Angels and Ancestors Oracle, Sámi Erasure, and Takeaway Lessons

Inlé’s Inlet recently posted the above deck review and commentary on the Angels and Ancestors Oracle Cards, which raises cultural awareness of some concerns with the imagery in this deck. To be more precise, it’s not the imagery that’s of concern, but the lack of credit and acknowledgement for where the sources of inspiration came from.

The distinct drum design featured on the Drum card, the Shaman card, and on the card back of the Angels and Ancestors deck (photographs of it in my deck review) have been taken directly from Sámi religious and spiritual iconography.

However, no credit, reference, or source citation was provided in the accompanying guidebook, in effect erasing the Sámi, who are a historically marginalized indigenous minority.

This is a form of appropriation of indigenous cultural intellectual property rights. Yet this particular instance is one that could be reasonably remedied.

In this type of a scenario, I do think addressing the issue head-on is the compassionate approach.

A new area of copyright and trademark law that’s currently being explored globally is that of cultural intellectual property rights. It’s the exploration of carving out an exception to a public domain defense and granting legal protection for designs that are distinct and unique to particular indigenous communities.

But this blog post isn’t about the law. It’s about what’s right and just.

It’s not about calling anyone out. It’s not about apologizing or not apologizing. And most important of all, anyone with a heart will tread with care, with sensitivity, and never with the intent to shame (or deny). First and foremost, we must check our intentions.

There are some takeaway lessons I think are worth integrating.

Going forward, when publishers edit manuscripts and review tarot or oracle deck art, best practices policies means urging authors and illustrators to cite their sources.

(Unless their source is personal direct cultural knowledge. So there’s that.)

We’ve got to be thoughtful. Don’t ask someone native to the culture to “cite their source.”

But do ask someone not native to give credit and acknowledgement.

In this specific case study, the recurring drum pattern used in the Angels and Ancestors deck is distinct. Even if you didn’t initially know where it comes from, intuitively it’s fairly obvious that the pattern is culture-specific. It comes from somewhere. Where? I’d argue that there is a moral obligation of the artist to figure that out.

As a matter of basic due diligence, editors at publishing houses can adopt the practice of asking questions. Ask whether the author or illustrator knows where the design came from. Is it an original design? If it’s culture-specific, have we cited the source in the guidebook?

No one is saying you have to get all Chicago Manual of Style and academic every single time. I think an inline key-phrase reference can be enough.

As for us deck creators, my takeaway lesson is the same as it is in terms of general observance of copyright: cite your sources. If you did not come up with the design in your own head, if you referenced anything at all, cite what you referenced.

Yes, it’s true that you do not need to cite or credit public domain works. But to be compassionate means to recognize cultural intellectual property rights. And so in those cases, even if something is considered public domain, recognize the cultural IP. Give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge where you took the ideas from.

A quick little tip I picked up: reverse Google image searches. If you come across an image reference you want to use, and intuitively you get the sense this is from somewhere specific, then you can run a reverse Google image search of what you’ve got. Everything similar to that design will come up. Sift through the search engine results until you’ve identified where that design originated from.

Now how about takeaway lessons to apply after the deed has already been done? Hey, we all make mistakes. Boy do I know it. =)

I think as a community, we do need to give grace when it comes to innocent ignorance. It is not reasonable to expect everybody to know everything all of the time. But it is reasonable to expect acknowledgement.

What would I do if something like this happened to me? As a deck creator, I’d start by listening. Acknowledge the situation with a posted statement. Ignoring the situation only exacerbates the cultural erasure. Then I would revise the guidebook and make corrections as needed in subsequent print runs. Also, the corrective measure to take should be proportionate to the issue.

If I were a publishing house, I would implement company-wide policies and train editors to catch these sorts of situations. How can editors take on a proactive role in guiding authors and illustrators? How can leadership foster proactive outreach to diverse communities so that they account for equity and inclusion in their hiring  and publishing practices?

Finally, I’m grateful to Inlé’s Inlet’s video channel for enlightening me on this issue that I would have otherwise overlooked due to my own limitations of cultural knowledge. Every voice matters, needs to be heard, and so I hope you’ll go and show the channel some love. ❤

One thought on “Angels and Ancestors Oracle, Sámi Erasure, and Takeaway Lessons

  1. stankbeest

    Thank you for that! This is an important issue, especially given the utter lack of consideration (to put it VERY mildly) that indigenous peoples have had to endure throughout history.


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