I believe that resistance and revolution can be seeded in art. Allowing our brains to experiment with different futures can help those futures feel possible. Although the world of Dice [in this deck] is a Capitalist one, I also wanted to make explicit that there is the possibility for this status quo to be disrupted.
Felix Kawitzky is the artist and writer behind the Tarot of Many Doors, a fantastical, monochrome tarot set in space and featuring otherworlds of dice and potions, flightless birds and etheric, amorphous beings. It’s witty, thoughtful, moving, playful and wonderfully queer.
Felix lives in London, where they are also at work on their first novel – sci-fi, of course :) I caught up with them last month to chat about the emergence of their tarot deck, its themes of anticapitalism and queerness, and the importance of imaginative worldbuilding as a way we can vision and play with alternative futures.
Beth: Hey Felix! How’s the vibe down in London? It’s a cool, overcast day today…though I’m feeling sleepy and emotional and having a lot of *feelings* this week, which I’m trying not to over-think (ha). Also, it’s bin day so there is a lot of noise outside my window. Also, there was a solar eclipse this morning! I must confess, I didn’t notice a thing. How about you?
Felix: Beth! It’s hot and atmospherically stormy in London and I’ve just finished up a spooky roleplaying game with some friends, which feels appropriate. Delightful that there was a solar eclipse when you wrote me, though some time has passed since then! Now the moon is wobbling, apparently, which is worrying. Space!
B: I pulled a card to kick off this interview and got the Reverie of Potions. They look how I feel! I’m taking it as a reminder that it’s totally fine to be a spongy mess of emotions and not feel like I have my shit together at all (lol). I’m just going to focus on having fun with your wonderful deck :)
And yeah – for me it is a fun deck to use. There’s a lot of humour and wit – I just love seeing those familiar Pamela Colman Smith scenes reimagined with space-folks and non-human otherworld. Is it a fun deck, in your opinion/experience?
F: I have such a soft spot for that little figure in the Reverie of Potions! And they appeared in an appropriately fluid way, as many of the characters in the Potions suit did – experimental, liquid lines eventually uniting to form a person.
My hope is that there’s a mix of something playful, weird, and familiar when reading with the Many Doors Tarot. Translating the symbols and imagery from the classic Rider-Waite-Smith illustrations into something nebulous but accessible was really important to me. The familiar traits of the RWS became an anchor, so that I could steep the cards in strangeness, without them becoming completely obscure to the reader.
When reading for myself or others, I generally use my crotchety old RWS deck. I actually find it difficult to use my own deck! Just because I feel like I know it so intimately. I like working with a deck that keeps secrets from me. Though, maybe I should try use it a little more and see what mysteries and surprises it might still hold!
What I do play with and return to is how the cards provide insight into different worlds – little snapshots and hints at what might exist beyond the borders of the scene. So, I end up using it primarily as a world-building and storytelling aid. I look through the cards for characters, situations, plot points, environments, sometimes bringing them whole-cloth into other stories, or just using them as a springboard for something new.
Yeah, there’s a real sense of each world having it’s own narrative, shaped by these characters and their environments. What was your creative process like, and was it different or similar to the novel-writing you’re doing now?
Making the deck was more like designing a roleplaying game, I think, than writing a novel (though in both cases world-building is always my favourite part!) Some decks, like the RWS, do have a kind of soft narrative built in (like the “Fool’s Journey”), but Many Doors is fundamentally non-linear. I spent quite a bit of time defining the mood, social structures, and lifeforms for the suits/worlds, so I knew what kinds of scenes and characters might show up in each. How environments and figures would change as well as how they express the emotion and meaning of the card.
After I had the world-building down, the deck slowly began to assemble itself piecemeal. Like a tabletop roleplaying game, I wanted it to facilitate the reader’s journey – for the cards to function as prompts, backdrops, characters, tools, etc, that allow for that story to emerge in the ways they explore and interpret their spreads.
Thinking about the suits as worlds, and the cards as moments within stories, was most helpful for me. There are more than a few cards whose stories I want to spend more time exploring!
So, you’re clearly a massive sci-fi nerd! What draws you to the genre, and do you have any fave writers, any who had a particular influence on your deck?
For sure! I think a lot about the rich array of dystopias/utopias/heterotopias and alternative social structures that feature in science fiction, and the possibilities that the genre opens up to imagine different ways of thinking about relationships, bodies, communities, and so on.
There’s that famous Ursula K Le Guin quote, “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings” (2014), that has stuck with me as a kind of guiding principle. She goes on to say that these shifts in thinking can begin in art – how creatively exploring other worlds, futures, and presents, can itself be a form of resistance. So, science fiction can function as pathway not just towards escapism, but to politicised escapism, inviting a questioning of the status quo as much as speculation into the future.
Then, there’s the link between SF and the strange, alien, or non-human – its ability to challenge anthropocentricism and normative conceptions of bodies and gender, that resonates with me as a trans person. There are almost no humans in the Tarot of Many Doors (I think only two?), which was a deliberate and liberating choice.
