It’s no big secret that I’m kind of addicted to backing tarot decks on Kickstarter. To date, I have backed 21 tarot decks on Kickstarter (18 of which were successful; 14 of which I’ve received so far), and I just recently back the amazingly gorgeous Linestrider Tarot on IndieGoGo thanks to Irmata’s gentle prodding. So, it should come as no surprise that I’ve teamed up with Mike Stop Continues, whose tarot deck project went live on Kickstarter March 5th.
Introducing: Locus Tarot
Crisp, minimalist deck focusing on the metaphysical underpinnings of the tarot, aiding inspiration, creativity, and self-discovery.
I have to admit, I’m not usually a fan of decks with minimalist pips, let alone an entire deck of such minimalist design! But the clean design, bold color palette, and patterns throughout the deck really caught my eye. I wanted to understand more about a deck like Locus Tarot, so I asked Mike a few questions…
Insight Into the Locus Tarot
An interview with the deck’s creator, Mike Stop Continues
First, could you start by sharing a little bit of your background, both as a tarot reader and as a designer? (The clean, minimalist, well-balance design on this deck is a strong indicator that you’ve an artist’s eye!)
Thanks! Visual art has never been my main focus, so I truly appreciate the complement. It’s taken me three years to finish the deck, so maybe it’s more like the chimp at the typewriter writing Shakespeare!
It’s funny. I spend the bulk of my time writing, but I’ve always got passion projects going on in the background that stretch me in directions I don’t normally stretch. And every so often, a project takes off, and there I go, hurtling forward at ten thousand miles per hour.
Like most of my interests, I came to the tarot from pure curiosity. When I was a little kid, I found my mother’s tarot deck in her dresser draw. A first printing of the Aquarian Tarot. I asked her what it was, and she told me to read the cards, and see what I could see. I toyed around with it and put the deck away. I came back to it every few months or every few years until one day, I decided I was finally going to learn how to use this magical masterpiece sitting in a sock draw in the master bedroom. I then proceeded to read every book I could find, carrying the deck (first one, then two, then more) around with me wherever I went, and practiced until the entire process was second nature to me.
The Locus Tarot is probably the most minimalist deck I’ve seen. What was behind your desire to design a deck in this way? Why use only circles?
One of the most exciting parts of the tarot is that each deck offers a unique perspective of the world. Even the 8-bit Tarot or the Zombie Tarot has something to say about human experience. But that charm is also part of the trouble.
For the tarot to be a truly useful tool, I think we need to learn to read the self through the cards without the distraction of kings and warlocks and princes and faeries. I think we need a cleaner mirror. At least occasionally.
So I started stripping out what the deck didn’t need in order to convey more of what it did. The first to go was representative art. Nothing that was obviously a drawing of anything. But eventually, I stripped out the symbols too. In the first versions of the deck, I used squares, circles, triangles, and hexagons for the stones, cups, rods, and swords. But I didn’t need four symbols when I had four colors.
So why circles?
Circles are infinity. From the outside of a circle, we see a dot. An individual. The fool. And from the inside of a circle, we see a circumference. The unreachable horizon. The world. Time walks endlessly around the perimeter. At the center, I am tempered; at the edge, I spin the wheel. Blaise Pascal said, “Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.” It was already in the very name itself. The Locus—the center around which all turns.
I love the bold color palette. What made you choose these four colors in particular?
Color symbolism is notoriously obtuse, and color theory a nightmare. Finding a balanced, yet symbolic palette was giving me hell. I remember looking at the colors I’d been working on exclusively for four months straight. I’d chosen olive, mauve, ochre, and steel. It was a seasonal palette, but it felt like I was backed into a corner. I didn’t like them, but I couldn’t seem to find a better set. I remember one night at four in the morning shifting colors this way and that, I just cracked. I almost gave up on the project. I get so fixated on things sometimes, and this time it was four months of doing nothing on the project but tweaking colors. I wanted to cry, but instead, I slept.
The next day, I went back to my computer and found these four colors. Red, blue, yellow, and green. Red for the root chakra and the needs of the physical body, blue for the throat chakra and our communion with others and with other parts of ourselves, yellow for the solar plexus at the seat of our power, and green for the heartmind at our meditative center. Put differently—red for the clay of the earth, blue for the waters of the sea, yellow for the fires of the sun, and green for the wind through the grass and the trees.
Your Major Arcana has a couple of additional, unfamiliar faces. Can you tell me a little bit about The Bridge and The Portal?
To talk about the Bridge and Portal, I have to talk about the other choices I made with the Major Arcana.
The first thing one would notice is that the Majors aren’t numbered. Those numbers have caused a lot of readers to interpret the majors in ways that I don’t find particularly useful. Lots of readers use the numbers to justify binding the majors to numerology, Kabbalah, astrology, and whatnot. But if you look into these connections, you find they’re tenuous at best, and they only serve to confuse what the Majors are really about.
Where as each of the Minors represents a point of conflict along one of the four great circles of life, and whereas each of the Royalty represents a collection of personality traits, perhaps embodied in another person, or perhaps internal to one’s self, the Majors are about the cosmic forces of human experience buried deep inside the self and behind every surface of our experience of the world.
It’s possible for a single Major Arcana to dominate the entire life experience of an individual, or an entire nation. It’s possible for one’s experience to move from the influence of any Major to any other Major. Not everyone spins the Wheel in Las Vegas and comes back with Strength, for instance. Not every love affair is followed by a Chariot race. Some are followed by Death. Or the Moon. There is no series to the majors. They are not the Minors. Each stands alone.
The majors don’t have series, but they definitely do have constellation. And I spent a lot of time piecing together what those constellations are. I realized that you could divide the majors into four roughly even groups by element. I noticed that each element had a unitary Major. A card that faced inwards. Earth had The Fool, water Justice, fire Temperance, and air Judgment.
