Pronouns: She, her
+ Madness; extravagance; spark of an idea; the breath before inspiration
– Apathy, carelessness, or rash behavior; expectations can breed resentment; poor planning, lack of perseverance; better starter than finisher
The Fool card in every Ki11erpancake deck is a self-portrait. At this point, it’s become an inside joke: “I’m such a fool for making another deck! Why do I keep doing this?!”
The Fool is as much an illustration of hope as it is a manifestation of the creative spark and potential.
However, within the context of this deck the Fool is also about purging fear. CULT was born of my desire to express a number of ideas about gender roles and to come out as a queer woman in a self-made space where I felt comfortable. My hesitation comes from not feeling “queer enough”. After seeing other people discuss this topic, I chose to use my work to talk about who I am, the world as I see it, and the hope I have for the future.
This card is very meta. Just as the Fool travels through the Major Arcana cards, meeting the different challenges found in each, I as the illustrator of this deck am tasked with meeting each card and crafting a new interpretation. The goal is to create a usable deck and a piece of art that brings new ideas to the table. (No pressure.)
The Fool depicted here is no different than any other in a deck I’ve created except she an older and wiser Fool. This is the fourth self-portrait I have created for a tarot deck but the look in my eyes is a look of hope towards the future. The blood pouring our of my mouth is a purging of things deeply hidden and feared. I’ve decided that I am done worrying about being “enough”.
If this card comes up in your reading it can mean a number of things: At the beginning of a reading a Fool could be something exciting (a new project or person) is in the works and you are in that dreamy ideating phase. Don’t forget, that coin has two sides! If this ends up later in the reading I would read this has a pivot. If its negatively aspected this tends to be a sign of procrastination or flakiness. The best way to combat this would be to sit down and tackle one thing on this list. Once you get started the rest will follow.
Pronouns: They, them
+ An informed choice; flexing skill; the alchemist, building something out of seemingly nothing; clever and skillful negotiation
– Logic and skill based profession or personality; regulator; controller; the used car sales-person of the tarot; knows how to manipulate things to their own advantage; a failed experiment
Regardless of how the card is aspected know this, the Magician is not someone to fuck with. They know what they are doing and their actions are intentional.
The Magician has all the elements of each suit laid out in front of them and can wield these items as they see fit. Since this deck features characters from across the horror genre in each of the suits, mastery over these supernatural elements requires a level of acumen that is appallingly powerful and one mistake can result in catastrophe. They don’t seem to sweat it though.
Those familiar with the Rider-Waite’s Magician will note the positioning of the hands, one gestures up adjusting their glasses and the other clutching the scissors pointing down, “As Above, So Below”— everything has a counterbalance and everything comes back around. Those scissors and the red jumpsuit are a direct reference to Jordan Peele’s second film, Us and his consistent use of doubling, counterbalance, and deception within the film.
Like each of the Major Arcana cards the Magician can be a person or be applied to a situation. If this card comes up as part of the unconscious aspect of a reading, it could refer to something or someone pulling strings behind the scenes or unintentionally being controlling. It’s hard not to see this as a negative thing but sometimes someone has to step up to the plate and do something. It’s called “being the adult in the room”. The Magician is a doer and unapologetically so.
Pronouns: She, her
+ The oracle; knower of secrets and keeper of wisdom
– Doubling down on a bad faith deal resulting from confirmation bias; denial
The High Priestess stands before the gates of the Universe, with a slight smile playing on her face. Is she hiding something? Maybe she’s waiting to divulge a secret. This card is another one that is very meta within the tarot. A card about introspection and mysticism, it reminds me of a tarot reader. When Sarah McKenzie reached out to sponsor a card, I was not surprised that she chose this one. A tarot reader and intuitive, she comes from a long family tradition of offering guidance.
The High Priestess is the oracle of the tarot, who stands between this world and the deeper meaning of the cards. After discussing her connection to the High Priestess, I took each of the symbols found in the Pamela Coleman Smith’s illustration (the columns, the crescent moon, and the pomegranate) and reinvented them for CULT.
Traditionally the columns she sits between are black and white, referencing Boaz and Jachin, (two pillars that stood before Soloman’s Temple in Jerusalem). Their coloring denotes two opposites that uphold a greater purpose. The columns here however are shades of gray and not evenly upholding anything—suggesting Sarah stands before an unknowable and nebulous portal.
