Like most Tarot readers and connoisseurs, I am a Tarot deck addict. I collect decks not only to read with them but because a lot of them are simply beautiful works of art. I'm especially drawn to those that are created and published by independent artists, as they are often the most inspiring, beautiful, and a little outside the box. These cluster of words perfectly sum up the SERPENTFIRE Tarot by Toronto-based artist Devany Wolfe. A truly mystical deck that draws inspiration from, in Wolfe's own words, "the divine feminine, the majesty of the desert, the magick of the cosmos, the nostalgia of the dated photograph, and the power of Kundalini," Wolfe was kind enough to answer my questions about this truly unique and inspiring deck.
For starters, where are you from? Where are you now? How did you get there?
I'm originally from all around Southwestern Ontario. I was raised in Sarnia, spent my teens and early twenties in Peterborough, and then volleyed back and forth between Toronto and Montreal. I'm currently in Montreal, and I came here for visual arts school. EDIT: Since answering the Tarot-view questions, Wolfe has relocated to Toronto, ON.
The images were originally meant to be concepts and concepts alone - for later paintings, mostly - but they quickly took on a life of their own. Soon after that, SERPENTFIRE was born, and things picked up a lot of momentum. I was able to finally articulate a lot of the ideas which had been brewing inside of me for years, if not my entire life. It was, and is, incredibly cathartic.
What lead you into the Tarot? Is it something you've always done or were you called to it later in life?
When I was little I was obsessed with being a gypsy witch. I created a fortune teller's den in my bedroom, worked with crystal balls and read palms. This lasted for a long time. I felt more identified with that way of being - even though I was pretending - than with anything else. As I grew up I became distracted from these roots, as we often do. My artistic practice didn't even really lead me back to it until I was in my late twenties and SERPENTFIRE was underway. It was like I had a re-awakening to who I truly was. So in a way, I believe tarot is something I have always been akin to, although I only started reading recently. I think when people truly feel called to be a part of the tarot in some fashion - either through making artwork, reading or both, it is part of the soul's architecture.
Tell me about SERPENTFIRE Tarot. How did you come up with the concept?
I first began drafting some ideas for cards back in early 2012. It seemed obvious to me that what I was doing with collage needed to be directed into a much larger project. I was already so focused on solar and lunar energies, Goddess worship and occult symbolism that it was the logical next step. I wanted to continue with the themes I had been working with so closely - those of Magick, Goddess, dreams, vision quests, and an undying love for the desert landscape. One of my favourite stories of all time is Dune by Frank Herbert, and I wanted the deck to reflect a lot of that really mystical energy, while having a divine feminine aspect which could be found throughout. But I didn't want to focus too much on any one particular Goddess from mythos, I wanted to depict the feminine form in general as divine, which is why you will not find any religious or mythological Goddess deities in my deck. Instead just regular, every day women being divine in their own right. However, this imagery coupled with the cosmic, retro-futuristic desert vistas definitely creates an otherworldly vibe, which is something, as an artist, I've always striven for. If you looked inside of my mind, that is what you would see.
Does the deck follow the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith tradition or did you work to develop your own?
No it definitely does not. If it follows any deck's tradition, it would be more closely linked to the Thoth. I own two Rider-Waite decks, and adore them, but I wanted to break free of the more 'typical' imagery and symbolism. That being said, however, I did keep it in mind somewhat when I was making it - so if you look closely at a lot of the cards you can draw similarities between the two. But I really wanted to make a deck which was easily identifiable in terms of how the visuals match to the meanings, in a different way from the Rider-Waite. The traditional tarot imagery is iconic, but often repetitive, and a lot of people find it difficult to discern meaning from the subtle symbolism. Surrealism has a very unique way of incorporating symbols in very interesting compositions which would be otherwise unfathomable. I wanted to create cards which had a very obvious mood and direction, so that even beginners could get a clear idea of what was happening.
What does your deck have that makes it a different, must for readers?
Also, I believe this deck has its own very special energy and presence that no other deck really has. People are constantly emailing and messaging me saying how unique this body of work is, and how they've never seen anything like it before. The clarity of the visuals coupled with the tone and feeling of the imagery, to me, really makes this deck essential. It is excellent for novices and seasoned readers alike, and is a great collectors piece.
What do you hope for the future of this deck?
Right now I am working on refining SERPENTFIRE Tarot as a product. It has only been out for 7 months, but even over the course of this short period of time it has already gone through so many incarnations. I am happy with where it has arrived, both visually and commercially, but I would like to make it more of a solid product and thus more commercially viable, if the public so wanted it that way. Right now the box, deck and booklet all come from separate suppliers, so in the coming months I am hoping to begin working with a publisher who can manufacture all of the elements in one. This would make the deck cheaper for collectors. It will always be self-published, however, so it will always be slightly more expensive than decks that are sold through large publishing houses. This allows me to retain all of my artistic license and integrity over my product, which is essential to me.
I am also working on a second deck, which is a lot more heavy on occult symbolism and Ancient Egyptian imagery, called "Eternal Horizon Tarot." For this, I will be launching a Kickstarter in the springtime. My hope is to have Eternal Horizon and SERPENTFIRE Tarot selling in tandem together by the summer.
Any advice for aspiring tarot artists?
Do lots and lots of research. About the history and symbolism of tarot, about self-publishing, about running your own tarot business. Spend months doing this research. Cultivate your own vision and voice, and run with it. Don't be cheesy - there are enough cheesy and tacky decks out there. If you are serious, and want to really make an impression, be dignified in your approach and diligent in your execution.