Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Ten of Sticks — Tarot of the Absurd

Upright: hard work, great achievement, burden of responsibility, stress


The man in the image has harvested a crop that he has worked hard to grow. His goal has been achieved, but his responsibility has not lessened. The bounteous harvest is no easier to carry than the fields were to work. Lest he lose everything he has invested, he needs to move on to the next part of business and sell his ware. Unfortunately, there are not enough people to help him market the load. There is, perhaps, a more efficient way to accomplish his task than to do it all himself. Unfortunately, although he was quite inspired to create a boon of goods, he remains quite uninspired as to how to lighten his load. There are two main ways to go about it: (1) drop some (2) ask for help. Hopefully he does not turn full-face and make someone else do all the work.


*   *   *


When I lived in Fairbanks, AK, I biked everywhere, year-round. When I went shopping, I carried groceries home on my back. One time, I bought a bunch of groceries, loaded my bike, and then decided to check out what was on sale at the craft store. They were selling mis-measured picture frames for five and ten bucks each. So I bought a bunch of very fancy frames. Quite a few, really. Some were very very large.


Thus, my backpack was over-loaded with groceries, I had about eight picture frames tied to the outside of the bag, and I had a dozen eggs strapped to the top of the bike rack. I started to bike home through the snow. Only ten miles to go! I could do it. I knew I could. There was no doubt in my mind that I could do it. I’d carried heavier. I’d biked through deeper snow. I could do it.


Of course, I didn’t have to. There was nothing to prove to anyone. Not even to myself. I called a cab. It felt real good, calling that cab.

Monday, July 30th, 2012

9 of Sticks — Tarot of the Absurd

hidden enemies

The Nine of Sticks shows three camouflaged people battling with sticks amongst the trees. Are they fighting amongst themselves or grappling with a common enemy? How clearly do they see each other? How long has this been going on? Are they making headway or merely holding fast on the defensive?


The Nine of Sticks is about fighting it through to the end. The task at hand is almost complete— so close it seems as if it should be completed already.  Yet there is still more work. The work is perhaps more difficult than first imagined. There are unseen obstacles. Sometimes, such obstruction seems deliberate, as if hidden enemies wait around each corner or behind every tree. Try and try again. Be patient. Be resilient. Be vigilant and carry on. Some times, the greatest battle is the one that takes place in one’s own head.


*   *   *


I have dreams that I find a desk—
the sort with the front that swings open
to reveal cubbyholes and drawers
and within drawers there are partitions
and under the partitions there are boxes
and within the boxes there are divisions
each opened one after another because
inside there is something secret.
Each time I dream I find the desk
I am overwhelmed with excitement.
Nothing bad ever happens in these dreams.
No one ever finds me snooping.
I have no intent to take anything;
my only intent is to look
to find the last within-within.
The excitement is in opening one compartment
and finding another compartment to open.
There is nothing else.
There is nothing hidden but hiding places.
There is no enemy but that of waking up
before I find the ultimate within—

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Eight of Blades — Tarot of the Absurd

sticks rock and a hard placeUpright: isolation, restriction, limited awareness


Reversed: change of mind, new point-of-view, freedom


The man in the Eight of Blades feels trapped in isolation. This is understandable. He is up against a brick wall with swords pointed at him from every direction. His movement is restricted, his hands restrained. He is powerless. In such a situation, it is easy to feel victimized. The only solution— the only way to escape the situation— is to find one small light in the dungeon. This is the meaning of self-empowerment.


Perhaps the ropes are not tied so tightly as he thinks. Perhaps he can work his hands free and, with the freedom of his hands, remove the blades from his body one by one.