A pomegranate sits before the High Priestess, cleaved open but instead of seeds, she is presented with a fruit filled with eyes. Pomegranates are historically associated with fertility (aka a symbolic uterus). Filling the fruit with searching eyeballs returns the gaze back on to the viewer— “look elsewhere”.
The tattoo on Sarah’s back signifies her journey as an adoptive mother. The shadow of the wolf refers to her ancestors. In Mi’kmaq culture, each family line or clan is identified by an animal based on the mother’s line. (This is not a spirit animal.) Sarah’s is the Wolf that appears just over her shoulder in a protective stance.
Thank you to Sarah McKenzie for sponsoring and modeling for this card. Learn more about Mi’kmaq culture at Mi’kmaq Spirit.
Pronouns: She, her
+ Upright: The creator; parenthood; artistic creation; building of home and place; utter creative madness and fervor
– Reverse: Rotting from the inside; death of the first house; crippling mental illness; fanaticism; scattered thoughts
Writer, director, and actress, Alice Lowe is depicted here as Ruth, an unhinged serial killer who is on a murderous rampage while simultaneously bringing a new life into this world in the 2016 slasher horror film Prevenge. I chose her as the subject for the Empress card because a movie about a knife wielding pregnant woman on a singular path of destruction has never been a better example of everything this card is about. The fear of parenthood, the pressure of serving as the first home for a new human being, and the creativity required by Lowe to bring this character to life—all are the essence of the Empress.
In the film, Lowe plays Ruth, a woman taking instructions from a voice she believes is her unborn fetus—telling her she must take revenge on a group of people for their transgressions against both her and her unborn child. As Ruth hunts each of her victims down, (cataloging her escapades in the creepiest of baby books), she is patronized, ignored, and pushed aside by people who see only her baby bump. She is rendered nearly invisible and is able to infiltrate, easily lowering her victim’s guard. Alice Lowe wrote the screenplay and when trying to get it made was pushed to direct it herself. She even cast her newborn in the film as her character’s own daughter.
The Empress is a card about creation and giving birth to people or ideas. When negatively aspected it’s time to talk about the toll this effort takes on us. Regardless of whether your body has a uterus, the act of “birthing” something new into this world can fracture us physically and mentally.
This card in a reading could refer to the excitement or the pressure of responsibility at work or at home. The Empress is a sign of leadership and maturity for which we are not always prepared. Sometimes it’s about rising to the challenge and figuring things out as they come along.
Emily Yoshida’s article on Vulture.
Pronouns: She, her
+ Success; protection via the rulebook; fatalistic; pursuit of excellence
– Sorrow; injury and trauma; a strict rule follower; “by the book creative” like a musician or dancer; unyielding; philosophical
If the Empress is about an abundance of creative energy than the Emperor celebrates a reserved and focused creativity. Musicians, dancers, musical theater kids, and the engineers who draw, all fall into this category. They tend to work within a stricter tradition but are brilliant and burn bright with artistic fervor. This easily describes the Final Girl. Within her film she is creative and daring enough to survive, but as a concept we expect our Final Girl to work within a set system. The horror genre has let her evolve over time but ultimately she is a consistent trope.
Seeing Laurie Strode’s evolution over time, it’s hard not to mention the toll taken on the Final Girl. We have celebrated her resilience for over 40 years now but the Laurie we meet today suffers from severe PTSD. The same goes for Sidney from the Scream films and countless other survivors of the horror franchise. These women are incredible and we root for them but they are also scarred by trauma.
The Emperor has a lot of power but is still a human being. She has gotten to where she is through incredible perseverance. Take this into consideration if it comes up in a reading. Similar to the Hierophant, where are you being punitive versus productive with your efforts? This card could be a call to action or a warning that you need to adapt to survive. Instead of judging her for running up the stairs, realize that every action she has taken is born from the instinct to survive.
Pronouns: She, her
+ Aspirational; pinnacle of spiritual practice; a sage or spiritual leader; grit; sticking to it; focus on your calling
– Rigid adherence to the rules regardless of the consequences; a dangerous lack of wiggle room. Doing it simply because it has always been done this way; flakiness or “flip flopping”
The Cenobites from Hellraiser aren’t able to separate pain from pleasure. They live in a Hell of extreme sadomasochism where inhabitants are mutilated and tortured beyond recognition in their quest for dark ecstasy. Pinhead or the Lead Cenobite is… well the leader of all the Cenobites and rallies the troops anytime someone cracks the code to his puzzle box. Your reward? You get to join the group in Hell and be tortured forever! Unless, you escape and then Pinhead’s gotta get the band back together to hunt you down.
