Motherpeace Tarot: Watercolors of the Second Wave

A guest post shared by K. 

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Little Red Tarot’s 2015 survey revealed that we include the Motherpeace Tarot deck among our top ten tarot decks. The first round deck and the first feminist deck, it has long established itself as the mother of both genres.

Created by Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble in the late 70’s, the Motherpeace Tarot deck is a modern relic.

Second wave feminists aimed to tear down patriarchal religious traditions and forge new, Goddess-centric spiritualities.

In the same vein as Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman, Motherpeace is an expression of that. Having been raised to be a dutiful housewife, until disovering The Feminine Mystique and reliving the second wave myself in the mid-2000’s, I had no problem donning my Gunne Sax dress and dusting off my Joni Mitchell records when I first dug into this deck!

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Colorful and vivacious, the cards range from relateably mundane scenes to out-of-the-box abstract. The majority of the people depicted are women, many nude, and the Wands suit shows a clear narrative of one specific woman. The number and title of each card is hand-written and sometimes hard to read (though this is mostly because I have the mini deck), which I actually prefer. Motherpeace breaks away from the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot system, and the priority of the story of these cards over the frame of reference gives this deck its own kind of strength.

I think one of the most interesting things about these cards is that a few of them were designed to be directional. Rectangular cards have binary reversals, a card can either be rightside-up or upside-down. Most Motherpeace cards work in this way, but some are more like a compass. Round cards can point in any direction and the Judgement, Wheel of Fortune, and 5 of Swords cards were built with this in mind. They gesture to other cards in a reading, illluminating or condemning or connecting.

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The childlike quality of the artwork has long been a talking point about this deck, often derisively. Keep in mind that a common trend of feminism in the late 70’s and early 80’s was to celebrate everyone’s creativity equally, that accessability meant everyone did everything wonderfully and critique was destructive to the creative spirit. Why shouldn’t a polaroid of your girlfriend be alongside an Ansel Adams triptych in a prestigious photography exhibit? This mindset is certainly appropriate in some contexts, and something to keep in mind if you’re considering purchasing this deck.

Motherhood was also revered for its own sake, the ultimate archetype of creative power – honoring children and their play-work was a part of this. It’s the name of the deck, after all, and roundness was a feminine jab at the “phallic” rectangular cards of tradition. Fertility was primal power above all others. Motherpeace’s court cards are the Daughter, Son, Priestess, and Shaman to further drive home the pedestal this deck puts family on.

Motherpeace, especially its Discs suit, demonstrates the individual’s path within the community.

Today it can seem narrow-minded to glorify motherhood in such a way, but at the time it was considered revolutionary (compare the granola hippie Earth-mother to the submissive consumerist June Cleaver of a decade before).

Ultimately, this brief time of heavy-handed reclaiming motherhood and resistence of critique was a step leading up to how we see things today. Our problems are outgrowths of their problems four decades ago, our ideas of accessability and inclusivity have been influenced by theirs. My Motherpeace deck is a powerful tool of intrapersonal communication and through it, at least for me, I can see how my growth over time harmonizes with the growth this deck’s history epitomizes. The deck’s creatrixes utilized ancient Goddess imagery with this intent, but honestly the fact that they did this resonates more with me than the imagery itself.

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K motherpeaceAbout the author

A Midwesterner traveling the liminal spaces of the southwest, K has been studying Tarot for a little over a year – though it feels much longer!  A seamstress, gardener, baker, and artist, K uses creativity as spiritual expansion.  K’s Tarot and spirituality Tumblr can be seen here and online art gallery here

3 comments

  1. Kat says:

    The Motherpeace was among my first decks when it came out (I’m old). I return to it every few years because it feels like “home”. I love decks with earthy themes and non-professional looking artwork. This is the only woman-themed deck I will use.

    Looking at the Clover Tarot by Latvian artist Nika Berne. While not a feminist deck, she does have many women pictured. Love it. Her website: http://www.taro.lv/ru/taro-clover. Comes with a book, pictured here at this review: http://www.ethony.com/tarot-deck-exploration-clover-tarot/

    • K says:

      Earthy themes and non-professional artwork – are you familiar with the Shining Tribe deck? That’s pretty much 100% what you’re describing here :)

      • Kat says:

        Hi, K. Yes, I used to have the Shining Tribe deck. But I never could connect with it. So for now, I’m using the Anna K deck and Motherpeace. After decades of using tarot, I feel weary of the structure (the suits, courts, major and minor) and may want to use an oracle type deck for a while. But haven’t found any that really grab me.

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