The Tarot Work of Arnell Ando - Essay by Paula Gibby
L’Invitation au Voyage (C.
Mon enfant, ma soeur
My child, my sister
Songe a la douceur Think how sweet it would be
D’aller la-bas vivre ensemble, To go down there, to live together
Aimer a loisir, To love free from care,
Aimer et mourir To love and to die
Aux pays qui te ressemble!** In the land that resembles you!
Beauttiful words, aren’t they? An invitation to a voyage. A journey.
I will tell you that I sat down in front of my computer a couple of weeks ago with the intent to produce a review of Arnell Ando’s "Hero’s Journey Tarot" (hereafter referred to as the HJT). This was to be the culmination of years of intensive study and comparing of the HJT cards to Arnell’s other exquisite work, the "Transformational Tarot".
What you have before you now is not just a review. Rather, it is an analysis, in my own words and without benefit of talking with Arnell, of my experiences with her tarot cards and what I have gained from studying them. It is a lengthy article because Arnell’s work is intricate, many-layered, and unforgettable. I find that I cannot possibly do justice to it with just a few paragraphs discussing card size, materials used, and packaging. When someone puts her life in front of you for you to "read", well, I think the least that can be done is to recognize it and give it the respect such a brave revelation is due.
And so, please, I invite you to take a journey with me. A journey into the work of Arnell Ando. A journey that, hopefully, will take you deep into the images. A reverie that will bring them to life so that they can reveal their stories to you.
As they have to me.
This is your Invitation to a Voyage.
The Beginning of the Journey…A Deck Arrives and a Puzzle Surfaces
I remember when I first heard that Arnell was making her personal deck available for sale. At that time, in 1998, it didn’t even have a name. It was just Arnell’s personal deck. So many of her admirers had requested it, she agreed to make it available in the same format as her own original…a set of 78 handmade, laminated cards. The price was, at the time, more than I had ever paid for a deck. I hesitated (for one day) and then I took a couple of extra Christmas soloist jobs to get the money to pay for it. I sent off the check and waited.
I remember that it arrived so quickly. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Those of you who have ever had the pleasure of receiving anything from Arnell will know of what I speak when I say that even the outer packing box was a thing of beauty. If you think Arnell saves her artistry for what’s inside the box, you are mistaken. Stamps and collage pieces adorn a box that even the postal workers can admire and enjoy. Which my postman did, by the way.
When I opened the box, fresh wonders emerged. Inside was a cigar box…poor words to describe the form it had taken in Arnell’s gifted hands. The entire box was covered with collage art. Tiny images of the Rider-Waite cards danced around the perimeter. Other images flowed from one into the next. I recognized some of the serene images from the Transformational Tarot, a thing of beauty which had kept me occupied for quite some time. I turned to the handmade book and read the personalized note, along with a postcard, wherein Arnell modestly hoped that I would like what she has called the "wild and uninhibited older sister" to the Transformational deck. Then I turned towards the box once again, opened it carefully, removed the delicately folded purple tissue paper and found the cards themselves.
Handmade decks are very common now, but in 1998, they weren’t. This was my first experience of such a deck and I was amazed. Delicate, yet sturdy. The next thing that impressed me was the size of the cards(2 ¾ x 4 ¾). Arnell’s collage art is so amazing that I have always lamented the petite size of the Transformational cards. The cards of the "personal deck" were large and so tactile. I still, after two years, find myself running my fingers over them.
So began my exploration of what later came to be known as the Hero’s Journey Tarot. And, after a few months of sheer enjoyment and admiration devoted exclusively to the HJT, I pulled out the Transformational Tarot and placed the cards side by side.
What presented itself to me was the beginning of a very interesting "puzzle", which sent me on an internal series of meditations and studies which have occupied me for a couple of years now.
What was the puzzle?
Well, I had heard indirectly that the reason Arnell changed her own "personal" deck (the HJT) was primarily because of the copyright issues involved in some of its artwork. This had always sounded good…made a lot of sense. But as I studied the two sets of cards, this theory just didn’t hold water.
While that may have had some small part in the creation of the Transformational, I honestly don’t see that this was the definitive reason. Arnell, talented artist that she is, could have easily adapted some of the HJT cards, removed the copyrighted material and produced the deck with much less effort than what she obviously put into the publication of the Transformational.
But that’s not what she did. This is obvious when you look at the two decks. The Transformational, while clearly a blood sister of the HJT is just as clearly NOT merely an artistic adaptation and/or "editing" of the HJT. The differences are much more compelling than that.
When I say compelling differences, I am not talking about the obvious difference in art "styles". I imagine Arnell adopted the Pre-Raphaelite style of the Transformational to provide an artistic continuity between the images since she was planning on publishing it. It was a successful decision and resulted in an incredibly lovely deck whose images have the delicate luminosity of pearl under crystalline water.
So, in summary, the copyright reasoning, although it has minor validity, does not seem to have been the driving force behind the creation of the Transformational. Same goes for the difference in artistic style. These were obvious exterior differences, but certainly not of enough significance to make the two decks truly different. If they were truly different, that is.
No, as I carefully compared and meditated upon the two sets of images, it became apparent that the driving force behind the two decks was not due to the exterior treatment and modification of the artwork. There was a lot more going on here, something much more interesting and compelling. This was no fine-tuning of a previously conceived and created product, but an actual creative evolution of ideas. An evolution that inextricably links these two sets of cards and that can be seen when the cards are compared. Two decks. Separate…but "not".
Let me say that I have a large collection of decks and many of them are by the same artist. Even though there is a similarity of artistic "style" which can make the artist readily identifiable, the decks are, as a rule, separate and distinct products. Folchi is an excellent example of my point. Menegazzi is another.
Arnell’s two decks? Well, they just didn’t fit that mold.
In my mind’s eye, I started seeing Arnell’s delicate webs of inspiration, creativity and spirituality weaving gossamer, almost invisible threads, gently interconnecting the two decks. Very subtly done and which eluded my ability to articulate it verbally for almost two years now.
I’m still not sure if I’m getting the point across. Ever try to touch the mist?
It seems so obvious to me now that what we have here are two representations (in tarot) of one personal, complex inner journey. Spiritual "snapshots" taken, if you will, at two different points in "spiritual time," each snapshot an attempt to articulate what has taken place so far in the journey. Where the past is cast (but perhaps not resolved) and the future remains to be seen.
Beginning to Analyze the Puzzle
For those of you, who, like me are most definitely NOT visual artists, here is a verbal example.
Have you ever written an essay, or your opinion on something? Something you felt passionate about? Well, it represented your thoughts, feelings and knowledge of the subject at the time. It was based upon everything that you had to bring to the table… at the time.
Let us move forward in time…a couple of years pass. You go through some real-life lessons and experiences. You grow! Perhaps you find yourself revisiting that essay, now a thing of the past…your past. You read it and all those symbolic lightbulbs go on in your brain. You think, ah! If only I knew then what I know now. You feel compelled to take it apart, evaluate each section, each nuance, each emotion and issue that you felt and addressed at that time. As you carefully sift through the impressions of your past and rewrite sections based upon what you know now (what a couple of years ago was an unknown future), you find certain sections even more firmly reinforced. You think to yourself…I could not have expressed it better. I will leave that section as it is. Or, perhaps what comes to you now is an even better idea for articulating that particular thought.
So, you keep writing. You come upon a section and realize that, based upon your life experiences, the perceptions which guided you in that particular piece of writing have changed. And so, you completely rewrite that section.
Here is the most interesting of all. You reread a section and you realize that there is no "right" or "wrong" to this particular issue. The issue that once seemed so resolved has become gray and difficult to define. It cries out for great delicacy of writing that manages to encompass opposing and/or parallel ideas…both of equal legitimacy. Why is this the most interesting? Because you have embraced multiple viewpoints. That is, you have adopted a syncretic, integrated approach to this particular viewpoint or idea.
And this is the stuff that tarot cards are made of.
