So today is my birthday, and what better day to start an awesome giveaway?
Tarot-Themed Giveaway Bundle
I’m very excited to offer a tarot-themed giveaway bundle that includes:
- a copy of my tarot-themed contemporary romance novelette Nine of Swords, Reversed
- For entrants in the US or Canada: either a copy of The Numinous Tarot or a 9-card Tarot email reading from Noel Hempel
- For international entrants outside the US or Canada: a 9-card Tarot email reading from Noel Hempel
Nine of Swords, Reversed by Xan West
Dev has been with xyr service submissive Noam for seven years and xe loves them very much. Dev and Noam have built a good life together in Noam’s family home in Oakland, where they both can practice their magecraft, celebrate the high holidays in comfort, support each other as their disabilities flare, and where Noam can spend Shabbos with their beloved family ghost.
But Dev’s got a problem: xe has had so much arthritis pain recently that xe has not been able to shield properly. As an empath, no shielding means Dev cannot safely touch Noam. That has put a strain on their relationship, and it feels like Noam is pulling away from xym. To top it off, Dev has just had an upsetting dream-vision about xyrself and Noam that caused one of the biggest meltdowns xe has had in a while. It’s only with a timely tarot reading and the help of another genderfluid mage that Dev is able to unpack the situation. Can xe figure out how to address the issues in xyr relationship with Noam before everything falls apart?
This romance novelette includes Jewish queer genderfluid mage MCs, the couple on the rocks trope, and fat, autistic, disabled, chronic pain, PTSD and depression representation.
The Numinous Tarot, created by Noel Hempel
The Numinous Tarot is a radical deck that strives to bring a variety of experiences to the wonderfully complex symbolism of the Tarot. Rendered in beautiful and luminous watercolor and inks, the Numinous Tarot shows the beauty of diversity in the world, from body type, ability, race, to gender identity and expression in order to show the infinite ways that all people can experience magic and mystery—especially those often excluded from it. The deck is accompanied by a full-sized guidebook written for readers of all levels, including beginners. Both the guidebook and card titles use all gender-neutral language.
Of course I was curious about the card in the Numinous Tarot that is comparable to Nine of Swords Reversed, as that card is so central to my story. Here it is, the Nine of Bells, Reversed. It’s riveting, isn’t it? The movement, the intensity. You get a real sense of the upheaval that goes with this card.
I am thrilled to have been able to interview Noel as part of this giveaway, and I will be sharing that below, along with the details of how to enter the giveaway! In addition, Noel interviewed me about Nine of Swords, Reversed, and you can read it on their Patreon!
When and how did you get started with tarot?
I learned about Tarot’s existence when I got interested in witchcraft as a tween. I grew up reading every magical, high fantasy book I could get my hands on, and I was beyond excited when I found out there was real world magic. The only thing was, I didn’t know if my Mom would be supportive, so I couldn’t ask her to buy me a deck. Just after my thirteenth birthday (late 2003), I found myself alone in a Barnes & Noble with a giftcard, which I used to surreptitiously purchase a mini “Tarot kit” from the gift racks near the registers. It had a small version of the Hanson-Roberts Tarot in it, which was the only deck I used all through my teen years. When I got to college, I started branching out, buying more decks and getting involved with the online Tarot community.
(My Mom eventually did find out, and not only was supportive, but wouldn’t stop bugging me for readings on her love life!)
What are some of your favorite tarot decks?
To be honest, my favorite deck is my own! Since I made it, I feel like I always know exactly what it’s saying. It feels like having a conversation with an ideal version of myself. Aside from that, I also really love the Sasuraibito Tarot (another watercolor deck), the Circo Tarot (extremely colorful!), and the Wild Wood Tarot (very spiritual and detailed). They all have different personalities and flavors, so they’re good for different kinds of questions. The Sasuraibito Tarot is very straightforward. The Circo Tarot gives me answers that look “backwards” or weird until I puzzle them out, but then the results are very specific. The Wild Wood Tarot is very esoteric and good for Big Life Questions.
Can you tell readers a bit about the early stages of designing The Numinous Tarot?