There were also clearly four Majors of each element influenced by each of the four elements. So in earth, for instance, there was The Magician, earth with earth, The Empress, earth with water, The Emperor, earth with fire, and The High Priestess, earth with air. The same thing happens in the other elements as well. (Readers can see how the symbols reflect very clearly on the kickstarter campaign page.)
But that left two cards—The Wheel and The Universe—that clearly suggested another kind of Major opposite the internal set. These two were elements facing outward. They were interactive. But if water had the Wheel and air had the Universe, where did that leave earth and fire?
I went looking for decks with extra majors to see if any fit the bill, but there were none. I realized it was going to come down to me. And so I named these two unknown forces the Bridge and the Portal.
Looked at this way, it’s possible to see how these four cards are really about access. The Bridge, The Wheel, The Portal, and The Universe give access to four different kinds of energy. The Bridge gives access to physical freedom, The Wheel access to emotional fortitude, The Portal access to creative liberty, and The Universe access to spiritual immortality. Each the very gift that they element in question offers when applied to the outside world.
The Locus Tarot is clearly a deck that focuses on the elements and the numerology aspects. Do you see this deck as a tool for answering specific kinds of questions, (perhaps more about the underlying roots of issues, rather than details)?
Decks definitely do have character, and in designing the Locus, I wanted to offer a new convention for reading that for some readers would be new, and for other readers might be very similar to how they naturally use their decks. I can say for me, I did not start off with tarot the way that I’ve come to read the cards today.
The Locus Tarot pulls out all of the details that would otherwise mislead both novice and veteran readers alike. For instance, the Two of Swords isn’t always about indecision and a lack of information. Really, the only thing the Two of Swords is about is the Two of Swords. But what does that mean exactly.
The twos are about engaging with a new situation. They’re about balance. They’re about that moment you start your car at the beginning of a long trip and think, “Now I’m in it.”
And swords are about the mind, about learning, about our intuition and our ingenuity. You put these two things together, and you get any number of situations. Maybe you’re reading the cards about you next semester of college, and yeah, the Two of Swords might be about a going in with caution. But maybe you’re reading about your nutrition, and the Two of Swords is about balancing a weight loss diet with a nutrient-dense meal plan.
The idea is that you want to free your mind of preconceived notions so that you can see the card for what it is. The Two of Swords. Or the Ten of Stones. Or the Nine of Cups. Because when you do, you’ll begin to get more and more out of your intuition, even as you get less out of the illustrations.
Also, it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.
As a tarot reader who generally revels in the illustrative pictures on the cards, I have to admit that I’m a bit intimidated by a deck like the Locus Tarot. Would you be willing to show me a simple 3-card reading to demonstrate how you anticipate users reading with these cards?
Of course! I’m going to deal a three-card spread for how a reader might use the Locus Tarot in terms of body, mind, and spirit. Here it goes:We got the Two of Rods for body. If the Two is about engagement with a new problem at the beginning of a journey, and if Rods are about power, action, and creativity, I’d say the Two of Rods in this position tells us the Locus presents a new challenge for those willing to deal it out and explore its potential. Though the Locus represents the first step of this journey, it’s a journey whose rewards include expanded intuitive power and inventiveness. But as all Minor Arcana, this card only represents the challenge, not the choice. Will the reader heed the call or turn home?
The Hermit is in the position of mind. In the Locus Tarot, The Hermit is just the conventional name for the force we describe as water drawn towards its complement, air. Notice that whereas earth and fire are about external matters—the physical world and our relationship to it—water and air are about internal matters—our emotions and our relationship to them. They complement one another.
Thus, we can read The Hermit more traditionally as an emotional being drawn to intellectual pursuits, but we can also read The Hermit, being water drawn by air, as a paradox or a particularly interesting conundrum. In the mind position of this spread, The Hermit can be read as the identity of the new Locus reader, suspending the newness of the style for the sake of discovery, or it can be read as describing the Locus as a classic riddle, the pattern intellectually obvious and the solution emotionally engaging, or it can even be read as suggesting the Locus reader will find the deck a means of codifying and clarifying their gut instincts to make those instincts ultimately more reliable.
The Queen of Swords represents spirit in this spread. The names of the Royalty, like the Major Arcana, are kept for convention’s sake only. Truly each court card combines the external methods of their house element and the internal motivations of their title. Queens are internally water-motivated, regardless of whether in a particular spread they represent the surfacing of internal traits or an external man or woman. The Queen of Swords is therefore a personality bundle internally water and externally air.
In the spirit position, we would probably read this card internally, meaning that the Locus reader would find themselves, as with the Hermit, emotionally motivated to make intellectual and spiritual shifts. Maybe this suggests the reader, reading their cards to find happiness, validation, or connection, with the Locus finds themselves with a clear understanding of their situation. Maybe they find themselves acting more rationally. Or perhaps the reader takes up reading the deck for the excitement of the puzzle the Locus offers, and makes discoveries about the patterns underlying the world around them.
Of course, we could read this card externally if we tried, and find the Locus reader engaging with little-old-me over great distances. After all, it was passion that drove me to make such a logical deck, and my motivation for releasing it, as you might have guessed, is to connect with other like-minded people!
In any case, thank you so much, K—, for taking the time to chat!
And to all you readers out there, please, please, please check out the kickstarter for Locus Tarot. If you like the project, support it, share it, and say hello!
Mike, thanks so much for this fascinating interview!
It really went a long way toward helping me understand the inspiration and careful attention behind every aspect of this deck’s design. I can’t wait to get my own copy and start playing with it!
I hope you guys enjoyed this interview, and help support his project on Kickstarter!