So, let’s summarize that writing example. What are you left with after you write the new "version" of your essay? Well, in some instances, your viewpoint may have entirely changed. In others, your original ideas have been reinforced, but now you are able articulate them with even great clarity and eloquence…fine-tune them a little. In still other instances, your viewpoint on an issue may have not changed, but now you have the ability to provide a brand-new concept or insight that reinforces the idea. OR, you may have learned to embrace your original position, while at the same time embracing the differing viewpoints of others. Synthesis…integration.
You put your essays side by side. Are they the same essay? Yes, but no. Are they different? No, but yes.
This is exactly what has occurred in Arnell’s tarot cards. Only, instead of words, she has been able to reflect and portray all of the above situations in pictorial form. Not only that, she has managed to convey them to an "audience" who may have no artistic ability whatsoever. That is called artistic gift and ability.
Preparing for the Voyage
Ok, let’s move on. We’ve identified some of the evolutionary aspects and characteristics to Arnell’s two decks. We are getting an idea of what she did. Next, we have to ask ourselves, how did she accomplish this? How did she get there? What compelled her to reach deeply inside herself, take out her innermost emotions and dreams and then put them (in the form of tarot images) in front of all of us to see? What were these inner driving forces that culminated in the inspiration that became her tarots?
Because made no mistake about it. Regardless of what you have heard about the HJT being Arnell’s "personal" deck and the Transformational being her "published" deck, there is one thing you will benefit from keeping in mind…BOTH of these decks are very, very personal. And, because of that, there is a great deal we can learn.
Learn from the voyage of one lone wanderer.
To understand this, let’s consider the journey. No, we’re not talking about summer vacations. The journey. THE journey. You know, the spiritual journey we all are on…that cyclical, mystical, magical and sometimes crazy roller coaster path we follow on the road called spiritual evolution. Notice I said on the road "called spiritual evolution", NOT the road "to spiritual evolution".
That’s because spiritual evolution is not a goal. It’s the road itself.
I know you know what I’m talking about because, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be browsing through Diane’s website and you certainly wouldn’t have lasted with me up until this point.
So this is familiar territory to you and to me. But let’s articulate it anyway.
What is a spiritual journey? Well, it’s more than getting to the end. And it’s more than the actual journey itself. Because you can’t forget the arduous inner journey you undergo before you even make the decision to actually take the journey, can you?
So many different steps along the way, this journey of ours. Le voyage.
Those of you who walk aware know that there are many stopping points along the way. These are valuable and necessary. They give us the opportunity to reflect upon what has taken place so far and to speculate (or dream) of what lies ahead. Those with the ability may even write about it…a book, a journal, an article. A graphic artist may take materials in hand, and build a set of images that "speak" for her.
If we’re smart, that’s what we do. If we’re lucky, we get an opportunity to gain a glimpse into the voyage of another fellow traveler.
Still others may consider doing this, but decide to put it off until after the journey is over. In those cases, the "trail" is lost because, as we journey and evolve, those stopping points are integrated into the next stopping point. And so on and so on until it becomes difficult to express exactly what was experienced at that particular, crucial point in time. Evolution is a constant motion…it never stops. If we don’t take that "snapshot", capture that summation of multi-layered moments, they swirl away. At some later point in time, we will attempt to interpret those feelings and impressions, but we will overlay them with the experiences that occurred afterward. And the true experience (as it was experienced and how it was experienced) is lost.
If anything proves my point, it is Arnell’s two decks. Her timing was a thing of beauty…absolutely perfect. You’ll see.
So back to the spiritual journey. The part we go through before we even begin. Well, first, there is the seed idea, the flash of inspiration that motivates us to even consider making some sort of change…in environment, inner thinking, spiritual motivation, etc.
Next comes the gradual interior build-up of energy that finally makes us take the actual "first steps". We plan. We mull over the different pathways open to us. This creates entire avenues of reflection and consideration. We feel that if we don’t do something, take some first step, we’ll explode.
So, we turn. We take a deep breath. We peer anxiously into the uncertain vagueness and mist of the unknown and…
Either run for our lives or stand firm, look the unknown directly in the eye and decide to take the next step. And the next. With each step, unforeseen "events" present themselves. We are forced to use our imaginations, improvise, press ahead even when the darkness seems so overpowering that the struggle to place one foot in front of the other becomes an all-consuming effort. When loneliness and despair become almost tangible companions. Or when the utter joy of discovery and a feeling of being one with the universe almost overwhelms us and brings us to our knees in wonder and gratitude.
It is no wonder that many relate this journey into the self as an exploration of the "waters" of the unconscious. Water. Deep, unfathomable, shifting, powerful. The tides resonating deep within our inner selves. It is a form of death really. That peeling away and discarding of our outer shells to better enable us to fully embrace each new profound experience.
So, why all this introduction anyway?
Because. Because if you are going to truly explore Arnell’s tarot work and truly understand what’s happening in her cards, you have to allow her to take you by the hand and guide you through her journey. You may be thoroughly enjoying the Transformational deck and feel you see everything that’s going on in there. Perhaps. But, with the addition of the HJT, you now have an earlier stopping point in Arnell’s journey. A gift of two glimpses into the personal spiritual journey of one of your fellow travelers.
Because what Arnell did is what many of us have done. There is a moment in time, unforgettable, when the spirit truly awakens to the realization that something momentous is in the wind. It then must decide what to do. Turn back or go forward. And Arnell went forward. She walked barefoot through the sands, feeling the shifting grains under her feet and approached the immensity and impenetrableness of the spiritual waters. She took a deep breath, walked forward until the waters lapped about her. Deeper and deeper until…she dove deep down…into
Le Voyage Prime – the HJT
The wonderful thing about the journey of the spirit is that it is cyclical in nature. Like the tarot. As one cycle is finished, another begins. Never-ending. Like all of us, Arnell has experienced her own spiritual cycles of exploration and experience. And the wonderful thing is that we have documentation of two stages of the journey. The first phase is compellingly and and movingly presented in the HJT. The second phase is not a separate one, rather, it is a revisiting and a building upon of her previous journey. In other words, it is the HJT PLUS every ounce of life experience, spiritual growth and wisdom attained up until this new moment in time. This second phase is masterfully represented in the Transformational Tarot.
As Arnell will tell you, her two tarot decks are sisters. Family. Blood.
We will speak of the first documented voyage. It is key because it was Arnell’s first attempt to portray, on paper, an exploration of the spirit in 78 interconnected images. It is a fascinating set of images in that Arnell depicted, in pictures, her interior reasoning and struggle AS it was taking place. That is, not the final concrete idea, but rather the exploration of the idea itself. When you immerse yourself in Arnell’s artistic journal, you can see, in your mind’s eye, that special place. That place between waking and sleeping where anything is possible and where the phantoms of the past meet the uncertainty of the future. The place where the spiritual motion is constant and its world in a state of perpetual flux.
I am grasping for words to describe art (not easy). What I am saying is that, in many of the HJT cards, what you will see are ideas in motion. Ideas that are still in the very process of being explored and are not yet finally formed. Their "shapes" are hazy because they are true ideas…their facets and shadings present themselves as you explore the images and then shift once again as you study them. Place the Transformational card next to its HJT sister and you will begin to detect these subtle differences. In the HJT, ideas swirl and merge, only to separate and merge again. In the Transformational, the idea has been elegantly "set", finely sculpted. It has taken form.
That is the first thing you will notice if you put these decks side by side. In many of the Transformational cards, what you see is a very polished, synthesized and clearly expressed idea. I think of them as fully sculpted ideas. That is the power of the tarot after all, to provide a set of symbols that have a significant affect upon the viewer. Grasped, understood.
What you will see in the HJT cards is very, very interesting. In some of them, you may not fully understand, at first, what you are looking at.
Think Two of Wands versus Three of Wands and you will begin to understand.
Arnell has worked through the idea (you see her exploration in the HJT) and finally developed it into a cohesive and more fully-formed "thought" (in the Transformational). These two decks are inextricably linked together, true sisters. Mirrors to each other. Remember my writing example?
