The first time I saw the Dust II Onyx Tarot, my heart stopped momentarily. My body was not ready for the overwhelming sense of spiritual recognition I experienced. To say that I needed this deck in my life was not a hyperbolic exaggeration. I did not know what was missing from my collection and from my practice until Courtney Alexander created this masterpiece. It is understood that representation and diversity is lacking in the tarot community. Some might tell you that in the past year there has been an effort to highlight inclusivity and I would agree. I would also say that this trend of inclusivity can be found among many other consumer driven markets, but I wonder if it’s because inclusivity and diversity are trending, or is it because the desire to include all shades and cultural backgrounds is genuinely needed. Courtney Alexander’s need to birth Dust II Onyx Tarot was not driven by trends, exploitation, or financial gain, it was driven by her ancestor’s spirits working through her and need to be represented in a practice that neglected individuals who look like her or me.
Dust II Onyx is a feast for all the senses, it is an experience, and it is divinity. The cards are matte, borderless, and black with gold gilded accents. To only suggest the cards are matte would be unfair because they also are textured with a leathery, suede-like finish and the first edition cards utilize a spot gloss detail to highlight specific features within the original artwork. The cardstock is thick and sturdy with a matte golden gilding along the edges. The gilding has the effect of a powder coated piece of steel with a slight shimmer and hint of iridescence. The overall effect is a one-of-a-kind tactile experience that allows one to build a strong connection with this set of cards.
For the first edition Courtney Alexander created seventy-eight original pieces of art from multimedia including acrylic paints, magazine clippings, and microbeads. This deck is not a RWS clone, not is it Thoth based, or rendered in a Marseilles style. This deck is completed unique so it won’t feel immediately familiar. I highly recommend you read the guidebook as each card’s interpretation is steeped in African traditions. There is a distinct difference between the major arcana and minor arcana art that may not be as obvious. The major arcana cards feature images of individuals who seem to inhabit a spiritual realm. Their dark skin is illuminated by a silvery glow which gives their appearances a very primitive presence. This is no coincidence as Courtney recounts in the 200-page guidebook how when her ancestors came to her in her dreams with the gift of this deck, their appearance was extraterrestrial and reminiscent of the silvery essence. The individuals of the minor arcana embody the dark matter and stars of our universe. Each pin point of light is symbolic of all the possibilities that lay within ourselves. The minor arcana as with other decks show the day to day aspects of life as experienced through the filter of their respective element.
The four suites for Dust II Onyx include blades, coins, gourds, and staffs, four tools familiar to ancient culture and traditions. The court system also receives a redesign that is equally relevant to African tradition which include: Lil (page), Young (Knight), Papa (King), and Mama (Queen). The thing I found the most inspiring about the court cards in this deck is how they were created and how Courtney chose to reflect the traits and energy of each court. The eyes and other features of everyone come from real life, cultural “icons” and impart their essence into the energy of each card. For example, Papa Gourd in the guidebook features a quote from Prince however, on the card the eyes of Papa Gourd are clippings of Prince’s eyes. I’ve never seen this type of magic worked into a deck in such unique way.
My favorite card from this deck had such a powerful effect on me that it completely changed the way I look at myself, how I love myself, and what my personal definition of beautiful means. Queen Mother otherwise known as the Empress redefined my relationship with my tarot practice. You see, as I mentioned before, I struggled to find decks that represented my diversity in this world but when I did find decks that featured brown people they still didn’t look like me. My face, my hairline, my high cheekbones, my broad nose, my voluptuous and divine curves, my body, my frame, my lips, my everything were all missing from these “culturally diverse” decks. Not until I saw the Queen Mother did I think tarot could reflect me physically. I always considered tarot a refection of ourselves spiritually but I just never thought I’d see a refection of ME, an actual reflection of all the things that make me a beautifully created being. The Queen Mother is stunning in her beauty while being familiar to me.
I may be biased in saying that the Dust II Onyx tarot is one of the most important decks available currently on the market but I am entitled to that opinion. Never have I experienced the deep connection to a deck than I experienced with Dust II Onyx. This deck feels like it came from the absolute beginning of time, from a place of primitive magic, and a place of genuine necessity. My deck collection would be incomplete without this deck. Personally, I reserve this deck for deep root work, ancestral work, and shadow work because it is potent and powerful. I must thank Courtney Alexander for being the vessel from which this gift flowed. Second edition decks are still currently available for pre-order if you are interested.