The Delta Enduring Tarot
Created by Egan
Published in 2017 by Oily Pelican Press
The Delta Enduring Tarot is a love letter to the Mississippi Delta and the singular experience of living in that otherworldly realm where the earth gives way to water, where the river meets the ocean, where music and art and magic simmer together like red beans in the pot on Monday afternoon.
If I absolutely had to choose to own only one Tarot Deck, (like, gun to my head) it would probably be The Delta Enduring. The first time I saw it, I felt like Egan had made this deck FOR ME.
The cardstock itself is slick and smooth, like the cover of a graphic novel, which complements the artist’s drawing style perfectly. The printing is clear and the colors are gorgeous. It shuffles like a dream. I’ve used this deck almost daily since I got it and they are comfortably broken in, but still shiny nonetheless.
The design on the back of the cards demands attention. This color-saturated palate, evoking thermal imaging and watercolor painting at the same time is a visual metaphor and perfect representation of the theme of the deck. The mirrored quality, the fractal-like shattering of the tributaries evokes the balance needed to live below sea level on ever-shifting land that is slowly being swallowed by the surrounding waters. The image itself is ephemeral, this could be a satellite photo from yesterday or a hand painted map from two hundred years ago, or a microscopic view of mitochondrial division. The delta’s spirit of ineludible obsolescence is captured in a breathtakingly beautiful way.
The LWB that is included with this deck, titled: The Delta Enduring Tarot, A Meditation On Southern Cartomancy; is printed with the same image as the card backs. In it Egan walks us through the artwork of each card, touches on traditional meanings of the cards and then spins a modern interpretation into both upright and reversed positions. They also walk us through their choices for the changes they’ve made in the suits and the court cards.
The suits have been changed to reflect life in the delta. Cups become Oysters, the key to environmental balance in the delta; Coins become Cast Irons, the universal cauldron of the delta witch; Wands return to the great live oaks from which they sprung; and Swords transform into Moths, setting into motion the seminal wingbeats of change that grow into the storms of transformation.
This deck also modernizes and removes gender from the Court Cards; Page into Novice, Knight into Warrior, Queen becomes Seer, King becomes Sage. The Pages are young people, each one at the moment of making their own mistakes. The Warriors are people of purpose, each one ready to take action and make choices, even if the right choice is reflection. The Seer cards all evoke looking both inward and to the spiritual plane for guidance and insight. The Sages reflect knowledge as power, confidence and fortitude. People of many shapes, sizes and colors are featured on the cards. I’m happy to see this trend continue in more and more new decks. Inclusivity is imperative to how language and culture evolve, and it is exciting to see it taking place before my eyes in the tools I use every day.
The artwork on the cards resonates with me because it reminds me of the comics I read in high school, particularly Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets series, Charles Burns’ Black Hole and Phoebe Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Novice of Oysters:
The Novice of Oysters listens to no one. He heeds not the advice of his teachers, insists on doing it his own way, damn the consequences. Then he’s flabbergasted when when he shoots himself in the foot, no wait… stabs himself in the hand. There’s real risk in oyster shucking, that’s why the pros wear chainmail. Exercise a bit of caution, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Three of Cast Irons:
Strong foundations, perfect collaboration. All great recipes start with the trinity of green peppers, celery and onion as a base; with these in place you have the perfect tableau for whatever else life throws in your stewpot. If you start with what you know, it’s easier to forge a path in the darkness.
Five of Oaks:
The juxtaposition of disposable plastic yard-o-beer cups representing the solid, eternal oak speaks of the ongoing love-hate relationship New Orleanians have with the tourist population. Visitors’ refusal to look beyond the carnal pleasures of Bourbon Street into the history and architecture that the city is rooted in; their selfish “gumbo-ya-ya” grab-assery where everyone talks at once and no one communicates anything, their influx of disposable income that keeps the gears of the city moving. This card reminds us that Bourbon Street fulfills a need, that it has become a constant, though avoidable part of the city’s identity. This card reminds us that if we are so busy looking at the surface of our surroundings, we miss what lies beneath. When it comes to rebuilding after the storm, everyone has an idea of what we want, but no one is listening when we tell them exactly what we need.
Five of Moths:
Empty victory. Here we see PROGRESS! But at what cost? New Orleans is experiencing losses through post-Katrina gentrification, having an identity crisis as her cultural, physical and racial landscape changes. Families that have been on the same block for generations are being priced out in favor of condos, airbnb rentals, promises of making the city great again. Be careful what you wish for, you’re not going to like it when it arrives.
The Hermit, for me, should always be a crossroads card. It’s fitting that Robert Johnson, patron saint of the Delta Blues, is evoked here. He’s poised on his stoop, mid-strum. He’s made his compact with the devil, and come hell or high water, he’s ready to play his heart out. No matter how bad it seems, you’re prepared. You are flexible and you can sing your way out of any pickle you get yourself into. This image also invokes in me the moment where everything changed. The water is rising, what are you going to do?
My favorite Tower card ever. In the delta, the lightning strike is flood, not fire.
I love that this deck replaces Temperance with Harm Reduction. Sometimes, we need help in order to take that first, all important step towards balance. Finding an alternative solution, acknowledging that we are deserving of love, taking baby steps and processing trauma are all necessary for recovery. Holding space, finding a manageable approach, accepting and respecting each other’s weaknesses are what we can provide.
The High Priestess
In New Orleans, the dead are entombed above ground, their cities are central to the landscape and their spirits still walk among us. This card signifies Marie LaVeau to me, her legend and power still palpable. Consultation with the dead can still take place, visiting tombs and leaving your mark, lighting candles and making an offering. The black cat wearing the moon crown of the High Priestess acts as messenger to the Lady herself.
Finally, the deck includes four bonus Major Arcana cards representing the inevitabilities of life in the delta :
Like biblical locusts, the termite swarm plagues the inhabitants of the delta, causing temporary chaos and disruption, forcing us to stop and take care of what is important.
The constancy of heat and humidity makes us pause and appreciate the little joys, shaved ice with sweet syrup and condensed milk, a porch fan on an August afternoon, a nap in City Park. We do what we can to bear it, and make our own respite from it.
Your hard work and creativity are admired by all, Laissez les bon temps rouler! Take the time to appreciate the same in others.
The hurricane represents the ever-looming threat we live with in this underwater region; the unspoken fear that fuels the “eat, drink, be merry… for tomorrow we may die” coda we live by. Preparing for the worst, laughing in the face of danger. The freedom of ecstatic resignation and solace of absolute surrender to the inevitable forces of nature that bring out the unique joie de vivre of life in the delta.
Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina unleashed her full power and destruction on the city where my heart lives, changing it forever. There are neighborhoods still empty, holes in the emotional fabric of the city, infrastructure still not repaired and displaced citizens who may never make it home. The psychic seams of our country were ripped apart by that storm and the shitshow of bureaucratic masturbation and jackassery that followed. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t in some way slapped in the face by Katrina.
The art that has since been created, the communities that insist on rebuilding, the people that create this singular culture is reflected back in the undying love that folks have for this part of our world.
This deck embodies the emotional rollercoaster that so many survivors have been on since the storm. It is a gift of a tool that we can use to heal ourselves, and I am forever grateful to Egan for sharing it with us.
Life is fleeting, storms of change may be crashing on our shores, ripping us apart, pushing us towards obliteration…
But the Delta Endures.