Why the difference? Why are the ideas more unformed, more metamorphic in the HJT than in the Transformational? Easy. When Arnell created the HJT images, she hadn’t yet fully integrated, resolved and formed the ideas herself. Remember, Arnell was in a critical stage of her spiritual journey/exploration when she created these cards. Creation of the cards was drawing a lot of personal "stuff" out of her. Issues, joys, hurts that once opened up, swirled around her, demanding their place in the cards. That is what is so fascinating about them. As she faced the phantoms of the past and the ghosts of the future; as she relived old fears, frustrations, angers and joys; as the past, present and future collided and swirled about themselves, Arnell opened her "journal" and recorded it all.
The HJT images truly show the ebb and flow of spiritual deliberation and all the emotions that go with it…conflict, fear, anger, excitement, hope. They are all there. Raw emotion in its most ephemeral state. We are so fortunate that, as she grappled with the issues, she documented this struggle through her tarot art.
Now, this is not to say that the cards in the Transformational are "better" or more "readable" than the HJT. This is certainly not the case. Each deck stands on its own merits, a complete snapshot at some point in the spiritual evolution. In my own opinion, there are cards in both decks that I consider to be perfect. I truly can’t think of a better way to depict the idea as Arnell has done. And we will discuss those cards and compare them to their counterparts. If I had to generalize, I would characterize the two decks with the following adjectives. The HJT: powerful, raw, molten, motion, turbulent, combative. The Transformational: seasoned, experienced, elegant, centered, resolved, accepting.
One of the Transformational adjectives bears repeating because it is significant to both decks.
And so, Arnell gave birth to her very first complete set of tarot images. Evocative, compelling, visually and intellectually complex, irresistible and bravely personal. Created for her eyes alone. Created to assuage that frustration at not finding the perfect tool until she decided to create it for herself. I can envision Arnell working with her own very personal deck. Meditating upon the images, exploring all the layers she created, resolving past experiences and integrating them into her own spiritual code. The experience of using the cards just as healing as creating them.
The Second Voyage – Transformational Tarot
I don’t know when, where or why Arnell decided to create a tarot deck for publication. I’ve never asked her. Regardless, the opportunity presented itself. What did she do? Did she create a brand new deck full of all the myriad ideas and situations that present themselves almost on a daily basis? As Frank Jensen has said often, "tarot images are everywhere". Did she turn to history, art, science, fiction?
No, she turned to herself.
She returned to that earlier work, a representation of a particular stopping place in her spiritual journey. A place where she had dwelt for a time, explored her innermost thoughts and feelings and given birth to her first tarot deck. Her first tarot child. That artistic journal into which she had poured her heart and soul. That pictorial record of past battles, joys and heartaches, bursting with memories and bearing the scars of wounds just barely healed.
And she did so much more than change the artistic "style" of the deck and remove the copyrighted material. If she had stopped there, we would now have the HJT dressed up in different clothes. A very pretty HJT. In a very pretty dress. With very shiny shoes. And how sad that would have been…to see the raw energy and untamed nature of the HJT somehow diminished in an unfamiliar setting.
But Arnell did much more than that. The Transformational Tarot is also a very powerful, complex and multi-layered deck. Sister to the HJT. Blood relations. Part of the same evolutionary web.
What was her thought process? Again, I’ve never asked her, but let me tell you what I think.
In the creative process of considering bringing into being another tarot deck, Arnell looked through her cards and realized just how much she had grown in the interval since the creation of that first tarot child. She had grown in wisdom and spiritual awareness. Many of the demons that haunted her during the time the HJT was created had been faced and worked through. They had no more power over her. So many experiences had been integrated. She had lived through them. She had accepted her past. She had embraced it as a necessary and valuable part of herself…integrated it into herself and realized that all those experiences had played major roles in making her what she had become. She had faced herself, looked herself squarely in the eyes, honestly and uncompromisingly…and accepted it all.
Remember my writing example?
I think she looked at the HJT and saw many things. Ideas that she knew she could hone more articulately and portray more cohesively. Ideas that had matured to the point that they had taken on a different form. Ideas about which her position had changed. Ideas that she now had the courage to face even more directly.
I think she saw similarities, changes, patterns and parallels when she looked at the wild child. I think she saw an opportunity to revisit this "essay" and approach it with the wisdom and acceptance of her current point in her spiritual path.
I think the elegance of her thought process lends itself perfectly to the artistic style she chose. Elegance of thought…elegance of art. A perfect marriage.
So, what about the lovely Transformational Tarot? Is it "better" than the HJT? Well, is one part of yourself better than another?
Of course not.
Can you have one part of yourself without the other? Can you discard your past and somehow convince yourself that it has not become an essential part of who and what you are? Perhaps the past was unpleasant. But can you deny that facing, accepting and overcoming such sadness and hurt results in a spiritual growth? Would you ever want to deny yourself the magical spiritual growth that results from facing, accepting and integrating all the experiences that your "path" has presented to you?
If you have ever been in doubt, just take a look at Arnell’s two decks. The Transformational Tarot would not be what it is without its sister, the HJT.
Introduction to the Cards
My intention in this section of the article has many facets. I want to present some comparative commentary on some of the cards by selecting the same card from each sister deck and discussing them. I will do this by selecting pairings that show some of the thought evolution which I articulated in my writing sample example. I will also include cards from each deck that, in my opinion, are perfect. My definition of a "perfect card" is one that you immediately associate with a particular card. No matter how many decks you have, you find yourself always conjuring up this same perfect image, time and time again.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the Strength cards in the two decks. They especially illustrate my point about the motion of the images in the HJT and the sculpted, elegant and more finished counterpart in the Transformational. A surprise for you though…I consider the Strength card from the HJT to be one of the "perfect" cards.
In the Transformational card, you see the final mastery of true strength over brute strength. The beautiful young maiden has one hand gently placed upon the head of a dragon. Look at the expression on the dragon’s face. The maiden has totally disarmed him. His expression is an interesting counterpoint of puzzlement and pleasure.
In the Transformational Strength card, the maiden has tamed the beast within. How she accomplished this, we don’t know. What we see is the final result…brute strength gently and lovingly kept under the control of the sensitive, outwardly delicate maiden.
In the HJT, you don’t have that gentle image and that completion of the idea frozen in pictorial "time".
In the HJT, what Arnell gives you is a truly vivid and amazing depiction of HOW that mastery is accomplished. You don’t have to look up "Strength" in a tarot book because the "how-to" is right there in front of you.
How is true mastery, true strength attained? Is it through blunt force or will? No. What is the question that the Strength card resolves? In essence it is this…how do you conquer those "dragons" in your life? Do you fight them? Run from them? How is true mastery attained?
Mastery is attained when you turn, look your dragon in the eye and ACCEPT him. Let him in. Embrace that fear, that anger, that frustration, whatever that obstacle is. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Merge with it and take it into yourself.
My son-in-law is an avid Star Trek fan. During his last visit, he was watching a rerun of one of the original episodes. In one scene, Kirk and Spock were surrounded by a force field. The more they resisted and fought against it, the stronger the force field became. In order to "break" through it, they had to become quiet and unemotional, and achieve inner quietude. Stop fighting. Stop using so much will and force. As Spock stilled his inner self, he merged with the energy of the field and then walked through it.
The more you fight your own personal dragon, the stronger it becomes…because you make it so.
If you face your dragon, work to understand it and finally embrace it, then you become one with your dragon and you will have mastery over it.
Look closely at the HJT Strength card. The movement is amazing. Look at the energy of the lion tamer. She exudes feline grace and power. Look more closely and you will begin to see from whence that strength comes. Look at her hair, her features. All of these images are brought together to show you the merging of the animal trainer with the beast. Her goal is not to "tame" the beast. Arnell calls her an animal trainer. There is a very big difference between a trainer and a tamer and Arnell chooses her words carefully and well. This trainer has mastery over the powerful feline because she is becoming one with it. Look again at the merging of the two. Look as they walk side by side, both exhibiting such a similar power of gait.
