Egan, the creator of the Delta Enduring Tarot offers up this deck as one that centers on “the love and struggles of the Mississippi Delta, and the Southern lives that thrive there despite all odds.”
As a Black queer femme living in the US South, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been waiting on this deck.
Making its mark in the new and welcome wave of inclusive decks, the Delta Enduring Tarot keeps its promise, providing a magical and political perspective on the tarot tradition with that singular Mississippi Delta flavor.
I was honored to be able to interview Egan and learn more about their vision of this incredible sacred work and its place in the tarot and political conversation.
Blessings Egan, please share a bit about yourself!
About me… I was born in New Orleans. I’m Celt-Creole French. As a child, my family moved to the suburbs north of Lake Pontchartrain, which is where I went to high school. Anyone from here knows your high school matters almost as much as the place you were born in terms of developing your identity as a Louisiananian.
I grew up building forts in the woods beside my house, making friends with neighborhood cats, collecting bugs, and picking up friendly snakes. I grew into a person who flummoxed conservative forces in my life who questioned why I wasn’t turning out to be the debutante I was expected to be.
Growing up in southern Louisiana, it took me a long time to come to the realization that I am a non-binary person. As a classic first-born people-pleaser, I’m still working on being strong enough and gentle enough with myself to express my gender the way I want, with the expectation that some people will have a problem with that. It’s a work in progress. I go by they/them now.
In the course of my life, I have always been passionate about the arts, but my creativity has always been tempered by a driving, burning curiosity. History. political science. chemistry. biology. I loved them all and wanted more. The sciences found me early in life and we never parted.
While my creative side has always fostered my own mental health and spiritual balance, I chose a vocation that would center on the healing of others. I practice patient-centered allopathic medicine as an emergency medicine physician here in New Orleans.
What brought you to your art? What has it meant for you over time?
It’s hard to say what brought me into art. The craft side of it has been something that has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. Find a piece of paper? Draw an eyeball on it. Oh, now the eyeball has the body of a lizard. Cool. Now there’s a pack of eye-ball headed lizards. I just never stop practicing, and have learned not to get too hung up on perfection.
The skills to make a piece of art are really only a small piece of it, though. I firmly believe good art should makes you feel something, and the best art makes you feel something and then think about how you feel. At first, I was all about emulating artists that made things beautiful. Like, that image is gorgeous. That pattern is fabulous. Those textures are amazing. Most of the stuff I loved I honestly didn’t have the skills to replicate, as I was mostly self-taught. Then someone gave me the comic book Swamp Thing by Alan Moore. It was like a light turned on and I realized narrative art could be just as meaningful and beautiful, regardless of what the pen strokes looked like.
I have been working on comic books and illustration for a few years now, and it has still taken me a long time to become comfortable with my own creative voice.
The Delta Enduring Tarot is the culmination of like two years’ worth of feelings and experiences and personal introspection that finally got drawn out. It’s very personal, and I’m okay with that.
Let’s get into your tarot magic. How did you first come to tarot as a tradition? How did it impact your world?
I originally got into tarot while working at this eccentric art installation/tourist destination called the Abita Mystery House in high school. They sold all kinds of books on the tarot, which I would pore over for hours on slow days. The imagery was captivating, as well as all the infinitely specific symbology that had meanings that were both ancient and brand new. Some cards held subtle mysteries, and others were obvious on the surface but had untold meanings to an initiated reader. I was interested almost immediately.
I was given my first deck in college, the Tarot of the Cat People, which has lots of cats and people living on a space desert planet or something. The cards were great to look at, but I didn’t really have a connection to them. I hadn’t really experienced the emotional and therapeutic value of a tarot reading until a friend of mine and fellow witch gave me a well-loved copy of the Illuminated Rider-Waite. That’s when I realized the Tarot and I had something really powerful to offer each other.
What is your favorite tarot card, if you have one? Are there any that you feel speak to where you are right now in your life?
Ooo, my favorite card. That has to be the Three of Cups. In a world that is so dominated by patriarchal forces that seek to divide and conquer us, I’ve always loved that it celebrates feminine energy, camaraderie, mutual support, and community.
Right now, my life is currently going through a lot of transitions. The Six of Swords sums up a lot of what I’ve been feeling. There’s good and bad, hope with new horizons and perspectives on the way, accompanied by a healthy fear about leaving the safety of my comfort zone. This card’s a good reminder to keep paddling though, even when things seem hard.
What are your favorite working decks? What are you drawn to in a deck? Any one you have an eye on right now?
Tarot for me is such a visual tool, so I am naturally drawn to decks that have heavy use of symbols and strong imagery to help with interpretation, especially in the minor arcana. Tarot is so often used as a tool to look into ourselves, so I especially love decks that embrace imagery that speak to all people, and not only cis heterosexual white readers.
Some of the best decks right now include Slow Holler, Tarot of the Silicon Dawn, and the Welcome to Nightvale Tarot. I’m really looking forward to the new tarot deck by Trung Nguyen whose art is beautiful and the cards so well crafted, as well as the goofy and yet nostalgic Lisa Frank Tarot.
What sparked the creation of the Delta Enduring Tarot? How did you to choose such a powerful name?
I had been on hiatus from my comic book JOB: A Comic for a few months secondary to writer’s block, and Trump had just been elected. I was riding around the city on my bike a lot and working at the charity hospital in New Orleans, and I just kept meeting people – queer, trans, black, disabled – who were still loving themselves and each other, and embracing their beauty and strength despite how fucked up everything was.
