Charlie Claire Burgess: Art, gender, & creating the Fifth Spirit Tarot

Charlie (they/them) identifies as a non-binary spirit in a human home who’s gay for other queers! They’re also a white, able-bodied person living with complex PTSD. Charlie is the artist and author behind the Fifth Spirit Tarot.

In their own words…

I’m a creative writer and digital artist who didn’t consider myself an artist until I started to create my first tarot deck, Fifth Spirit Tarot. I don’t have any art training to speak of, other than the “art” classes that we were all required to take in school as kids (the kind where you finger-paint and make lumpy clay sculptures of your dog), so I literally don’t know how to put paint on canvas. But I’ve always naturally been able to draw. I’ve been doodling little pen-and-ink drawings in my journals or on birthday cards for my friends and family for as long as I can remember, but that was the extent of my art portfolio before 2019, when I messed around in a drawing app one night and accidentally started a Tarot deck. Being able to illustrate digitally was a game changer that made art creation accessible for me. I use an iPad with Procreate and draw directly on the screen with a stylus, so every line and brush stroke is “drawn by hand,” so to speak, but digitally. And I don’t have to wait for paint to dry! Now, my art is my main livelihood through the sales of Fifth Spirit Tarot and my other creations, supplemented by the Tarot classes I teach.

In addition to being an artist, I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pencil. The written word was my first art and my first love, and it’s a life-long love. I’ve had a number of short fiction stories published in literary journals and anthologies, and I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University. In recent years, my focus has shifted from writing fiction to writing about Tarot, although I think it’s fair to say that I do it with a writerly, dare I say poetic, bent. I’m continuing to write about Tarot and am currently working on a book about non-binary Tarot that works to evolve the cards and the way we read them beyond all binaries, gender and otherwise.

As a queer and non-binary person who’s married to a transgender man, my identities certainly inform my art because they’re an intrinsic part of who am I and how I perceive and experience the world. Queer and trans representation were at the core of my vision for Fifth Spirit Tarot and are central in my continuing work, and my understanding of Tarot itself is based in my perspective as a queer and non-binary person.

I currently live in Portland, Oregon, on Cowlitz and Clackamas indigenous lands, with my spouse and fellow tarot practitioner Aaron Caffee (he/him). But I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and lived there and elsewhere in the Deep South for 26 years, so my Southern background remains a big part of me and my work.

I was born dead during a tornado; I have double jointed thumbs, and I’m working on a second deck that doesn’t have a name yet but is an oracle based on the 54-card playing card deck (including 2 jokers that are meant to be read with).