When we perceive our situation, we gain perceptive on it only from our past experiences. This is what makes us self-aware. Babies, born without self-awareness, become aware bit-by-bit. They experience all sensations for the first time: hunger, heat, cold, tummy-ache. They become aware of body parts: hands, mouth, feet, genitalia. After the initial excitement of awareness, we expect things to remain as they are. Our hands remain our hands. Our face remains our face. This frees us, in that it allows us to move on and become aware of other things: it is very difficult to notice anything else (It’s raining out. OR Something is burning on the stove!) if we are constantly excited by the existence of our own body. However, the expectation that things will remain as they are also becomes the ties that bind us tightest: we expect and even desire that things remain the same.


(The devil we know is safer than the devil we don’t know.)


When we feel that we are bound inescapably, we need to re-learn our self in order to gain freedom. What are my hands? What can they do? What can I do for myself? We need to be as eager to do things for ourselves as a child learning to walk, to feed itself and to get dressed. We have to be just as willing to look silly. We have to be just as proud of every achievement. We need to re-train our eyes to see any possibility that exists. We need to re-train our minds. Only then do choices become apparent. Only then does the possibility of freedom reveal itself.

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Justice — Tarot of the Absurd


heart feather scale


Justice represents justice, fairness, truth and the law. Justice resides within the ancient Egyptian concept of Ma’at, which contains the philosophies of truth, balance, order, law, morality and justice. Ma’at regulates the stars, seasons, and the actions and interactions of both mortals and the deities in order to prevent the universe from returning to chaos. Equilibrium is dependent upon Ma’at. Ma’at embraces all aspects of existence.


Ma’at is personified in the form of a goddess whose primary role in Egyptian mythology is that of weighing of souls of the dead on her balance scale. Those with good, pure-soul hearts that balance lighter than the feather of Ma’at go on to paradise. In other words, those of us who spend our lives upholding the concepts of Ma’at—  truth, balance, order, law, morality and justice— live happily in the ever-after. Maat is the application of Justice, not a list of rules.


Ma’at acquired her blindfold and sword and the name Justitia in Roman times. (Justice goes by many names.) The blindfold represents objectivity: Justice does not fear or favor; Justice does not heed big names or name-droppers; Justice does not fold before money or power. Justice has no weakness. She is blind and impartial to outside forces. Her double-edged sword may be wielded against either party in a dispute.


Ultimately, understanding of Justice differs in every culture— sometimes by a lot, sometimes by little. Culture is dependent upon shared mythology and history. A culture’s values reside in and are reflected within its notion of Justice. Thus, due to cultural difference, there is no universal concept of Justice. Indeed, her sword has not just two sides, but as many sides as there are peoples.



Entropy hangs fine:
universe on one side,
universe on the other.

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The Chariot — Tarot of the Absurd

Evangelists Matthew Mark Luke John


By means of will-power, self-assertion, control and determination, the charioteer drives his Chariot on a journey to victory. Any small slip in this control, any loss of direction, any show of overly-aggressive nature, and victory is lost. The eternal struggle to guide one’s own reigns— to control one’s own spirit— is what makes the self-driven strong. Be bold. Be confident. Have faith. Be the master of your spirited self.


This is the great journey: the journey of the spirit. This journey is the core focus of any religious faith. In Christian iconography, the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are frequently represented by the angel, lion, ox and eagle, respectively. These symbols originate from the four living creatures that draw the Chariot of God in the vision described at length in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapter 1)* and described more succinctly in the Book of Revelation (4.6-9ff).** Neither source specifically links the creatures to the Evangelists.


The meanings attributed to the symbols grew over centuries, as meanings will, culminating in three layers of representation: (1) the Evangelists, (2) the nature of Christ, and (3) the virtues required for salvation, i.e.: the completion of the journey of the spirit. Although the symbols are from Christian mythology, the ideas they represent are universal and can be summarized thus:


  • Matthew is symbolized by an angel. His gospel represents Christ’s human nature. It signifies that people should use reason for salvation.
  • Mark is symbolized by a lion. His gospel represents the courageous and royal nature of Christ. It signifies that people should be courageous on the path of salvation.
  • Luke is symbolized by a bull. His gospel represents Christ’s sacrifice, service and strength. It signifies that people should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to be saved.
  • John is symbolized by an eagle, believed to be able to look straight into the sun. The eagle represents Christ’s Ascension and heavenly nature. It signifies that people should look into eternity without flinching as they journey towards their goal of union with God.