Arnell’s HJT Strength card is the only one I have ever seen which truly captures and successfully illustrates the spiritual process of attaining the mastery over the lion.
By merging with our dragons, we accept and embrace them. And become truly strong.
Now, let’s take a look at a pairing from the minors. I chose the 10 of Wands for two reasons. First, to illustrate an example of a card whose imagery changed very little from the HJT to the Transformational. Second, the 10 of Wands is another one of Arnell’s cards that I consider to be "perfect".
I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the Fool cards. From early on in my comparison and exploration of these two decks, I somehow knew that understanding the Fools was key to my overall understanding of just what spiritual center Arnell was working from when she first brought those small pieces of paper together to create the most pivotal, ubiquitous and revealing figures in the entire two series of cards.
The Fool. Yes, yes, we know the meanings associated with this card and I don’t need to repeat them here. Let’s ask a more stimulating question. WHO is the Fool? If the game of life is a story, then who would the Fool be?
Why, the main character, of course! And to take this even further…if the Fool is the main character, then how he is portrayed gives us clues to his true identity…his characteristics, his elemental nature. Remember, the Fool is open to any and all experience. His breast is bared for the blade or the embrace. Is he Fool or is he the wisest of them all? Do you have to be a Fool to be truly wise?
Sounds like a Zen riddle, doesn’t it?
And in the HJT and Transformational tarots, the Fools give us an even more compelling picture.
The HJT Fool gives us an insight into the mind of Arnell Ando as she was struggling and attempting to resolve and integrate the flood of images, emotions, frustrations and fears which threatened to overwhelm her as she was creating the HJT. It must have been such a relief to Arnell to finally sit down and pour all of that previously repressed awareness in her cards. She must have been ready to burst with it.
I know what you are thinking. You want to know how I know this. You want to know just how much information I’ve been able to glean from Arnell to give me this additional assistance in interpreting her decks.
None. I know I could have done this, but I didn’t, for several reasons that we will briefly touch upon later in this article. However, the main reason I didn’t ask Arnell anything is because I didn’t have to. It’s all right there in her cards. All you have to do is pick them up and really look at them.
So, the reason I can sense all of the molten energy that Arnell must have been consumed with when she created the HJT is because her deck is practically bursting at the seams with it. You can see the internal reasoning of a set of ideas. You can see them swirling about each other.
And I’ll tell you one big issue that Arnell was obviously exploring and which was of great importance to her…freedom. The desire FOR freedom and the tyranny which suppresses freedom. She explores this idea from many different angles throughout the HJT…as the "watcher", as the tyrant and as the prisoner. Some of them are very subtle and others are incredibly obvious. I mean the Statue of Liberty is in there! There are several little red, white and blue figures. There are winged figures, some of which have attained flight while others are still desperately trying to make the attempt.
Freedom. And what does freedom give us?
It gives us the opportunity to make a new beginning. Start all over again…fresh and cleansed.
So, you see, the Fool cards assume one of the most significant positions in Arnell’s decks. Study them carefully and experience each layer…because this exploration will provide you the inner understanding, the whole premise of the 77 cards which follow.
First, let’s explore the HJT Fool. And look at that…the first thing we notice is a winged figure. The issue of freedom inaugurates the deck. You don’t even need my lengthy introduction; you only have to look at the card and you’ll recognize one of the key spiritual issues of the deck.
Ah, but freedom from what?
To understand how to answer that question, you must first learn a little about the image itself. This is fascinating stuff and you don’t want to miss out on anything.
Arnell’s accompanying books are very slim, containing minimal card information. Arnell wants to give you the key hints, but she doesn’t want to dictate your entire experience of her cards. She usually gives you enough information so that you can explore the images and symbols further if you so desire. And that is a VERY good idea, especially with the HJT Fool. Just wait until I tell you the amazing threads that come together to make this a most fascinating Fool. I found myself saying "Aha!" every few minutes as I gathered more and more information.
So listen to this.
Arnell very helpfully provides us with the identity of the winged figure (but very little more). He is Icarus, son of Daedalus. Now, don’t go right to Icarus yet because the very interesting initial threads to this Fool are begun in the father, not the son.
To save you some research, let’s discuss the father of Icarus.
He was Daedalus, an Athenian architect and the first inventor of images. Isn’t that incredibly interesting? Think of it…the HJT inaugural card threads in the individual who is said to have invented images. The inventor of images…the images of the tarot…the Fool, who introduces the pack to us.
Are you beginning to get those tiny little chills as you start to make these little connections? Are they not perfection? Do you begin to understand the significance of the spider webs that make their appearances throughout Arnell’s tarot cards?
Let’s go on.
Condemned to exile for the murder of one of his pupils, Daedalus began to create images for King Minos. He made many marvelous things that warrant further research, but we will move to the most pertinent creation for our purposes.
It was Daedalus who conceived of, and constructed, the very first labyrinth. In fact, in Greek Mythology, it was THE Labyrinth, a specially constructed maze with passages so intricately interwoven that it was almost impossible to escape. Just as diabolically interesting was what was secreted within the Labyrinth. The Minotaur. Every year, Athens would send seven males and seven females to the Isle of Crete. They were released into the Labyrinth, hunted down and devoured by the Minotaur.
In an ironic twist of fate, Daedalus and his son were imprisoned in the Labyrinth in punishment for Daedalus disclosing the way out of the maze to Ariadne (who helped Theseus escape).
Imagine it…imprisoned in a puzzle box of your own making. A maze of conflicting corridors and blind alleys. The only way out has been barred and, at the center of the labyrinth, the Minotaur awaits you.
If you stop for a moment, and reflect on this part of the story, you can clearly see how it relates to real life. Becoming trapped in a prison of your own making, with a monster you have fostered waiting to devour you. You would do anything to escape, wouldn’t you? Take any risk to be free of that empty, echoing prison?
Ever experienced that? I know I have.
So. Here are Daedalus and Icarus, imprisoned in the Labyrinth and understandably more than anxious to escape. Daedalus, master craftsman that he is, creates two pairs of wings, cleverly constructed of feathers and held together with wax, so that he and Icarus can fly away from the labyrinth, catch the breath of the sea winds and return to the mainland of Greece.
The myth doesn’t say how long Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned in the labyrinth. It must have taken some time to construct the wings…all the while listening for the sounds of the monster within…the Minotaur. Each hour must have been of excruciating length. And then comes that moment which has been longed for. The moment of freedom is at hand.
Now, let’s go back to the card and pick up the tale from there. In the HJT Fool, we see Icarus. Now that you understand the feeling and emotion behind the story, explore the image of Icarus. Observe the tense, arched body and the widespread arms. His head is thrown back. Every muscle is taut with incredible emotion at the very instant of its release. He gives himself with utter abandon to the sky. He heeds not the outstretched and moving arms that have just released him. He heeds not the warning cry of that wild and free wolf. No…he arches upward…higher and higher.
It is said that Daedalus, flying alongside of his son, called to him, warning him not to fly so high. He was concerned that the sun’s rays would melt the wax and send Icarus to his death.
But Icarus heeded him not. Indeed, I don’t think Icarus heard him at all. With the inner music of freedom pounding in his ears…the flooding of emotions…the supreme joy of his freedom…release from the "old"…the opportunity for a fresh and new beginning dancing tantalizingly before him…how could he have heard anything at all but the rhythm of his own heart beating with elation? He was at that ultimate moment of harmony with his environment…the warmth of the sun caressing his limbs, the light beckoning him ever onward, the warm breath of the sea winds lifting him, light as a bird, floating, soaring. The past already a fading memory…one cycle of life completed at the very moment of his leap from the cliff. In front of him…the future. A world of possibilities. A future of promise, excitement and experience, but most of all, Freedom.
He felt at one with his new world, confident it would provide for him. He was totally in love with that one perfect moment. And so, in concert with his soaring heart, Icarus’ human form followed suit and continued onward. And upward.
And he became the Fool.