This is not to say that being trans or gender non-conforming equates to being non-human, but rather that freely exploring other bodies and lifeforms was and is a joyful and affirming experience for me, both during the creation of the deck, and in my other engagements with SFF content. Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy, which includes an alien race with unique conceptions of gender and sex, whose physical form changes drastically from generation to generation, is a major reference point here. Her “Oankali” visually and thematically inspired the whole suit of Potions, as well as the Lovers card.
Of course, while science fiction as a genre holds this potential, like fantasy, it is also often used by creators in ways that re-affirm dominant Western power structures, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, imperialism, transphobia, ableism, Capitalism, and so on. Reproducing the same oppressions, just in space.
Brief rant aside, some other important SF touchstones for the deck are writers like Samuel Delany, Suzette Haden Elgin, Rivers Solomon, N. K Jemisin, and Ann Leckie.
Rant heard! Let’s talk queer art. I think a lot about what makes a deck ‘queer’ (if such a thing can be specified, I’m not sure – it’s slippery by nature right?)… it has to do with mess, I think – decks often feel queer to me when they are disruptive, anti-normative, chaotic and brashly imperfect… how about you?
I love that – the link between mess, disruption, and queerness. The queerness of the deck is definitely linked to that chaotic energy – an assertion of its own internal logic, as well as its slipperiness and resistance to being exactly defined. Because the imagery features largely non-human characters in otherworldly environments, its queerness isn’t expressed via literal representations of LGBTQIA+ experiences on Earth. I did worry initially about how readable it would be as queer. Happily, though, I’ve seen that you and many other users of the deck were able to pick up on that energy!
I’ve also renamed some of the Major Arcana and Court Cards to push back at the gender stereotypes that they often reproduce in classic decks like the RWS – limited and essentialised ideas of “feminine” and “masculine” traits. Hopefully that offers more space and opportunities for identification and resonance across a proliferation of genders.
It really does. And I love that the four suits are distinct ‘worlds’ in this deck. It’s such a neat use of sci-fi to imagine the wands, potions, wires and dice as separate entities in space, with their own atmospheres, life forms, energies. It’s very cool how you’ve illustrated these in the zine too, with the characteristics of each world woven into the landscape.
So….I feel like I’m in the world of Potions today – kinda not 100% here, there’s a lot of feeling-force, but not a lot happening on the outside. Maybe I’ve coalesced with this cup of steaming tea I’m drinking… or with my squishy sofa, that feels more accurate! Which world of the Tarot of Many Doors are you inhabiting today?
Today, and probably for a little while, I’d say The Suit of Dice (Pentacles). It’s a world that prizes productivity and usefulness, progress and accumulation, and those unable to keep in step are often depicted in states of anxiety, confusion, and precarity. All of which is to say, I have been feeling stressed out about my ability to work, write, and create at the level and efficiency I wish I could! I hope to join you in the more meandering Suit of Potions soon, though.
There’s so much here that makes me smile, but then there’s also this sadness. Like, the large flightless birds of the suit of dice – they’re so comedic, but it also feels tragic, how they’re grounded. You write about the world of Dice: “This planet is the most similar to our own. It’s largely Capitalist, though anarchist sentiments are slowly growing.” I relate to the grounded birds and it’s frustrating, dystopian…so I’m relieved to hear about the growing swell of anarchism in the world of Dice :) Do you intend that the deck inspires anarchy, anticapitalism, queerness…? Is there a future vision baked in?
Definitely! Harking back to that Le Guin quote, I also believe that resistance and revolution can be seeded in art. Allowing our brains to experiment with different futures can help those futures feel possible. Although the world of Dice is a Capitalist one, I also wanted to make explicit that there is the possibility for this status quo to be disrupted (as you point out!) The deck’s anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical sentiments are also present in the removal of the Royalist roles in the court cards, and the re-naming of Major Arcana cards like the Emperor and Empress.
Do you have any favourite cards?
I’m really fond of The Mage, which is this twinned chimera alien with all of the suit elements floating around it – alchemical in a similar way to the Magician in the RWS, who also unites all four suits in their card. Instead of being materials to manipulate, though, I imagine that The Mage is suspended between these four worlds, maybe able to peer into or travel between them? And that all of these lifeforms can exist in parallel.
The Changeling is another card I feel really connected to – it doesn’t have a counterpart in the RWS, and also taps into this feeling of existing in multiple spaces, in multiple forms, at once, which is an experience I associate with my own queerness in various ways.
And finally, Warp Drive as the deck’s interpretation of The Chariot, just because I enjoy its 90s Star Trek silliness.
Lastly but not at all leastly – you’re writing a novel! It sounds bloody brilliant. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I am! It’s about a group of bored maintenance workers on a derelict deep-space research station at the edge of Earth’s nearest black hole, who begin conducting a series of off-the-record experiments (including genetically engineered, dimension-hopping slugs) which accidentally open windows to other realities.
It’s intended as a gentle, queer exploration of cosmic euphoria, disorientation, and community, set in an environment equal parts Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. This will be my first attempt at novel-length fiction, which I’m both nervous and excited about!
This sounds utterly fantastic – I hope you’ll let us all know whe it comes out! To that end – where can folks find, follow and support you?
I just launched a Patreon that works a bit like a roleplaying game – Patrons can get personalised and illustrated characters, planets, and quests as tier rewards!
Also I’d just like to thank you, and say how lovely it’s been to reflect on your thoughtful questions and insights!