Seven of Swords Uses Mental Strategy for Gain at All Costs

The Seven of Swords is a card that can evoke tact, stealth and even manipulation in order to achieve a goal. These matters are often the domain of the mind as opposed to the heart so morality can fall by the wayside during the events of the Seven of Swords. Such is the case with our protagonist Ash Gravedust. Here, we find him giving in to the terror of his impending problems and deciding his best course of action is to protect himself from his spectral assailants by any means necessary. Thus, he chooses to repay Alexis’ trust and kindness by stealing her enchanted sword in the night, leaving her defenseless to the marauding forces of the Swords Kingdom.

The Path of Mental Manipulation

Of course, the Seven of Swords isn’t always about such obvious underhandedness. Sometimes, pacifistic measures and charm succeed where straight out guile fails. For example, Ash’s charm and charisma are solely responsible for so quickly gaining Alexis’ trust. Whether through deceit, glamour or diplomacy, the Seven of Swords will always find the subject choosing to use the mind to settle a problem instead of any type of physical action. Ash has never been so far from his heart as he is in this card but, as emotions fade, the cold, clinical powers of the mind amplify. There are no feelings of guilt or clouds of conscience to confuse Ash. He is singularly focused on his survival and his survival alone.


The Mind Fully Eclipses the Heart in the Seven of Swords

There’s a deep sense of moral ambiguity in the Seven of Swords which can be hard for some people to surmount but for Ash, deceit is a well-worn path. This situation is slightly different in that he is typically betraying fellow scoundrels and not heroic teenage girls who saved his life but, as mentioned before, his focus is undistracted by emotion at this point in his journey. Instead, he feels the looming presence of his worst nightmares and wants to be certain he’s armed and ready if they should find him. While we’ve been watching Ash’s journey unfold on a physical level, the truth is that his actions have not deviated from those of his past. He may have contemplated new paths and momentarily put his fate in the hands of others but he has done nothing selfless; nothing that deviates from his own focus of self-preservation. After considering alternate routes to a solution, it can be sad as a spectator to watch Ash so easily fall back into his system of selfish dishonor. But Ash feels none of this sadness. For people who often act with integrity, however, the Seven of Swords can be a troubling point of compromise. It is also often a point of flight from devious action and, sure enough, upon thieving Alexis’ sword, Ash retreats into the night. While Alexis is now alone, asleep and defenseless, he is staying ahead of his ghosts and he’s armed should they find him. In his mind, this is all that matters.

Spirits in the Material World

In my rendition of the Suit of Swords, I wanted to make sure to use the traditional Japanese symbol of the torii gate. It appears twice within my Suit of Swords; initially in the Seven of Swords and again in the Nine of Swords. The torii is often regarded as a symbolic entry point to a sacred area but can also mark the crossing point between the physical and spiritual world. Here we find a somewhat corrupted version of a torii comprised of a series of swords. On the one hand, it is representative of the sacred space that Alexis occupies and that Ash is so callously violating. On another level, it’s a focal point of Ash’s fears as his nightmares are coming into his physical reality through the spiritual (or even mental) world. The torii serves as a reminder that Ash’s ghosts are solid and can bring him pain on physical, mental and emotional levels. So, in the Seven of Swords, the torii illustrates the catalyst for Ash’s dishonorable actions as well as the depth of the dishonor itself.

The Creation and Destruction of the Swords

A series of familiar swords are used in the construction of the torii. We see the image of Ash’s sword before it was shattered by Zombie Red, the eye-of-the-hurricane sword, the symmetrical snowflake sword with icicle handle first witnessed in the Six of Swords, and Zombie Red’s sword of fear and doubt. However, we’re also introduced to a scimitar with a guard fashioned to look like the spread wings of a vulture and a handle alluding to a gust of wind. Not only are these echoes of the air element but also reinforce the symbols of death associated to the vulture. We also get our first look at another sword that’s been used to impale a defenseless snowman. This sword finds a blade fashioned to resemble a lightning bolt extending forth from a dark storm cloud guard and wind gust handle. There’s a bitterness to the lightning bolt blade rammed through the silent snowman in that quiet deception is being favored over illuminating honesty and truth, which lightning symbolizes. Lightning also symbolizes creative destruction which could be a symbol for those seeking creative power at the cost of a few bridges.


