By Emily Wolfe
Pittsburgh artist Genevieve Barbee-Turner drew from interviews, research excursions, and her own experience living in Pittsburgh to craft the Bridge Witches tarot deck. The illustrated set of 78 cards seeks to combine the long history of tarot with a representation of modern life in Pittsburgh.
Initially used for card games, tarot decks evolved into tools for divination in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the most recognizable tarot deck is the Rider-Waite deck, which was first printed in 1909 and is still used for occult readings by many modern amateur and professional card-readers. Each card in the pack has a number of assigned meanings: The Death card, for instance, can signify an ending, but it can also mean other kinds of transformation or transition. While the meanings of the Bridge Witches cards line up with those in a standard tarot deck, the pack moves away from the aesthetics of traditional decks, which Barbee-Turner found were dominated by Christian iconography and characters with thin, white bodies.
The human figures in Barbee-Turner’s deck represent a range of non-white, non-cisgender, and disabled identities, and cards which traditionally center Christian imagery have been changed. In the Rider-Waite deck, for instance, the “Judgement” card shows a fiery archangel Gabriel blowing a trumpet above a group of cowering men, women, and children. On the equivalent card in the Bridge Witches deck, a gaping, bloody mouth waits to devour the stream of cars entering the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
The trump cards of the deck are the “major arcana,” 22 traditional tarot archetypes and symbols which Barbee-Turner has reimagined with Pittsburgh imagery. The “Chariot” card, for instance, shows Mayor Bill Peduto cycling underneath a banner displaying the seal of the city. The rest of the deck is devoted to the “minor arcana,” four suits each devoted to a different season and section of Pittsburgh: Fences, depicting the city’s North Side in the winter; Cicadas, for the South Side in summer; Trees, for the East End in spring; and Cups, for the West End in fall. (The Fences, Cicadas, and Trees suits correspond to Swords, Pentacles, and Wands in a standard Rider-Waite tarot deck.)
Barbee-Turner, who identifies as an atheist, doesn’t think her cards hold any magic, but appreciates them as a tool for storytelling and problem-solving. Each deck comes with a guidebook informing would-be card readers of the cards’ meanings—each card has many. The guidebook also illustrates sample tarot spreads, which can range from one-card readings for beginners to complex spreads of ten or more cards.
Barbee-Turner describes the Bridge Witches Tarot Deck as her “forever project”—a work that she thinks she’ll keep returning to and tweaking for the rest of her life. Since creating the first version of the Bridge Witches deck in 2016, Barbee-Turner has put two more volumes up for sale on her website, where she sells her work under the name Ki11erpancake.
“Tarot Reading,” Genevieve Barbee-Turner. A spread of tarot cards on a black and gold “Tarot Towel” with candle and guidebook.
“Bridge Witches: A Tarot Deck.” K1llerpancake. https://killerpancakeillustration.com/collections/tarot/products/bridge-witches-a-tarot-deck-vol-2. Accessed 15 November 2020.
Culgan, Rossilynne. “This tarot deck has Pittsburgh in the cards — literally.” The Incline. https://theincline.com/2019/10/29/this-tarot-deck-has-pittsburgh-in-the-cards-literally/. Accessed 15 November 2020.
Oatman-Stanford, Hunter. “Tarot Mythology: The Surprising Origins of the World’s Most Misunderstood Cards.” MentalFloss. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/71927/tarot-mythology-surprising-origins-worlds-most-misunderstood-cards. Accessed 15 November 2020.
How to Cite
MLA: Wolfe, Emily. “Bridge Witches Tarot Deck.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 8 January 2021, https://religyinz.pitt.edu/bridge-witches-tarot-deck/.
APA: Wolfe, Emily. (2021) Bridge Witches Tarot Deck. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/bridge-witches-tarot-deck/.
Chicago: Wolfe, Emily. “Bridge Witches Tarot Deck.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 8 January 2021. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/bridge-witches-tarot-deck/.