A few months ago I was attending an event at Catland Books in Brooklyn (aptly a séance), and while I was walking past the shelves I was immediately struck by a deck of cards sitting near the tarot cards. It was black and white and featured simple white line drawings of animal skulls on each card with two words underneath. There was no guidebook. It was as beautiful as it was mysterious. As soon as I picked it up I knew I had to have it, and once I started using it I knew I made the right choice. As both an animist and a witch for whom working with the dead features prominently in my practice, I found this to be an incredibly powerful and deeply spiritual deck.
Flowers From the Dead was created by artist Misha Huntting Dumois and she was kind enough to speak to me about it.
What was the inspiration behind Flowers From The Dead?
Honestly, I was at a flea market and found a deck of cards from the 1920's with simple pictures on them. I thought to myself this has to be a tarot deck but it's not quite like a tarot deck. So I bought and learned it was something called a "fortune teller deck" with one-word meanings. I took it home and played with it, noted the things I felt were difficult to interpret about it and the things I liked a bit and thought I would make one of my own. I now know that these kind of decks are often referred to as "Oracle Decks" and remembered that I had seen a few as a child that my mom owned and let those serve as inspiration as well.
What made you decide to do a divination deck as opposed to a more traditionally formatted tarot deck?
Well actually this is my second deck. I first made a tarot deck a few years back called "American Obscura Tarot" Which is an interpretation of the Rider-Waite replacing the imagery and symbolism with offbeat American history and rough and tumble characters in American history. This was a very complex deck—the art, the stories, everything! This time I wanted to try something honoring many of the same themes but mostly honoring simplicity, which is something I've come to appreciate more and more the older I get.
I love that the meanings are directly on the card because it makes the barrier for entry so low. You can use it right away without prior esoteric knowledge but still get really deep meaning from a reading. What that your reasoning for doing it that way?
Yes, that is my exact reason. I have to remember sometimes that not everyone grew up with tarot and that sometimes memorizing the card meanings can be tedious or intimidating. So this time, I made a more intuitive version, a tool to practice divination without pulling away from the reading and give people a little more room to decide what they think the cards mean. I wanted to remove the intimidation factor and as you say, keep the barrier for entry low. And who knows? Maybe the practice will bring in some new people and they'll love it so much they will move on to learning tarot in a more traditional sense.
Why did you decide to work with animals?
I am oddly devoted to American history and all it's magical practices and influences, I was trying to come up with an idea and my friend Lauren suggested I do something with animals and I liked it. I felt that animals represent so many things in our dreams and in our spirits, they would be a good framework for expressing a feeling or idea in a reading and to illustrate the Americana aspect. I chose only North American Animals. Also I just like animals and bones! I collect taxidermy and skulls and have for a long time.
What do the human figures in the deck represent?
The human figures represent 4 of the major influences on American folk magic: VooDoo/Hoodoo (African practices), Catholicism/Santeria, Souix/all Native American practices, and lastly, The Green Man to represent the European Pagan influence.
I find folk magic and the absence of one specific religious belief fascinating and a big part of our heritage.
In the west we live in an incredibly death-denying culture which is anomalous to so much of the history of human spirituality. Why did you choose to work with the dead for this deck?
Well again part of it is just my interests and taste but I do not want to send the impression that it's all sadness and death hence why I named it Flowers FROM the Dead. Suggesting that bones serve as fertilizer for flowers. Sort of a Phoenix rising from the ashes metaphor. Tarot is supposed to inspire self improvement and change and I can't think of a better example of change effecting new growth.
Are you planning on making more decks in the future?
I'm planning on extending The Flowers From the Dead deck which is another great part of it being an oracle deck, I can continue to add to it as I see fit. But other than that, yes I am starting to realize that this is a good idea for me and am looking forward to expressing my creativity in hopefully multiple decks.
Where can people learn more about you and purchase Flowers From The Dead?