In The Chariot of the Absurd, two beasts pull God’s flaming throne, one beast rides it, one beast is part of it’s structure, and the wheels have eyes all around. Where is God in all of this? Why, everywhere, of course: God is one name for the journey itself.



Book of Kells



*An excerpt from Ezekiel:


…as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar,

the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God…

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north,

and a great cloud, with brightness round about it,

and fire flashing forth continually…

And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures.

And this was their appearance:

they had the form of men, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.

Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot;

and they sparkled like burnished bronze.

Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands.

And the four had their faces and their wings thus:

their wings touched one another…

As for the likeness of their faces,

each had the face of a man in the front;

the four had the face of a lion on the right side,

the four had the face of an ox on the left side,

and the four had the face of an eagle at the back.

Such were their faces.

And their wings were spread out above;

each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies…

In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire,

…and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.

And the living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.

…I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures,

one for each of the four of them.

As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction:

their appearance was like the gleaming of a chrysolite;

…their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel…

The four wheels had rims and they had spokes;

and their rims were full of eyes round about.

And when the living creatures went beside them;

and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.

Wherever the spirit would go they went, and the wheels rose along with them;

for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.


**An excerpt from Revelation:


At once I was in the Spirit, and lo,

a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! …

And around the throne, on each side of the throne,

are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:

the first living creature like a lion,

the second living creature like an ox,

the third living creature with the face of a man,

and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings,

are full of eyes around and within,

and day and night they never cease to sing,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Page of Sticks — Tarot of the Absurd

Princess Wands Tarot

The Page of Sticks is a light-hearted free spirit who encourages change, exploration and discovery. Unburdened, she comes and goes as she pleases. A creative restlessness smolders within her, emerging as spontaneous sparks from her exploratory mind. With or without a plan, she will give anything a go. Her enthusiasm is impressive, though she does need to be careful to remain focused, lest she lose interest in the project at hand and ultimately waste her own time and the time of those she snared in her net of energy.


Ultimately, her passion for living life to the fullest leads her towards a greater understanding of the world. With persistence and balance, her understanding matures her to a person whose creative vision can change the world. However, if she is overly-aggressive, impatient, pessimistic, superficial, lazy, or refuses to co-operate with others, she is heading down a path where her greater understanding of the world will most likely be learned at the school of hard knocks.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

The World — Tarot of the Absurd


Fool World Tarot


How the Fool had a Grand Misunderstanding, Became Unblinded, and Learned to See the World


Initially, I wanted to illustrate the World through lack of illustration, the point being that the world is endless, its boundaries are indefinable, its existence is inescapable. Ultimately I decided not only would it be a very boring picture, it would be doomed to misinterpretation by people who take it to mean that I believe the world does not exist.


Nonetheless, the card remained illustrated through lack of illustration due to a lazy muse for many years. Then, many years after reading some general directions on playing the game of tarot, my muse struck (ouch!) via poor memory and misunderstanding the rules of the game.


A brief explanation of tarot gaming, via Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis, & Michael Dumett. A Wicked Pack of Cards: The origins of the occult tarot.


