Sometimes abbreviated ATCs, artist trading cards are miniature works created in the dimension of other trading or collectible cards, because they’re intended to be swapped rather than sold. Since Stirnemann launched the project with an exhibition in April 1997, regular trading sessions have occurred monthly in Zurich and Calgary.
In addition to those and other trading sessions, artists swap them when they meet, and also through the mail. They are never to be sold, according to Stirnemann, who writes on his site that the cards and money “don’t mix,” as “the point of the project is the exchange of cards as well as the personal experience.”
Trading in person is preferable, according to Stirnemann, and that’s perhaps why there’s very little barrier to participating.
“A movement was then born that denounced the tradition of critiquing and appraising art, and embraced the process of one artist connecting with another,” writes Etain Butterfly in a recent article on Witchvox about Pagan artist trading cards. It’s easier for people to meet and trade if the inner art critics remain silent.
Art free of criticism resonates with Candace Ross, priestess of the Temple of Sekhmet. “The project was not directed at professional artists, but anyone who has a desire to create something and share it. I believe everyone is born with the ability to create, and should use that ability in any way that brings them a connection with spirit.”Many Pagans and polytheists have an artistic bent, and a fair number appreciate ways to sidestep traditional commercial economics; it’s not surprising, therefore, that any number of people have sought to embrace this miniature art form as a way of building community within these intersecting religious communities.
Trades have been organized by members of Ár nDraíocht Féin, for example, while the Temple of Sekhmet’s Ross organized a trade-by-mail program.
“When I first heard about artist trading cards several years ago, I was really jazzed about it and thought it would be a wonderful way for people to connect with and share their art,” writes Ross. “We ask for two cards from each participant, one for the permanent album, and the other to send out to the next person responding.”
Ross also reports, “I wish I could tell you the project is going fabulously, but I’ve only had four participants to date,” and the project has been ongoing for several years.
Melissa Hill, a founding member of the Cedarsong Grove of ADF, was involved in an effort to promote the cards in that Druid organization. She recalls both efforts to organize trades and “we also were doing a program where we were sending artist trading cards to new protogroves, though eventually that died out. We did an online swap for sure, where we mailed each other cards, [and] though I don’t remember an in-person swap, there could have been one.”
Hill did offer to contact members of the ADF artists’ guild for more information, but no additional response was received by press time.
The seeming lack of interest has plagued Butterfly, as well. Prior to her recent Witchvox article, in early 2015 she created an old-fashioned Yahoo group to coordinate swaps of artist trading cards among Pagans. The most recent post to the group was in February 2016. Butterfly was contacted for comment, but did not respond by press time.
There is no shortage of Pagan- and polytheist-themed art in trading-card sizes, but much of it is intended for commercial sale. Pagan prayer cards, typically with an original or historic verse on one side and an appropriate image on the other, might be offered for free or for sale. Artist trading cards, for which sale is specifically proscribed, align with the value held by some community members that prayers and spells should never be exchanged for money.
For those who practice it, such cards are also an easy medium for magic. Butterfly writes that she has “used these cards in [her] spell workings by incorporating [her] intent in the card design.”
She says, “I find that the pure creative energy flow while making the ATCs binds with the intent making the spell that much stronger.”
Silver Ravenwolf agrees, having written a lengthy post in 2012 on exactly how to create these cards with magical intent.
“I feel there is a lot of power/magick in original art,” writes Ross. “When a person shares their art with another person, they are releasing that energy, sharing their magick.” She herself tends of focus on themes of peace, nature, and goddess for her own cards.
Even if artist trading cards never reach critical mass, it’s not difficult to find miniature sacred art for Pagan or polytheist practice. In addition to the aforementioned prayer cards, Melissa A Benson tells of a project she’s working on, a set of “travel cards” for Pagans.
“The idea is that when you go on the road, you can bring everything you would normally have on your altar with you in card form, because everything is represented on these cards. During ritual, you would position everything as you normally would,or you could lay them out tarot-card fashion.
“This means that you can avoid all the red flags and the hassles, especially at the airport, of trying to bring candles, athame and so on through sensitive check points on your journey.”
Benson, whose work includes some of the early cards for Magic: the Gathering, is designing them to fit into the binder pages designed for those cards, reinforcing their low-key nature at security checkpoints.
For any interested in dipping a toe into the artistic waters, rest assured there are co-religionists eager to trade their works. Commercial activity will always be needed to support artists, Pagan or otherwise, but a small-but-impassioned group of Pagans and polytheists are not ready to give up on this other way that art can intersect with these religions.