Prairie oracles offer advice in divination deck from KU professor

Prairie Divination oracle deck card set co-created by Meg Kaminski, associate professor of English

LAWRENCE – How does a poet, and an academic one at that, reach out to the general public with her concern for the planet and for others’ well-being?

In the case of Megan Kaminski, University of Kansas associate professor of English, the answer comes now in the form of Prairie Divination, a 40-card oracle deck and illustrated collection of essays. It’s a distillation of the plant and animal knowledge she has gained from 14 years living in Kansas, paying careful attention to the prairie ecosystem, combined with interdisciplinary research in botany and plant studies and some poetic and artistic inspiration alongside collaborator and former doctoral student, L. Ann Wheeler.

“This isn't a tarot deck,” Kaminski said. “The tarot cards are based on these old stories, and I thought to myself, ‘What if, instead of turning to these archetypes from European culture, from cultures other than our own, what if we turned to the plants and animals right where we live, and we looked at them and said, “Hey, you know, as humans, maybe we aren't doing a very good job of living in a sustainable way in this world. How do you do it?”’ That was the premise.”

The cards' faces feature such characters as Milkweed, Wolf, Fire and Cup Plant. A 100-page guidebook of essays accompanies the deck, offering personal guidance and affirmations based on the specific wisdom that each plant, animal and element offers.

Following a pre-order campaign, the deck is now available directly from the project website and from bookstores and specialty shops. The makers have already received wholesale orders spanning from Kansas to Berlin.

Kaminski said she and Wheeler have worked on the project for the past four years with support from, among others, the Tallgrass Artists Residency at Matfield Green.

The KU professor said Prairie Divination sprang from a feeling of isolation that only grew more intense during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020.

“I don't want to do the kind of public programming that's just reading my normal research to people,” Kaminski said. “So I thought, ‘How can I share this research in a way that would be collaborative and interactive, something that would offer transformative possibilities and find a place in people’s everyday lives?’

“I had always wanted to create an accessible public project that would help people feel more connected in their ecosystems, to their local communities, and to the plants and animals with which they share a home. Astrology and tarot have been personal healing practices ... so I proposed a miniversion of this, doing individual readings for people as a form of climate counseling.”

Kaminski mentioned that vision to Wheeler, who was interested in illustrating the concept. The pair made a small sample of cards and tested them at a Haunting Humanities event sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities.

“We had so much fun making them, and then we facilitated some moving and transformative experiences for people at the event — so we just kept going,” Kaminski said.

Kaminski calls Prairie Divination an oracle deck.

“Divination is a way that cultures over time have tried to reckon with uncertainty,” Kaminski said,and so I thought this was a fitting medium for thinking with our present moment of climate catastrophe and related political instability. There are all these unknowns that, as individuals, it doesn't feel like we can control or really even understand. I mean, there’s so much important data, but it's hard to know how to grapple with something so much bigger than our own experiences and lifespan.

“So divination is a tradition that includes things like augury, which is watching birds and how they move through the sky to foretell the future. It's the sense of connecting to something larger than yourself for guidance on what to do and as a way to imagine new futures.”

Kaminski said her essays and poetry spring from “a real desire to care for others and to reach them on a personal level. Especially during the pandemic isolation, there was the sense of also really needing some care myself. I was thinking about advice I would give, and some of it was advice that I needed to hear. For example, with the Sensitive Briar card, it was that it’s OK to be sensitive. This is a source of knowledge, and being attuned to your feelings, being attuned to your environment, being attuned to other people's needs, is a beautiful thing, not something that needs to be hidden.

“A lot of cards were based on concrete moments of wanting to provide care for others, as well as the larger intention to invite people to care for the place we call home by really paying attention.”

Image: Cards from the Prairie Divination deck. Credit: L. Ann Wheeler

Wed, 02/16/2022


Rick Hellman

Media Contacts

Rick Hellman

KU News Service