“All Tarot games are trick-taking games, in which the cards we have been calling ‘trumps’ indeed play the role of permanent trumps. A player who has the lead to the first trick… may play any card of his choice to the table. Subsequent players… must follow suit if they can, that is, play a card of the same suit as that led, or, if they cannot follow suit, must play a trump; they must play a trump if a trump was led. Only one who cannot follow suit and has no more trumps in his hand is free to play any card he likes. If a trick contains no trump card, it is won by the highest-ranking card of the suit led; otherwise, it is won by the highest trump played to it. The Fool or Matto does not count as a trump; it cannot win a trick, but by playing it the player is released from the obligation to follow suit or to play a trump. It is not normally captured with the trick to which it was played; the player from whose hand it was played takes it back and adds it to the cards he has won in tricks… The object of the game is not merely to win tricks, but to win points on the cards taken in tricks: different cards have different point-values, although all have some value. (The Fool has a high value.) These are only the basic principles…”


My misunderstanding was multi-fold:


Jessica Shanahan


Thus, via my Grand Misunderstanding, the Fool, when played, takes the World, but adds no value to it. “Brilliant,” I thought, “the Fool takes the World!”


Blinded, nothing makes sense. Unblinded, things fall into place and the Fool becomes one with the World and its situation. When the Fool gains vision, he sees that he is not the center of the World. Indeed, the World (as opposed to the Earth) has no center: it is an infinite unity that extends in all directions and encompasses all there is.


The World signifies completion, achievement and fulfillment. The Fool, unblinded, is able to see the system for what it is and understand his place within that system. Knowledge of the World implies a deeper understanding of one’s effect upon one’s environs and the environment, and the effect of one’s environs on one’s self. The World indicates a feeling of unity and wholeness. As things fall into place, and the Fool becomes ‘one’ with his situation. The Fool, no longer fooled, becomes an embodiment of the World.


Thus, the Fool takes the World.


Despite the fact that I misunderstood the rules, they are perfectly viable rules provided all players play by rule #1: players must agree upon the rules before commencement of the game.


The dog gains his bone and the Fool, unblinded, gains the World.




Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Four of Sticks — Tarot of the Absurd

Four of Wands


The Handshake


I met Willis in a bar in Fairbanks, Alaska.  We were both finalists at a  poetry slam and mutually curious of one other through the stories told by friends. “Will you live with me?” he asked. I don’t remember if there was prior conversation; he had not yet sat down at my table. I replied “yes” with little hesitation. Perhaps I took the question a bit more seriously than he had meant it.


I found a house for us: a giant, uninsulated box with a heater in one downstairs room and no running water. Pipes would never have survived. Two winters prior, four acquaintances of ours had lived there and nick-named it “The Icebox.” Three women lived upstairs and a man named Jon lived downstairs— for the most part— in the front room. Using “prostate issues” as his excuse, he pissed in apple juice jugs. When the jugs froze in his room, he left the juice-colored contents on the kitchen counter to thaw. Willis and I kept our bicycles in Jon’s old room. Both of us biked everywhere, year round. Due more to obsession than lack of money, neither of us owned cars.


When we moved in, there was an empty paper towel roll on the holder in the tiny kitchen. It is immortalized in the background of a photograph I took of Willis playing guitar in the dim light of the television. The empty tube remained until we moved out. Neither of us generated any trash to speak of.  Although we were similar in many ways, I will never know if he adored me half so much as I adored him or if he merely found me curious and unannoying. We seldom spoke. We never argued. I adored him.


It was in this house, in the large, unheated upstairs room, where I illustrated a good number of tarot cards. I worked in thick insulated camp boots, a hat, fleece pants over long-johns, a few long sleeve tops and a fleece jacket. My hands were cold. I was working on the Four of Sticks: agreement, contract, good communication, ceremony or rite, harmony, community. I did not want to illustrate a definitive celebration, such as marriage; I wanted to leave the context of the agreement open to interpretation. Thus, I settled on a handshake. Many deals have been sealed and many great things have been settled on a handshake.


As it was eleven years before I would live in a house with internet, reference was not easy to come by. I eschewed models. The handshake was giving me unusual trouble. I had been working on it for perhaps over an hour when Willis came home. I stood as he came up the stairs.


“Willis?” I called, hesitantly. Truly, we never spoke.


“What,” he said, and came into the room.


“Will you shake my hand?” I asked. He held out his hand and I took it (I touched him!). He looked at me curiously for the half-second it took me to examine the placement of our fingers. I let go, hoping it would be enough. “I need to draw a handshake,” I explained.