Snowmen of Deceit

The snowmen pictured here are symbols of deceit as well as foreshadowing to threats of future cards in the Suit of Swords. Unlike the vandalized snowmen of the Six of Swords, these snowmen are devoid of mouths to allude to silence, deception and hidden motives. Their arms have been chopped off, leaving them as defenseless as Alexis, who is sleeping in the cold, icy ground just before them, separated by thick clumps of thorny tendrils. These snowmen are victims of the Page of Swords who delights in sadistically playing with sharp objects at the expense of the soft powdery effigies.

Fright Night

In the foreboding, gathering clouds above a haunted manor in the distance, we see the ghastly faces of Zombie Red and the lesbian spectres that pursue Ash. This image was strongly inspired by the movie poster for the 1985 film Fright Night. While Ash is far from the days when his fear immobilized him, it is still a motivating factor in his base actions as the ghosts that cloud his mind terrorize him into the focused, clinical action of the Seven of Swords.

As a reminder of Ash’s most recent betrayal, the borders of the Seven of Swords feature weasels. In Native American mythology, weasels are regarded as providing the medicine of stealth which Ash employs to steal Alexis’ sword before silently fading away into the night. At the corners of the illustration, we find Ash’s previously destroyed sword clashing with Alexis’ sword as a symbol of his betrayal


Six of Swords Restrains Our Obstacles with Thorns and Allows Us to Move

The Six of Swords offers a snapshot of Ash Gravedust on his new path, following Alexis Montclaire, a teenager who became a precocious master of the sword by fending for herself in the harsh environment of the Kingdom of Swords. Ash is following Alexis down the winter road, a cold and treacherous path purified by the fallen snow. The Six of Swords doesn’t so much present Ash in a moment of repose as it shows a careful sense of peace in his movement forward. His mind has had time to process his brutal near-death defeat and recognize that he cannot defeat Zombie Red on his own. If only for a moment, Ash can leave behind his fear and terror as he focuses on his new path. This is represented by the haunted house that, while still looming, is now behind Ash and Alexis.


The Relief of a New Way

When we’re confronted by a daunting problem or a personal nightmare, we can find ourselves paralyzed and haunted by indecision. The moment we recognize a new method of meeting this challenge, a sense of relief washes over us. The problem still exists and will certainly challenge us as we move to overcome it. Simply having a direction for our action can bring relief. This clarity is illustrated in the Six of Swords. Twisted, thorny branches and twigs ensnare the swords that would torment Ash, allowing him safe passage on the soft, snowy path.

The Soft Yet Frigid Winter Road of the Six of Swords

Though the path is more obvious, there are clear signs that Ash isn’t exactly moving forward into celebratory times. For one, he is disarmed, having lost his sword in his failed attack on Zombie Red. Now he must put his faith in Alexis and, even now, he eyes her sword with a sense of longing mixed with trepidation. It is clear, however, that the path of her sword is the only path worth walking. Vandalized snowmen seem to call out desperate warnings to Ash and Alexis. Each of these effigies has been run through with a sword, a calling card of the sharp tongued youth, the Page of Swords. Despite the relative calm of the Six of Swords, these snowmen serve as cautionary reminders of the challenges awaiting Ash as he moves further up the distinct winter road. Even the winter road itself is at once harsh in its nurturance. The snow is soft but frigid, the trees that hold back the swords are lined in thorns that care not who they prick.


Holding Back the Blizzard

The borders simply reinforce the theme of the card holding back Ash’s threats long enough for him to process and move forward. The corners show the thorny twigs restraining Zombie Red’s sword, representative of doubt and fear. Likewise, dead leaves line the border, representing the passing of seasons, the movement associated with time, the patterns and cycles of life (and death) that Ash is coming to understand, and the need to let go and continue forward, no matter how bitter the weather.