In the beginning, I stuck a lot closer to the traditional imagery from the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The Hanson-Roberts deck I learned on was almost an exact copy of that imagery, so it was what I was used to. But I’d recently started getting other decks that were way less traditional, and the idea of changing things up intrigued me. I knew I wanted to change the suits in particular. I came up with Bells, Books, Candles, and then wasn’t sure what to call Cups. My partner at the time helped me refine Books and Cups into Tomes and Vials, which we both thought sounded more impressive and magical.
I decided to start with the Major Arcana because even if I only got those 22 cards done, that would be something. A smaller challenge within the larger challenge of a whole deck. The first few I just kind of winged it and went on my instincts, but soon I made a whole list of written descriptions for every card in the deck. I referred back to this list for a while, but abandoned it eventually. Most of the cards ended up similar to my original ideas, anyway, but the details changed as I worked through the cards and started solidifying certain key elements and symbols.
I thought very hard about what I’d seen people from other marginalized groups say they wanted, didn’t want, or were missing in a Tarot deck. I tried to be as conscious as possible about avoiding stereotypes or common pitfalls with identities I don’t belong to. More than that, I wanted That meant getting more involved in the wider, diverse Tarot community online, even though I’m an introvert. It was so worth it, though, because I made so many amazing friends, and they inspired the deck to be a better representation of the community.
How did you approach the Major Arcana for this deck?
I started off thinking very similarly to the traditional RWS imagery, but added my own thoughts and twists. One of the biggest changes was taking the gendered names and making them neutral, such as turning the High Priestess to the Diviner and The Empress and Emperor to The Nurturer and Founder. Personally, I don’t like using gender in my magic as a shortcut for describing the properties or essence of something. I try to describe the thing or energy more directly, and say…call a card The Nurturer because it’s about abundance and nurturing (words I like better than “fertility,” which has its own associations that make me uncomfortable as an ace person), rather than calling it The Empress card and assuming female/feminine = nurturing.
I also redid The Hierophant as The Visionary and Judgment as Awakening because I personally can’t relate to the Christian influence on these cards, as a polytheist raised in a fairly agnostic household. Basically, I wanted to make the Major Arcana match my own thoughts and feelings about the mythical Fool’s Journey that they’re said to describe. I dove deeper into the Fool’s Journey aspect of the majors, looking at them as one big, continuous story rather than separate moments. There’s a narrative to them, even though the images are all so different. They were largely drawn spread out over three years, and I redid The Fool and The Visionary at the very end before it went to print, to make it more cohesive.
Can you share how you developed the accompanying book for The Numinous Tarot?
Writing the book was actually like pulling teeth! I kept putting it off, and suddenly the first Kickstarter was over and successful, and I needed to send files to the printer. I thought it would only take me a month, but it took two. I really wanted to give in-depth interpretations for every card, including reversed/shadow meanings, and to include a basics section for new readers. A very intimidating prospect! Even though I’d been reading Tarot for 14 years at the time, I didn’t feel qualified or educated enough on the history, or the deeper occult associations with astrology and numerology. Most of my Tarot knowledge I gained by experience and chatting online rather than reading books.
Then I talked to a friend and fellow deck creator who was having the same problem. I told her that I would love to read a Tarot guidebook by her, because I’d value knowing her personal point of view and interpretations. She said she felt the same way about a guidebook written by me, and framing it that way felt way less intimidating. It was just my personal opinion, not The Truth about Tarot. That meant I was really free to insert all my radical, queer, trauma-and-recovery-centered thoughts, because that was really the whole point: giving people like me interpretations they could relate to.
It was still difficult to write, though. But I got it done one card at a time, each with its own document in a Scrivener file. Then I came up with section headers for the basic information, and filled in what would fit in the amount of page space I had left in InDesign, where I was laying out the book file. I’d already based my pricing on a quote from the printer for a 126-page book without really knowing how much space that was. Sometimes I wish there was a little more, but I think it forced me to focus on what was really important, and say it concisely.
What tools/media did you use to sketch and color this deck?
