Tea: Reclaiming Black spirituality & creating the Black Gold Lenormand

I started gravitating towards old photographs of Black people looking carefree and gorgeous, and I connected with those really deeply. Representation is really powerful. … A lot of us are on similar journeys to reclaim stolen and forgotten parts of our history, cultural identity and – honestly – ourselves.

Tea – creator, Black Gold Lenormand

The Black Gold Lenormand is a tool for self-reclamation.

Created by Tea, a Black artist and storyteller, the deck weaves together old archival photographs of African American people’s daily lives, reinterpreting these within the framework of the Lenormand deck. Like many decks, it is a tool for self-exploration, but the Black Gold Lenormand explores and celebrates the importance of faith, ancestry and tradition in Black lives, historically and in the present, as Tea puts it, “celebrating the enduring legacy of Black Americans and our innate connection to spirit.”

Tea has decorated the cards’ sepia photographs with gold detailing, highlighting the magic in the mundane, the spirit moving through each moment. It’s a beautiful project, bringing Black folk history alive with passion, respect and love.

As Tea describes it: “The Black Gold Lenormand isn’t a traditional Petit Lenormand deck. This is a deck that aims to be expansive in its approach to self-work and spiritual discernment, specifically as it relates to Black American traditions. … Because Black people can never not be magic. It is us and we are it. And that’s how it’s always been. Whether we are playing, singing, gathering for church, working, dancing, resting or the simple act sweeping a broom across a floor.”

The Black Gold Lenormand is crowdfunding on Kickstarter right now – check it out (and support!) right here.

I chatted to Tea (who’s stuck in Australia at the moment thanks to the pandemic!) about what inspired this project and how and why she created the deck – you can read our conversation below.

(What’s Lenormand, you ask? It’s a deck of cards a little like a tarot or oracle, with its own system. Labyrinthos offers this overview if you’d like to learn more.)

Hi Tea! How are you doing, where in the world are you, and what’s it like out there today?

Hello, LRT!! I’m doing pretty well today, considering it’s my favorite kind of weather – rainy and overcast. I’m currently based in Melbourne, Australia (the unceded territory of the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation), until travel restrictions lift and it’s safe for me to return home to America. I hope y’all are keeping well!

Let’s talk about your project! Could you briefly introduce the Black Gold Lenormand, the themes at its core, the inspiration behind it?

My project is the Black Gold Lenormand, and I’m raising funds for it on Kickstarter right now! There are 36 cards in the deck, and they feature collages that correspond to themes such as community, boundaries, self-care, etc. I’ve taken the cards of the traditional Lenormand deck and further interpreted them according to beliefs present in Black traditional religions. Which is kind of how Lenormand happened in the first place: taking an object and then retooling its story. Some German guy invented a multi-player card game way back in the day, and this quirky French medium was like, “I’m going to appropriate this, m’kay, and use it to talk to the dead people.” Not sure how she got there from a party game. Maybe all her friends were dead. But I like how the cards marry tarot language and imagery to playing cards. It’s a happy medium I really enjoy. My intention for the cards in this Lenormand deck is for them to be used to divine specifically with ones loving ancestors in order to navigate life and healing. I think we all could use an extra hand at navigating life!

There’s obviously this strong emphasis on ancestry and heritage, especially with the photographs you’ve used, and their titles/captions, which tell stories of their own, with this Black magic woven throughout – it’s like you’ve brought the magic out of these old images with your gold brush, it looks like an act of reclaiming. Even without the Lenormand framework, the deck has a structure and a narrative. As a storyteller and folklorist yourself, have you found yourself telling stories (whether that’s your own, collective, or strangers’) as you created this?

When I started getting into these old photographic archives, connecting to the images and stories in there, I felt like more people needed to see them! Especially because a lot of us are on similar journeys to reclaim stolen and forgotten parts of our history, cultural identity and – honestly – ourselves. And it actually never disappeared, it’s just waiting to be found. Even in something as small as a caption. Some of them cracked me up! And who wouldn’t want to share that joy? From there it took on a life or a purpose of its own. I know anything I create will reflect my personal experiences, but I think my experience returning to a Black faith and divining with my ancestors runs parallel to the stories in this deck, and through history. I think that’s highly relatable for most folks.

How did you collect these images, and how did you choose the pictures you did?

I got on Wikimedia Commons and began looking for images with the same titles and themes as the traditional Lenormand cards. My idea was just to cut them out and glue them to actual playing cards. It was very low budget and basic. A Snake photo for the Snake card, etc. But then I started gravitating towards old photographs of Black people looking carefree and gorgeous, and I connected with those really deeply. Representation is really powerful. And I realized that just as being Black is a very important part of my identity, Blackness and Black stories should feature prominently in a deck I’m using to speak to my folks. Getting clear about that really helped the process flow. I would just spend hours in the Library of Congress’ online collection looking through thousands of photos of Black folks from the beginning of the United States til now. And I’d think, “Who looks like they’re giving me the same message I feel in this card? What photograph tells this story?”

How do you imagine folks using this deck when it’s published – is it purely for Lenormand readings, or can it be used in other ways?

When I first began practicing a Black traditional religion, I expected to be handed a manual or buy a “witch kit” or something. And the longer I do this, the more I realize it’s not realistic or indigenous to think that way. There isn’t ever one way to do anything because depending on which part of the country your ancestors lived in, or where they were stolen from, they worked with what they knew and what they could access. That’s different for everybody! I’ve used Lenormand as kind of a design blueprint, but I divine my own way, and I hope folks find their own intuitive connection to these cards and how they use them with their ancestors. Some folks will go by the text, some the playing card suits, and some the photographs. Some will use it in conjunction with tarot and other tools, as I sometimes do. All I can say is, “Use discernment”. Use your tools with discernment. And be willing to experiment and find what works for you! The possibilities in divination are endless!

What are some of the most potent lessons you’ve received from your explorations of this heritage and tradition that are applicable today?

I quote this article in my Kickstarter story by Hess Love, and she speaks about how our traditions are so deeply ingrained in our culture that even when we didn’t know it, we were practicing our ancestral traditions. So instead of trying to sensationalize our magic, radically normalize it again. Our ancestors here in America were casually whipping up plant medicines, using Bible versus as spells, chatting to spirits and using magic to survive deadly racial disparities. The purpose was to get free. And until we’ve achieved equity for all in our society, why shouldn’t we practice traditions that were intended to liberate us. Doesn’t that just seem normal? This weird, global warming nightmare, pandemic world we’re living in is actually what’s hella abnormal! It’s not sustainable, it’s not ethical, it’s not safe. Make ancestral traditions normal again, I say. Make the magical mundane, like Hess said!

I know that you experienced this sudden creative urge and made the deck images in a short space of time – was it after this that you decided that a Lenormand deck was the right vehicle for your art, or did you know before you started that you wanted to create a Lenormand deck? Why Lenormand, rather than, say, tarot, or an oracle?

Lenormand came first. I’ve been a tarot reader for some time, but I find the amount of cards in a tarot deck a bit silly and some of them feel redundant. It’s like that saying that there are only a handful of original stories out there being repeated throughout time. Lenormand has less redundancy and the symbols feel a lot clearer and cleaner to me. I’m someone who spends way too many words to say something very simple, and I don’t think it has to be that way, haha. When I read Lenormand, though, I feel like my language is more concise and direct. And I like how Lenormand uses playing card suits. I think the cards can be used very similarly to oracle cards, though!

Please check out the Black Gold Lenormand on Kickstarter now!