There is space in the magic: interview with Noel Arthur Heimpel, creator of The Numinous Tarot

Numinous Tarot Chariot Sun

Beyond healing myself and helping to heal others with tarot, my ultimate tarot quest is identifying and collecting tarot decks that center queer, trans, and people of color in their images.

It’s a task that should be much easier to accomplish than it is. In fact, it is outright rare that I find a tarot deck that doesn’t just pick and choose but wholly and effortlessly begins from the point of diversity – i.e., starts with all of us – rather than just token inclusion.

The conversation is, I’d say much too slowly, taking on greater priority in the tarot world. This lack of visibility is not accidental or purely circumstantial; erasure requires intention by its very nature. Recently, the hashtag #tarotsowhite, sparked by Kelly Ann Madox, has amplified the voice of tarot readers and enthusiasts frustrated with the lack of visibility in tarot. Benebell Wen aptly explained the ways in which this frustration can turn to learned apathy for those who seek to see ourselves in the decks we love and transformatively imagined a space in time where diversity is boring – so commonplace it doesn’t bear mentioning.

The Numinous Tarot being lovingly brought to the life by the talented Noel Arthur Heimpel is a forthcoming deck that does just this important work. Ask anyone who has ever talked tarot with me, and they’ll tell you that I’ve managed to sneak or outright shoehorn this luminous deck into conversation, someway somehow. Noel’s Numinous Tarot brilliantly tells our stories, including our identities without distilling us to just cleverly put together letters of the alphabet. I was honored to interview them and learn more about how they came to bless us with their work.

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To start with, tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure! I’m twenty-five, a Scorpio (Virgo moon), and I love reality cooking shows. I’m a nonbinary, genderfluid queer person who grew up in various parts of Maryland. I’ve been writing and drawing for most of my life, and I got into comics in 2011 while I was getting my B.S. in painting, drawing, and printmaking at Towson University, which I graduated from in 2013. When I’m not drawing, I’m usually reading or doing something woo-woo. I discovered witchcraft and polytheism when I was eleven and have been walking various forks of those paths ever since. Tarot was something I added on two years later, so I’ve been reading the cards for over ten years now.

You’ve been emphatic that “Storytelling is [your] foremost passion, and [your] most heartfelt mission is to create stories which contain a huge variety of people, especially those with underrepresented identities–specifically, stories which are not about those identities.” Could you say more about that distinction where stories about folks of underrepresented identities don’t just have to be about those identities?

Often when we find stories that feature individuals who are queer, POC, disabled, etc, the focus is on coming to terms with that identity, coming out, or struggling with/overcoming oppression and discrimination. While it’s incredibly important that we have stories about these things…when that’s all there is, it’s kind of like being a vegan at a buffet in the Deep South. You might be able to eat the side dishes (if they’re not laden with pork fat), but it’s hardly a satisfying meal, and in the meantime everyone around you is chowing down on twelve different kinds of barbecue and three types of waffles. What I want to do is add more options to that buffet.

I’m out and comfortable with myself where my queerness and neurodivergence is concerned. I don’t often like reading stories about struggle & oppression because I already live it and hear real stories about it every day. I like reading or watching, say, a story about an artist struggling with their craft, or poets falling in love with faeries, the inevitable apocalypse, you know, relatable things! And I can relate so much better, feel so much more engaged, when the characters also reflect my queerness or transness, because these things have a huge effect on my worldview at large.

Listening to people who have identities I don’t (as a white, able-bodied person) has shown me that they’re often looking for fuller, more nuanced representation, too. Stories are so powerful…they shape our reality and let us shape it right back. So it’s crucial that we’re able to see our whole selves within them, all our various bits and the ways they intersect with one another.

What kind of stories do you find yourself centering on in your work – tarot, illustration, comics?

The most common message in my work is one of recovering from trauma and learning to understand one’s emotions, usually through a confrontation with something mysterious and magical. The inherent magic and mystery of the world is what’s always kept me tethered to it and wanting to live, even through my very darkest moments. The message is even there in the Numinous Tarot, though it might be harder to see than in a comic.

The word “numinous” itself is defined as “having a mysterious, holy, or spiritual quality.” Exploring spirituality, whatever that means to you, is so incredibly important for those of us who have experienced trauma, abuse, and oppression, as they absolutely leave spiritual wounds. We have more push than anyone to engage with our shadow selves, so that we can learn to live and love and find beauty again.

What place has tarot, magic, and all other woo had in the way your work, move, live?

All of these things are so fully integrated into my life that I don’t know what I would do without them! As previously stated, I got into magic, Tarot, and woo very early on in life. I’m intensely curious about the world and life and everything in it. My interest in the mystical as well as the scientific has given me a balanced way to explore that in everything I do, from which tea I drink in the morning to evening discussions about politics with friends. Then I take these explorations and put them down on paper in images and words. That’s where I “get my ideas from” for my art, so to speak.

Tarot in particular has been an excellent tool for introspection and guidance in my life. I deal with a lot of irrational thinking and self-doubt, so the cards help me to organize my thoughts and feelings and figure out just what to do with them. Tarot and meditation are a part of my daily schedule, as they help keep me balanced and on track. Astral journeying and spell work I do less often, but they’re just as important to how I explore and create personal change.

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Has there been a particular healing or haven found in doing this work?

Absolutely. Working magic and using Tarot has been just as crucial to my recovery process as the traditional therapy I do, or medications I used to take. Whenever I realize I need a big life change, I read the cards. I work big magic. It’s a holistic approach, covering all the areas of my life in this way, from the circuits of my mind to those within my heart and spirit. Outside help is often crucial to healing, but in order for it to have an effect, we have to do the work ourselves, as well. The concept of shadow work has been a huge guiding force in how I approach my recovery. We have to accept and acknowledge the dark as much as we need messages of hope.

