The Creative Process of Making a Collage Tarot Deck

Despite being an avid collector of Tarot decks over the years, I ultimately came to the realization that, while I greatly enjoy studying the many versions and seeing the often stunning work depicting the 78 cards, I was never going to find my 'one true deck' unless I made it myself. I didn't create my first deck with the intention of publishing it, but rather out of frustration with having to rely on other people's views of reality and morality. It was only after being inspired by supportive friends that I realized the possibility that my intimate portrayal of the Tarot might encourage others to follow their own creative process. I can't think of a more meaningful way to study the Tarot and make it your own. I have a great respect for the history of Tarot, however, variations on a theme can lead us to unexplored territory and expand our awareness.

It can be said that making my deck was a three year art therapy process. Creating a personal deck, such as this one, gave me the opportunity to put myself in each of the cards and reflect on how I felt, thought and reacted to the possibilities presented in the cards. I found it to be a wonderful vehicle for exploring my thoughts, feelings and beliefs. It's rather like a pictorial autobiography. Creating a deck allowed me to step outside myself and observe how I react to the challenges life offers me. Ego tends to lock us into one stubborn point of view, whereas when we view ourselves from the perspective of the cards, we can observe in a detached manner how we react and respond to the given circumstances. Change and an evolving awareness can happen quite naturally as we acknowledge the fears, desires, successes and failures with which we interact with.

One example of this was when I was able to contemplate the power struggles I had in my intimate relationships with men, and my own fears and repressed anger, through a series of recurring dreams. The dreams involved my childhood concept of the Devil and my own struggles with my sensuality and loss of control/power in relationships. In time, as I worked through my personal issues concerning power, sex and anger, my dreams also evolved and reflected my growing understanding of these issues. My Devil card portrays this shadow side of myself as 'Spider Woman,' and how I began to come to terms with my own sense of power. Several cards in my deck show different aspects of the Spider Woman archetype, which has been a key mythological image in my life. In the Star card, she is Spider Woman, Creator of the Universe. As in the Native American folk tale, she creates the universe and the stars are the dew sparkling from her intricate web. In my Eight of Coins card, she is depicted as using her innate skill of weaving to support her monetary independence. Studying the cards and what they represent to us can enable emotions and experiences to move through us while we come to the realization that they do not encompass us.

Working with collage afforded me the excuse to indulge in my obsession with collecting second-hand art and mythology books, magazines, greeting cards, and textured papers. I enjoy exploring the infinite amount of archetypal imagery that can be found in art as well as commercial work. With collage, familiar depictions of art and myth are distorted and arranged in unfamiliar surroundings which can alter the meaning and trigger fresh insights and associations to the cards. For example, Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (1480) is a cherished art work which portrays an idealized image of woman as the 'Goddess of Love.' Venus is one of the powerful myths that pervades the American and European culture and influences our personal view of woman. In my deck, I have two distinctly different versions of Botticelli's Venus. In one she is depicted as a streetwalker (Venus energy reversed) and in another she is portrayed as the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of the Great Mother and protector; welcoming the hungry, tired and politically exiled to her safe haven (at least in theory). I came to understand my own symbolic code for the archetypes represented in Tarot by working with collage.

I strongly identify with the paradox of destroying in order to create, which is inherent in the collage medium: the taking that is also a giving back. Collage is also the perfect medium for expressing the metaphor of individuation. We are influenced by our surroundings; we absorb and take it all in, but because of our own individual, accumulated experiences we express a unique and somewhat altered view, just as we do in collage.

As I worked with the archetypal imagery inherent in creating a deck, my dreams became more powerful and memorable. For example, while I was working on the Death card, I had a dream that I was sitting at the edge of my grandparents' pond and my skin was coarse, scaly and reptilian. It began to crack and peel off. I took a knife and sliced a piece of the new skin underneath and held it up to the sunlight. I could see connect-the- dot-like pictures created by the pores in my skin. Each layer of skin had a different picture; a house; a flower; simple symbols. Enthusiastically, I showed these to my sister who was sitting nearby. She said they were wonderful, but only because she thought I created these intricate patterns myself. When she realized they were natural, she was unimpressed and didn't find it at all remarkable. Although it's difficult to express the impression of this dream in words, it gave me a different view of the Death card: namely, the reptile shedding its skin to find its true essence beneath the armor, finding the art in nature, the natural destruction necessary in order to create, being inspired by the symbols and hidden messages in everyday occurrences, the layers of truth and understanding, the critical side of myself that remains outside and is unimpressed with my natural abilities. These are all issues that I was grappling with while I was making the Death card and this dream had a powerful impact on how I interpreted this card and came to terms with these issues.

Many unexplainable synchronistic occurrences also led me to re-evaluate my understanding of the cards as well as myself. I also observed my outer reality often reflected the experiences depicted in the cards I was working on. For example, while working on my Two of Swords card, I was struggling with my own fear which was immobilizing me to escape from a destructive relationship. As I placed the image of a 'damsel in distress' onto this card, a real spider walked across my Two of Swords, giving me a message of hope and inner guidance. This experience may seem minor and may even have gone unnoticed if I was not focused on working on moving beyond destructive patterns in my life. Synchronicity is a personal code of interpreting the symbolic language, and, since I identify with the spider archetype, I took this to be a sign and added the spider image to this card. It really reinforced the feeling that I was tapping into some mysterious force that is greater than even my imaginations could fathom.

I'm still an avid collector, but creating my Tarot deck has spurred me to find other methods to explore its meanings. Presently I am working on a long term project in which I'm making symbolic representations of the cards in various art forms such as clay, wood, cloth sculpture and collaged objects. Here again I'm taking the essence of what the cards represent to me and putting another spin on it. I have found this to be a very liberating process. I get wonderful insights and I am inspired by other decks, but ultimately I have found it more meaningful to explore what the cards represent to me on a personal level by means of the creative process.

Arnell Ando