Five of Swords Smashes Us Against a Dead End While Showing a New Path

A lot of tales would have us believe that simply confronting our challenges is enough. However, in reality, sometimes we give a situation our best shot and still end up losing. The Five of Swords finds Ash Gravedust stepping out of the temporary protection of the Four of Swords to face his tormenter, the menacing Zombie Red, only to be mercilessly bested. In life, Ash had been a more skilled fighter than Ryuichi, but since being resurrected by the Virulent Red virus, Zombie Red trained relentlessly with a singular focus on the day when he would meet his former partner once again. The Five of Swords would inevitably be the end for Ash if not for the intervention of Alexis Montclaire, the teen scourge of the Sword Kingdom. She is seen approaching the fallen Ash with sword drawn, eyeing the gloating Zombie Red. In this story, Alexis is a defender of the underdog, often battling the rigid (and at times oppressive) House Swords. The decaying remains of several Sword Knights litter the yard of this card’s haunted house; reminders of previous battles with Alexis.


The Accidental Suicide Mission

After the recuperation period of the Four of Swords, we may be tempted to look again at our frightening, looming problems and decide to attempt to finish it all in one go. Possibly this is still a residual fear reaction or maybe it’s a sudden surge of over confidence. Admittedly, this ominous problem will not go away on its own and must be addressed but, in the case of the Five of Swords, it’s going to take more than one pass to overcome. The results of the immediate failure can range from humbling to outright humiliating. Ash recognized an inferior opponent in his former partner but is unceremoniously cut down. The card shows slashes across Ash’s face and a look of shame as he averts his gaze from the wickedly triumphant Zombie Red.

A Loss with Consequence

This is also a loss with a fairly major consequence for Ash. In battling Zombie Red, he is disarmed and the Five of Swords depicts the moment when the undead assassin shatters Ash’s enchanted sword. The shattering of Ash’s sword represents crumbling truths. Ash is out of practice with honesty, having lived his life as both the traitor and the betrayed. Therefore, Zombie Red’s sword of doubt and fear ultimately overcomes Ash’s weaker sword of truth.


The Overwhelming Truth in the Five of Swords

Losing is important. Making mistakes is important. These are the moments when avenues we’ve never considered become possibilities, new opportunities come into play and we really find ourselves. Truth doesn’t always come through strife but this is often how it appears to us in the Five of Swords. Just as Ash has violently thrown himself against his own demise and all seems lost, Alexis arrives. Though it is not depicted in the card, it is implied that Alexis uses her own sword of truth (a mirror of Ash’s) to momentarily defeat Zombie Red. Alexis is representative of a new path opening to Ash; one that he may have been too proud to take before. It’s important to note that Ash decides to follow Alexis after he is saved from imminent danger. He could continue to run and hide or he could try to face Zombie Red again (though this would almost certainly be his final mistake). It’s not fear that finds him casting off his pride and deciding to follow a teenage sword prodigy into the snowy hills of the underworld. It’s a genuine recognition that she has what it takes to defeat his adversary and he doesn’t.

The Futility of a Locked Door

The haunted house featured in the Five of Swords prominently displays a lightning bolt in keeping with the running theme in the Suit of Swords of illumination to the truth and destruction to make way for creation. Lightning dramatically touching down from the skies reinforces this theme. However, this haunted mansion is unlike the others featured in my Suit of Swords in that it features intricate patterns of bars over the stained glass windows and a steel locking vault door as its main point of entry. This is meant as a rejoinder of the necessity to seek out a new path because this haunted house, locked tight and surrounded by mountains of ice, is a dead end.

The borders are marked with a labyrinthine design leading to a lock in the center showing no immediate solution to a major problem without first doing the work, obtaining the key and choosing the right path. At the corners, the remnants of Ash’s sword are shattered against a cracked background.

Four of Swords Provides Reprieve in the Eye of a Mental Storm

Collecting oneself in the midst of a mental maelstrom can be vital to eventually facing our challenges with confidence and focus. In this way, the Four of Swords is sort of the eye of the storm, allowing Ash Gravedust a moment of reprieve from the demons that torment him. We find him slumbering as soundly as one can in hell, protected by a ring of salt and four swords. One of the many haunted houses of his underworld journey looms ominously over him, reminding us that his respite is not a permanent solution. At some point, he will have to exit that protective salt circle and face the nightmare once again.