Pinhead is a head priest of a damned sect and seemed the perfect fit for a Hierophant. While Clive Barker does a great job describing all kinds of tortured and scared Cenobites, there is nothing more epically uncomfortable and metal that the full head of pins—expect maybe a full body of them...
After considering this idea I discovered I wasn’t the only one who thought about it: horrify.me.uk’s photo shoot of a “Bride of Pinhead” served as a nice reference for how the pins could look in my own drawing. Note that this link contains adult content and is not safe for work: “Bride of Pinhead photoshoot is hot as hell”
Scrawling “Sure” across her torso is my little act of absurdity to a situation as extreme as our Hierophant’s. Five notches have been scratched below her tattoo to recognize the card’s number.
Should this card come up in your reading, think about how your high expectations can become a limitation. Routine can be a good thing but it’s worth it to consider how something or someone can evolve. Although there is always something to be said for predictability, if it’s stiffling your growth than it’s time to push forward.
If this card is negatively aspected consider a couple things: either the quality of your diligent practice is not in alignment with the overarching goal or check in and make sure you aren’t giving up too early and moving on before the real hard work begins. A balance here can result in perseverance and build grit.
Pronouns: She, her | They, them
+ Solid communication is the bedrock of any type of relationship; love (unconditional or romantic); marriage or partnership
– Codependency; a break or divide; lack of communication
All Cheerleaders Die is a twisted romp of a tale that weaves a teen sex comedy into a zombie-witchcraft horror film. It’s insane but that’s what makes it fun! Find someone who listens like Leena and someone who will confront your enemies with their undead super strength like Mäddy.
When this card comes up in a reading it could tell a few different stories. Firstly, it’s not the “love” card or at least, it’s not the “romantic partner” card per se. The focus is on the quality of any relationship. Meeting someone is the easy part. Finding someone for your foxhole that’s going to watch your back and tell it like it is—that requires effort. The same goes for a business partnership and a friendship.
The Lovers of CULT are in fact a loving romantic couple, participating in a ritual as old as time: the inside joke. The world around them has fallen to bits, but they still find joy together.
Pronouns: She, her (both)
+ The path to success; “we will take those Ws”; forward movement
– Bad news; accident; collision; rocky business
We live in a world of pass or fail that values innate talent over persistent hard work and commitment. What if this narrative around success is a lie? When Athena approached me about modeling for The Chariot, we quickly bonded over this and other aspects of being in the business of tarot and other witchy things. Athena and her business partner Indigo own a small business together called Maude’s Paperwing Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA that not only sells witchy items but actively builds community and safe spaces for LBGTQia+ people. They host book clubs and movie nights, bringing people together in a time where that has never been more challenging.
So how would you define success in this scenario? It’s not just about the bottom line. I created a card about two people who balance one another and share a common goal. Indigo (left) has a mouth full of dahlia petals that are slowly escaping her skull (air) and Athena is melting slightly (water). The two elements depend on each other to create emotional flow. Combined, air and water create clouds which in turn make thunder and lightening.
This card is the seventh of the major arcana signaling transition or transformation. When this card comes up it could be a sign of change whether that is of circumstance or perspective.
+ Survival; trying to reach homeostasis; tested
– The constant struggle to survive; epic tasks
This card is a pictorial fan fiction for the 2005 film, The Descent. It supposes that Sarah ultimately survived inside the cave system and has become an old woman there. In order to achieve this she latched on to the delusion of the cake and celebrating with her dead daughter.
The Descent is an exercise in both mental and physical fortitude. Sarah isn’t just trying to escape her surroundings but ultimately her anguish at the loss of her family. Casting her in my version of the Fortitude card, she hasn’t tamed a lion but skinned a wolf and adapted to the harsh conditions.
This isn’t to say, “Yeah, life is hard. Skin a wolf and get over it!”; instead it suggests that we are stronger than we think and survival, just like grief, looks different for each of us.