Indeed, Daedalus’ fears were realized. The sun’s intense rays melted the wax holding the wings of Icarus together. And so he fell. Fell into the sea that now bears his name. A lifetime of experience captured within those few fleeting seconds. But seconds such as those can be an eternity, an entire world of magic where length of time becomes unimportant and a spiritual vision can last forever.
So, now you know the story behind the card. And knowing this gives you a precious glimpse into the mind and heart of Arnell Ando.
The HJT Fool is obviously Arnell. This cannot be in doubt. And, it represents her state of mind and the core issue of her spiritual journey at the time she created this card.
Have you ever been a prisoner? I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t been. There are many different kinds of prisons. Some of them are of our own making (like Daedalus’) and some are inflicted upon us. Some of them are a little of both, meaning they are inflicted upon us, but we don’t take the action we should have in order to avoid or rectify the situation. Prisons can take many forms…jobs, debts, family issues, religions, relationships. All prisons are labyrinths of twisting, turning pathways that lead nowhere.
So, have you gained that glimpse of Arnell? Describe her. Because again, if you can describe the Fool, then you have described Arnell at this critical turning point in her spiritual journey. And if you can do that, then the rest of the 77 cards will open up to you and you will gain insights you never before would have considered.
What is Arnell saying in this Fool card?
She is saying that it takes a supreme act of bravery to begin again…to start over. To do so is as risky as constructing a set of fragile feathery wings perilously held together by wax. Wax…a metamorphic medium that can change its form at the most unfortunate of moments.
Or, perhaps not. Perhaps the wax will hold together long enough to take the Fool to the next stage of the journey. Perhaps.
The Fool takes the risk without hesitation because the Fool knows that, in order to take the leap in the great unknown and initiate a new beginning, a risk must be taken. And he knows that this new beginning, this opportunity to experience an exhilarating new freedom, is worth whatever risk is required. He knows that, sometimes, in order to gain everything, you must also risk everything.
And so, is he really a fool? Or is he the wisest, bravest and most intrepid of travelers?
In this one image, Arnell has perfectly captured this interesting conundrum of the Fool. She has clearly cast herself as the lead character in this tarot play. She is the Fool and you will accompany her throughout the 77 scenes to follow in the story called "The Hero’s Journey".
Now, we move on to the Transformational Fool. Again, this Fool serves the same purpose as the HJT Fool. It identifies the lead character, who, once again, is Arnell herself. As you will find out, this Fool (like its sister) perfectly captures the spiritual mind and heart of Arnell as she prepares herself to explore yet another stage of her spiritual journey.
As we gaze upon the Transformational Fool, we are immediately struck by the major differences in imagery and mood. The tense elation of Icarus, the incredible burst of energy literally throwing him from that cliff is now gone. The play called the HJT is done, those spiritual issues have been integrated in the experiences of its 78 scenes and the phantoms of the past, stripped of their powers (fear, desperation and anger), have faded into the mists. That cycle is complete. An epiphany of the soul attained.
But the spiritual journey of the soul never stops and so, from the mist of one cycle’s end, comes a new beginning. Observe the new Fool as he emerges from those mists. This Fool does not seek freedom. He IS free.
See this shining child dressed in white, his hair a golden aureole of curls. He walks trustingly through the night forest, bare feet barely leaving a mark in the undergrowth. Iridescent bubbles float around him. A night owl with the head of a woman circles above but the Fool does not watch her. This Fool knows that the owl can be friend or foe, but he does not worry. He knows, somehow, that the owl will do what it must do. Be what it must be. And whatever that is will somehow be the right thing.
Here we see our dear friend Arnell. In the HJT, she had the bravery to escape what paradigm or circumstance held her prisoner. She risked all because it was either that or nothing. At the same time, she immersed herself in her own inner journey, endeavoring to understand herself, the patterns she had created and fighting heroically to evaporate the monsters of self-doubt, fear, loneliness, resentment and anger. Feelings that must have been repressed for a very long time.
By risking all, she gained all. And so, this Fool, this lead character, perfectly captures the essential idea of this deck. Transformation. A play with 78 scenes. Each scene evoking the ideas of spiritual growth, love, understanding and, most important, acceptance. Accepting what has been, embracing it, making it part of oneself and moving forward to the next level of spiritual evolution with grace and beauty.
Grace and beauty…attributes apparent in every single card of the Transformational Tarot.
There are numerous warriors, male and female, in the HJT. They are heavily armored to withstand blows to their persons and psyches. For too long, the threat of emotional and spiritual annihilation has blocked the doorway to their very own inner selves.
There was a time when they kept their resentments in check, cringing and smoldering under the domination of others. Now, something has triggered an outward release of that energy and they are fighting…fighting for every inch of physical and spiritual space. They are fighting for their freedom…and their right to exist as unique and worthwhile separate beings. They are fighting by using every asset they possess…their battle weapons, their physical strength…and their brains. Especially their brains.
It has been said that there is nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal. It may cringe under the upraised fist of the tyrant, but should the master turn his attention away for one single instant, the animal will strike.
And so, while cowering angrily under the hand of domination, they grew quietly cunning. They observed their oppressors closely and learned their weaknesses and vulnerabilities (for no tyrant is completely invincible). They forced themselves to learn the trade tools of the oppressed…the only tools available to them. Deceit and manipulation. They watched…and waited…and struck.
Deceit and manipulation are very effective tools and sometimes, they are the only ones available. However, use of such tools can weave intricate bonds that just as effectively trap the spider as it does the prey. And then the spider finds that she has traded one type of bondage for another. Instead of being in bondage to her oppressor, she now finds she is in bondage to…
Bondage…this is a central theme to both of Arnell’s Devils. In both cards, the images are almost identical. There is a "split screen" effect. The scene to the right depicts what Arnell calls her recurring nightmare. It is the "first" Devil in the card…a preternatural gargoyle feeding upon the life force of its victims.
But ah, to the left, we have a much more menacing Devil…a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While any reasonably sane person would run at the first sight of the first loathsome creature, who would be wary of the second Devil? The Devil Arnell has named "Spider Woman"? Lovely, sensual, seemingly harmless, all of her "assets" temptingly displayed. In the HJT Devil card, the "Spider Woman" has caught her prey in her sticky web. She seems to enjoy pulling the threads this way and that while watching him dangling helplessly above her.
Rather like a cat playing with a mouse…until she devours it.
And one has the feeling that this is exactly what the Spider Woman will do after she finishes playing. She will wrap her victim in a silken web of deceit and desire until he is smothered and his independent life force extinguished. He will then become her pawn, her slave, with no independent will of his own. And when he serves no further use, she will calmly suck what little life force remains until he is a dried husk.
The Spider Woman has effectively turned the tables on her oppressor. And she did it all with a backward toss of her long thick hair and a well-manicured hand.
Which brings to light some interesting questions to speculate upon. What exactly has the Spider Woman won? And more importantly, what has she "lost"? Perhaps her own self-esteem? Her own spiritual values?
Now let us compare the HJT Devil to the Transformational. So very similar. There is the first Devil, the gargoyle, and again, to the left, is the Spider Woman. But look more closely and compare the two Spider Women. Notice how, in the HJT, the Spider Woman has her back to us. Our position as the observer is behind the web with Spider Woman. Now look again at the Transformational. It is a mirror reverse, meaning that now we are on the outside of the web looking in at the Spider Woman.
What is important about this? As with the discussion pertaining to the Waite-Smith 10 of Wands, now we can see Spider Woman’s face! And who is the lovely lady, but Arnell Ando, herself. She sits provocatively within her web, gazing sultrily out towards us. She is sensually dressed in black lingerie. Her hands rest upon her knees with legs spread apart.
This Spider Woman has set her stage very deliberately. Everything about her posture and dress are designed with the specific intent to lure the victim closer and closer until he is caught within the silken web. A web so strong that he can’t escape…even if he wanted to.
Recall for a moment the Waite-Smith image. Remember the chains around the necks of the male and female victims? They are loose, meaning, that either of them could easily remove the chains…if they wanted to. That is the key to understanding the power of the Devil. The enticements he has to offer make you want to stay. You don’t want to escape.