Ash’s Salt Sanctuary

Naturally, the trauma and emotional exhaustion of the Three of Swords has found Ash needing a period of recuperation which is what the Four of Swords is about. Many religious tales recount the purifying qualities of salt which Ash has used to form the protective ring that almost acts like a bubble, guarding him from the harshness of the underworld for the night. Here he finds the time to properly reflect on his encounters with Zombie Red and the lesbian love spectres and potentially begin to formulate a course of action. The salt ring is further reinforced by swords; one of which is his own.

Defective Komainu Just Beyond the Border

It can be difficult to find moments of stillness and silence amidst a particularly chaotic and confusing moment in our lives but it is in that stillness that we find the focus and inspiration to move forward. As Ash rests his body and mind, the chaos waits just beyond the salt circle. To present the chaos, I used a series of symbols that are themes throughout my entire Suit of Swords. While this is the second appearance of the defective komainu (or foo dogs), this is the first encounter with real prominence. The komainu statues were actually believed in Asian cultures to have the power to guard a domicile from evil spirits. Typically, one komainu statue has an open mouth while the other has a closed mouth. This is meant to convey one komainu speaking the first letter of the alphabet in Sanskrit while the second komainu is speaking the final letter as a representation of the alpha and omega. One mouth opens to catch the spirit, the other closes to contain the spirit. However, both of these komainu are frozen with mouths wide open, allowing free passage for the dark spectres of the underworld.

The Cracked and Penetrated Sanctity of a Haunted House

As with every house in my Suit of Swords, the ominously looming house in the Four of Swords is deeply haunted. The home is often a symbol of sanctity for people. For many of us, it is the place where we can most easily relax into our true selves. It’s a salvation from the harsh winds. A haunted house, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. For me, the haunted house became the best representation of a disturbed mind. These houses are haunted by phantoms of doubt, confusion, fear, regret and even guilt. All of the thoughts that make you lose sleep at night haunt the houses of my Swords Suit. However, in the Four of Swords, Ash has a moment’s reprieve from their grotesque harassment. The lightning bolt is worked into the design of this haunted house (as with many in my Suit of Swords) to re-establish illumination of the truth and themes of destruction in the name of creation.


An Important Reoccurrence of the Hurricane Sword

Another sword is introduced in my Four of Swords illustration. This sword has a simple grip, a black crystal pommel, and a guard that is actually fashioned from the blade itself to resemble a primitive vulture skull, once again recalling the symbolism of the carrion bird. This sword’s symbolism is not directly tied to the Four of Swords but is more applicable to the suit as a whole. However, the hurricane sword that made its first appearance in the Three of Swords has no stronger relation than to the Four of Swords due to the “eye” of the storm; observing a situation from a momentary respite.

The borders feature simple masks similar to those seen in the Two of Swords although the masks in the Four of Swords have their mouths covered as opposed to their eyes. This is a reminder of the need for silence in this time. However, the truths processed in that silence may be painful so the masks are once again shedding tears. In the corners, swords join together to contain a hurricane with a literal eye staring forth from its center, observing and processing before the harsh winds return.

Three of Swords Aims for the Heart with Betrayal and Loss

When I was learning tarot, I was taught that the Three of Swords primarily signifies tragedy. My teacher, who I considered a very skilled reader and a spiritual master in general, displayed a distinct aversion to the Three of Swords that she didn’t show to any other card in the tarot. For her, it signaled that a dramatic loss was possible; one that could even result in mourning. Through my own research, I came to recognize themes of betrayal linked to the loss in the Three of Swords. Personally, I’ve always associated betrayal to sexual or romantic aspects of my life and I wanted to convey that sense of sexuality along with pain and brutality. Here, we are introduced to another pair of spectres in the afterlife of Ash Gravedust: his estranged wife and the woman with whom she fell in love. While the image clearly depicts Ash responding in a jealous homicidal rage, this action is contained within the spirit world. Ash did not actually murder his wife or her lover. In fact, he didn’t even know that his wife was engaged in a lesbian love affair behind his back until this moment. It’s a bit like A Christmas Carol except Ash is being haunted by a reality left in his wake. Even prior to his death, his wife was driven to explore her true desires and Ash is left ineffectually stabbing at demonic mirages that feed off of his devastation. Though it was Ash’s shortcomings as a partner that eventually resulted in his wife finding pleasure in the arms of another, he is left baffled and victimized in a private hell while the reanimated corpse of his former bounty hunting comrade, Zombie Red, delights in licking the blood from the blade on the other side of the wall.


