The Star Spinner Tarot is beyond gorgeous. It’s one of those decks that has just such a lovely personality that you want to keep it close. As soon as I opened the box, I knew that this deck was approachable and absolutely filled with joy.
The Star Spinner Tarot is a much anticipated deck. Trungles, the creator of the deck, has been working on it longer than I have been a professional tarot reader. I first learned about this deck back in 2015 when Beth over at Little Red Tarot did a fantastic interview with Trung. When I read that interview, I realized that Trung and I went to college together. Our personal connection/acquaintanceship goes way back, and I have so loved watching his art career take off over the years.
The deck itself is extremely colorful, with threads and stars running through it. Each of the suits has a color palette – though not a terribly intense one. There are clues hidden in each card that help you make connections – very helpful if you’re learning. Trung included four different lovers cards, which contribute to the deck feeling friendly to everyone, no matter their sexuality. The figures you meet all come from their own world, and yet you get the sense that they are rooted in different cultures. Trung drew heavily on his own background as a Vietnamese-American, and his fascination with mythology and fairy tales from all around the world.
I knew as soon as this deck was released that I wanted to talk to Trung about his process and the deck itself.
This is an abridged version of our conversation – you can listen to the full version over on my Patreon.
How did you get started with tarot? Where did the idea for this deck begin?
It started with just one illustration: the 10 of Cups for a gallery show at Light Grey Art Lab – their Cosmos deck and show. I fell in love with the iconography and I fell in love with the ways tarot decks help you tell your own story. I became fascinated with the history of the tarot, and I wanted to learn absolutely everything about all of the cards and how they came to be popular. And so this project blossomed from there.
I originally wanted the project to be a means for me to practice illustration. I didn’t go to art school, and so I felt the need to practice and catch up on my skills. This project provided for me a common format and a series of illustrations that I could do. So I started with the Major Arcana and I just couldn’t stop!
How did you get interested in tarot specifically? Was it the relationship with the Light Grey Art Lab? Did you have any kind of relationship with tarot or the metaphysical before that?
I got my first tarot deck when I was about 14 or 15. It was this tiny poker-card-sized deck that I purchased from Barnes and Noble as a last-minute buy when I was on my way out to purchase other books. I thought it was cool! The images were very pared down and very cute, so I kind of started to learn about the tarot then.
Then school and life happened and I didn’t start seriously looking into it until after I graduated from college. So it has ambiently been in the back of my life for a long time. It has been something I’ll turn to if I need help facilitating my decision making and creative processes.
Do you read for yourself? What is your personal relationship with the tarot like?
I do! I tend to take a more secular view of the tarot. It’s a way of checking in with myself, practicing before I read for others. It can also help with storytelling. I like to think of the tarot as an elaborate Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story that helps you read between the lines of your own life.
What was your inspiration for this deck? How did you pick the archetypes you did, and how did the motif come together for you?
Sure! Let’s start with the title: Star Spinner Tarot. I really value the way the cards weave different parts of your life together. I love the sense of the cards being a spinning wheel. The fact that my illustrations kind of look like thread a lot of the time furthered this connection. I thought the word “spinner” hued pretty iconographically close to what I was going for. Whenever I draw or get a new deck I always start with the Star card. It’s my favorite card, 17 is my favorite number.
The Star represents looking for hope after things have gone very wrong or changes are monumental and difficult and overwhelming. Having a deck lead by its most hopeful card was something that was very important for me. The star is a figure that recurs throughout the design of the deck.
After I began to look into the history of the cards in a broad sense, I became more critical of the way we take the iconography for granted. We forget that Pamela Coleman Smith was the one who realized a lot of the meanings. She put her own spin on the resources that were given to her. From there I reverse-engineered the history of that process in the tarot. I am critical of how the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn chose elements of Egyptian mythology and Kabbalistic mysticism and misappropriated them for what was essentially a secret society, like a clubhouse. They were well-to-do individuals who weren’t feeling very connected to their Protestant roots.
So I tried to look back and figure out how they made the decisions to include what they did. I went back and adapted images as a reaction to my understanding of how the Tarot was popularized in a time where the mysticism in the West was informed by Egyptomania and Orientalism.
This deck comes from my identity as a queer person of color living in the Midwest with my own diasporic background. I wanted to convey what it’s like when cultures can interact with each other without one culture taking symbols from another without regarding their origins.
That’s a critical piece of what I call the “Tarot Renaissance.” So many new decks are playing around with and rejecting those problematic and colonialist roots.
Let’s talk about some more of the specific cards in the deck. We will definitely talk about the four lovers cards, but there are other cards I want to talk about as well. I really loved your Death card!
Yes! That was one of my favorite cards to draw.
