Monroe Rodriguez Singh is an exhibited artist, designer, developer, and professional tarot reader. For more than 6 years, he has been a professional Tarot Reader and a member of American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. When he indulged in Afro-Caribbean traditions 5 years ago, he knew he wanted to create a deck himself that was rich, authentic, and unique. Stemming from his passion for tarot card reading and illustrative designing, he took inspiration from his multicultural background and knowledge about Afro-Caribbean culture to create a set of tarot cards that richly illustrate African/Caribbean culture and references.
Monroe Rodriguez got his first-ever tarot deck when he was 11 years old and today, he has more than 50 tarot decks. He has always been passionate about tarot cards and reading, and has been studying comparative religion and mythologies since he was 8. This is his first time creating, illustrating, and self-publishing a tarot deck and he endeavored endlessly to create the perfect deck for his audience. After long hours and days of work, Monroe has finished the illustration and design of his tarot deck, ready to print.
(The questions I asked are in black and underlined!)
How did you get started with Tarot?
I was drawn to tarot when I was a child because of the artwork. I had always enjoyed puzzles and card games. The occult part of it also appealed to me as well. My first deck was the dragon tarot. Great images but a little hard to read for a beginner so I read what I could find relating to tarot in books from the library.
Has your own spiritual path helped and influenced your tarot practice at all?
My spiritual path has not been a traditional one. I grew up with a primarily Baptist Protestant upbringing combined with teachings from Southern, Latino and Indigenous practices. My parents were more spiritual than religious so I hardly went to church and I was not baptized until adulthood. There was a lot of self-study, spiritual conversations with my grandmother, and reading about other religions/mythologies from around the world. To the outside world we were normal Christians but occult topics were something that was commonly talked about at the dinner table and family gatherings.
In college, I studied and participated in many different spiritual institutions from Catholicism to Buddhism to Unitarian Universalism and Wicca. I started to do tarot readings for friends in college and I didn’t really put much faith in it. I had only read for my family and myself at that point. In a short time, I gained a little bit of a reputation in the dorms for my reading even being called a “witch” in a derogatory manner.
After college, I started reading as a professional psychic with and without tarot cards. However, I preferred to use tarot cards because I could use the imagery in the cards to help the client understand what I was trying to convey even though I often said things that were not in the cards at all. I have never read at a shop before, but I have read in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Lou Free’s Psychic Showcase in Seattle, the Psychic Spectrum and on various shows on blogtalkradio. I believe I learned the most about reading styles by being on a panel of other readers giving readings to a live audience. Not only did I get to see different styles, but also in that environment, it’s very real. You can’t fake it, you either got it or you don’t.
I took a short departure from Tarot when I was initiated in African Diasporic Traditions because they each have their own training, divination systems and rituals but nevertheless I would still collect tarot decks. I would also read for people with tarot when I did not have the materials or space to read traditionally.
Have you at all found it hard to relate to certain tarot decks being a person of color?
Tarot comes in all types of flavors from classic to freaky. There is a wide range of themes but when it comes to cultural diversity, it can be challenging. I tend to purchase decks that are visually appealing in terms of colors, artwork and composition. I do not look for people of color necessarily but when I find one of the few that are marketed to people of color I buy them and check them out. My main problem with a lot of the “cultural decks”, is that they are often not from the culture they are portraying and a lot of times not even from the same country. In addition, with some decks, I feel like the cultures depicted in some decks are treated in the same fashion as creators make fantasy themed decks like vampires, faeries etc. I mean these are real traditions and real people, do the research. I have bought some great decks and been offended by a card or two in the deck and it ruined it for me. I basically took the cards I liked, used them as altarpieces and threw the rest out.
What inspired you to create the Vudu tarot?
Several things inspired me to create the Vudu tarot:
- There are a small amount of decks that deal with African Diasporic Traditions.
- Most of these decks were created and produced outside the locations of where the traditions are practiced.
- Almost all of them were created in the 90s. I wanted something more current.
- The current trend of racial tension and religious extremism against practitioners and initiates in African Diasporic Traditions in the United States, Haiti/DR, Brazil
- The spirits themselves provided me with a huge creative push to create this deck. Aspects of it have been in my head for 5 years and I just wanted to make it material.
- The Cultural Diversity of Haitian Vodou and 21 Divisions. The 2nd Deck was a way of paying homage to the other traditions that I have practiced and have been exposed to in my life. It also is a foundation for future decks.
I think that all mythologies are interesting. Each culture has a plethora of beautiful stories that explain the human condition and how we navigate within the spiritual and material worlds. I focused more on Afro-Caribbean spirits because I say a need and there are plenty of Greek/Roman, Celtic mythology tarot and oracle decks out in the market. There is a huge pantheon of spirits but usually it gets marginalized into the same 7-12. I wanted to create a deck with 79 different characters all based on Haitian/Dominican Vodou without taking spirits from other traditions or repeating myself. No deck has done that until Vudu Tarot.
In terms of Indian Mythology, that was sparked by heritage and spirituality. My father is “Indian” as in Indigenous, Indian, and Caribbean. It was something I always wanted to explore and finally did through art. Spiritually, I am also an Amritdhari (Baptized) Sikh and Sikhism has made an impact on me in terms of how I see the world, God, and all the other spirits under him/her.
How did you relate these characters to the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot characters?
The Spirits in African Diasporic Traditions are full of rich stories and they complement the archetypes of the RWS Tarot. The major arcana are always the easiest. For example, the Death Card is Baron Del Cementerio, the Baron of the Cementery who leads the Guede and the Dead. His skull face and black top hat and cane with tombstone veves provide some of the imagery of the quintessential black armored skeleton rider on the pale horse in the Rider Waite Death card.
The Aces of their respective suits are all Legba (gatekeeper) spirits for the nacions (nations)/divisions. The Suits are aligned to their elemental equivalents while maintaining the same names except for pentacles which is named “Skulls” in the Vudu Tarot. The Skulls suit are characters from the Guede and Baron Division. The Wands have hot Petro and Kongo Spirits. The Cups have the cooler Rada and Agua Dulce (India) Divisions. Finally, the Swords have the armored and battle ready warriors of the Nago or Ogou Division who have Yoruba influences so you will see some familiar Orisha names in this suit.
I want to thank Monroe for letting me interview him and get some insight into his world and his deck! If you want to check out the Kickstarter campaign for this awesome deck, click here! And to check out the site, click here!