and he was angry because it had been so hard to get his hands on, right? It was a rare and hard to find bird. And so he obviously wanted to please the Creator, so he went out and pursued another one and caught it and brought it, and Olofin was so pleased that he said that he would grant him whatever wish he had. And Ochosi said that he wanted to have his arrow be cursed such that whoever had stolen this bird would be struck down by it wherever they were. Olofin agreed, and Ochosi fired his arrow over the forest, and of course it struck down and killed his mother. And the Orishas, the Orishas are not people, and she later gets brought back to life and so on, but you know it’s that lesson on our nature, and the way in which our nature and our insistence on certain things can cause us tremendous unseen suffering, you know, and I think that that Three of Swords is a card where, not that inflexibility is the only cause of suffering, but it’s certainly a common cause of suffering, because the actual point that, the issue that caused the suffering, is usually over at the point where I see the Three of Swords, right?
ANDREW: Usually done. And it’s how we feel about it and what do we do about it? Do we double down on it? Do we commit to it, do we wallow in it? Do we live afraid forever? You know it’s all those kinds of questions and energies.
SUSIE: Yeah. I think — I absolutely agree. I think that with the Three of Swords, there’s this feeling that it’s the thing that you realize that you now cannot unrealize. It’s the thing you see and can’t unsee. And how you deal with that is really important. Because you try to deny it. You’re in for a world of consequences, right?
Yeah, yeah. It’s occurred, we’re being somewhat Buddhist about it, you know?
ANDREW: Well, attachment isn’t helping me here. How do I become unattached to this outcome?
SUSIE: Right. And I think it’s really important too that the moment in the story that you chose to represent. Because we’re looking at Ochosi with his back to us, it’s not before he’s done it, it’s not the moment when he’s possessed by wrath and deciding that his arrow must be cursed, it’s the moment where he realizes what he’s done.
ANDREW: Exactly, exactly.
SUSIE: And he sees the figure of his mother through the trees there. Yeah. It’s incredibly powerful and, I think, really really resonant. You don’t need to see three arrows to understand the pain of this story.
SUSIE: Yeah. Okay, and I guess one other minor I’d like to talk about is the Two of Disks. It’s interesting, I actually went to the Two of Disks as one of the first cards, because I wondered if you’d sign it, because I know that that’s a Marseilles tradition, but your signature is in fact on the Ace of Wands.
SUSIE: Yeah. Which, I guess has to do with your connection with Shango.
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah. But the Two of Disks is interesting to me, because, you know, in the Rider Waite Smith, you see the person juggling the two pentacles, which has always struck me as a fairly static representation of the idea of change that goes with this card, so what was the nature of the change that you were representing in your Two of Disks?
ANDREW: So, in the story of the Two of Disks, there was this person named Mewa, who was responsible for this town. And Mewa was a powerful magician, and they kept all the negative things in the world locked away through the power of their magic.
ANDREW: Death, sickness, all of these things. They kept them locked in boxes and cauldrons and things in the back of their house, right?
ANDREW: And because they spent so much time around these energies, and because they were kind of mysterious, people didn’t really like Mewa that much. And they kind of feared him and were suspicious of him. And one day, this new person came to town named Ejiogbe. And Neogbe was young and vibrant and full of life and fun and the life of the party and all of these kinds of things, and, so, over time, the people decided that they wanted Neogbe as their leader instead of Mewa. And instead of dealing with it in a direct manner, they decided to cheat Mewa out of their rulership.
ANDREW: So they got Neogbe to challenge Mewa to cut down these trees with machetes, and when they gave the machetes out they had blunted the one for Mewa. So of course Neogbe wins in no time, and Mewa immediately realizes what has been done.
ANDREW: As soon as he puts down his machete he’s like, Oh, you people have done this, now I see what’s going on. And, so Mewa says, okay, if you really want Neogbe to be your leader, okay, here you are. And I’m also going to release everything that I’ve been holding for all of these years. You can have them. And so Death and sickness and loss and gossip and all of the negativities were released that day. And then as their final curse on the world, Mewa said, and on top of all these things, I’m also going to curse you with money, so you can fight about what everything is worth. And so he unleashed that as well and then left. And so the card shows the trees with the machetes, and then the sort of smoke as the unleashing of all of these energies into the world, into people’s lives.
SUSIE: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a wild story. And I think, often when we see the Two of Disks, we receive it as a pretty — it’s often visually represented as a pretty positive card — but I think as people, we often are very fearful of change. You know, change itself is not something that most of us advocate for, really. You know, we don’t want to live in interesting times. And I also think that the idea to … that this story contains about the invention of money seems so appropriate for the Two of Disks.
ANDREW: Well, I think of the Two of Disks as being, you know, I often associate it with being like a ship riding the waves on the sea, right?
ANDREW: It’s dynamic and there’s movement and there might be calm one day and wavy another, and the question is not only how do we deal with what’s immediately in front of us, but how do we continue to navigate the ups and downs of life as we move forward?
ANDREW: You know, the juggler is perhaps static, the juggling is incredibly dynamic, being tossed up and down in the air, how do we roll with that and manage our capacity to roll with that, so that we can get ahead in life and weather those storms, and overcome those things?
SUSIE: Right, and from a kind of hermetic point of view, you know, the Two of Disks is associated with Jupiter ruling the first decat of Capricorn, Jupiter of course being represented in Golden Dawn-related decks as the Wheel of Fortune, and this is about riding Fortune up, down, wherever it takes you.
SUSIE: Yeah yeah yeah.
ANDREW: If you’re lucky, or if you’re wise, you get some of that potential Capricorn consistent solid work in there.
SUSIE: Well, exactly, it’s you know Saturn versus Jupiter! Right, you know? [laughing] It’s the engines that, the compression and expansion that drive the engines of change. Yeah.
ANDREW: [crosstalking 01:26:11]
SUSIE: Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. So, so I guess, one, before we go on to talking about the spread you included, which I’m really interested in, I wanted to know how your relationship with Shango may or may not have influenced his representation in your deck. Did you communicate? Did you ask, did you? In what way did your own personal relationship with the Orisha make, guide, your artistic decisions?
ANDREW: Well … [laughing] if you ask any child of Shango, they’ll tell you it’s great to be a child of Shango.
ANDREW: Let’s put it at that. I like being a child of Shango, Shango is great. But Shango is also generally pretty easy going. Shango as an Orisha is like the life of the party and really, if you give him some food and maybe a glass of wine he’s probably pretty happy. The Orisha who was the most challenging, and that I felt the most interaction with when making this deck was Ochún.
ANDREW: I drew, I must have drawn a dozen different cards with Ochún in it, and: “No, that’s not what I look like.”
ANDREW: That’s like, I mean it wasn’t that verbal, but I could just feel this sense of like, No. All right, delete, try again. So, just to sort of go over this for people who aren’t’ familiar with the Orishas. So is it correct that Ochún is an Orisha of love, that she’s one of the primary Orisha, that she’s associated with I think the color yellow, that she, that people go to her for as something of a Venus figure, I guess.
ANDREW: Yeah, I guess that is definitely sort of popular culture true. I mean, Ochún is ultimately kind of a mystery. And nobody knows Ochún but Ochún. They say that she cries when she’s happy, she laughs when she’s angry, and that we can never really know or understand what is going on with Ochún because she is fundamentally a mystery.
SUSIE: And she is associated with rivers, is that right?
ANDREW: Yeah, she’s often associated with the river.
SUSIE: Sweet waters? Mm-hmm.
ANDREW: Yeah, it depends on who she is in this path. My path of Ochún, Ibokolay, is associated with the vulture.
ANDREW: And other things. They’re many different permutations. My elder Willie Ramos has a great book on the path of Ochún which you can get online and places like that.
SUSIE: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
ANDREW: And it talks all about the different paths of Ochún’s and what they’re like and so on, and it’s tremendously eye-opening, because love is one piece of it, but it’s definitely not her primary attribute. You know?
SUSIE: Got you. Mm-hmm.
ANDREW: Between her and Shango they both represent different aspects of the joy of being alive.
ANDREW: But Ochún can also be that bitterness of life as well.
SUSIE: Yeah, I think, I was fascinated by your choice to show her, I think in the Judgement card, where you see the peacock transforming into the vulture as it’s burnt by the rays of the sun.
SUSIE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you were saying she’s the one that you struggled with the most to depict?
ANDREW: Yeah. She was going to be in a number of other places, and I felt like she didn’t want to, or she didn’t like the art that I made, or whatever. And so, so she was there, she’s where she is, but she’s not in nearly as many cards as I thought she might originally be, wasn’t happy with some of the stories I was telling. And there are a couple of the stories that are maybe not as favorable to Ochún, and the feeling that I had was just don’t tell those stories.