That is true bondage.
Let’s return to our perusal of the Ando Devils and bring our focus back to their mirror image renderings. I cannot emphasize enough the magnitude of Arnell’s decision to reverse the image of the Transformational Devil so that we can see her. Let me explain.
The image of the Spider Woman is a metaphor Arnell creates, which describes an "alter-ego" of herself. She has written extensively about it on her website and I strongly encourage you to access that article and read it carefully. Briefly, in the article, Arnell explains the circumstances that triggered the genesis of Spider Woman. It is a classic example of what can happen to a fellow creature who is abused, dominated, controlled to the very breaking point. When the only tools available to fight back are your own wits and whatever physical attributes you may have at your disposal. For a male, that may be his brute strength. For a female, that may be her sexuality…her attractiveness as a species. It can be a powerful weapon.
In her article, Arnell goes on to write openly and honestly about her alternative life as Spider Woman, the consequences it had on others and on herself. Spider Woman’s mission was all about turning the tables…becoming the dominator instead of the dominated. It was payback time and Arnell exorcised a lot of built-up anger and resentment by playing the role.
One can imagine how she felt when she first began to plan the concept of her HJT Devil. She was already intimately aware of the underlying issues of the Devil card…bondage by becoming a slave to excess and forfeiting the spiritual in order to embrace the material and physical. She had also "played" both roles…the victim and the Devil.
She also had gained a clear of understanding of another key insight.
We are our own worst Devil. We are our own worst enemy. We become slaves to our own materialistic desires and sensual fantasies. Rarely is there another Devil taking anything away from us. We are handing it over. We lose sight of, or squander, our spiritual selves because the physical can feel so darn good!
Arnell recognized that. She also recognized the powerful role she, herself had played as Devil. And so she put herself, as Spider Woman, in the HJT Devil. But, she turned her back to us. Didn’t let us see her face. This makes a great deal of sense because, as we have noticed time and time again in other examples, Arnell was struggling with a great many issues at the time she created the HJT. Many of these issues had only just begun to reach some form of partial resolution at the time she was creating this deck. I think her struggle and her ambivalence toward her alter-ego in some way influenced her decision on the positioning of Spider Woman. Her face turned away…her expression hidden from us. As if Arnell was willing to admit she was Spider Woman, but not yet quite ready to embrace that part of herself enough to expose it and make Spider Woman face the world.
It is my theory that, when Arnell returned to this card during the creation of the Transformational, she experienced a breakthrough. I think she realized that, in the interval between the two decks, she had grown and evolved spiritually to the point that she was able to look her alter-ego in the eye, reach out, embrace and accept her as a valuable and vital part of her spiritual evolution.
And so now with Spider Woman fully accepted and integrated into her spiritual self, Arnell presented her to the world. Every inch of her exposed.
As a tarot image, it was a strikingly innovative artistic decision. On a personal level, it was an incredibly brave thing to do. How many of us are truly willing to declare openly to ourselves (much less others) that we are our own worst Devil? That no one gets us into more trouble than ourselves? That we usually only have ourselves to blame for our excesses?
But there’s more to this Devil than what we have already addressed…one more very, very significant message. Return to the Transformational Devil and gaze again upon Spider Woman. There she sits…in the dark…protected from encroachment by the threads of her web. Now, look more closely at the web itself. See how thick the strands are? See how they criss-cross and link to form that steely gray grid? Where have you seen iron bars like that before?
In prison. Well, I hope you haven’t experienced it personally, but we’ve all seen pictures.
So, we have Spider Woman sitting in that dark cell with the iron bars firmly preventing entry by an outside party AND…
Preventing Spider Woman herself from leaving. She is just as much a prisoner as her prey! All of her energy has gone into creating and weaving the deceit and manipulation that is symbolically represented by those thick gray strands of webbing! Those bars! Without her web she is weak. Without her web, she is nothing. She cannot go beyond its confines because she would be preyed upon in a moment.
And so she sits, waiting for her prey to come close enough to be lured in to her. Waiting to use the web (deceit and manipulation) because she has no other power at her disposal. She is just as much a victim as her prey. She is truly in bondage. Bondage of the worst kind.
Before I had the privilege of studying Arnell’s Transformational Devil card, it had simply never occurred to me that the Devil himself was just as much in bondage as his victims.
But there it is, plain as day. As I began to understand all the amazing parallels and degrees of balance in this card, I felt that "Aha". The light went on and, for the first time, I felt as if I truly understood this card in all of it intricate, interwoven layers.
I certainly don’t own every tarot deck out there, but I’ve had the opportunity to study over 400 Devil cards. Believe me, in the course of the past two years, I’ve looked at every single one of them and I will tell you that Arnell’s Transformational Devil is the most perfect and complete example I have ever seen. It is the only one I have studied that is able to capture that conundrum, that Zen riddle which makes it more exquisitely powerful than any other. The ability of Arnell to evoke such power of thought in her deceptively simple images makes me shake my head in wonder. There are no glitzy computer-aided graphics here. No lightning bolts. It is an absolutely masterful and complete rendering.
Ace of Coins
In the course of our card discussions (and particularly with the Fool and the Devil), we have explored some of the seminal issues which thread their way through both of Arnell’s decks. Issues which relate so much to freedom. Freedom to be, think and act as our spirit drives us. Freedoms which had obviously been denied to Arnell for a very long time until all of the volcanic energy rumbling below the surface for so long came rising to the top and exploded outward.
How Arnell first confronted and struggled with these spiritual "issues" (in the HJT) and ultimately made some sort of peace with them (in the Transformational) has been a fascinating study. We will explore two more card combinations which I feel clearly compare and contrast these two stages of Arnell’s journey between the sister cards. We turn to the Ace of Coins.
First, let us briefly summarize the Ace. As we know, in the tarot, the Aces depict the essential power and energy of the four elements. The Aces are molten, raw and, as yet, unformed. The Ace of Coins represents the energy of the earth; the development and manipulation of its material resources and its humankind. It represents the full range of all earthly endeavors.
Now, look at the Aces of Coins you see before you. You are immediately struck by the difference in artistic representation of the power of the earth. Think back to our discussion of the Fools and you will begin to understand the underlying reasons for these differences. Think of our two Fools, Icarus and the Child, specifically as they represent new beginnings. For Icarus, the only way to attain freedom and grasp that new beginning was by escaping the bonds of tyranny. As for the Child, well, he must grasp at nothing, for he brings freedom and the opportunity for new beginnings into the journey with him.
For Icarus, a new beginning, a new journey, was something to be won. For the Child, this new beginning is his birthright.
With that awareness in mind, let us turn back to the Aces. As in many cases with the HJT deck, the HJT Ace offers an image repeated many times: a warrior, either preparing for battle, ready for battle or with the battle just completed. In the HJT Ace of Coins, it is the third example.
Here we have our warrior woman. She represents the spirit and power of the material world. She crouches commandingly with her shield braced before her. She has recently won the battle. She has won, through much struggle and bravery, the material world she can now call her own.
Picture what a town, village or country must be like after a fierce struggle for freedom. Communities have been ravaged, houses and crops laid waste and the local government has been completely demolished.
The new ruler, this Spirit of the Material World, now has an awesome task ahead, because not only must she continue to protect her world from would-be attackers, she must also look to her people and her material resources to build again. She must raise shelters, sow crops, form governments and establish laws, strengthen family units, care for the sick, educate and develop her people, and hopefully at the end of the day, reap the harvest of all she has wrought.
Look again at our formidable warrior. The power of her material realm emanates from within her. She presents herself to us unafraid and more than capable of accomplishing her vision. Look at the map upon which she positions herself. See the plans she has drafted for her world. Here are lakes, with villages and roads carefully positioned near the water source. Behind her is a cathedral. It is not real, but simply a representation of the building projects which still lay before her. Remember, we are exploring the Ace. No action has yet been taken. These images are simply indications for what must come. The tasks are for the rest of the suit to accomplish.
