Deck Name: Rust Belt Tarot Deck
Creators: Matt Stansberry & David Wilson
Publisher & Year: Belt Publishing, 2018
I grew up in Michigan. In fact, I stayed there most of my life until I moved away after college. Anyone who knows me knows this fact, because I talk about it all the time. Especially when going on about my midwestern and/or Michigander tendencies. My move, however, took me both far and not very far at all: I landed in St. Louis, Missouri and promptly began putting down my transplant roots. I love this industrial midwestern-southern town on the edge of the Mississippi; it feels Right to live here. I also love my home state. My heart has many Homes, and the Great Lakes state will always be one of them.
Over the last several years, tarot has also become a Heart Home for me, in some odd way. One of the things I love about modern tarot is how deck creators have taken the concepts in tarot and mixed them up with Place. I’m a big fan of Placeness – there are cities and areas and spots that are capital P-Places to me. Maybe it’s because I make some sort of connection to them, or feel the memory of them in my bones, or enjoy the rhythm of the people in them. Or maybe it’s magic, I don’t know. There are a variety of tarot decks out now that rely on the Place they represent, such as New York City, the Southern US, New Orleans. I’ve always wanted to see a midwestern tarot, but I was never sure how it would manifest or how true it would feel.
Then I came across the Rust Belt Tarot Deck from Belt Publishing. Created by Matt Stansberry and David Wilson, this deck places its Heart Home in the Great Lakes Region – the “exurban wilds” surrounding the industrial lands of Cleveland, Ohio and Lake Erie specifically. While I grew up on the Michigan side of the lake, surrounded by my multi-generational Ford family, this deck immediately burrowed its way into my chest with its mix of river and lake flora and fauna, factories and steel, animals and humans all finding their way through and around the battle of industrialization versus nature.
Matt and David developed this deck to go with their book, “Rust Belt Arcana: Tarot and Natural History in the Exurban Wilds.” The book consists of 22 essays based on the tarot trump cards, merging Matt’s understanding and knowledge of the natural environment of the Great Lakes region with the meanings, associations, and magic of tarot. He writes, “The essays in this book map those divinatory associations and signifiers in the cards to the wildlife of the Rust Belt. These are stories of abundance and loss, the persistent remnant wilderness of the industrial Midwest. Exploring this natural history helps us to find our place in the landscape, to know our homes and ourselves.” The essays are incredible to read, filled with stories and narratives about the land, water, and people I grew up on, but never really knew. They supplement and expand my understanding of tarot and home in unexpectedly joyful and heart wrenching ways.
The deck itself, painted by David Wilson, provides the images of the major arcana that Matt discusses in the book, then expands on them in the minor suits. The only meanings on the minors themselves are the scientific names of the plant or creature featured in the card, and 1-2 keywords to help guide the reader’s intuition. I so desperately want to read more of Matt and David’s thoughts on the minor cards and see how they develop the various meanings via connections between the environment and the midwest; instead, I’ve been slowly putting in the work of researching the card images and have started developing my own personal set of stories and associations to bridge that gap.
Each suit has a different theme: Wands are trees & bushes, Cups are flowers, Swords are birds, and Pentacles are insects, spiders, etc. The court cards, however, are people – prominent conservationist who’ve written on the nature, narratives, and the human impact on our planet, our fellow non-human inhabitants, and ourselves. Each court has an illustration of the person and a quote from them that embodies their card. While neither the majors or minors shy away from exploring the roles humanity plays in shaping the environment (for better or for worse), the courts are where humanity shines in this deck.
Unexpectedly, this deck has touched on ideas and concepts, Place and Home in ways that I didn’t know I needed. It almost feels disrespectful to comment on minor things like cardstock, though from a practical reader perspective, it’s important. So! The stock is fairly standard – on the thinner side, with a glossy coating. The cards slide and shift easily in hand while shuffling and laying them out. The card size is also fairly standard; taller than playing cards, but can still fit in smaller hands like mine.
From a broader, systemic standpoint, the Rust Belt Arcana follows the RWS system both in terms of cards names and gender associations. The courts have one twist: women identified pages & knights are listed as seers instead, which was a choice that threw me off, since you’ll just have to memorize the seer’s position (as page or knight) within the suit. Also, with the exception Justice, the people in the deck appear to be white. This tends to be one of my big disappointments with any deck, since I know that tarot creators can and should do better.
The Rust Belt Arcana deck interview was incredible; it was chock full of major cards and grand ideas. It’s not a deck that shys away from hard truths about ourselves or the world we live in. In fact, it demands answers, honesty, and accounting for the ways we can both help and harm. It’s not necessarily a patient deck, either. Wherever we happen to be on our personal journeys, the Rust Belt Arcana pushes forward further and faster. Personal growth with this deck requires acknowledging our struggles, our hardships…then hauling them out into the bright light of day. It’s a deck of accountability and breaking our personal foundations down to the core.