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Tarot Spotlight


Barbara Moore

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All images are © by Barbara Moore and Aly Fell. Reproduced here with permission of Barbara Moore. No unauthorized reproduction permitted.

















Steampunk Tarot and Manual
by Barbara Moore,
illustrated by Aly Fell

TWPT:  How long have you been tarot reader and what was it that motivated you to get involved with it? 

BM:  I’ve been studying the cards for over twenty years. I discovered them when I was in college. My degree, history, was designed to be interdisciplinary (which was in vogue at the time; I have no idea if it still is), so I had equal emphasis on art, science, literature, philosophy, etc. and how those areas affected and shaped each other throughout time. I also was part of the crowd who thought they discovered chaos theory and the Mandelbrot Set along with Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, so I was into psychology and mythology, too. All these disciplines, and particularly my focus on Medieval/Renaissance (I also focused on England during the Industrial Revolution, an influence that shows up later in my tarot career!) studies, made tarot a perfect way to combine all my loves. 

At the time, the Internet was in use but not a lot. Even email was still in its fledgling stages. As a person who learns best by reading, I went to the local bookstore and bought every book I could find on the subject and read them. And I kept reading. For a while, my sister and a friend of mine played with the cards a lot together. Just explored and enjoyed ourselves and tarot. 

I started reading right away because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Then I started realizing how much there was to learn, so I froze a bit and quit reading for a while. Luckily I met others and found out about classes and conferences. After sharing and learning and reading for others, my confidence returned. 

TWPT:  Is reading the cards something that you can learn and what qualities would be helpful for a person who is looking to make a start of it? 

BM:  As someone who teaches and writes books instructing others how to read the cards, I do think pretty much anyone can learn to read tarot. I have a lot friends and colleagues who are tarot readers. The variety of reading styles is amazing. So I think all kinds of people with all kinds of qualities can be readers, or at least learn tarot. 

Three of Cups
(click image for a larger view)

The key is, I think, knowing who you are and what you believe before getting started. What is your philosophy about divination/readings? What is the nature of the future? Is it set in stone? Is it completely in your control? Something in between? Can the future be predicted? Should the future be predicted? If so, to what purpose? What do you want to be able to do with the cards? Where do you think the meanings of cards comes from? Tradition? The symbols? The art? Intuition? 

By knowing these things about yourself, you can find teachers, classes, groups, or books that will help you learn the cards in a way that makes sense for your belief system and match your learning style. 

Your personal qualities will shape how you approach the cards. They will also shape your reading style. You can be an intuitive and sympathetic reader. You can be a no-non-sense, tell-it-like-it-is reader. You can be an encouraging, problem-solving, empowering reader. 

That is one of the great things about tarot. It is a tool, an extremely flexible one, and as such can used by a wide variety of people for a wide variety of purposes. IDIC, you know. 

TWPT:  When did you first become aware of the Steampunk culture? 

BM:  As long as I remember, I’ve always loved all things Victorian (because don’t all girls?) and science fiction (because Star Trek gave me a way to bond with my dad and also I was in triple love…couldn’t say who I loved more: Spock, Kirk, or McCoy…and sometimes even Scotty. Oh, they were all awesome, weren’t they?). In college, I was a gamer and there were a few games that had a Steampunk flavor, although I don’t believe anyone called it Steampunk at the time, at least not the people I hung out with. 

It was in, I think, 2005 or 2007 when I heard the word “Steampunk.” I was shopping on Etsy and found a necklace I loved and bought it. On Etsy items get tagged with keywords (by the seller). This was tagged with, among other things, “Steampunk.” I didn’t know what that was, so I googled it. And thought, “oh, I know what that is! I didn’t know it had a name.” 

TWPT:  What was it about the Steampunk culture in general that attracted you to it and that you connected with personally? 

BM:  The clothes, the manners, the cool devices. The mixing of elements that don’t seem to go together, like bustles and time machines. I’ve always loved that sort of thing. Tarot is like that…pairing systems and structures with mysticism and intuition. The answer to the next question answers this as well, so move on to the next to hear more! 

TWPT:  Was there a moment after you had been exposed to Steampunk when you thought to yourself that a Steampunk tarot deck might be something you would be interested in doing? Could you walk me through your thoughts as you considered this idea. 

BM:  Yes. When I bought that necklace I mentioned earlier, I showed it to a colleague of mine, Andrew (I dedicated the project to him), telling him how excited I was that this thing I loved had a name. And when a thing has a name, well, that means it has a following. That means more creative stuff and people to talk to. As I told him what I loved about it—the mixing of looks, the clothes (yes, I know, but I do love them!), the idea of imagining “what if”—I realize that Steampunk is pretty much what I think tarot is. Steampunk starts with what is (Victorian era), imagine adding different elements (futuristic technology…and more and more these days, super- and preter- natural phenomena), and see what happens. A tarot reading looks at what is, plays with possibilities, and tries to identify outcomes of various options. 

