Tarot has a fascinating history, part of which relates to divination and magical study, beginning in the 19th century, despite the myths that have built up around tarot during that period claiming it as an ancient system of divination. However, I am not writing to discuss that history, fabricated or otherwise today, nor the fact that Tarot as a modern tool of divination is intimately tied to the esoteric studies of 18th and 19th century Freemasons, most notably A.E. Waite, who gave his name to perhaps the most famous Tarot Deck of modern times.
In the North American diaspora, most Haitian servitors (those who follow the Vodou religion) continue to use traditional methods, most commonly today the regular deck of cards. However, among North Americans who have adopted the religion we most often identify as Haitian Vodou, the tendency over the past dozen years or so has been to use the Tarot instead of regular playing cards. This is no doubt the result of the popularity of Tarot over regular cards for divination in the United States, which was established in the 1960s, and which has grown since that time. The other factor which is not unrelated, was probably the creation of the New Orleans Vodou Tarot deck and book created by Louis Martinié and Sallie Ann Glassman, in 1992.
Since that time, this particular deck became the defacto preferred deck in use by North Americans who had adopted Vodou as their religious practice. Whatever ideological arguments one might make regarding possible weaknesses in the deck, it was found to be visually appealing by most and it emphasized both the Lwa, the spirits of Vodou, and probably because it was popular among such communities, it also referenced the Orichas who are spirits of popular religion in Cuba, Brazil, and Nigeria, which is where their African origins are to be found.
Since the early 1990s, no new deck has come to really challenge the popularity of the New Orleans deck. But things are about to change, or at least that is a distinct possibility! Over the past year, a talented young artist, and follower of several Afro-Caribbean religious traditions named Monroe Rodriguez Singh has designed a new deck of Vodou Tarot. What follows is a description based upon my own observation of Monroe's deck and informed by discussions with him and questions asked of him over the period of time he has been working on designing these cards.
In part, his decision to take on this task reflected his frustrations with what was available. There are few decks directly geared toward readers of color, and the foundation of other decks did not reflect his own experiences of these traditions as closely as he would have wished. He decided to create a tarot that would incorporate a better and more complete reflection of the mythology of the African diaspora and which, as also reflects his experience, includes both West Indian and East Indian cultural forms, which is also found in parts of the Caribbean.
Interestingly, he notes that his first attraction to the tarot was due to their artistic aspects more than their functional purpose, although that soon became important to him, and he discovered a natural talent for reading.
Like many of his generation, he grew up within a traditional Protestant family, but also like many, that experience also provided him with exposure to Southern African-American, Latino, and Native spiritual influences. This influence was strongest coming from his grandmother, and was augmented by reading, the result of his own curiosity. When he went to college, he continued this exploration both in formal academic and informal settings.
After college, he began to read the tarot professionally and has read in New Orleans, on the West Coast, and on Internet radio as well.
His deck is a Vudu deck, and that is an important distinction. He draws on the traditional aspects of Haitian religion, but he also works side by side with the Dominican Vudu traditions of the Spanish speaking side of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island on which the Republic of Haiti was born.
This deck is grounded in the Spirits of the African Diasporic traditions and their own stories and Monroe argues thoughtfully that they complement the archetypes of the modern Tarot. In his deck, the death card is Baron Del Cementerio, the Baron of the Cementery who is the guide for the Guede - the Dead. His image with a skull wearing a top hat and cane with Haitian veves is reminiscent of Death on the pale horse in the Rider Waite card.
Among his offerings is a limited edition expansion deck that is focused on other ATRS and Hinduism. I encourage you to support his Kickstarter campaign and get this very creative deck.
To Order a copy of this deck, go to the following link and make a pledge of $50 or more. Ships all over the world and comes with other goodies as listed for each pledge level:
Kickstarter Vudu Tarot Campaign