A Personal Intensity Bleeding into the Three of Swords

The Three of Swords is easily one of the most intense cards (if not the most intense card) I’ve illustrated. As my life often parallels my work on the tarot, I feared something major could happen…a death or something. But while I was working on this card, my marriage came to an end. This card doesn’t remind me specifically of that time; its imagery is tied to far too many personal feelings and experiences that have stretched across my life. But that energy of grief and pain, of a partnership collapsing, bleeds into the watercolors and ink of my Three of Swords.

The Death Spectrum

There is an intense moodiness in the Three of Swords but I felt two distinct types of moodiness; the stormy cold blue of grief and the burning hot red of passion. When something beautiful dies, you see a full spectrum, all of the highs and lows as the lights go out into permanent darkness. Here, I juxtaposed the red intensity of emotion in the room of the haunted house as a symbol of the heart. Outside is the cold reality. Ash’s sword is violently puncturing the red room, the heart, leaving it vulnerable to that cold blue world that will soon consume it.

What Once Was Living Now is Dead

Stormy winds blow red, dead leaves across the harsh landscape like droplets of blood. Zombie Red is crouched beneath a dead tree, a reminder that what was once so full of life is now dead. The spectres that have adopted the images of Ash's wife and her new lover are in a strange state. Mesmerized by sexual desire with fanged mouths open in soft moans, they seem to not even notice the trinity of swords piercing their hearts. Yet, tears spill from their white eyes as a ghost tribute to tragedy.

To Crumble Inelegantly

The Two of Swords presented a problem that Ash had to face but couldn’t through his sense of shock. Here, that problem intensifies and explodes into a burst of revelation. Reality can only be ignored for so long. Ash’s response is frenzied and far from elegant as he stabs through the spectres that somehow emit wild ecstasy and a deep sense of the forlorn. Hot tears spill from Ash’s eyes as he recognizes the truth, the consequences of his life. His paralysis is gone but his action is to dramatically shatter. The Three of Swords is a reminder that our actions have consequences and that our shadows don’t disappear when we ignore them but often instead build inertia and power. Ash’s wife is not to blame. His choices resulted in neglect so she found sexual infatuation in another and that sexual infatuation turned into love. The silver lining of this very black cloud is that with Ash released from his illusions, he can feel enough pain to finally take action. In his case, it’s still a long, painful road.


Symbols of Lust Eroding Stagnant Love

With the Three of Swords being such a pinnacle of emotion for me, I found it easy to work in several relevant symbols. At the top right corner, a cobra chandelier decorates the haunted house inhabited by the lesbian spectres. Here, the chandelier references illumination while the serpentine design alludes to betrayal. A vase of anthurium flowers stands on a dresser behind Ash and the spectres. Anthurium are heart shaped, poisonous flowers with a phallic spadix and vaginal spathe (I won’t connect the dots any further than that). The dresser itself features ornamental vulture skulls. Being a bird, the vulture is an agent of the air element but is also distinctly a carrion feeder, attracted to death. The handles of the dresser are the first appearance of the komainu. The komainu appear in three cards of my Swords Suit and are each time defective. Komainu, or foo dogs, were used to guard houses from evil spirits. I’ll go into greater detail about this trait of the komainu in the Four of Swords but for now, I’ll point out that the ring in the mouths of these komainu dresser handles are preventing them from protecting this house from evil spirits. The haunted centerfold portrait adorning the walls of the lesbian spectres is one of my favorite aspects of this illustration. The white-eyed centerfold represents the essence of sexual seduction and the perspective of resulting corruption. She is directly tied to personal childhood nightmares and sexual awakenings I had in the ‘80s. Her vagina, often associated with the creation of life, is replaced by a deep red coffin with an inverted cross, creating a juvenile allusion to the vandalism of sacred feeling. This portrait taunts Ash, a symbol that feelings of love were easily washed away by perverse fantasy and lust. This is not to say that I believe there is anything perverse or abnormal about lesbianism. Instead, it’s meant to show Ash’s unrealistically sweet impression of his wife as she gives in to a longing he never knew, one that corrupts his fantasy vision of her. As she receives new heights of pleasure from another woman, Ash ineffectually stabs at them with his sword and they take no notice.