If this card comes up in a reading it could mean a number of things depending on its position. First, look at where it lands in the spread. If it’s in the beginning, how does it relate to where you are at right now? When I am in a state of survival mode I am not acting rationally. Instead my decisions are impulsive, rash, and sometimes dangerous. Over time I have learned that getting through the long dark tunnel requires moments of quiet reflection and planning. Sometimes taking no action is the right action. Maybe your mere existence is the resistance. If this comes up later on in a reading, maybe there is something or someone that you can gain some strength from. Asking for help is not a weakness but a sign of wisdom that you cannot carry a burden alone.
Fortitude isn’t always a sign of suffering. It can tell a story of persistent strength. That could be a person who inspires you. It could also be a warm thought or meditation that brings the blood pressure down and centers your thoughts. Ask, how are you strong?
Pronouns: They, them
+ Prudence; wisdom and maturity; knowing oneself; taking time for self; self-care
– Lies, secrecy, and fear; Beware of neglecting yourself; disconnect to recharge; burnout
Have you ever done or said something super weird like put the coffee pot into the refrigerator or snapped at someone without meaning to? These are classic signs of burnout. If you are feeling detached from reality, take a beat and reconnect with yourself. If we were five years old this would be called a “timeout”. My interpretation of the Hermit card has always been a very positive one. I welcome a reminder to disconnect and chill out.
Don’t wait! Think of it like a work out—after exercising it’s really important to rest and refuel so that your muscles can repair and by doing so you get stronger. Your mental health needs this just as much as your physical body.
The Hermit is a meditation on solitude. One interpretation is realizing you have the inner strength to get through whatever life throws at you. However, it’s unwise to carry all our burdens without aid. Maturity and wisdom gifts us the knowledge that reaching out for help is a strength in itself. Don’t be too proud to tell someone you’re hurting. Even if it’s just a check in so you can then go off and decompress solo—let people know what’s up. Don’t wander into the woods without leaving your plan for others.
The Hermit of CULT is a balance of both strength and vulnerability. They curl up to protect themselves but in an agile and aware pose to move if needed. They’re fearless. Without a stitch of clothing on however they are completely exposed and vulnerable.
In a reading I would see this as a sign that I or someone else needs some space or as a signal to take a step back and think.
Wheel of Fortune
+ Winning; good luck
– Bad luck; a massive loss
This card is a call back to two of my other deck projects: my first tarot deck, Bridge Witches and a small poker deck called Lost River: A Deck for Divination and Play.
Each day like many other cities across America, we play out the real life horror that is the gentrification of our communities. The large floating head blindly slurps things up to grow bigger and stronger, then spitting out the things it can’t make sense of. It can’t be argued that nice things aren’t nice, but when they come at the cost of others, their communities, their history etc—that’s unquestionably quite bad.
The bird, fish, butterfly, and rabbit represent the four elements: air, water, fire, and earth respectively. Each are also a pawn in this game when we spin the wheel. They are also symbolic of anxiety, depression, rage, and jealousy—the byproducts of “bad luck” but really the symptoms of being cast aside.
When this card comes up in a reading think of it like a coin flip. “Will things work out?” Sure. What is the ripple effect of this change. Is it worth the gamble? When I win, who loses?
Pronouns: They, them
+ Health and courage; “a good influence”
– Illness; “bad influence”
When MarTaze contacted me to be a part of this project, they described several different activities they were taking part in to connect with their body, their identity as a black queer person, and their family history. Modeling for this card was also a part of that journey and I am so grateful to play a small role in their story.
What does Justice really look like? Is it possible for people who have not been allowed at the table to find healing within a system that was constructed to punish their existence? This Justice card is not stating a fact but asking a question: what if Justice went beyond our current definition and symbol set? The scales of justice are cast aside and instead, MarTaze ponders the sword. The crooked line up to their shoulder is an outline of the East Coast of the United States, tracing the line of ports where people from African countries were brought and stripped of their identity. The water envelopes MarTaze’s figure which stands boldly amidst the tumultuous tide.
Do we have the power to build words stronger than “prison” and “retaliation”? Can our world hold those words as they are any longer?
The constellations above references the lore that slaves used the North Star as a compass to freedom. Is the Justice card a new compass for our journey forward? I don’t have answers to these questions.
When this card comes up consider the openness of this card rather than the outdated “justice is blind” or “it’s a two way street”. We know these things to not be true.