Connecting with the Orisha: Andrew McGregor on The Orisha Tarot

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Andrew McGregor InterviewAndrew McGregor is a treasure to the occult community. Happy to share his passion for tarot and the occult, he is the creator behind The Orisha Tarot, and the owner of The Hermit’s Lamp in Toronto. I met Andrew McGregor in May 2018 at the Third Annual Tarot and Psychology conference held annually in Queens, New York. His booth was overflowing with unique decks and tidbits, all created by Andrew himself. I stood captivated, browsing his 90-Question Deck, contemplating the profound questions illustrated on each card. As I pursued, I overheard him talking to Carrie Paris at the table next to him about their upcoming mediumship class based around their joint collaboration the Magpie Oracle Seer Charms. “Who is this person?” I wondered. Following the conference, I reached out to McGregor about scheduling an interview about his most recent deck publication, which I thought was The Land of the Sacred Self Oracle — a profoundly visual deck I also was captivated by at his conference booth. Upon starting the interview — scheduled smack dab in the middle of Mercury retrograde — I quickly came to realize he thought we were discussing his upcoming deck, The Orisha Tarot.
Alanna Wright: You have a new deck coming out! When is the release date? Andrew McGregor: The official release date is 8 September 2018. That’s what I’m hearing from the publisher [Llewellyn Worldwide] and Amazon. Could you tell us a little bit about the deck? I came out of a background in western ceremonial magick and working tarot for a long time. About 18 years ago, I made a shift into working with the Lukumi religion, Orisha. I studied with my elders and went through ceremonies and eventually became a priest. Having a background in other fields, I always look at where they overlap or have similar approach, and where they different. This deck is an exploration of where traditional Afro-Cuban religion and tarot overlap philosophically and mystically. That’s fascinating! And you created all the art yourself? All the artwork is mine and I wrote the book that goes with it. Once I sat down with it, it took me about a year. But I was playing for some time with the aesthetic and how I really wanted to encode the images. How would you intend this deck to be used? Would you say it is more for divination or meditation? It’s definitely a deck that’s meant for doing divination with. People will be able to do readings and understand how the stories could apply to the situation, how these symbols could be read — just like you could read any other tarot deck out there. But I am also hoping for the people who are practitioners of the Orisha religions and interested in tarot to give them a bridge to step further into it. And those who know tarot, they can use the worldview to help them understand a bit more about Orisha ideas and where they come from. Could you tell me a bit about the Orisha tradition? The Orisha tradition I practice is Lukumi. It’s a tradition that originates in West Africa in the part of the world where Nigeria is today, and some of the surrounding countries. The Orisha traditions were brought through the Atlantic slave trade to the Caribbean and Americas. My particular lineage is in the Cuban part of the diaspora. In the Orisha tradition, we believe there is one source of creation and through the act of creating, Olodomare also brought into being these spirits called Orisha, who are responsible for different areas of life and ideas. We work with these spirits and build relationships with them. If one becomes initiated, you may receive consecrated tools for interacting with them. We believe divination is important too. Through it we can understand our destiny, and what we can and cannot do in certain situations to live in alignment with who we are meant to be. We also believe in reincarnation, that we return to here again after this life. The tradition involves music, drumming, singing, and spiritual possession, all of those different types of ideas. How long did you say you’ve been practicing this tradition? About 18 years now, and in August, I will have been a priest for 10 years. What initially drew you to the Orisha tradition? Do you have any cultural roots connected with the tradition? A friend shared their interest with me, and it just kept growing until it became the centre of my spiritual life. What are some ways you feel tarot and Orisha tradition overlap? The Orisha Tarot, by Andrew McGregorThere are a lot of ideas that overlap. One of the images that I chose to make that highlights this a lot is — if we think about the Five of Wands, the image from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, where we see a bunch of people with sticks fighting — it looks aggressive, like there’s confrontation going on. Often when I am reading the Five of Wands, I read it as conflict as without purpose –we don’t know why it’s going on, but it’s chaos that just arises. There’s an Orisha, Eleggua, who became upset because the people of this town were not paying him respect; they had stopped making offerings and praying. To remind the people of the role he plays in their life, having things flow and having communication happen, he dressed half in red and half in black and walked through town. After he walked down the street, the people on one side of the town shouted across to the town neighbours on the other side, “Who was the person dressed in all red?” and the people on the other side shouted back, “What are you talking about, the person was dressed in all black.” They started arguing and arguing and it broke out in chaos. Eleggua waited until things got really heated, and then walked into the town to and said, “So you think you don’t need me anymore to bring peace? To make your life to flow?” The whole town then got to see him dressed with both sides and realized how they hadn’t really see all of him before. This is one example, but there are Orisha stories that are sometimes very similar to tarot lessons. They represent a different approach to the same problem. Not all worldviews are the same, and there are different value judgements on situations. To me, this is what is interesting about making this deck and to practice both of these things. That was an awesome story. What is the image for the Five of Wands look like in your deck? The image is in the foreground a picture of Eleggua looking angry and dressed half in red and half in black. A lot of the backgrounds [in this deck] are fabric patterns, so [this card] has a red and black image, an outline of figures fighting that mirrors the image of the Five of Wands. That’s one thing people will find when they come to this. Not everything will be familiar, but there will be touchstones of “I know this card, I have this card in my deck, I see where this touchstone is and I see where the overlap is.”