Going back into the traditional iconography of the Death card, we have a Death’s head, and it’s about change. I consider it to be quite an auspicious card. It has a sort of relationship with the Wheel of Fortune, and it’s a harbinger of change. Sometimes, that change can be difficult, but oftentimes really necessary. It’s not always disruptive change, sometimes it’s a sign that life goes on and a reminder that death is a part of life. It’s easy to think about death with a sense of foreboding.
My spouse is a social worker and works in transition homes and so we have a lot of conversations about death. The way we think about death in America is so strange. I didn’t want to present yet another conflation of death with decay and disease.
The card is actually Thanatos and his mother Nyx and he’s guiding deceased souls into the afterlife.
I also wanted to talk about your depictions of the Moon and the Sun. I believe they each represent a goddess, but I’m not terribly familiar with their stories.
Sure! They are the Chinese deities for the Sun and the Moon. The Goddess of the Sun card isn’t actually the Sun, but rather she is the mother of the 10 suns in an old Chinese myth. There are 10 ravens that fly across the sky, and as they fly, they each scorch the earth. A hunter has to go and shoot down nine of them so that only one of them survives. The ravens in the card each have three legs. I find the Sun card to be so interesting because it represents both broad happiness and shining a little bit too bright. It’s the card of being a little bit extra and so I thought this myth suited it very well.
And the Moon is the Moon Goddess story – it’s about following your intuition and doing what’s best for yourself in spite of circumstances being very difficult and tough to figure out sometimes. I thought the story of the woman who escaped an evil person by drinking the elixir of immortality and flying up to the moon to get away from him was a good myth to conflate with the card.
Let’s talk about the lovers cards! In this deck there are four to choose from, they’re all gorgeous. As a chaotic bisexual I just want to read with all of them.
You sure could! It might be hard – you might get a lot of Lovers in one reading.
I think a good way of using all four of them would be to think about them as different moods of love.
For sure! My intention with the Lovers cards was not to have two homosexual couples and two heterosexual couples, which is a way people read them. There’s a lot of presumption about gender going in to each of the Lovers cards. That’s ok, people come from where they come from, but my intention was to put masculine and feminine elements together. There are some cards that skew more masculine and some that skew more feminine, but on the whole I wanted them to be largely androgynous.
Last night I received a delightful email. The person was writing to ask about the blue one where the lovers are kind of flanking a heart. They asked if that represented platonic love. I thought that was so spot-on because I wanted a card that represented an aromantic, asexual, queer platonic relationships and partnerships that are very strong without necessarily having romantic or sexual connotations. I wanted people to bring all the ways they experience love and mutually supportive relationships to these four cards.
When reading for myself, I have chosen to keep two lovers cards in the deck. I keep the sapphic card in the deck because that’s my primary sexuality, but I also keep that blue card we were talking about because it reads to me as very non-binary and my partner is non-binary.
There was another card that I was looking at. It could be a heterosexual couple, or it could be a non-binary couple. It’s the golden one with an angel in the background. Were you intending for that to be a card to represent polyamory?
It could! That was the very first version of the Lovers card that I drew, when I decided that actually we need more. I wanted especially to include that third figure so that people could interpret it either as polyamory or a card with a representation of cupid like in a lot of romantic iconography.
Any advice for professional tarot readers reading with the four Lovers cards? Should people just work with the card they like the best, or choose a lovers card based on their client’s sexuality?
I think it just depends on what you want to do. Most of the time I tell people to use whichever card the reader feels most comfortable with. I would like people to go out into the world and assume that people will respect their experiences with love, romance, relationships, and partnerships. I think that’s not an unreasonable expectation to put out into the world! And so if you have more options for lovers cards, you can definitely ask if people have a preference. It’s also a nice way of letting people get to know you a little bit more as a reader.
If there were one thing that you wanted people to take away from working with the Star Spinner Tarot, what would it be?
Tarot should be a lot more accessible than it is. There’s a lot of history and a lot of esotericism around it, but I feel like it’s such an accessible way to check in with yourself. There’s an element of religiosity and people want to respect its origins and make sure they’re not coming at it from a voyeuristic point of view, and I think that’s really beautiful. But at the same time, people can develop their own relationship with the cards. I wish people would give themselves more permission to dive right in and figure out their own way of working with the tarot.
I think this is a very good deck for people to do that with, in large part because of the joy that flows out of the cards. Thank you so much for creating it.
This year Trung will release his first graphic novel. The Magic Fish is due out from Penguin Randomhouse in October 2020, and promises to be one of the best graphic novels of the year. Trung is currently working on his next graphic novel and his next domino-sized tarot deck. And of course, you can purchase the Star Spinner tarot on Trung’s website.
This is an abridged version of our conversation – Trung is a sheer delight, and this deck is gorgeous. The full audio of our interview is available for patrons on my Patreon – you can subscribe today and listen to the full recording.
Want to experience a reading with the Star Spinner Tarot? Head over to my shop and use code “trungles” to get 10% off a reading, and I will use this deck!