An Interview With Jessi Jumanji
JESSI JUMANJI is the creator of two tarot decks and an oracle deck. She describes herself as a time traveler and cultural curator. Her art is focused on giving people a new way to understand Black culture, past and present. “I grew up in an environment that was rich in history, both told and untold,” she says. She was raised in Memphis, the city where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and has family ties to Greenwood, Mississippi, where Emmitt Till was killed.
“You can only depend on society and the world to tell you so much in black and white and in books,” she says. “There’s a deep need for spiritual information as well.”
How did you get involved in tarot and oracle decks?
My introduction was through my studies of African culture and spirituality. There are many different forms of divination—not just using cards for divination. They divine with shells, tea leaves, so many different elements of nature as well as symbology and pictures.
The connecting point for me was, I was studying ancient Egyptian mythology and religion at one point and I was reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which led me to another text called the Tablets of Aeth, which is one of the earliest Egyptian iterations of symbology with pictures, similar to tarot.
The Tablets of Aeth, to me, is one of the earliest examples of the ancient equivalent of tarot cards. I wanted people to see the connection and the influence of African culture in many different facets of history, and tarot was just one of those many intersections and connecting points.
In the most popular tarot deck, the Rider-Waite, and other decks, the cards already include Egyptian archetypes. There are pyramids, the sphinx, different species of animals. There is salamander-patterned clothing in the Wands suit that is based on the North African fire salamander. There are lots of bits and pieces in the tarot that originate from Africa.
Do you use tarot and oracle decks yourself? What’s your process?
I use both. I read them mainly based on intuition. I think that’s the main ingredient in interpreting the cards. My first deck, Afro Tarot, doesn’t include a full guidebook. It has a few words to summarize each card. I want people to lean into their intuition when they use the deck.