Arts

The future is 'bullshit': These satirical tarot cards poke fun at our hopeless tomorrows

Illustrator Evan Doherty predicts a provocative future with his beautifully weird project Arcane Bullshit.

Illustrator Evan Doherty predicts a provocative future with his beautifully weird project Arcane Bullshit

(Arcane Bullshit/Evan Doherty)

In Shakespeare's whimsical play A Midsummer Night's Dream, the mischievous sprite Puck is the story's source of tomfoolery — but he's also the wisest creature in an otherwise painfully unwise group of people. Often seeing things others don't, Puck uses magic and comedy to create a bridge for other characters' insight and self-awareness. To use comedy as guidance, especially the more outlandish, was a similar goal for Arcane Bullshit creator and illustrator Evan Doherty.

His project isn't exactly in the same slapstick vein as A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Doherty isn't Puck, but Arcane Bullshit pulls together the mystical and comedic into one deck of tarot cards that beautifully pokes holes in authoritative, often imposing practices and beliefs, bringing insight where it once felt missing. It's a satirical tarot deck that includes cards like Meaningless Garbage (featuring a raccoon), The Feral Nerd and Pitbull Driving A Mini Truck. These cards feel both topical and memeable in their inherent weirdness — provocative, universal and truly funny. (A card titled "You're Fucked" has never rang more true.)

Doherty first conceived of the project back in 2010, when he was asked to sit at a Canzine table with a friend. Unsure of what he should sell, the idea came to him almost immediately and intuitively. Nearly a decade later, Arcane Bullshit is now part of a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised $75,000, and it's become an important tool for people who believe and participate in this alternative spiritual practice.

When asked why he wanted to create a satirical tarot deck, Doherty's answer is two-fold: efficiency and parody. To be candid, he tells me, he needed to come up with an idea almost immediately to be able to share a table his friend at Canzine. The pressure to have something led to his creation of the deck, which had 25 to 30 cards initially, before growing to its present iteration of 101. Creating the deck was exciting for Doherty — if not, at times, a wholly self-humourous endeavour. "The motivation behind [the deck] has been evolving since then because, originally, it was more of a joke," he says. "When you're younger, you tend to want to be controversial for the sake of controversy and sort of put out weird, insensitive stuff. At the time...I [wanted] to make fun of it."

(Arcane Bullshit/Evan Doherty)

Doherty continues: "There are things that I like about [tarot] and some that I don't — how seriously people take it. It was more like, how do we dismantle this authority tarot has in people's lives?" The way symbolism and authority intersect in this form of art and spirituality is interesting. He looks to occult images, as well as precursors to traditional tarot images such as Medieval artwork like emblems and woodcuts, and how to incorporate those details into his own black and white designs.

Arcane Bullshit is inherently, and beautifully, weird. That there are cards of simply Clip Art or rat trout hybrids or Cards of Cards — simple and effective — is brilliant. Reading tarot has become more a popular practice (I have written about it before for this website). When something becomes popular, it's necessary to, at the very least, question that. Arcane Bullshit isn't a wholly serious examination about the ways in which we find comfort and seek guidance in symbols, but it does at least prod at why giving total power to something is a misstep.

"The more that those things have gained mainstream traction, the more of a desire [there is] to joke around them a little bit," Doherty says. Arcane Bullshit doesn't seek to lessen the importance tarot has in someone's life — nor does Doherty think of his deck as a profound alternative to an already alternative form. "The more they become vested with power, that's when I start to worry that people aren't using their imagination," he continues. "You're being told what to do or think about these thing when I think the appeal, originally — as an alternative form of spirituality or whatever, — is that you're taking back some of that power yourself. The more that somebody is telling you how to use it, the less personal it is."

People do actual readings with these decks, he tells me, and he's had feedback from tarot readers who support the project because they see that the ultimate goal is not to aggressively dismantle their belief system. They see the spirit of humour in it. "I've come to really admire [that] about tarot readers: you have to be really good on your feet. You have to be really good at free associative, improvisational kind of thing," he says. "They can look at any images most of the time and make connections people ordinarily won't see."

(Arcane Bullshit/Evan Doherty)

Doherty says his deck fills an edgier void that he believes people have been looking for. It's void of any hierarchies like traditional tarot — court cards, Major and Minor Arcana, a gender binary — that does make it more useful and inclusive for a reading. That decision to do away with the feminine and masculine wasn't deliberate, but knowing now how some readers and supporters of the deck turn to it specifically because it doesn't have those elements or heavy Christian iconography, he is more conscious of what images to include.

The success of the Kickstarter campaign took Doherty by complete surprise. This past summer, between freelance jobs, he decided to pursue the deck as a more complete project, doing away with less financially risky print-on-demand services that didn't have a real return for him. The original goal was $8,000, but that was surpassed in remarkably short period of time. By the time the campaign closed a few weeks ago, Arcane Bullshit had $75,000 from backers.

Orders for Kickstarter backers will be sent out by November or December, Doherty says. There were several different reward tiers — ambitious ones, in the sense that Doherty could finally pursue other artistic endeavours with this project like pins, patches, prints of the cards, and more. There's an exclusive card determined by the backers included in their decks. The community support was overwhelming, he says. Kickstarter backers — investors, as they like to be seen — are really a community who help creators, which is what they prefer to call people like Doherty who they support. It's something special because these backers are invested in Doherty as a person, not just a brand.

To the world, he says, this deck that backers will be getting is the first full edition. Every other version before this one was a prototype — fine-tuning the project. He'll run a second printing in the spring, something he's already taking preorders for, and then set up an e-commerce shop after that. Arcane Bullshit is a fluid, evolving form with Doherty anticipating new cards to pop up in new decks: possibly weirder, and possibly still just as profound.

(Arcane Bullshit/Evan Doherty)
(Arcane Bullshit/Evan Doherty)
(Arcane Bullshit/Evan Doherty)

About the Author

Sarah MacDonald is a music and culture writer whose work has appeared in The Walrus, Flare, NOW, and many more. Previously, she was an associate editor at Noisey Canada. She's happy to be here.