This tarot deck has Pittsburgh in the cards — literally

In this tarot deck, cicadas, bridges, a Lawrenceville yoga zombie, a tunnel monster, and even Bill Peduto make an appearance. 

It’s a big departure from the cups, swords, emperors, and chariots of the classic tarot deck — more colorful, more modern, and more yinzer. And even if you don’t know a thing about tarot, it’s a lot of fun.

Artist Genevieve Barbee-Turner, who goes by ki11erpancake, created Bridge Witches: A Tarot Deck. Now an Upper Lawrenceville resident, Barbee-Turner grew up in Virginia and came to Pittsburgh for an art degree at Carnegie Mellon University. She fell for the place, describing Pittsburgh as “magical.” 

“I remember being amazed at how vertical everything was,” she said. “I could barely tell the difference between where the stars ended and where the streetlights began.”

The tarot deck features her reflections on Pittsburgh. Along with painting, bartending, and working as a community organizer, Barbee-Turner also interviewed 200 people in Pittsburgh. She drew on all of those experiences and a lot of research to create the deck as a way to tell stories through tarot. 

Each card tells its own tale, and depending on how the cards sit next to each other, they tell even more stories.

The deck contains 78 cards, each hand illustrated. Each suit of the minor arcana represents a season and direction in the city. Fences (winter, the North Side), cicadas (summer, the South Side), trees (spring, the East End), and cups (fall, the West End). The major arcana (the gods of greater ideas in the tarot) explore the challenges and triumphs of Pittsburgh in its Rust Belt reinvention. 

A few examples:

— The Death Card shows a zombie yoga instructor smoking a cigarette and holding a scythe while wearing a #Grateful tank top and a wreath of kale. “That’s literally a metaphor about Pittsburgh. Are we getting resurrected by yoga studios?” Barbee-Turner asks.

— The Fences harken back to Barbee-Turner’s walks through Pittsburgh where she noticed fences, which she describes as cute but also barriers. “When we talk about Pittsburgh, we also talk about neighborhoods,” the artist said. “Neighborhoods are a good thing, but they’re also boundaries.”

— For the Cups cards, Barbee-Turner searched social media geotags in the West End area to get a sense of what people talked about there. She noticed that family-owned businesses, parks, and human connections dominated the conversation, so she used those images as references for her work.

— You’ll also notice themes of gender fluidity and inclusion. You’ll see characters who use wheelchairs, hearing aids, and American Sign Language, for example. Some cards reference the region’s opioid epidemic. You’ll also notice Pittsburgh architecture, skyline scenes, and plenty of bridges.

So, why tarot as a medium?

For Barbee-Turner, “I don’t personally feel like these are magic.” 

Instead, she sees tarot as a tool to look at a problem — “to take a step back and to maybe see a problem through a different perspective.” She likes to do a three-card pull representing a situation, action, and outcome. She recommends using the deck both alone as well as with friends.

Plus, she said, “it’s a lot of fun.” 

Each deck comes with a guide book that explains the cards and offers examples of different card spreads. The decks are available online at her shop, on Etsy, and in a variety of stores around town, including Wildcard in Lawrenceville and Juju in Point Breeze.

Bridge Witches was first published in 2016, and Barbee-Turner is constantly updating. She’s currently working on her third edition of the deck. She also sells a “tarot towel” to wrap your deck, and, yes, it’s a nod to the Terrible Towel. 

“It’s a living document,” she said of the deck. “There’s always new stories to add, there’s always new perspectives to add.”