He grunted some understanding sound and went off to go about his business. I sat down immediately to draw before the image of our clasped hands faded from my mind. I need not have hurried; the mental image of that painfully shy, awkward moment remains forever burned into my retina.


Perhaps due more to his good graces than to mine, we lived harmoniously together and parted peacefully. We lived on that handshake: the Four of Sticks.

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Five of Sticks — Tarot of the Absurd

5 of wandsFives represent conflict and change. They were some of the most difficult cards for me to illustrate. Nearing the end of my deck illustration project (only two more years to go!), I was left with all four Fives (Five of Sticks needed to be highly revised), four Kings, four Knights, the Seven of Coins, the Eight of Blades, Seven of Sticks, the Two of Sticks, the Three of Blades and Judgment, with the Eight of Cups requiring some major revision.


I took this to mean that I had some underlying conflict with men.


After I realized that Judgment was my own, not that of some great angel coming down from above to pull me from my coffin, I then knew, too, that any broken heart was of my own doing and if I was to remove the blades it was to be done with my own hand. I drew the images: Judgment, Three of Blades.


Meanwhile, a friend’s husband (a.k.a. a friend) gave me the assignment of writing a profile for a personals ad. Online-dating-service, I guess they call them. Ho, hum. So I did. It was kinda silly. I’m really introverted, and probably my profile came across as kinda introverted, but I met a few men and learned who Knights are, so I drew all my Knights and the Eight of Blades.


A year later, my partner moved in with me. I drew the Seven of Sticks, then the Two of Sticks. I revised the Five of Sticks. I drew the Five of Coins. I drew the Five of Blades. I fixed up the Eight of Cups in celebration of my partner’s divorce. I drew the Five of Cups. I drew the Seven of Coins. I was quite pregnant. I drew the Kings: Sticks, Blades, Coins, and the grand finale, King of Cups. Then I had a baby.


*   *   *


I learned the Five of Sticks as a foolish battle, thus I drew fools, battling in a precarious balance, wearing impractical footwear and jesters’ caps. The battle is foolish because every one talks at once. The people might even be in agreement, speaking only with slight subtleties of nuance, but no one would know because no one is listening. They are all to self-important. The argument fails to move along.


We must learn to listen to each other and to listen to our own selves. What are we really saying? We kneed to accept the inevitable differences and channel our energy in a manner that turns competition into cooperation. Change is inevitable. We can work together to try to find a change that is perhaps not exactly what we wanted, but something we can accept and maybe, someday, even learn to enjoy.

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Four of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

4 of cups tarotWhen I first began illustrating this deck, I had no overall knowledge of the tarot deck. The cards seemed to all have random and varied meanings. I searched through one deck after another looking for cohesiveness. I couldn’t always see how the meaning of the card was depicted in the image, and many of the images within a single deck seemed incredibly similar. I was ignorant, of course. Sometimes wonderful new things come of ignorance. Other times, experienced people are just confused by the ignorance of others. I hope my deck contains more images which evoke the former sentiment (wonder) rather than the later (confusion).


When I finally came to understand this card, it meant boredom or dissatisfaction with the status quo. The women in the image are disengaged, apathetic, disappointed, and unmotivated. There is little that excites them. They have become withdrawn and sulky, stubborn, ungrateful and self-absorbed. They neglect the needs of others and think only of their own wounds.They are falling out of connection with society. They wallow in self-imposed isolation. They have dropped their glasses. Their psychiatrists have diagnosed them as depressed.


In order to overcome this situation, they need to be alert and open themselves to new experiences. It is time for them to turn inward & examine their own minds to find out what disturbs them and to gain clarity. Research and meditation may wake up their minds. Exercise, fresh air, and healthy food are also useful.


Do not let time slip away! Life is precious. Nurture it. Take note of every-day abundance. Notice what you have. Open your eyes and be thankful!