Skip to content

Thea’s Tarot revival, after all these years

We’re not very good businesspeople. It’s not self-deprecation, it’s just truth, and it comes up in conversations with our supporters and between ourselves, constantly. The tensions are in part natural within an industry with notoriously “slim profit margins,” and among people who are erstwhile anticapitalists running a business for ostensible profit. It’s a real lol over here, being hassled by people we trust about how we should make money for ourselves in order to sustain ourselves and the books we’re making.


And it’s getting more hilarious the more reluctantly professionalized we at Metonymy become: in the past month, we’ve become eligible for federal arts funding as a “literary publisher,” accepted into a membership organization that offers nation-wide distribution, and gotten celebrity recognition for a yet-to-be-public surprise. “What?!” they say, “You’ve been doing this all yourselves?!” But we’re used to diy (or o), for reasons including the anticapitalism mentioned above, and the kind of organizing that engenders. In any case, it’s not surprising that we have moments of yearning for the early days when we had ideas but no products—when we were a publisher without books.


Ruth West and Oliver Pickle

It’s been 35 years since Ruth West created and released Thea’s Tarot, amid a flurry of lesbian feminist tarot decks in the US in the early 1980s. Fast forward to 2014, when then-Montrealer Rima Athar discovered Thea’s Tarot and loved it. She requested that I, as her friend and friendly tarot reader, write a book about it, and I did. Metonymy released She Is Sitting in the Night in 2015, our first book, with a foreword by Rima and an interview with Ruth. We also started carrying Ruth’s copies of the original printing of Thea’s Tarot.


These original decks were some of the first things we sold, and doing tarot readings was the first service we offered before we had any objects to sell. We’ve carried them since that first year and I have been doing readings with that deck since Rima introduced me to it. Thea’s Tarot was itself a long time in the making: “The starting point for Thea’s Tarot was actually another guidebook, A New Women’s Tarot, which was a hand-stapled, self-published pamphlet put out by Billie Potts and Elf and Dragons Press in 1977. Billie Potts was really my mentor in creating this deck, and in her New Women’s Tarot, she went through each card and rebranded it with feminist matriarchal iconography. It was a very specific way of talking about these ideas of women’s spiritual and historical power” (Ruth, in the foreword to She Is Sitting in the Night).


Oliver Pickle and Rima Athar

The similar collaboration, at once tribute and re-visioning, between Rima, Ruth, and Metonymy underpins our increasingly visible and legit publishing company. As Beth Maiden said in her generous Autostraddle review of She Is Sitting in the Night, “Rima’s idea was to take a deck with a second-wave feminist/lesbian ethos and reinterpret the cards via the language and experience of modern queer culture, creating a framework for tarot that would truly resonate with queer folks. At the same time, she wanted to celebrate and document an important work of feminist art.” None of our other publications have involved this exact genre of collaboration, but these early discussions around value, language, and honouring perspectives while pushing for change have informed all the work Metonymy has done.


Since 2015, we’ve been talking about trying to print Thea’s Tarot once the original decks run out. There’s something captivating and timeless about the cards that keeps them in demand, and keeps people coming back to them (well that, and scarcity). As Rima wrote in the foreword to She Is Sitting in the Night, “What held [Thea’s Tarot] together was the recurrence of certain symbols and iconography: the mountains, trees, and plants; living rooms, kittens, and bedrooms; aviator sunglasses, jewellery, and patterned clothing; the arch of an eyebrow, the sideways glances, the expressiveness in the hands and fingers and faces.” This deck is super gay, and versatile, and also visually exquisite, having been papercut on large pieces of paper and then analog photographed, photocopied, and scaled down to tarot-size cards. The Little Red Tarot product description rings true: “Thea’s Tarot is a feminist and lesbian classic.”


With permission from Ruth West, the creator of Thea’s Tarot, Metonymy recently was able to print Thea’s Tarot decks for the first time since 1984. The 2018 edition is very much like the original, and comes with the same one-page instructional pamphlet. We felt like celebrating Thea’s Tarot and also the time that’s passed since we started that’s basically made us a preschool-age publisher.


Also, I would love to do a reading for you with the new deck. You’ll find us softly launching the new printing at Petite Librairie D&Q the evening of Feb 21, where you can get a short reading for free if you buy a deck. I will also be doing more regular tarot readings at sliding-scale rates. If you can’t make the launch, you can book an appointment at the Metonymy office (or elsewhere if we arrange it) Monday evenings or Friday mornings, or another time or place of your choice.


Hope to see you Thursday night!