As I got more and more excited, Andrew, said, “then you should make a Steampunk Tarot.” 

It was, of course, a brilliant idea. 

TWPT:  Once you had decided to do the deck how did you go about figuring out who would be commissioned to do the artwork for the cards that would express this culture as you perceived it? Did you have the final say in this?

BM:  As soon as I knew I wanted to do this, I started writing the script. That is the document that tells the artist what to do. It provides the general concepts, composition, and specific elements. That was actually easy, as once I started, the images just kind of drew themselves in my head. 

Then I spent two months looking for an artist by searching online portfolios and artist reps pages. It was hard to find the right look. I wanted something rich and preferably someone already acquainted with the Steampunk aesthetic. But because the cards are so small, I wanted someone who could evoke the feeling of Steampunk, which, being Victorian-based, can be very busy, rather than illustrate. And yet, it still had to feel authentic. 

In addition to the size of the cards, my reading style required a simpler, cleaner look. I like to have 5 or more cards out at a time. I like to look for relationships between the cards and to see patterns. For me, simpler cards work better. And beyond all else, I wanted this to be a deck that I would want to read with. 

So, after looking for weeks and getting discouraged, I found Aly Fell’s portfolio and fell in love. I wrote him a long letter explaining the project, explaining how he would have to do a piece of art so that I could present the project to the editorial board, and how, if they rejected the project, he would never get paid for that work. In spite of it being a large job for little money and the risk involved, he accepted.  

I presented the project, which was hard because the editorial board did not know what Steampunk was, so I had to educate them on that and give them enough evidence to prove that it was an upward trending market. 

Which, I did! 

TWPT:  This next question is one that I always wonder about when there are two people working together on a single project. What kind of information do you share back and forth so that you are both satisfied with the deck that will bear both of your names?

BM:  All tarot projects are different. Out of all the projects I’ve worked on, this is the one that I feel is more “me” than any other. It feels like if I could paint, this is precisely the deck I would have painted. That is to say, Aly and I worked very closely on this. 

To begin, I sent him the script I wrote, describing each card and what I wanted on them. I also explained why and what each card meant so that he could evoke the proper feeling and meaning. 

He would do a sketch. I would comment on it. If necessary, he would change it. Once I approved the sketch, he did a color rough and we looked at the image again at that point. If all was still well, he’d do the final. I’d either approve it or suggest tweaks. 

TWPT:  Is the artwork entirely Aly Fell's ideas or did the two of you collaborate on each card and what it represents to the overall deck? 

BM:  I was the tarot expert, so I directed the art. The seeds and the basic ideas for this project are mine. But he didn’t just merely illustrate what I wrote. He understood what I wanted and therefore he was able to evoke so much more. I hope that makes sense. 

8 of Pentacles
(click image for a larger view)

So many people love the court cards in this deck. Let me say here that out of all the cards, it is with the court cards that Aly had the most freedom. I gave him personality descriptions rather than direction as to what they should look like. He brought them to life entirely from his own ideas of what the people I described (not physically) would look like. And he did an amazing job! 

TWPT:  Did the two of you agree on all the images and if you didn't what was the process for coming to a compromise? 

(click image for a larger view)

BM:  There were a few where my descriptions just didn’t work. Sometimes he did what he thought best and sometimes he’d ask me to rewrite the description. Both methods worked, but to be honest, there weren’t very many of these. 

There was only one that we strongly disagreed on. The Strength card. What he did just didn’t work. Many readers really identify with that card, so it needed to be spot on. His version had both the woman and lion looking miserable. He wanted to alter that image but it was just all wrong. So I wrote another description and I’m afraid I had to insist on it being done over. He did, and now it is perfect! 

TWPT:  Were you responsible for the manual that comes with the deck and what were you trying to achieve with the manual for someone that buys the Steampunk tarot deck?  

BM:  Yes, I wrote the whole thing. I wanted to achieve two things. First, as is usual for my work, I wanted to make learning and reading tarot clear and approachable. Second, I wanted to have fun! This is the first book where my personality, my voice, really comes through. Most books that go with tarot decks follow a pretty strict layout. For example, all the cards need the same length of text. That is harder than it sounds. I have to sometimes add more or cut some, in order to make the text fit the specifications. For Steampunk Tarot, I very purposefully embodied the Steampunk spirit of doing what works and making it as beautiful as possible. The book is a bit quirkier and more eclectic than my usual work.

TWPT:  How would you say the Steampunk  tarot deck rates when compared with other decks in terms of readability and how the images will be interpreted by the individuals that do the readings?  