How does this deck compare to the first deck that you published? The first deck I published was called Tarot Waiting to Happen, and in that deck, I wanted to push people to think about tarot in a different way. I wanted to urge people to think more about how we arrive at the images we are accustomed to seeing. Tarot Waiting to Happen is based on the idea that the image we see in the general tarot, something led up to that, and what happened just before it informs us about what that card means. this opens up more room in doing readings with people. So, the cards show what happens if you roll the clock back 30 minutes and see what’s going on. We see the Emperor getting dressed before sitting on the throne. We see the Hanged Man without a figure, but with a piece of cake, depicting some type of temptation to lead him to be strung up. The deck was made to help people think about things in a different way. It’s only a set of majors in black and white. In my work, I want to challenge people. Not that I want to it be inaccessible or difficult, but I want to open people up to thinking about stuff in different ways.  I think when people are learning tarot, there is an emphasis on learning keywords or definitions, and I think it can be helpful, but it’s a tool to get to reading. Once you get to reading, it becomes less fruitful and you have to kind of move on. I am encouraging people to sit and feel and have an experience. The difference between the Orisha Tarot and Tarot Waiting to Happen is the Orisha Tarot is very spiritually charged in a way the first one just isn’t. There’s an Orisha, Oshun, and she was the one who gave me a lot of challenges in making the deck, because I would draw these images of her and just feel her disappointment. So, I would say, “Alright, you don’t like it. I’ll make a different one.” I would make a new one and then I would be like, “Are you happy?” And eventually she was happy. We’ll see how much people feel when they work with it, but the people I have shown so far really seem to feel an energetic connection to what I am doing with the Orisha Tarot. The Orisha Tarot is a full deck, with minor and major cards? Yep! When I made the deck, the major arcana focused on pretty much exclusively on the Orisha cosmology. The minor arcana kind of tells stories, and some of those stories might be about the Orisha or the practitioners of these Orishas, so it kind of comes a little closer to the people. The court cards depict roles people might play while practicing the religion: we see the elder running the ceremony, the new person coming in making their first offering, and different traditional roles like the drummer. That’s the way I chose to sort of break it out.
