Tarot Talks Volume VI: An interview with Alice Smeets, creator of the Ghetto Tarot

Hi my beautiful souls! The Season of Swords is near, so is the energy of stillness that it brings with it. This is a great time to connect with psyche and truly delve within. The Season of Swords gives us the time to prepare for the opportunities that the Season of Aces or the spring time brings to us. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and a cold permeates almost everything Alice Smeets has created a deck that is truly aligned with the traditional Rider Waite decks, however the Ghetto Tarot is so far from tradition. It is set in the landscapes of Haiti, utilizing its  backdrop and beautiful faces to convey all of the arcs of the Tarot System. I hope that you enjoy reading about this deck as much as I enjoy working with it.  

Alice Smeets creator of the Ghetto Tarot

Alice Smeets has used the landscapes of Port-au-Prince and its beautiful faces to challenge how most of us are used to looking at the Rider Waite System. Her deck pushes the boundaries of what the word “Ghetto” means for many. Instead of a word used for exclusion it has been redefined to address the inclusion and joy that comes when surrounded by an environment that causes one to search for that which will ground them.

Worthy Tarot: Tell me about yourself, where are you from & where are you currently? How have these locations influenced what you do creatively?

AS: My name is Alice. I am a woman, a daughter, a friend, a lover, a photographer, a journalist, a filmmaker, an artist, a project manager, a tarot reader, a student, a teacher, a traveler and many more things. 

I am a free spirit. I follow my heart and make my dreams and ideas come to life. This is all in the pursuit of opening our eyes to what happens in our inner and outer worlds while exposing all the inherent beauty with the intention to spread inspiration. 

I was born in Belgium and currently reside there. I have lived in Haiti during two years and can say today that the country and its people were the best professor I have ever had.

Obviously both locations have had a great influence on my creativity as well as my life in general. But to explain this to you I would have to write a book, because the answer seems so long.

 Alice Smeets, creator of the Ghetto Tarot

Alice Smeets, creator of the Ghetto Tarot

What drew you to Tarot, what aspects of your energy have found their way into your deck? How does this make your deck unique?

AS: Everything started seven years ago, when I documented the modern witchcraft movement around Europe and the US as a photojournalist. One of the many gatherings I assisted was a Tarot workshop at the Far Away Centre in England. There I did not only take pictures but also followed the instructions of the teacher, Marcus Katz. Back then Marcus gave me a Rider Waite Tarot deck as a present that has been with me ever since. 

For a long time, I have wanted to interpret the Tarot Deck with my photos, but taking ordinary pictures of the scenes seemed too simple. My aim was to create a very personal deck without losing the different spirits of the cards. Then the idea entered my mind to combine three of my passions; the spiritual world, the Haitian culture and people as well as the philosophical reflections about the dualities in our world; in this case rich and poor. Since 2007 I have been a regular visitor to Haiti and have lived in the country for 2 years.

Its complexity and spirituality have played a big role in my life. The observations of the Haitian society have brought answers to man questions I have had. So taking the Tarot pictures in the ghetto of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince was the obvious choice to create a very personal deck: moving away from the clichéd images of poverty, illustrating the spirits and meanings of the cards with a touch of humor in the middle of the slum and showing black people for the first time on the traditional, old European cards to break stereotypes.

We are entering an Air Age which is associated with thought. When you examine air it can blow everything around that is not tethered. People are trying to find their footing and light as they enter this age and are drawn to the magic and spirituality of the Tarot. The face of the tarot just like our new age is changing, how do you feel your deck lends to this revolution?

AS: The Ghetto Tarot project aims to reach beyond the boundaries of judgement and beliefs to achieve a much-needed transformation of the collecting conscious perception of the negativity in our lives whilst discovering the power of our own thoughts. 

In Haiti “ghetto” means a life in the slums. It means living without financial security. Yet “ghetto” also means community, family, solidarity, strength and rich creativity. The Haitians are claiming the word “ghetto” as their own. The word reached the island from overseas where it was associated with racism, poverty, and exclusion. They liberate themselves from the unfavorable interpretations and are turning it into something beautiful.

Their act of appropriating a cheerless word by altering its meaning is an act of inspiration. It has inspired hundreds of visitors and it has inspired me.

My work with the Haitians has made me realize that only we, ourselves, are able to assign value of judgement to a tangible or intangible thing, which created with it a positive or negative emotion. We lend a word meaning according to the way in which we were raised, our personal experiences and depending on who taught us to speak. Every one of our sentiments is a choice based on our thinking. We can look at destruction and see either despair of the start of something new. With this awareness comes the power to change the meaning of every word, action and emotion. 

This means we are not claves to our past, we are not imprisoned by our current societal pressures, but we are free if we chose to be. We can give ourselves the freedom to create our own reality!

The Haitian artists are turning trash into art, they are turning the meaning of a word around and I would love to inspire others to do to the same- to turn any negativity in your life into positivity by changing your perception and as a result going into a state of non-resistance.

What inspires you and how was that inspiration incorporated into your deck?

AS:  Life inspires me, living every moment. Philosophy, questioning our thoughts. Questioning the way we were raised. Questioning what we were told.
That is translated into the deck. I decided to present the Haitian Ghetto in another light and to highlight the creativity and strength of its citizens. I am certain that each one of them holds a well of innovative ideas, enough to break out of the circle of dependence and victimization.

If you could use a film, artists, novels to make your dream Tarot deck what would that be? (I have a couple NeverendingStory Tarot, Pippi Longstocking Tarot, Julie Heffernan Tarot like please now!!!!)

AS: I already made my dream Tarot deck and I did it in collaboration with my favorite artists, Atiz Rezistan. 

Would you ever create another deck, think about this one as I know 78 cards are a huge undertaking!

AS: I would definitely create another deck. It was so much fun to create this deck and I am already thinking about the next one… but it is still a secret. 

If someone is interested in your deck how would they get a hold of you?

AS: We started a crown funding campaign to raise funds for the initial production costs of the deck. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-ghetto-tarot-take-two
This campaign will still remain open until the 3rd week of November. Afterwards, an online store will go online on: