Meet the creative duo behind The Hollow Valley Tarot
"Every time we look at a card, we (re)create its meaning"
Today’s conversation is with astrologer and tarotist Davis Carr and illustrator Erin Alise, the creators behind The Hollow Valley Tarot and The Hollow Valley Coven, an online community filled with creatives and the spiritually curious.
I was drawn to their deck for a few reasons. Rather than emphasize human bodies, there’s heavy use of symbols, animals, and objects that appear in the natural world — every card has so many different entry points for reflection. They also come with a “phrase of intention,” which was turned into a sigil that informed the card’s visual layout (Erin goes into detail about this process below).
I am a little obsessed with the creative partnership between Davis (who wrote the guidebook) and Erin (who created the sigils and illustrated all of the cards). The combination of their energy fuels the potent relationship between language and image throughout their deck.
This is a long, juicy convo filled with deep insight into their magical collaborative process. The two tarotists open up about their inspiration and intentions, personal rituals, and why they think interpreting tarot cards is the ultimate act of creativity.
I started The Rebis as a way to support writers and artists, and I’ve loved the process of getting to know the people behind my favorite tarot decks (like Alejandra León and Casey Zabala). Learning about their lives and their artistic process deepens my relationship with the cards. Plus, it feels good to support folks who run their own small businesses! I hope you’ve found as much wisdom in these interviews as I have.
Which tarot decks have you been turning to lately? I’m always looking for recommendations. Working with a new deck is like stepping through a portal: you get to experience how someone else imagines the tarot universe.
Until next time (and happy eclipse season!),
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Meet the creative duo behind The Hollow Valley Tarot
Hi Davis and Erin! Let’s start at the beginning: how did you start working with tarot, and how has your relationship with the cards evolved?
Davis: I discovered tarot through a friend in 2016 when I was 25. I had just moved back to my hometown for my first “real” job (I wore a pencil skirt and everything!) and was very lonely and adrift. This friend had a copy of Thea’s Tarot, a feminist lesbian deck, first published in 1984 and re-published by Metonymy Press in 2015, alongside a guidebook. (The guidebook is amazing and is currently available as a PDF!)
Tarot was my entry point to intuition, spirituality, and magic. I grew up atheist, without any kind of ritual or spirituality. For so long, I didn’t feel intuitive or spiritual. Intuition felt like something that other people have. Tarot was the gateway for me. It had a structure that I could study and memorize, which made my logical brain happy… but it had so much room for interpretation and creativity. It challenged me to trust myself.
Before tarot, I also didn’t have any self-care practices or tools for self-reflection. But by combining the lunar cycles with tarot, I had a structure and a system that gave me time and space to pause and check in with myself. Over time, tarot has become less of a lifeline and more like an old friend. I don’t panic when I pull cards. I don’t worry about shuffling “wrong.” I have learned how to trust the cards. I have learned to put them aside when I’m feeling off.
I turn to tarot during times when I’m stressed, upset, or feeling lost. Tarot is like a good friend who doesn’t tell me what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. I’ll pull a card when I’m feeling anxious, asking something like, “A message of support from my guides.” Or if I’m struggling in my business or I need to make a choice, I’ll do a longer spread that touches on what I am moving through and advice for getting through it.
Erin: Tarot came to me in small pieces over the years. I remember being drawn to tarot decks, finding individual cards in odd places. Initially, I picked up tarot more seriously in college as a daily practice as a way to manage my anxiety and mental health. For me, tarot is a tool to use when I feel the need for direction and guidance and I’m struggling with finding that support within myself. Tarot has become like a trusted friend, allowing me to ask for what I need to ask for and always know that the answer is there to support my highest good.
When I first began using tarot and reading tarot, I knew that I wanted to illustrate my own tarot deck. My first tarot deck illustration project was my Senior Thesis project for illustration in Undergrad, and that project (perhaps because I had limited time to complete it) was easy to work through without feeling as if I needed to know the exact meanings behind the cards. But when I decided to illustrate my first deck to publish, I felt a good bit of resistance to creating the deck without first doing extensive studying around archetypal symbolism and traditional tarot teachings. I took several classes and created an oracle deck before reaching a place where I felt as if I was “prepared” to create my own deck. Through creating The Hollow Valley Tarot, I realized that there is no “correct” way of reading and interpreting tarot, and therefore really no “wrong” way to create a deck.
Part of the joy of indie deck creation is the ability to be creative and flexible with the way you represent each archetype of the tarot, and drawing HVT was an incredible unlocking experience in my understanding of the cards. Partially, this is because so much thought about the deeper meanings of each card went into the choice behind the symbolism, the creation of the sigil, and the final decisions of how to represent the symbols in each card. Also, it showed me that my intuitive interpretation of the cards was powerful now, even when I know I still have so much to learn about tarot as a whole.
It sounds like so much creative thought went into The Hollow Valley Tarot. What does creativity mean to you, and how do you incorporate tarot into your creative practice?
Davis: I define creativity as playing with whatever materials are available to you. When I think of creativity, I think of the Magician card: all of these tools laid out on an altar, creating something only YOU can make. It’s about trusting your unique voice and vision enough to put the pieces together in a new way. For me, interpreting tarot cards is the ultimate act of creativity. You are taking something intangible (the meaning and archetypes of the cards, a message from the universe) and putting it into words. You are filtering the message through your specific lens and experience, making it manifest in the world through the act of interpretation.
Tarot cards are archetypes, which means they are infinite. There aren’t any “core” or “essential” meanings to cards — each interpretation is an act of creativity. Every time we look at a card, we (re)create its meaning.
Erin: For me, creativity is magic and magic is creativity, so in lots of ways I see tarot as part of creativity, as well. The act of creating is an act of channeling something within and making it manifest so that you can share the internal with the external world, creating change. That is also magic-making, in a nutshell. As a creative person, we embody all of the tarot archetypes within ourselves and need them to do our work. Therefore, a tarot deck can be an incredibly useful tool for any type of artist.
I often pull and use cards and their imagery (and the wealth of beautiful art featured on many indie oracle and tarot decks) to inspire projects and illustrations or to give me a symbolic direction to focus on. I also have several go-to spreads for creative unlocking that I use regularly when I feel like I need to dive a little deeper into what I’m experiencing creatively.
“Every time we look at a card, we (re)create its meaning.” — Davis Carr
How did the two of you initially meet and decide to work together?
Davis: Ahh, I love telling this story! I discovered Erin the same way I do everything in my life — through Instagram! I came across her oracle deck, The Hollow Valley Deck of Symbols, and immediately purchased a copy. It was the first oracle deck I connected with — I loved Erin’s interpretations and descriptions in the guidebook. After following her on Instagram, I continued to admire Erin’s artistic style and approach to magic and intuition. We became Instagram friends, liking and commenting on each other’s posts, and eventually DMing each other.
Eventually, Erin offered to do a trade (astrology/tarot readings for artwork) and from there, we started discussing collaborations. We hopped on a Zoom call to get to know each other and things clicked into place. She did illustrations for a Mercury retrograde workbook I made, and soon she asked if I was interested in collaborating on a tarot deck together. Creating a tarot deck was never part of my plan. After all, I am not an artist, I’m a writer and digital strategist. But when Erin approached me, I knew this was my chance to create something really special.
That was in the fall of 2019. Since then, we’ve done SO MANY things together — produced notepads for tracking rituals and tarot cards, created over 12 zodiac season workbooks, launched The Hollow Valley Coven, and, of course, created The Hollow Valley Tarot.
Erin: Mostly, I remember thinking “I hope it’s not weird that I am messaging this stranger to ask if they want me to draw things for them,” and it wasn’t weird. The rest is history! But truly, it started with a mutual adoration on social media and spiraled into a lot of collaborative ideas spawned by two eager Gemini Moons who just want to bring more magic into the world. We just haven’t stopped since!
Can you share more about your collaborative creative process for The Hollow Valley Tarot deck?
Davis: As the author of the guidebook, my role was to write descriptions of each card, as well as create the underlying framework for the deck itself. We knew we wanted the guidebook to contain some instructions on how to work with tarot.
It took me a little while to find my entry point into the deck. At first, I just started pulling cards and jotting down my interpretations. But it felt haphazard and unfocused and was unsustainable. I knew I needed some kind of system or framework to ground me in the work and give me structure. I love systems. And I love structure. I wanted to make a deck that didn’t rely on the “standard” interpretations or imply that my interpretations are the only correct ones. I show people why cards mean what they do. And to do that, I needed to explain the underlying structure of tarot. I needed to break tarot down into its component parts and share what each piece means individually, and then offer interpretations about how to combine them. And that’s how I wrote the deck: piece by piece.
Early on in the process, I came across Pythagorean Number Theory and became deeply intrigued. Pythagoreanism is an ancient Hellenistic philosophy that blended numbers with magic and divinity. As a traditional/Hellenistic astrologer (and someone who studied classical philosophy in undergrad), I am deeply interested in the roots of things, and Pythagoreanism is one of those core philosophies that is embedded in Western thought. This way of thinking about the essential meaning of numbers resonated with me. It felt like the missing piece of the puzzle. The numbers became my anchors.
Instead of writing suit by suit (i.e. all the Wands cards, then all the Cups, etc), I wrote by Number. I wrote the Aces first, then the Twos, then the Threes, etc. I developed keywords for each of the suits, and then it was simply a matter of combining those archetypes. Writing the card descriptions felt like magic. I would often meditate or say a prayer to my ancestors/spirits/guides before writing. I went into the process with my own particular perspective on the cards, based on my education and personal experience as a reader. But more often than not, when I sat down and looked at my keywords and asked myself “how does the energy of Four connect to the energy of Cups?” I would come up with a completely new answer. I was continuously challenged to develop my assumptions about the cards.
The creative process for the deck was very collaborative and involved each of us doing a portion and then handing it off to one another. We used Notion to coordinate our work and store the draft descriptions. I created a Notion document to store all of the card descriptions. I organized them by number: one page for the Aces, the next for the Twos, etc. Each page in Notion contained a general description of the card, plus some keywords and suggested symbols. If I had any particular notes for Erin for that particular illustration (for example: “no juggling in the Two of Pentacles”), I would include them as well.
Once the card descriptions were drafted, Erin would take my draft phrases and turn them into sigils. She would then illustrate those sigils using a combination of the symbols I suggested and her own intuition/creative choices. This is how we created the whole deck: I would write the descriptions and then hand them off to Erin to illustrate. I would review and share comments when she was done with them. And that’s how we did all 78 of the cards!
Erin: I knew that when I went out to create a tarot deck that it would be heavily inspired by the symbols that I work with regularly and that speak to me personally as a witch, and that I would also be pulling a lot of inspiration from my collaborator Davis and her understanding of tarot and how it relates to astrology. I hoped that the process would be effortless and layered, and it certainly turned into that at some point, but it did take some experimenting and unlocking to get to the final form of the deck and card designs.
Having Davis write the descriptions and create the bones of the card through keywords and astrological associations helped me begin to unlock the style of the card. I knew that the images would have to be complex to contain the detail we wanted to include in the cards re: symbolism. I started sketching the cards in a more freeform sort of way and quickly became stuck on how to include all of the symbolism I wanted to include in a way that felt immersive and not cluttered.
That process wasn’t exactly working for me, and even though I was creating illustrations that Davis and I both enjoyed, I think we both realized that our early iterations of the cards were not quite “it” yet. Once we decided to structure the cards around intentions and sigils, that whole block cleared up pretty quickly!
I love the “phrases of intention” for The Hollow Valley Tarot. Can you share a bit about how you came up with the idea for those, and for the sigils that guided the image on the cards?
Davis: A major turning point for the deck came when Erin started experimenting with illustrated sigils. Sigils are a big part of Erin’s magical and creative practice. When she started turning those sigils into illustrations themselves, it felt like we had unlocked the secret to this deck, the perfect way to combine her magic with mine.
Sigils are created from phrases of intention that are then turned into graphics/images. As part of my card descriptions, I would draft some suggestions for phrases of intention based on the cards — I’d usually include 3-5 for Erin to work with. Erin would turn these into a sigil, which she used as the layout for the card itself.
Before we started using the phrases of intention, it was like we didn’t have an entry point for the illustrations. In the early days of creating the deck, we worked in a pretty ad hoc manner. A card illustrated here, a description written there. The phrases of intention/sigils gave us a structure and framework that we could collaborate within.
Erin: I’ve been working with sigils for years now. For me, they felt like an accessible way to merge both my visual brain and my magical side. And because sigils come from phrases of intention, I’ve also been writing those for just as long. Intention is so important to tarot reading — it’s how we take guidance and turn it into a plan for how we will live that guidance in the world. Sigils feel like a tangible way to access those intentions. Sigils can be activated in a number of ways, including simply copying the illustration, burning the sigil, and drawing it onto your hand.
Something deeper unlocked for me when I realized that sigils and symbols are both ways that I physically connect intention to the world around me. I started illustrating sigils and then overlaying symbols related to the intention of those sigils on top of their lines. When I decided to use this process for illustrating the tarot deck, it definitely opened the process wide open for both me and Davis.
Creating phrases of intention felt like a natural way to take the meanings of the cards and create a small ritual that users of the deck could engage with: simply setting an intention. However, layering the symbols and sigil on top of that allows those who wish to go deeper the opportunity to take the aspects of the card and create magic from them: activating a sigil, researching symbols, representing both in their altars, etc. It was my hope that those who wanted to dive deep into the layers of the cards would have plenty to explore, and those who wanted to stick to the basics would be able to intuitively pick up on the meanings of the cards through the archetypal symbols chosen to represent them.
The Hollow Valley Tarot transcends some of the more binary, gendered symbolism that can be found in more traditional tarot decks — can you talk a little bit about that? Was this a specific intention behind the deck?
Davis: We were very intentional about including many types of bodies and genders in the deck. In our earliest discussions about the deck, we agreed that representation of different bodies was essential. I am very grateful that I discovered tarot during a time when there was a lot of discourse about representation in tarot decks. There are so many amazing indie decks out there that are challenging the norms of the Smith-Rider-Waite and I love it. We want to be part of that movement. Tarot and magic are for everyone, and everyone should see themselves reflected in a deck.
Erin: I knew that if I included any human bodies in the deck, I wanted to display a variety of features and body types. I believe in the power of seeing a reflection of oneself in artwork, and especially in tarot. The art we see, in general, has been very limited in viewpoint for most of human existence, but especially before and since the time of the creation of the Smith-Rider-Waite.
Luckily, as Davis mentioned, many wonderful indie decks are breaking this norm and injecting more diversity into the tarot artwork lexicon. We recognize our privilege as white women and wanted to demonstrate inclusivity in the deck that we were lucky enough to put out into the world.
Erin, I’d love to learn about what inspired your artistic style for The Hollow Valley Tarot — what was your favorite part of creating the deck?
Erin: My artistic style for The Hollow Valley Tarot was inspired by the complexity of the White Numen Tarot, the moodiness of the Dark Days Tarot, and the symbolism of my first deck The Hollow Valley Deck of Symbols, as well as the style of sigils featured in my second oracle deck, The Hollow Valley Sigil Oracle. My favorite part of the process was definitely getting to mirror the sides of the images. Because my sigils are mostly symmetrical, all of the cards in the deck have mirrored images. Illustrating the images up close in Procreate made it easy to get lost in the details, and it was always pure magic to copy and paste and then mirror the side of the card I’d spent so long drawing to reveal the final image.
Davis, what were your rituals for writing The Hollow Valley Tarot guidebook, and what was your favorite part of creating the deck?
Davis: Ritual was a very important part of my creative process for writing the deck. For pretty much any major project (before a client session, at the beginning of the work day, a transition between projects), my ritual goes something like this: sit at my altar (I have a deep window sill in my office that I use as an altar), light a candle (Ikea tea lights), burn some rosemary, and take several deep breaths. Sometimes I’ll listen to music and do some energy work. Other times I will say an orphic hymn. Often I’ll pull a tarot card and sit with it. This helps to ground and settle me, so I can focus on a single task.
When I was writing the deck, I would often pull out the card from various tarot decks and sit with them (The SRW and the Pagan Otherworlds were my faves). Sometimes I would study different cards and observe their similarities and differences. But mostly I just wanted to invoke the spirit of the card. And then I’d sit down at the computer and write. I’d put my phone down so I wouldn’t get distracted. I like using the Pomodoro method for big writing projects and focused work: 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of rest. I put on a chill-hop playlist and then I let myself write. My writing process involves a lot of heavy sighing and staring off into the distance. I let myself have messy first drafts. I gave myself permission to write badly. I knew I could always go back and refine it later. The hard part is getting started… the rest comes with time and practice.
My favorite part of the process was watching Erin take my words and create something entirely new. It was so freeing to be able to hand off my card descriptions and trust that she would create something incredible, something I could never imagine. I think that’s where the magic of the deck really comes from: it’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Can you share some of your tips for moments of creative stuckness?
Erin: I teach a whole class on this, so I could go on and on, but I will try to be relatively brief:
I believe that art and magic are essentially the same: an act of creation that requires something from within us. I also believe that our energy levels as humans connected to a cyclical universe are also quite cyclical. Meaning that natural seasons are also seasons we must experience in our lives. In order for spring and growth to arrive, we have to go through periods of loss, decay, and the hard work of tilling the ground for the next seeds.
We can’t always be creative in the same ways. I love having “winter” creative projects like knitting and weaving — projects that feel creative and tactile but are very different from my normal creative work of illustration. “Winter” projects don’t have to be only worked on in the winter, but more when you’re in a creative winter or slump and need to feel engaged and connected with that part of yourself — without the pressure of making something that feels steeped in expectations.
Davis: Taking breaks is so essential for overcoming creative stuckness.
Whenever I feel blocked, taking a break and doing something else helps me shake off the frustration. Even puttering around my house or a quick sun salutation can help me recenter and refocus my attention.
For periods where the creative stuckness is bigger and verging on ennui, I turn to some old favorites. I have a couple of novels that feel like coming home (The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, for example) and musicians that connect with me (shout out to the Weakerthans). Returning to artists with whom I have history reminds me of who I am and centers me to my overall timeline and history.
I also really love energy work, too. If I am truly at an impasse, I’ll listen to a guided meditation or do some energy work on my own. This is a great way for me to engage with my creativity and magical practice without actually producing anything.
“In order for spring and growth to arrive, we have to go through periods of loss, decay, and the hard work of tilling the ground for the next seeds.” — Erin Alise
What are some of the archetypes, cards, or symbols that you’re particularly identifying with right now?
Davis: The Magician card is very important to me. It’s associated with Gemini/Mercury, which is my Rising Sign and ruling planetary. My life path number in is 10/1, which is another connection to the Magician card. Whenever I pull cards that are archetypes to embody, the Magician often comes up.
Recently I’ve been working with the Sun (and light in general) as a symbol, especially regarding business and work. I have the Lantern card from The Hollow Valley Deck of Symbols on my business altar, and I have been doing meditations and energy work around shining my light. Being seen and taking up space is challenging for me, but almost a necessary part of growing my business. I’m working on being more comfortable asserting my ideas and being confident that I have something unique to offer the world.
Erin: I have been diving back into some fiber crafts that I used to spend a lot of time on in my early twenties, namely knitting and embroidering small patches. It feels lovely and symbolic to have my hands wrapped in cords, as a lot of my year has been centered around my wedding in October and the connection between two people and their networks.
It’s also my Star year, and I am trying to figure out what that’s going to mean after spending my Tower year having a lot of very hard revelations that led to very big life changes in 2022. I think “healing” feels strangely loaded to me right now, and I am interested to see how it manifests and what nuances I learn about The Star card through living this year of life.
Let’s talk about some of the things that have been inspiring you! Are there any decks you’ve been turning to lately?
Davis: Recently, I’ve been working with the Forager’s Daughter: Afterlight Edition. It was on Kickstarter at the same time as The Hollow Valley Tarot and I’m really glad I supported it. It’s a beautiful deck that feels great to hold — a good size, easy to shuffle, and has high-quality card stock. The artwork and colors are art deco style, and it uses a lot of symbolism. The guidebook is also really insightful.
Another favorite deck right now is the Extraterrestrial Oracle from Emily Prentice. Emily is a friend and peer, the host of the amazing (free) Discord community Art & Everything, and the creator of Mycelium Magazine, a lovely zine that readers should check out. The Extraterrestrial Oracle makes me think in new ways. It has a really unique perspective that challenges and inspires me.
Erin: I’m on a big oracle deck kick right now, possibly because I spent so much time last year absorbed by tarot that oracle decks have felt exciting and different lately! My favorites are Emily Prentice’s oracle deck, The Poesis Oracle, and the Woodland Warrens Deck created by another Nashville artist, Jessica Roux.
In terms of my tried and true tarot decks, I couldn’t live without my copies of the Dark Days Tarot and the Wild Unknown Tarot. The Wild Unknown was my first deck and holds a very nostalgic vibe for me, and Dark Days tarot is just so gentle and supportive and brings me a lot of lovely guidance.
Final question. What are some of the poets, writers, or artists you’re loving right now?
Davis: This year, I’ve given myself permission to read whatever the hell I want: which has mainly meant YA fantasy and contemporary romance. It’s been amazing for my inner child and teen. I am part of an online book club called the Kindred Book Club, and it’s such a wonderful community that encourages reading for pleasure. Recently novels I’ve loved: Book Lovers by Emily Henry, Neon Gods by Katee Robert, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, and re-reading the Protector of the Small Series by Tamora Pierce for the first time in years.
Erin: I am a huge fangirl of Emily Prentice, founder of The Center for Underworld Studies, and her oracle deck. She’s such a creative queen and I am constantly inspired by her prompts and ideas. Other artist crushes right now would be Sheila Sarti and Alexandra Dvornikova.
I loved reading Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and am really looking forward to the sequel she announced earlier this year! I am about to do my yearly reread of Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still, which I always dive back into as a birthday treat to myself and my inner artist. I’m also just a big fan of ghost stories and it’s spooky season! Everyone go read some Shirley Jackson!
Editor’s note: Davis and Erin are really special folks, and I highly recommend following their projects. Davis is a full-time astrologer and tarot reader and is currently accepting new clients. Erin hosts a Discord art club called The Creative Recovery Club and works with artists for 1:1 creative recovery sessions, where she helps people synthesize, organize, and get moving. Sign up for their newsletter for more details!
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