To Box the Mystic

My daughter came back from a class trip with a gift for me—a modern set of tarot cards. It was encased in a beautiful black box engraved with holographic geometrical shapes on its sides, and its fold-over cover contained a hidden magnet which clasped it firmly shut with a satisfying snapping sound.

It’s true that I already own several tarot decks, but, really, I don’t know how to use them. My fascination with them does not come from a belief that I can truly divine someone else’s life journey with a flip of a card. Their lure for me comes from altogether a different place.

There is something to be said about the feeling of safety and comfort in flipping through the images of a tarot card deck, just like it is coming across a dream dictionary, or discovering, like I did the other day, a dictionary of saints on a friend’s bookshelf. They all are catalogs of human nature, compilations of symbols and archetypes I can hold in my hand, ready to be sifted through anytime I am in a somber mood. Different facets of my personality are contained inside, and I can draw out and examine one particular aspect in both its negative and positive light.

This goes for my collections of fairy tales, folk tales, myths and ghost stories. And like the tarot decks, the more beautifully illustrated the volumes are, the better.

They are all attempts to make a sense of order in the world, to make a self-contained universe divided into variable elements that, when put back together, creates a whole greater than its parts. Someone has taken the time to organize what is mystical and made it accessible to the rest of us. Death, with its attendant emotions of grief and guilt, when pulled out of my favorite tarot deck, is a skull bursting with flowers and simply means the life cycle of creation, destruction, and renewal. The Joker card, a slightly macabre character which brings both joy and unease, here in my hand is an illustration of an orange mask that can be read both right side up and upside down: It means both freedom and fearlessness, traits that help guide you through periods of difficult transition.

In my studio I attempt to do the same thing with the archetypal images I create or reinvent. Whether it’s a heron in a traditional iconic pose or Red Riding Hood fleeing the wolf or puppets reenacting an old story, the characters who represent us in all our myriad characteristics are framed and boxed and staged for the viewer, to offer further contemplation and solace amid the shuffle of everyday life.