ANDREW: And I was like, okay, people get involved in the tradition and they’ll find out a thing or two.
SUSIE: Yeah. Yes. Mm-hmm. Fantastic. So, you include a spread at the back, a four-card spread. Can you tell us about the creation of that spread?
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, I love making up spreads. I do a lot of creative spreads. And you know, I really wanted to sort of try and create a spread that gave people an understanding of some of the, I don’t know almost like the philosophical ramifications of living a life with advice from the Orishas. Right?
SUSIE: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
ANDREW: You know, or living a life based on some of these philosophies and so on. Right?
ANDREW: So the four cards are, you know, there’s Iray, right, there’s the blessings, right?
ANDREW: Good is going to come from going down this road, whatever question you’re asking. Osobo, negativity, what are the obstacles that are going on here? Ashay, which is the energy of the universe and it really kind of talks about, in this context, what are the things that you’ve got going for you? What’s on your side? What’s going to really show up and help you here? And then the fourth one is free will, right? Because we can get all the good advice and have all the spirits behind us we want and still not do anything, right?
SUSIE: Exactly, exactly.
ANDREW: And then the idea is once you’ve … Once you’ve put all these down, if you know, total them up and do a little math and reduce it down to a trump card and put that in the middle, as sort of the outcome of what …
SUSIE: Ohhh, okay. So you did some numerology you’re including in there. Mm-hmm.
ANDREW: [crosstalking] Right? You know, and so you just add those up, and then that gives you an idea of what the outcome is, right?
ANDREW: The idea is that, you know, all of these cards have a story with each other. Because what does the middle card look like with the negativity? What does it look like with the positivity? What does it add to the conversation about free will, right?
SUSIE: Exactly. So in first and second positions you have the blessings and the difficulties, and third and fourth you essentially have something representing fate and something representing free will.
ANDREW: [static] here a bit that it’ll be interesting to see how people deal with it, is, if in the blessings card you get something that has nothing to do with what you actually want from the situation …
ANDREW: Stop, right, don’t continue.
SUSIE: Right, right.
ANDREW: There’s this notion —
SUSIE: Or you get Rubeus in geomancy as your first thing you get … [laughing]
ANDREW: Forget it, you’re done. Not today, don’t bother. Right? That’s the point, to have these clear markers that just say to you, hey, this is not going where you want to go, right?
SUSIE: yeah. Yeah.
ANDREW: It’s hard, right? Because it’s hard to feel like we’re giving up free will and all that kind of stuff.
SUSIE: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Okay. And have you been reading with the deck since you got your copy? Have you been doing your own sort of drawings for yourself with it?
ANDREW: I have been doing that, yep. It’s been interesting. It’s really interesting to … It’s a completely different experience to read with a deck that you know completely, right?
SUSIE: yes! I should think so! yeah, yeah. So what surprised you about that?
ANDREW: I mean, it really … I fancy myself a little bit of a storyteller. And this really facilitates that process, for me. There’s a lot of storytelling that I can easily slide into with this. And a lot of storying that isn’t just sort of abstracted stories from other people or stories from my personal life, but that there’s a body of material that I have to speak from. That I don’t necessarily bring into my other reading practices, but shows up, right?
SUSIE: Yeah. But what I’m really interested is how, you know when you bring it to the context of the reading, whatever it is, the day ahead, or the question you’re reading for, what happens? Do you find yourself kind of instantly going to the body of knowledge that you brought to the card, or is it easy to apply in a more practical way?
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, I’m with, one of the reasons why I read with Marseilles decks a lot is I’m with that whole sort of —
SUSIE: Open reading.
ANDREW: Body of people like you all have, Bendove, and Enrique, and you know, Emilia and others, where it’s like I read what I see, right?
ANDREW: So when I look at the cards, I mean I don’t get out my book and read it.
ANDREW: I just look at what I see, and I read those things. And then I allow that to trigger whatever needs to emerge from that process. I mean, generally speaking, I don’t know that we have time to get into it today, but I’ll make a separate thing about it sometime for the podcast, but my personal reading process is usually a really elaborate multideck process these days.
SUSIE: Oh wow. [laughing]
ANDREW: I do it three times a week and I sit down and spend about an hour going through and looking at the cards and journaling and making art and it takes a long time for me. Because I’m allowing the cards to really just dictate that and show me where it’s going. I’ll share that somewhere else.