Now look at the Transformational Ace of Coins. Here we see our warrior woman transformed. Whereas in her incarnation as the HJT Ace, she had to take her material world by force, as the Transformational Ace, she, like the Transformational Fool, comes into existence with ownership and identity fully intact. She has not won the earth. She IS the earth.
See our warrior now. No battle gear, breastplates or shields mar the beauty of her person. Instead, she has taken form as part of the earth itself. Her soft beautiful face emerges from the bark and leaves of her new form. Her "roots" are deeply planted into the sod of her "element". She is nature personified, exemplifying, as Rachel Pollack has written, not only the material world, but the magic of nature itself. In this new role, she still encompasses the power and potential exuded in the HJT Ace, but now she also brings to that power an extra gentleness and awareness of the magic of the earth.
She does not fight to be. She is.
Ten of Wands
Now, let’s take a look at another pairing from the minors. I chose the 10 of Wands for two reasons. First, to illustrate an example of a card whose imagery changed very little from the HJT to the Transformational. Second, the 10 of Wands is another one of Arnell’s cards that I consider to be "perfect".
So, what does it mean, this card? Well, I thought I was in no doubt about that…until I first encountered the Transformational 10 of Wands. Then I realized I had missed out on so many permutations and nuances in the meaning of this card. Like many of you, my first exposure to the tarot was through the Waite-Smith deck. Smith’s renderings are a part of that core set of images indelibly fixed in our brains. Who can forget the image of the man carrying his heavy burden of sticks up a hill? His back is bent with the effort. His entire posture represents someone who is exerting a great deal of effort just to keep his burden in the proper balance. Look at the thickness of the leg and arm muscles as they bulge and strain under extreme exertion.
It makes me tired just to look at him.
Can you tell me what is frustrating and limiting about this card? We can’t see his face! He is turned away from us and all we have to go on about this fellow is the body language he displays from a rear view.
Because of the simplicity of the Waite-Smith image, it always seemed like a rather simple card to understand. Oppression…great burden…being weighted down. This is obviously a man who is struggling with a burden that is not only oppressive, but something he just can’t let go of. The burden is obviously controlling him. His home is just over the hill and he is bound and determined to get those sticks there, come what may. He could easily lay down a few of those sticks, get the rest of them home and then come back. But, no! He’s going to do it his way. All or nothing.
OK, so what’s missing here? Balance! Balance is one of the key messages of the tarot. Two sides to every coin (with lots of gray in between). Questions of degree and perspective. These ideas thread their way through all of the cards, from the Fool to the King of Pentacles. Extremes, even those that seem positive at the outset, can become unhealthy and debilitating. Situations that at first glance seemed negative may not be quite what they seem. Is every burden "bad"? Is a burden something that just happens to us? Something to be tolerated and gotten rid of as quickly as possible? Cannot something be gained by living through the experience, carrying that burden?
Isn’t it possible there are some burdens that are valuable and rewarding experiences? That help us grow spiritually while at the same time assist or benefit others? Burdens that we assume willingly, with the full realization of rewards and/or consequences? Burdens that we carry with pride and joy in the knowledge that what we are doing is in sync with our inner goals?
Maintaining this sense of balance and perspective when considering the idea of "burden" does not lessen the significance of the Waite-Smith rendering. Yes, definitely. There are some burdens that are terrible to bear. Some we invite upon ourselves through our own carelessness, ego and/or impetuous desires. Still others are visited upon us.
But again, it is all about perspective and balance. Even the most terrible of burdens probably has some redeeming message or purpose. For better or for worse, they play a part as we shape our lives and make our journey. They can be a learning experience for us. They can make us more aware, more strong yet more sensitive and forgiving to others. They can do all these things, if we choose to treat them so.
So, is there a way to artistically portray this delicate balance…this perspective? Can both perspectives (and everything in between) actually be captured in one card?
Oh yes. And in the HJT and Transformational, Arnell did it twice.
First, look at the HJT card…this lovely dark-skinned woman. Every inch of her oozes serenity and calm. Upon her head, she carries the symbol of her "burden", the water jar. Note the perfect balance of her burden. Notice her posture and her stature. The jar is large and heavy, but this beautiful woman is fully capable of carrying it. Her ability does not negate the "heaviness" of the burden, merely that she has within her the capability of carrying it with, as Arnell says, "grace and dignity".
To glean further insight from this card, take note of the background behind this woman. Yes, there is a hint of the rocky land she currently inhabits, but the message that, just as there is a beginning to every burden, so also is there an end, is emphasized just beyond those rocky hills. The soft, soothing, cool tones of blue and violet in the horizon tell this woman that there is an end to that rocky, arid road. Awareness of that horizon keeps her moving onward; tells her to keep walking, to keep persevering and she will find that horizon and ultimately attain the wisdom awaiting her when she completes her mission and can finally lay her burden down.
Can such a perfect image be improved upon? Yes, it can. Turn now to the Transformational 10 of Wands.
Arnell obviously knew she had conceived and created a truly memorable rendering of the 10 of Wands because she chose to stay with the basic concept when she created the Transformational card. We have the same basic elements…the uninviting environment and a lovely woman with a heavy water jar balanced carefully upon her head. There are several factors that make this card even more of a success. First, the "wasteland" through which our young woman passes is much more vividly rendered. Look at the bleakness of the landscape, which is further emphasized by the colorations of beige and deep browns. Look at the skyline…the clouds sitting ominously low in the horizon.
By emphasizing the bleakness of the environment, Arnell has achieved a greater balance and contrast of hardship interposed with the serenity and dignity of the woman.
But even more important is the change in the woman herself. There are two very interesting changes to her. First, this woman is obviously much smaller in stature and more frail looking than that gorgeous, serene goddess-like woman in the HJT card. The result in the Transformational card is a woman whose strength is in sharp contrast to the size and heaviness of the burden she carries. The second interesting change is in the facial expression of the smaller woman. Gaze carefully upon her. Look at the lowered lids, the closed mouth that manages to convey weariness while at the same time exhibiting just the barest hint of a brave and resigned smile. Is she smiling to herself because she is experiencing a quiet joy in the carrying of her burden? Or, is she having a quiet laugh at herself for taking it on in the first place?
I can identify with both of those reactions…can’t you?
Why do I consider the Transformational 10 of Wands to be even more perfect than the HJT? Well, look again at the HJT card. Can anyone look at the woman and doubt for one moment that she will be able to successfully complete this part of her journey and bring her burden home? Can we even imagine her laying down that burden for even one single moment? Not her. She will win the day, that is for sure.
What makes the Transformational 10 of Wands the more "perfect" of the two is that it creates more visual tension. This woman is obviously in a bleak and unforgiving "land". The burden she carries is obviously heavy and a challenge for her to maintain. Yet, carry it she does. She carries it because she has to, OR because she has chosen to. But it is obviously a heavy load and we feel for her as well as identify with her because we all have had our heads bowed under the weight of our own personal burdens. That expression of quiet resignation and acceptance along with the tiny smile is unforgettable…and deeply familiar.
We look at this woman and recognize her in our friends, family and in ourselves. We see her expression in the faces of those who care for aging parents and the terminally ill. We see it in the faces of parents with children who are mentally or physically challenged. We see it when we look in the mirror during those dry stretches on our own path of life.
These two women -- notice they do not actually look to the physical horizon. They do not distract or tire themselves by scanning anxiously ahead. Instead, their eyes are downcast and lids are lowered. They do not need to look up because they are looking inward. They see, in their own mind’s eye, the spiritual horizon; that moment when all burdens are laid down, lessons learned and wisdom attained.
Dignity and grace under adversity, oppression or other burden are the keys to living the lessons of this card.
Can I Read with These Decks? A Discussion, A Story and An Answer
So, you have read this essay and now you have walked a brief time with Arnell Ando. You have begun to get a glimpse of the mind, heart and soul of the artist who created two incredibly beautiful sets of tarot. Some of the innermost parts of her life have been bravely and intimately exposed to you. These cards are beautiful, artistic, cohesive and have an elegance of thought, style and structure that is unforgettable. Many of the inner struggles Arnell faced would be difficult to admit honestly and openly to one’s own self. Arnell has done not only that, but has also chosen to share her experiences with us. A rare and supremely generous gift of self.