Back in the day, I just sketched with a very light wood pencil (4H, usually) straight onto the watercolor paper (Arches, 140lb cold press), and then painted! Each original painting is 9”x15,” except for The Moon, which I painted much smaller as a devotional painting and then decided to turn into the actual Moon card. I use Daniel Smith brand watercolors and Liquitex acrylic inks for the brighter bits. I still use those paints, but now I sketch on separate paper and use a light box to trace a clean copy onto the watercolor paper, which is how I would have done the Numinous Tarot if I’d had a light box at the time.
Were there any specific artistic challenges/considerations with creating this deck?
The biggest challenge was finding time for it. When I began drawing the deck in late 2013, I had a full time job and a webcomic. Progress was very slow, which in the face of a large project like a whole Tarot deck, can be rough. That’s why I broke up the deck into smaller challenges—finish the Major Arcana, finish the court cards, finish the Aces, the Twos, etc. In 2017 I finally found myself with only a part time day job and my webcomic was finished, so I completed basically the entire Minor Arcana in the last six months out of the four years I spent on the deck. I am lucky enough I found myself in such a position, as not everyone can do that.
The other challenge of course was, as mentioned earlier, making sure I was keeping the deck diverse enough and avoiding stereotypes or unfortunate associations. I have to send an enormous thank you to Tumblr at the time, and the #blackoutfriday hashtag (I think that’s what it was, but it’s been some years now) and similar hashtag days for marginalized people where everyone posted the most beautiful selfies and photos, that really expanded my imagination and view!
I also had an issue on the first printing where I’d promised gilded edges and matte-coated cards, but during the proofing process, the printer told me that the gilding process was causing serious issues with the matte coating, and that they recommended I switch to a glossy finish. Tarot readers (at least the ones I know) LOVE matte cards because they photograph easier for Instagram and such. I was very torn about the decision, and polling my backers on which feature to keep (the matte finish or the gilding) didn’t help because it came back 50/50. In the end I switched to glossy cards and kept the gold edges, because I love gold. The original paintings all have gold on them. It was part of my vision. And I’m glad that I stuck to that, because the gilding is one of the things I get the most compliments on when showing people the deck in person!
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Lots of things! I have a new deck which I’ll be Kickstarting next year called the Threadbound Oracle. It’s a 50-card oracle deck themed around a magical library, storytelling, and bookbinding. It has a Tarot-like structure with three suits: Paper, Ink, and Thread, along with Story cards similar to the Major Arcana. The deck is finished and I have a test copy, which I use for readings on my Patreon or with email reading clients. You can also see nearly the art for all the new cards on my website.
Right now I’m writing the guidebook for it, along with a novel featuring the magical library and characters depicted on the cards. The deck and novel work separately, but they’re made to be companions, and I’m hoping to have an ebook version ready for the deck Kickstarter. I originally created the deck for the story, because it’s a fantasy set in another world and they needed their own version of Tarot to use. So it’s kind of meta! The novel itself is a found family and workplace drama called The Thread That Binds, which explores the bonds we have with loved ones that support us, and the ones we need to cut away in order to heal.
Of course it’s all just as queer and rainbow and inclusive as the Numinous Tarot! Anyone who’d like to know when the deck and book are available can sign up for my mailing list, or pledge to my Patreon to see behind the scenes updates and follow along with the process. The Numinous Tarot is now in its second printing, and is available for purchase in my shop and a few others listed on my website.
Noel is a queer Tarot reader, illustrator, and author who seeks to build an affirming and mystical space for similar souls around the world. Noel is the creator of the Numinous Tarot, a nonbinary, intersectional deck ready to help you explore the furthest reaches of yourself. Compassion, community, and recovery from trauma and oppression are the core elements of all Noel’s work. They are agender, pan/demisexual, and gray-aromantic. Noel enjoys archaic crafts, nature walks, and being the fashionable friend.
Buy the deck: http://noelarthurian.bigcartel.com
Official website (see all the cards!): http://noelheimpel.com
How to Enter the Giveaway
To enter this giveaway, comment on this post by 8/8/19 at 8am with a recommendation for either your favorite queer fantasy story or your favorite tarot deck.