BM:  Earlier I said I wanted to create a deck that I would love to read with. So that meant simple, cleaner images. It also means that the cards would be based on the Rider Waite Smith tradition, as that is what I learned on from the start and have worked with most ever since.

So, I think the cards are incredibly readable and although they do, of course, bring something unique to the party, they can be used easily by anyone familiar with the RWS style decks.  

TWPT:  If someone had never picked up a tarot deck before the Steampunk tarot deck how difficult would it be for them using your manual to do a reading with your deck?  

BM:  With all the companion books I’ve ever written, my goal has been to make a book that any beginner can buy the kit and using the book and deck, be able to do competent readings. The Steampunk Tarot, although more fun, is no different. 

TWPT:  In the 21st century do you think that there are bridges needed between disciplines such as science, technology, machines, nature,spirituality and people and does your Steampunk Tarot act as a sort of bridge over some of the chasms that have developed between the heart and the mind?   

Three of Pentacles
(click image for a larger view)

BM:   Yes. Although, if I am honest, I think perhaps that any tarot deck does that. 

I think that the struggle between man and machine, between nature and machine has existed ever since there were machines. The struggle between science and other ways of knowing has also existed ever since we differentiated between the two. First, the church denigrated science in favor of direct revelation (or their definition of that), which we know lead to death and other grave errors. Now, our culture as a whole denigrates other ways of knowing in favor of science, which I am sure also has led to (and still leads to) death and other grave errors. And so the pendulum continues to swing. One can only hope that in the future, it doesn’t swing as widely. One of tarot’s main lessons is balance. So tarot it self is a bridge. I have always thought that it is also a bridge between the conscious and subconscious. 

TWPT:  What do all of your past experiences with the tarot bring to this project in terms of focus and inspiration?  

BM:  In terms of focus and inspiration, this deck is a result of over 20 years of studying, working on, reading with, and writing for tarot decks.
I’ve seen so many different types of decks and art styles in action and I formed my opinion as to what reads the best, so that inspired my choice of artist. 

I also spent all that time developing my reading style and reaching conclusions about my philosophies and beliefs related to tarot in general and card meanings in particular. These experiences shaped my focus. 

Thank you for asking this question. I had not really thought about this. That this deck is really the culmination of everything I’ve learned, thought about, experimented with, and experienced over two decades. That’s actually kind of cool. 

TWPT:  The Steampunk tarot deck has been out and available since early May 2012. What kinds of feedback are you getting from all those readers who have purchased your deck and been using them over the last month or so? 

Barbara Moore 2012

BM:  I’ve never gotten so much feedback on a deck or book as this one! 

The main comments include: 

1. people love the art
2. the cards are easy to read with
3. the cards are “chatty” (more than one person has used that word, “chatty.” I think they mean that you don’t have to work hard to hear, see, or understand what the cards mean.)
4. the deck is not just a novelty deck; not just a RWS clone in a Steampunk outfit
5. the book is awesome and everyone should read it. 

Okay, maybe I fudged a bit on that last one. But everyone should read it. It’s clever and funny and full of all the wisdom of my years! 

Seriously, I’ve been so honored and gratified by the response to this deck, this work of my heart. Aly is quite shy, so he doesn’t interact in the community much. I do convey all these wonderful things to him and he is so humble and sweet, and very pleased that the Steampunk Tarot has been so well received. 

TWPT:  Is there anything else you'd like to point out about this new deck, the artwork or the manual that is included with it? 

BM:  Another characteristic of Steampunk is a dramatic sense of the epic. We tried to create this in many of the cards by changing perspective. See, in particular the 8 of Pentacles. I’m including the original sketch, which looks really static. The final version is much more dynamic. 

The Dutch Masters are among my favorite painters. So it is no surprise that I love Aly’s use of light. Notice the light in the 3 of Pentacles and in the 3 of Cups; these are among my favorite cards. 

So, when you get your deck and look at the cards, notice the shifts in perspective and the use of light.   

Here’s something I’ve not mentioned to many people, so it’s special for your readers. I think I am funny. Seriously, I amuse myself a lot. Oddly, my partner and family don’t always agree. Anyhow, I amused myself in the manual by paying humorous homage to three different things. I will give clues here and The Wiccan/Pagan Times readers can see if they can find them. If they do, they should write to me via my site: (you can see more card images there, too). 

1. A dead English playwright
2. A contemporary British pop star
3. An animation based on a Swedish playwright

And I’ll end with this: whoever gets it, I really hope you love it as much as I do. 

Wishing you all good fortune and grand adventures!

TWPT:  Thank you so very much for taking the time out to talk about your newest tarot deck and for sharing with our readers how you feel about a path that you have been on for 20 years now. May you always approach life with an open mind and a soaring imagination as was exhibited in the Steampunk Tarot.