Upright & Reversed: The Journeys of Filipino Tarot Artists
Words by Bianca Butalid
We explore how members of the growing Filipino tarot community are creating their own distinct tarot decks, offering a more local experience
“Oh my gosh, Bianca, this is kind of creepy,” is one of the most common phrases I hear when my friends first encounter tarot. I usually use The Zombie Tarot deck by P. Kepple and Stacey Graham for my readings, and when they see the design of each card, my friends are more in awe than they are nervous.
While many do have apprehensions about the practice, there is an ever-growing tarot community in the Philippines.
Tarot is a form of divination whose deck is comprised of 78 cards that reflect an individual’s archetypal journey in life. The most well-known deck is the Rider-Waite, and is often used as the basic structure for studying and designing tarot.
There are many tarot decks out in the market, from the basic Rider-Waite, to animal-themed decks, and even kawaii tarot. For as many decks as there are, there are even more tarot readers, incorporating different ways of approaching their practice. In both tarot reading and designing, there is no one method or template to follow, as each reader has their own style.
I spoke with three Pinoy tarot deck designers to discuss their creative process in making their own decks, the misconceptions the community faces, and their methods in tarot reading.
The Sun and The Sea Breeze: CJ Francisco
Tarot consultant and The Imaginarium Tarot Deck designer, CJ Francisco
CJ Francisco first learned about the practices of tarot, crystals, and witchcraft in grade school, and at the age of 11, received his first deck. As years passed, his interest diminished. “I kind of forgot about it. Life got in the way,” CJ says.
In 2018, after going through a bad breakup and feeling directionless, he joined a leadership seminar that pushed him to set goals for himself and to focus on self improvement. CJ decided that he wanted to prove to himself that he was a capable artist and challenged himself to design the major arcana, which is composed of 22 cards. Finishing earlier than expected, CJ pushed through in creating the remaining 56 cards and completed the entire tarot deck in 16 weeks. On August 1st 2019, CJ launched his first deck.
There’s this misconception that tarot is the devil’s work. It’s very gory because it is often represented that way. I wanted to remove that fear
Still guided by the Rider-Waite tarot deck, CJ put his own twist in his artwork, with many of his tarot consultation clients saying that his cards look very colorful and lively. “I’ve always wanted to be a children’s storybook illustrator, so my tarot deck is like a little storybook.”
All of his card designs are handmade, using watercolor, and by being very focused on the little details –”The Imaginarium Tarot Deck” is vibrant, playful, and very reflective of CJ’s approach to his readings. “There’s this misconception that tarot is the devil’s work. It’s very gory because it is often represented that way. I wanted to remove that fear,” CJ explains.
Currently, CJ is based in Siargao and usually does readings by the beach, with the goal of empowering his clients, and experiencing the world from their perspective. Last July 2020, he launched the second edition of “The Imaginarium Tarot Deck,” which is now being sold internationally.
Retreating To The Jumble: Chinggay Labrador
Practical Magic founder, Chinggay Labrador
Chinggay Labrador, better known as Practical Magic, explains tarot very simply on her website, ”Get straight up answers through the tarot. No scary weird stuff—just clear cut answers.” While many have the misconception that you need to have a “special gift” in order to practice, Practical Magic believes that anyone can do tarot, as it can be very helpful for mundane decisions and everyday life.
Burnt out from work, Chinggay needed a creative outlet and wanted to have a little fun in the process, so she decided to create her own tarot deck. Using the basic tarot framework and collage as her art medium, she was able to finish her first deck in a matter of a few days.
So far, Chinggay has created two tarot decks – the “Practical Magic Starter Deck,” and the “Pinoy Practical Magic Tarot Deck,” which incorporate digital and physical vintage Pinoy magazine images. She has also collaborated with other artists to create three oracle decks.
Make sure you know how tarot works and you know what it’s about. This will help you with symbology and allow you to embed meaning into your deck rather than having it be a purely visual or aesthetic exercise
“Make sure you know how tarot works and you know what it’s about”, Chinggay advises those who want to create their own tarot deck. “This will help you with symbology and allow you to embed meaning into your deck rather than having it be a purely visual or aesthetic exercise.”
You can book a reading and check out Practical Magical’s tarot decks and guides on her official website.
Xavier’s First Few Steps
The Lilac Abyss Tarot Deck designer, Xavier Efraem
22-year-old Xavier Efraem started his journey with tarot at the onset of quarantine. As an architecture graduate, he found that looking for work and freelance projects during the pandemic was difficult, so he opened himself up to spiritual activities like tarot and witchcraft.
Unlike how many tarot card readers learned about the practice, Xavier studied tarot while designing his own deck. “I just started learning when I began illustrating the cards. As I progressed, I purchased a few decks of my own, and I also practiced self-reading,” he says.
My deck is like entering an abyss of magical creatures
The art style Xavier used for his deck is art nouveau-minimal line art with lilac as the prominent color and small gold details. Xavier also referred to Rider-Waite as his basis for illustrations, but decided to slightly deviate from it.
“My deck is like entering an abyss of magical creatures,” he says, using characters like centaurs and mermaids in his deck. He was able to finish all 78 cards in a month and two weeks. “Medyo mabilis ako kumpara sa iba, pero exhausting pa rin,” Xavier says. “My goal was to draw two cards a day.”
Initially, Xavier was supposed to begin a Kickstarter campaign, but recently, someone has decided to sponsor the production of his deck. You can keep up with the progress of “The Lilac Abyss Tarot Deck” on Instagram.
YOUR ADVENTURE STARTS HERE
Each and every person that chooses to practice tarot has their own reasons to do so. For the artists interviewed, it was a means of challenging themselves creatively. As for me, it had always felt like I was called to help others with my readings.
Whatever your reason may be to start your dive into the world of tarot, know that there is a growing local community, whether in busy Metro Manila, or in a serene, faraway beach, that is ready to welcome you and respond to your initial doubts and fears. The practice doesn’t need to be perceived as something scary, but something that is deeply personal and spiritual.
If you’ve been waiting for a sign to start your journey into tarot, this could be it. Or if you’ve stumbled upon this article while browsing on your timeline, then welcome to the world of tarot! Give it a try – you never know what insights it’ll bring you.