The Tarot Work of Arnell Ando - Essay by Paula Gibby
L’Invitation au Voyage (C. Baudelaire)
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!
Beautiful 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 make 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.