Which begs the question: If these two decks are so very personal to Arnell and her own spiritual journey, is it truly possible for anyone else to be able to use them, meditate upon their images, read with them and come even close to gaining the insight necessary to become one with the cards?
Well, I hope this essay has begun to allay those concerns, but you may have some remaining doubts. I can tell you this. If you can read with the Waite-Smith and Thoth decks and their many clones, you can read with Arnell’s decks. If you have read and enjoyed the books by Rachel Pollack and Mary Greer, then you can read with Arnell’s decks.
But most importantly, you can read with Arnell’s decks because she is like you…and like me. A fellow traveler. Finding her way along the winding roads, just like us, sometimes in the light of day, sometimes with only a lantern to lend a flickering light to guide our footsteps.
You have begun to glimpse Arnell’s journey. You have explored some of her fears, battles, joys and sorrows. Is her journey so different from ours? Are her experiences, challenges, and triumphs unique to her alone?
I think not. What’s more, I think you agree with me.
One of the miracles of this universe is that we spirits are intricately and inextricably woven together to form one shining web of souls that are never truly alone. What one small soul feels, so do we all feel. We are united in our quest for spiritual evolution, in our love for our fellow spirits and our reverence for the eternal magic of life. Although it may feel at times that we are utterly alone, this is never the case.
Take a moment and look at the Star Cards from the HJT and Transformational. And while you are meditating upon those images, let me tell you a story.
When I was a little girl, my family did a lot of genealogical work. I had heard a great deal about the huge databanks of information that were housed in Salt Lake City, containing the names of people going back hundreds of years. I was a fanciful child and for some reason, the idea of all these names being imprisoned in computer data banks filled me with horror. To me, it seemed nothing other than some enormous cemetery holding dead souls.
This precipitated a recurring dream that haunted and fascinated me for years. When I think of that dream now, it fills me with utter joy, but that is because I have finally gained an understanding of what it meant. And since the very first time I truly understood my dream, it has never returned.
This was my dream.
I would suddenly find myself walking in the warm moonless night, following a winding path through the trees until I came to the entrance of a cave. And entered.
The cave was cooler and dimly lit. There was a slight humming sound, so faint that I almost could not detect it. As I wandered through one chamber after another, the sound grew gradually louder until I found I could follow it easily. I noticed as I walked that the chambers, instead of going deeper into the ground, slanted upwards. I was climbing higher and higher.
At last, I came to a thick, solid wooden door with intricate carvings upon it and a faint glow escaping from the cracks around it. I wanted to leave, but couldn’t. Instead I found my hand reaching for the latch. I lifted it up and pushed open the door.
And my heart stopped in wonder.
The chamber I entered looked like a bubble suspended in the darkness of space. The huge walls before me were all of translucent black glass. When I looked down, the floor beneath my feet was also glass. As I wandered about the chamber, I noticed shining veins of silver and gold threading their way through the glass. These shining veins led to tiny pulses of bright light and then spun away to connect with others, and then others and then others.
It was a huge, shimmering web. The most immense, infinitely detailed thing I had ever seen. Not only that, it looked…alive.
I don’t remember everything. As many times as I have had this dream, I haven’t retained certain details. I know that, as I touched certain pulses of light, whole families of people would run through my mind. I saw grandparents, parents, children…all dancing around me. I saw people age and die and be born again. The humming I heard was the sound of millions upon millions of voices. A low song of life.
And then I heard a voice behind me. You can imagine my terror, being caught in a place like this where I knew I shouldn’t be. Behind me was a lady. Don’t ask me what she looked like because I can never remember. I only remember that her voice was kind.
I asked her what this amazing web was and she said it was the great family of souls. It was all of us. The great map of the universe. Then she asked me if I wanted to take my place and I said yes.
Suddenly I found myself rising toward the web, only now there was no glass and the threads stretched their way until they were a huge canopy over the sky. And still they stretched until they had left the earth behind. And still they stretched and laid themselves over the entire universe. The immensity of it is impossible to describe. The last thing I heard the lady say was "Behold, the great family extends unto the edge of forever".
Just as I felt myself dissolving and joining the other threads and pulses of light, I would awaken from the dream…heart pounding and eyes open wide.
Some of you may be scratching your heads and saying to yourselves, "Why, that is a beautiful dream, why the fear?" Generally speaking, children who have been mentally or physically abused feel safer when they are alone. The idea of being "joined" with something or someone is abhorrent. It is terrifying.
So, for years I had this dream. As a child it terrified me, as a youth it irritated me (we all want to be so different when we’re teenagers) and as an adult it intrigued me. It was only when I began to explore the tarot, Reiki, and meditation that I came to realize and understand that energy and souls are truly united in this vast magical web we call a universe.
I also started to understand that other people had the same "vision". Imagine my surprise when I read a book by Anne Rice where she describes a chamber housing the names of one woman’s "great family", a family going back several thousand years. She even called it "The Great Family".
Imagine my surprise when I first opened the Transformational Tarot and saw the spider webs. Imagine my surprise and elation when I first viewed Arnell’s Star Card.
Do you know why I don’t have the dream anymore? It’s because I can see the web in my mind all the time. All I have to do is close my eyes and it is there.
The miracle of the universe is in its infinite diversity. The joy of the universe is in its infinite commonality. We are all truly one. We are all brothers and sisters.
We form The Great Family.
So in answer to your unspoken question, can you read with Arnell’s tarot decks? Of course you can. Of course you can understand the images, mind. and heart of your sister soul. No matter how infinite the diversity of experience and evolution, the commonality of the heart brings us all together.
One suggestion that may help you. If you decide to embark on an odyssey with Arnell and her tarot cards, let her do some of the talking. What I mean is, how can you ever learn to understand something or someone if you are the one who is doing all the talking? Try listening. Try relating to her tarot cards by allowing their voices to come forth. Each card has one. Each has a story, an experience to tell.
We all have what Nina Braden calls our "mental decks". These are the layers of interpretation that we bring to every deck we encounter. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because it’s not. We all do it. I am only saying that, before you overlay your own interpretations on top of Arnell’s cards, let them speak first. Once you have a real conversation going, then you can add your own intuition to the mix.
More important than tarot meanings, you will then be bringing the experiences from your own personal journey to these cards. Your experiences and Arnell’s will mingle and join and create levels of "meaning" you may never before have considered.
And what will happen is that you will find your place in that great shining web.
Tarot is all about images. Mental and spiritual pictures attempting to be expressed on paper. So difficult really, the calling of the artist. Place this image in your thoughts. Think of Arnell’s two beautiful decks, the HJT (wild, untameable) and the Transformational (elegant, integrated, expert) as two lovely boats skimming across the waters. Beautiful little boats…lovely gossamer sails spread wide to catch each delicate breath of wind, carrying their passengers to the various "lands" of experience.
But as you, the traveler, use these beautiful little boats as your vehicles to explore your own islands of experience, stop and take just a moment. That special moment in time. Grasp the side of the boat, lean over and gaze into the endless depth and immensity of the water below you. There, in those inner waters, lie the beginnings of your own spiritual journey.
What is the tarot? A lovely magical tool to awaken our own abilities. To light the path of our own interior explorations.
They are: "L’Invitation au Voyage".
So, pick a card, any card. Dive in. The water is…perfect.
Vois sur ces canaux
See on these canals
Dormir ces vaisseaux The sleeping boats
Don’t l’humeur est vagabonde; That capriciously like to roam;
C’est pour assouvir ‘Tis to satisfy
Ton moindre desir Your slightest wish
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde. They have come from the ends of the world.
(from L’Invitation au Voyage--C. Baudelaire)
Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life. She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot. She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks. Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements. Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she plans to create a tarot deck sometime in the future, but is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.
Essay © 2000 Paula Gibby
Page © 2000 Diane Wilkes