Many of us are fascinated with the mystery that surrounds tarot cards—their meaning, how to read tarot cards and their beautiful imagery which inspires many artistic expressions. Andrea Matus deMeng has generously agreed to share with us her own experience with the tarot in a series of posts here on CreateMixedMedia.com. Here’s where Andrea’s story begins . . .
I sat down one day, picked up a book from my mother’s table and began reading a story of young, naïve-but-adventurous soul who meets with one great teacher after another—each imparting some bit of wisdom. As someone enamored with history and all things mythological, this story quickly caught my attention. As I read, I came across many life lessons—lessons about love, strife, temptation and finding the strength to overcome hardships. The story included good times and bad, with ever changing fortunes. There were lessons about spirituality, facing our own demons, and self-sacrifice. As the journey continued there were opportunities for the young soul to grow up and become the hero of his own tale. Can you guess what I was reading? Did it make you think about the original Star Wars movies, or perhaps you’re more of a classicist and thought of Odysseus’ tale? Lord of the Rings? The book was called The Mythic Tarot and it cleverly combined ancient Greek mythology and the Tarot with whole lot of Jungian psychology sprinkled in. I was hooked.
The truth is, you can find stories of this type of journey in almost every culture, told through the rich symbolism of myth and metaphor, and it’s the storyline found in the world we know as Tarot Cards.
Background on Tarot Cards
Allow me to explain. A typical tarot deck has seventy-eight cards. The first twenty-two of these cards are called the Major Arcana and the remaining fifty-six cards are the Minor Arcana. The word “arcana” means “mysteries” or “secrets.” The Major Arcana cards are the “big story” tellers—a combination to give you a “big picture” overview, as well as being linked to specific archetypes: the High Priestess, the Magician, the Fool and the Hermit to name a few. The Minor Arcana focus more on details and typically expand on the story that is being conveyed by the Major Arcana cards. The minor cards speak to the day-to-day aspects of life, romance, money, education, conflict and the like.
Whether major or minor, each and every card conveys a story, a symbolic message that must be decoded to tell you if the card’s story is about a vice or a virtue; is it a message of good fortune or a warning to guard against certain behaviors? Only through deciphering the symbols can you find your answers.
Now it’s one thing to be able to tell a story when you have access to verbal or written language to communicate your ideas and something completely different when you are relying on nothing but pictures to tell the whole story. When presented pictorially, myths rely heavily on the visual language of symbols to tell their stories. Symbols have always had a strong role in the arts for their ability to communicate so much information so quickly and effectively.
What do you think of when you see a picture of a lion? Would I be able to use that image to express the idea of strength? What message would I convey if I used a swastika? Now the swastika . . . that’s an interesting symbol. This symbol is a perfect example of how the message can completely change based on your cultural point of reference. As a woman of Jewish decent with family members that perished in the Holocaust I can’t seem to help but have an almost visceral reaction when I see this emblem. Like me, to many in the world that one simple icon represents death, oppression, racism and crimes against humanity. Yet, in many cultures the swastika continues to be used in celebrations as it has been over many centuries as a tantric symbol to evoke auspiciousness. I suspect that most people would be really surprised to find out that in western countries, prior to World War II, the most popular symbol for prosperity, wealth, health and good luck was . . . yep, you guessed it, the swastika.
As a visual artist, it’s exactly this amazing form of communication that I find so captivating about Tarot Cards. If I saw a swastika symbol on a card it would be very important to me to understand the origins of the deck; without that as a reference point I could completely misinterpret what was trying to be conveyed—a wonderful reminder that our own artworks will be viewed and interpreted according to the viewers’ own biases.
Using Tarot to Tell a Personal Story
I am now the proud owner of several beautiful tarot decks, each unique and with its own mythological reference points, and yet I still feel compelled to tell the story of the Tarot my own way. Personally, I often turned to my tarot cards during some of the darkest times of my life. Those moments when you have more questions than answers; the times when you really have a deep need for some glimmer of hope; a message that things will get better. Shuffling the deck of cards, meditating on what was really troubling me at the time, laying the cards out and then puzzling out a story was in and of itself a type of escape. A way to get out from under my problems and see them with a fresh point of view—a reminder of some pearl of wisdom and the strength to simply persevere.
I believe that we each have our own mythology about ourselves, who we are and our reason for being. We all have a story to tell, and I’m choosing to tell mine through my art and specifically through my tarot deck.
The challenge is how to be true to a story that is open to interpretation but always consistent in its core message. What symbols am I going to choose to represent the souls progression on this journey? What color conveys justice? Can red be used for love and anger? Passion and evil?
Thus far, my approach to the deck has been to consider the symbols that have meaning for me, research their various cultural significances and consider how to bring them to life in an artwork that will tell its own little story.
Trying to convey your intended meaning symbolically is one of the most interesting and difficult aspects of designing your own deck. I’ll typically start with one thing that sparks an idea for the card. Sometimes the one thing is the focal image, like the perfect “Magician” I found on a trip to the flea market in Portugal. Other times it will be just the right found object, like the spinning wheel for the Wheel of Fortune card. Once I have that initial inspiration point, I find the story begins to almost weave itself through layers of paint, collage and additional found objects. Every single item is chosen and placed with intention; if it doesn’t add to the story it doesn’t belong in the artwork.
There is as much editing in the process as there is creating. I love the challenge of working this way since it is in stark contrast to the free flowing intuitive approach I take with a lot of my other artwork.
I can hardly wait to share with you the journey of each card as it is created and look forward to hearing your thoughts and your own interpretations of what you see.
Andrea Matus deMeng is a mixed media artist, and instructor from Vancouver, BC. Looking for a unique mixed-media workshop? You can find Andrea teaching next at Art-is-You retreats in both Petaluma, CA and Stamford, CT.
Looking for more mixed-media mythology? Check out Dusty Diablos by Michael DeMeng!
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