SUSIE: Yeah. I mean, I was going to say, since you mentioned this elaborate reading and we’re actually almost out of time, I was wondering if you’d like to do either I do or you do a one card reading to kind of finish things off.
ANDREW: Sure. Do you want to do a reading?
SUSIE: Do you want me to read or do you want to read yourself?
ANDREW: No, I want you to read it.
SUSIE: You want me to read? Okay. All right. Do you have something that you would like to ask?
ANDREW: I mean I guess … let’s ask about the deck, how the launch of the deck is going to go.
SUSIE: Okay! All right. Okay, so I’m shuffling now, because I had to … I had things really sorted out so it was all ordered in sequence. So I know I have to really shuffle a bunch of times to get that sorted out. Okay. And by the way, I really love, I love the backs too. They’re really striking red, black and white backs. The only problem is that I now know from the red, from the where patterns, whether it’s going to come out reversed or upright.
ANDREW: There you go. That’s what you get for paying too much attention!
SUSIE: [laughing]Curse of the Virgo, I’m telling you. Okay. All right. So I’m just laying them out now and then … So the question was, how is the launch of the deck going to go, or maybe we should say, what you need to know about it.
SUSIE: Okay. All right. Okay. This is the card that wants to come out. [laughing] So Andrew, I got the Five of Cups.
ANDREW: Five of Cups?
SUSIE: [laughing] So this is the story I think that you mentioned about … This is a story of a love triangle, as I understand it, and the idea that the Orisha you depicted in this card, whose name I can’t recall off the top of my head …
ANDREW: [crosstalking/static at 01:38:20]
SUSIE: Was trying to look for ways to make her lover more attracted to her, and was given some poor advice. So, I guess, you know, when we look at Five of Cups, it’s tempting to get pretty negative about it, and I think that’s not necessarily something that we have to do. But I think that perhaps, in terms of something like the launching of your deck, that, you know, a couple of things. Number one, you’re going to have to let go, in some sense, the reception of the deck, because it’s no longer yours in some sense once it’s out there.
ANDREW: Also known as, don’t read the comments.
SUSIE: Exactly! [laughing] Right. And that can be, you know, cause for mourning in its own way, because you no longer control the reception or the interpretation, and it may, in some ways, feel like a loss.
ANDREW: For sure.
SUSIE: You know but, I think the truth of any Five of Cups is that loss is, you know, although it may cause pain to you, it’s also a gift to someone else. You know? it transforms. The sacrifice you make transforms into something else. And it’s important to let that do its work in the world
ANDREW: For sure.
SUSIE: Yeah, yeah. You’re like, Susie, why didn’t you pick the Star? [laughing]
ANDREW: We release it into the world and see what happens, release it into the world and recognize the limits, you know, I think that the Five of Cups that one of the downfalls is you know what Crowley would have called the lust of results, right?
SUSIE: Exactly, exactly.
ANDREW: Overreaching and grabbing after things.
SUSIE: That’s right. Does not matter, need not be. Yeah. [crosstalking -1:40:40] You know, I’ve published a bunch of times myself, and it never turns out exactly the way you anticipate or hope.
ANDREW: For sure. Yeah.
ANDREW: Yeah. I’ll be looking forward to seeing where it all ends up, so.
SUSIE: Well, I think — I have to say this has been a really fantastic deck to work with in the week that I’ve been working with it. Getting to know a little bit about the tradition has been an honor and a delight. And I really thank you for putting this out there in the world
ANDREW: Well, and thank you for making time to spend time with the deck in advance of doing this interview, and for doing the interview today, and you know, people should definitely check out Susie and Mel’s podcast, Fortune’s Wheelhouse, and also Susie’s new book, coming out this fall.
SUSIE: Yep, you can find it, you can find anything to do with what I do at my brand new, spanking new fresh, freshly painted website, www.tsusanchang.com. Yeah. And the book, Tarot Correspondences is coming out in October, just around the corner.
ANDREW: Perfect. And the Orisha deck is through … for sale through Llewellyn, probably through your local store, definitely through Amazon, and I’ve got them currently presale but they’re arriving this week so they should start shipping this week.
SUSIE: Yeah, preorders are going out aren’t they?
ANDREW: I’m — Yeah, I’m just waiting for the final shipment to arrive next week, so.
ANDREW: All right. Thanks, Susie!
SUSIE: Thanks, Andrew! Appreciate it!