Tarot in Living Color: A Conversation with Devyn Farries
Tarot has gone mainstream, again. Trans and queer people who have never heard of tarot are a rarity on the coasts. Almost everyone knows someone who reads cards for friends or profit. Yet, with notable exceptions, trans and queer people of color rarely see themselves represented within tarot’s imagery. Devyn Farries, an artist based in Brooklyn, is working to change that — with a coloring book.
Farries Tarot Card Coloring Book set out to answer the question "how do you keep the spirituality of tarot while also including trans and queer people of color?" This question remains relevant nearly a century after the Rider-Waite deck was published, the first to be mass-marketed. This pioneering deck featured illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith, a black woman rumored to be queer. Despite Colman Smith’s heritage, the original Rider-Waite contained no images of people of color.
Farries appreciates tarot because you can “ask questions about your life and figure out your path” but believes “you should be able to flip over a card and look at people who look like you.” So they set out to create those images. “It started with two of my designs: The Goddess and The Oracle” recounts Farries. “I was looking at tarot decks and art nouveau. I decided to draw these first two tarot, which are outside the major Occult, but friends of mine said they were really cool and that they liked them.”
These initial successes encouraged them to draw other cards. As the designs proliferated, Farries decided they wanted to design cards from the four suits of the Minor Arcana: Swords, Wands, Cups, and Pentacles. Farries began to read about card meanings and relationships, and formed a cohesive vision of what it would mean for people of color to be meaningfully included within the world of tarot. "I'm so tired of seeing these lily white [cis] folks with flower crowns in all the cool art. I want to draw as many major tarot cards as I can [with] black people and people of color. I want to represent disabled and trans people. People I see throughout my daily life who don't get representation" asserted Farries. A coloring book worked especially well for this kind of representation because the user has "the choice of coloring this person as a person of color.” Farries acknowledged the value of being able to “color someone as brown as I am” in the face of rampant colorism and anti-blackness.
Farries felt the line work in the drawings was "open ended" which facilitated the structure of the coloring book. Coloring is an interactive medium, so it allows people to interact with the cards in new ways. "With adult coloring books people want to see people who represent them, but they also get to participate” notes Farries. The option to select the representation they most desire within the pages of Tarot Card Coloring Book increases the user’s feeling of ownership and engagement. "It keeps people connected" says the artist.
Like many black and brown practitioners of “alternative” spiritual practices, Farries hails from a more traditional religious background. “I grew up southern baptist. As I got older, I was like this doesn't resonate with me anymore” they explained. “I work with crystals to balance my spiritual energy. I also do purifications rituals with sweetgrass to clear space. I feel most alive when I feel a balance in my energies and the energies around me.”
Coloring books are fun, but the focus on tarot brings added weight to this calming practice. To Farries, tarot is important “because as a marginalized person you may want to see how your career will go or what’s in store. You want to know about the future because our future is up in the air. It’s hard to see a future when everything is going to crap.” Tarot provides answers for people living in the margins, for whom the future is often unknowable and likely unfair.
Trans people can’t always anticipate exactly what will happen next, both personally and politically, because marginalization creates obstacles to one’s power to affect change. Farries ties these larger issues to their practice of spirituality and their work in the world. They insist the “imbalance of class,” global anti-blackness, and decimation of environmental resources must be discussed alongside tarot and other forms of spirituality.
Farries is considering another volume of the coloring book "I just have to sit myself down and say 'Dee, you got to do the work.'” They want to sell Tarot Card Coloring Book at Bluestockings in New York City. When asked if there was more to come, they replied "eventually I want it to be a full deck." We look forward to the day when trans people of color can consult cards that remind them of themselves.
Cyree Jarelle Johnson is an essayist and poet from New Jersey. They are a Poetry Editor at The Deaf Poets Society, Managing Editor at Transfaith, and a candidate for an MFA in Poetry at Columbia University.
Devyn Farries is Detroit born and raised, and based in Brooklyn. Devyn, also known by the pen name, khaleel, is a transgender artist and nerd of color. Devyn seeks to create art that reflects the world around them, a world full of many genders, ethnicities, body types, and overall experiences. Devyn is especially passionate about creating are that illustrates the narratives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of color. You can find more of their work on their tumblr under thisnumberisinvalid and you can support their work on Patreon under the same name.