What was the inspiration for your Numinous Tarot?

When I graduated from college, I was in a rough transition point with my art. For years and years, I had used art as a way to channel my depression, anxiety, and PTSD out of my body and out into the world instead. However, I’d reached a point in recovery where that no longer felt needed or satisfying…it even felt triggering, sometimes, like going backwards. But I didn’t have anything to replace that subject matter with yet. Have you watched the show Avatar: The Last Airbender? In the third season, Zuko loses his ability to firebend when he stops relying on his hate and anger to fuel it. Before he can firebend again, he has to find a new source to draw on within himself; that’s exactly where I was at the time with my art.

Illustrating a Tarot deck had been a dream of mine for many years. I did the Major Arcana once in high school, and immediately saw what a huge task a whole deck would be, so I put it off until I was “ready.” Well, at this point, I decided maybe that time had come. I had no idea what to draw anymore, and the cards would fix that problem, giving me subject matter to focus on. I decided I would let my intuition guide me in my interpretation of the cards, taking inspiration from my personal mysticism and spiritual experiences over the years. The more I worked on it, the more it grew in strength and complexity, and the more I created a space for my art to live again.

Your favorite card(s) so far?

Ha, nearly every time I make a card, my reaction is “This is my new favorite card!!” That said, I have a super soft spot in my heart for the Death card. Death is my favorite Tarot card in general, as it has come up for me so many times in my life and seems to define it in so many ways. I read once that my birthday is the “Day of Metamorphosis,” and that couldn’t be more accurate as far as the theme of my life is concerned. The Death card is the ultimate metamorphosis and I feel like I brought a sense of peace and mystery to my particular interpretation of it, to ease the inherent fear some people have when it comes up. That said, I also adore the Queen of Vials. The hair took forever, but it turned out so well.

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Which tarot card do you find represents who you are, or who you are becoming?

I actually chose to model the Queen of Tomes illustration after myself for this very reason! For the past few years, the Queen of Pentacles (or whatever the pentacle/earth suit is named in each deck) has represented me in all of my readings for myself. The earthy practicality and generosity of this card suits my personality well—and so do the reversed traits of the card, being overly “mothering,” a bit of a workaholic, etc. Being this Queen represents the stability I’ve managed to build for myself out of the chaos of my childhood.

I think, though, that I am starting to move away from this card. I’m not certain who I might be becoming, but the card that has been drawing my attention more and more lately is Temperance. I used to dislike this card. For years I just didn’t really understand what it meant. But now I see it as the next step on my journey, the place I’m trying to get to at this point in my life. It comes up in my readings often enough these days!

What are your plans for this project and when do you seek to have it available?

My current plan is to finish the deck illustrations and write a book for it this year. I hope to have a Kickstarter sometime in early 2017 to fund the printing, and after that it will be available in my online shop (once I reopen it, it’s currently closed). Anyone following me on social media will be kept abreast on the plan as it develops, and Patreon backers will get first dibs on the KS when it opens.

What is your favorite tarot/oracle deck(s) out there right now?

My newest two decks are the Idiosyncradeck Tarot and the Soul Trees Oracle, and I adore them both. They are very brightly colored and encouraging, but in practice they still manage to convey hard-hitting messages. The Idiosyncradeck uses tea and coffee cups for the cups suit, which has to be my all-time favorite interpretation of Tarot imagery and symbolism. It’s not just an arbitrary substitution, it’s really well thought out! The Soul Trees Oracle just speaks to me on an emotional level through its use of highly expressive color and simple key words or phrases.

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How can we support you in this project and in your other work as an artist?!

I’m so glad you asked! The best way to support the Numinous Tarot right now, along with my other work, is to contribute to my Patreon. I’m about to quit my day job and attempt to do art at least part-time instead of in my free time, because time is literally the only thing holding me back from moving forward in my art career. This means I need to be making money from it to support myself, though! Even just $1 a month adds up and helps me out, plus subscribers get all sorts of cool bonus content, Tarot readings, and updates I don’t share with anyone else. I don’t have physical books or decks to sell right now, so this is (hopefully) my main art income while I make those things.

My webcomic, Ignition Zero, is my other main project right now. It’s about a group of queer college-age friends who get mixed up in a fight between two powerful spirits, and with some urban faeries as well. The two main characters are romantic asexuals (I identify on the ace-spectrum myself), which has been a big draw for a lot of my readers. There’s some romance, some Best Friend Goals, some silliness, some heaviness, and lots of lessons about how emotion guides our actions. It’s free to read and there are already over 300 pages up on the site! I also get a bit of money from the ads there, so the more site traffic, the more those go up.

Of course, just following my work on social media and helping spread the word is awesome as well. I appreciate every comment, like, retweet, reblog, review, all of it, very deeply! On my Instagram, I’m doing some fun daily Tarot readings for my followers that includes an interpretive drawing, so people might want to check that out in particular. I may offer personal paid versions of this in the future.

Here’s everywhere I can be found:

all artwork featured in this post credited to Noel Arthur Heimpel

And! If you like this, you should also read this interview with Trung Nguyen, another emerging tarot deck artist centering queer and POC narratives in their work.

3 comments

  1. Beth
    Beth says:

    I absolutely love this interview. Noel’s comments about when queer/POC etc characters do appear in arts and media it’s usually about their struggle…agh, I was just talking with my partner about this the other day. Always used as inspiration, always with the sorry story, never just *being*.

    Noel’s artwork is absolutely incredible and I can’t wait for this deck to be published. For now, just loving watching and supporting the process :)

    Thank you so much for this piece, Asali!

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