Do you have a strong Orisha community around you? In Toronto, there are people here, but there’s not a solid community. It’s difficult practicing here, away from the community and elders. My elders are in Miami, Florida. The community I was initiated into is in Michigan. I do some things here, but I often travel to do bigger things, because it’s impractical to not have people and get live plants; it’s hard to send things across the border. That’s a lot of commitment. What types of things do you do as a priest? Being a priest in this tradition varies a bunch between people. Some people get initiated and become a priest in order to save their life, help with health issues, or other problems. It can be something that changes their life completely. When you’re initiated, there’s a seven-day ceremony, and on one of the days there’s a big divination performed. During that time the Orishas speak about what roles and functions they would like you to perform within the religion based on your capability and energetic alignment, as well as about what you should and shouldn’t do with your life, and some other advice. Some are very active priests and others are less so. I’ve studied divination with my elders, so I have some godchildren I help with things through simpler ceremonies. Basically, being a priest and having godchildren is a relationship that should last your whole life. It has to be one where you have a deep sense of connection to them as a human being, and a mutual responsibility to each other. There are probably some people who are already interested in traditional practices, and I have several pages of advice in the book for people who might want to approach a traditional practice, meet people, and see what that would be like for them. I didn’t want to offer this out in the world and have people reach out to practitioners and not have a general sense of what that means or how to go about it contacting those who practice. I’m fascinated, because I never really heard much about this tradition. I’ve seen countless Celtic or Wicca tarots but never an intersection with Orisha before. I definitely felt like there was space for one grounded in tradition. There are other decks out there that have been created through the years, but the relationship to tradition is a bit unclear when I read the material that goes with them. What is your practice of connecting with Orisha? How does one typically build the relationship with them? Traditionally people who aren’t initiated would be encouraged to seek out a priest and have a personal conversation about what they might do or how they might start. For me as a priest, in my home I have a space where there are a lot of consecrated connection points to the Orisha that are born when you become a priest. For me, it is opening the door to that room, praying, sitting still with them, and making offerings with food. Coming up soon is the anniversary of my initiation, and I’ll take all the Orisha out and put them in the centre of my house, give them fruit and candy, cook for them, and ask all my friends and religious family to come over and hang out, to celebrate with me. It’s a lot of food and community, just like any gathering should be. Let’s get a bunch of good stuff and enjoy each other’s company. Do you tend to work with Orisha when you do readings for others? Mostly I read tarot for people. When reading the cards, it comes without a sense of obligation. You can come and take the advice or not, and there is not a commitment required either way. The Orisha do not speak through the cards. Traditional Orisha divination, unlike card reading were people can do whatever they want with the advice, carries an expectation to follow the advice given. Traditional readings usually offer traditional solutions, if the person is not open to being initiated and having a connection lifelong with these energies, then nothing will come of it. The solutions are not exclusive to the tradition, but big problems often require bigger energy to solve them, which can lead to initiation. People have to be willing to make big changes in their life, otherwise they are wasting their time I am not really interested in wasting the spirit’s time. It’s not a judgement. People are where they’re at. In Toronto, you could get a rune reading, psychic reading, mediumship reading and that’s awesome — go do them all — but the Orisha tradition is one I have such a deep respect for that I don’t think anyone is served by coming to it casually. Would you say this is with the tarot is an opportunity for people to explore Orisha in a more general sense? Yes, the cards are much more open. The Orisha don’t speak through the cards themselves. My elders are always very clear, Orisha don’t speak through anything other than traditional oracles. But the stories and the philosophies of the tradition are applicable to people in many situations. The reason we like proverb and stories is because they help us to understand things. The deck provides a low commitment way to providing information and a new way of understanding this tradition — without having to do any initiation and take on those commitments. Did your use of divination include deciding to open your store, The Hermit’s Lamp? I don’t make any major changes in my life without consulting the Orishas about it, and that included changing locations when I moved into the place I am in now. When it came up, I asked if it was a good place for me to try to move into. Most of the questions we ask in Orisha are about if it’s aligned with our higher self or if something is a good idea, versus about finding love or getting rich. It’s not fortune telling. It’s more like, “I am thinking about doing this, would it be a good idea?” Almost everything in my life I will ask and get their input. Over the years, they’ve saved me from so many challenging situations and opened doors that I would have never imagined and have really been quite rewarding. Of course, I also asked them if I should make this deck. So neat! I like the idea of simply seeking to be in alignment. How can people find out more information on The Orisha Tarot? There is Facebook page for The Orisha Tarot. That’s an easy place for you to find it. I am ramping up and posting more images there. There will also be a section on The Hermit’s Lamp website dedicated to it. The deck is distributed through everywhere, because it is published by Llewellyn. What do they say? Wherever good books are sold. (Editor’s note: You can also purchase the deck from Amazon.)

I am looking forward to seeing people using it and hearing about their experiences. I am so excited to see it come to fruition. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last six years, and working on for the last two.

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