The spirit of people in the South has always been like that.
There’s always another hurricane coming. There are always oppressors ready to enact their power over the marginalized.
The strength and beauty of the Mississippi Delta people is reflected in the muddy waters of the river that never stops flowing to the gulf.
I’m so taken by your breathtaking integration of nature in your deck. Obviously, it is named for the Mississippi Delta which ties it to the land in a visceral way. Please say more about nature’s purpose and presence in the imagery of the Delta Enduring Tarot.
It would be hard for me to make a Southern deck without birds and opossums and alligators, but I didn’t intend for them to just be Southern window dressing. Plants and animals have been used symbolically in cartomancy forever, I think because we relate to them on a primal level – the cleverness of the fox, the loyalty of a dog, the ethereal nature of a fluttering moth. While these meanings may be archetypal, I find that some cards in the context of a reading are best viewed removed from the lens of a human experience.
For example, take the Four of Wands. The Rider-Waite-Smith shows an image of a flower-laden wealthy heterosexual wedding. Someone even gave them a castle. Good for them. While this is meant to be a card about celebration, marriage, good news and the happy home, it’s pretty limited in how it depicts that.
The Four of Oaks (fire sign in the Delta Enduring Tarot) instead shows the culmination of the life of two love bugs. Not all love bugs find a mate and pass on their genes to continue their species, but these two have, and that’s something to celebrate. The meanings are the same but the context allows one to form their own interpretation without comparing themselves to images of people on every card. At least, that’s the goal.
When you asked me about the presence of nature in these cards, it occurred to me that this is something a lot more nuanced, and maybe something I didn’t fully understand until it was completed and all the cards were laid out on the rug of my living room, with one of my cats making a bed out of some of the major arcana cards.
There are not a lot of cards in this deck that do not pay respect to the natural world in some way. I’d like to say that was intentional, but the reality is, I think it’s more representative of a mindset I’ve grown into by decades of living here.
We are too much a part of this ecosystem to ignore that it exists around us. We are not visitors to this place but an integral part of its past and future. By nurturing our waterways, the healthy fish and oysters from those waters will nourish our bodies. The waterways and wetlands we protect with care are as vital to our survival as a people as any man-made resource.
The natural world is present in this deck because we are a part of it, and should not be divided from the swamps that bore us.
What do you think about the inherent syncretic queerness of the South, and certainly the Mississippi Delta within it? In all the ways it is represented as one thing, while thriving on the labor of queer, trans, black, and indigenous poor folk… the transience and mutability of its magic – particularly its great skill at adapting (I immediately think of Hoodoo and how it wields syncretism as reclamation).
This is a question that one could write an entire book about and never scratch the surface of the complex relationship between queerness, magic, and the South. The crux of their intersection, beautiful and painful as it is, really comes down to survival.
That survival – whether that is spiritual survival, financial survival, or bodily survival – is not something that individuals can easily do on their own. It takes communities of willing hearts lifting each other up through mutual respect and appreciation to make that happen. So much history has been robbed from poor, queer, black, and indigenous people by white Christian heteronormative society, that the only path forward through the thick of the South is what people blaze together.
Rituals adapt and change so that they embrace those that have had their own traditions taken from them. Queer people escape the destructive forces of their small towns to find acceptance in the arms of New Orleans. The result is a dynamic culture (or intersecting cultures) that is complex and adaptive, while maintaining the bold truths that others have bled and cried and fought to preserve.
It is not something that can ever be painted in a single stroke, and shouldn’t be. The magic here is so much more personal, intertwined with real lives and traditions that have survived through love, secrecy, and devotion to maintaining the spirit of the work, even if the words change over time.
Does any of the above come up in the Delta Enduring Tarot’s imagery or writing?
The images of the Delta Enduring Tarot are crafted to give a glimpse into what the real world is like here. Rather than try to place anyone on a pedestal, I wanted to show people just living their beautiful lives -making dinner, feeding cats, doing the dishes.
No card is meant to show the reader, “This, right here: this is queerness; this is the South,” because it can’t be done. It’s too complex to boil down identity into something so concrete.
There is also a lot more to queer life and magic in this Mississippi Delta that this deck doesn’t begin to show. A lot of ideas were left on the drawing floor for the sake of brevity or out of respect for the sacred cultural importance that some images might hold.
The current political climate is in many ways life-threatening for so many. Art and the artists who create it are the truth-tellers, the sparks that incite movement, the healers holding us together. How do you feel that your art, particularly the Delta Enduring Tarot, make space at this time?
As an artist, I’ve always been drawn to utilitarian art – art that tells a story, ceramics that can hold my coffee, and most recently the tarot.
The tarot is a powerful tool, and it is my greatest hope that people will use it. The images in the deck are meant to be political, radical, and real to challenge readers of the tarot to look at this tool in a different way. It’s always nice to hear that a certain image is pretty to look at, but I am far more honored to hear that someone looked at the subject of a card in a new and profound way during their reading.
The tarot naturally has its own language familiar to all readers. I’m hoping my work will use that language to start new conversations.
What are your plans for the Delta Enduring Tarot?
The [first edition] Delta Enduring Tarot is currently sold out, but will be available for purchase later this year.
Where can we find your art? How can we support you, this project, and all your future art?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk with you and for all your support in making this project. I’m truly touched and honored.
Want to carry on the conversation on inclusive tarot that centers the multiplicities of our identities? Check out my Tarot of the QTPOC page which includes deck listing, reviews, and more interviews with the artists breaking open the tarot landscape.