Further Swords in Service to the Air Element

Two new sword designs are introduced into this illustration that relate more to the overall themes of the Suit of Swords than to the specific themes of the Three of Swords. One of the swords has a stylized guard that resembles a hurricane, a symbol of adversity and confusion in that it spins in circles. A literal eye is placed at the center of the storm, a reference to seeing the truth through deception, despite the pain it may bring. This pain is further reinforced through a tear pouring from the eye. The symbol of the air element is on the grip of the sword. A second sword features a guard of metallic bat wings that descend into a whirling cyclone guard. Again, the bat is an air agent representing themes of death, rebirth and the need to let go of things in our past that no longer serve us. The cyclone guard, like the hurricane guard, references dizzying mental confusion and challenges.

The border depicts breaking ashen hearts to remind us of perspectives of emotional treason that Ash is feeling as he begins to comprehend his consequences. The corners depict Zombie Red’s sword of fear and doubt plunging through a heart.


Two of Swords Pits Uncomprehending Paralysis Against Rigid Control

While the Two of Swords typically shows an individual blindfolded and numb to a reality that they don’t want to accept, I chose to show Ash Gravedust instead clashing swords with eyes open wide to a reality he is failing to comprehend. If he were able to process what’s standing before him, the horrifying possibilities of Ash’s afterlife would be introduced through this encounter with his former bounty hunting partner, Ryuichi Mishima, the infamous Zombie Red.


The Gardens of Hell Are Lined with Poison Ivy

Like Ash Gravedust, Zombie Red is actually plucked from deep within my mythology, having made appearances in a comic book I was writing as a kid. In those days, his origin story was largely the same as it is here, inspired by a physically and psychologically excruciating bout of poison ivy that I personally endured. For weeks, my eyes were swollen and itchy and a red rash covered me from head to toe, barely soothed by numerous baths of oatmeal and scrubbing with lye soap. It got so bad that my mother took me to a doctor who prescribed me a steroid to help my body fight the effects of the poison ivy. Yet, after almost disappearing, it returned with a vengeance. Baffled by the dramatic resurgence, the doctor told me I was psychologically manifesting the outbreak. During this time of discomfort bordering on outright torture, I recognized how agony could be used to mentally twist somebody; a theme that I’d found disturbing since childhood but now experienced firsthand. It seemed the constant itching and physical shame were warping my mind into something miserable and cruel. I felt abandoned by humanity, isolated in my relentless irritation.

Virulent Red Transforms Ryuichi Mishima into Zombie Red

Ryuichi Mishima was initially a bounty hunter who partnered up with Ash Gravedust but was abandoned on a planet after contracting a virus called Virulent Red. Ash believed that he was leaving his partner to die an excruciating but inevitable death. However, he was ignorant of the nature of the virus, which actually killed his partner and reanimated him while retaining his memories. The result was Zombie Red, an undead husk with red swollen eyes and constantly itching skin, cracked bleeding lips and a burning hatred for the former partner who left him to his fate. Zombie Red will haunt Ash throughout the Suit of Swords but the Two of Swords is Ash’s first confrontation with the partner he failed. While Ash is shocked into disbelief, the undead Mishima is calmly smiling, feeling that he has the upper hand.

Paralysis and Chosen Ignorance is at the Center of the Two of Swords

While the Two of Swords typically incorporates a person who chooses blissful ignorance to a looming problem, Ash isn’t exactly ignoring the issue. He’s just too paralyzed by shock and horror to adequately handle it. Normally a skilled fighter, Ash is instead only able to defensively block an introductory sword slash from Zombie Red. Surprise and confusion has found Ash’s skill abandoning him and though his sword is defending him from physical damage, he is too stunned to actually save himself. However, Zombie Red is not at this point trying to murder Ash. Rather, he’s dreamt of nothing but vengeance in his itching, frenzied state of madness and is enjoying toying with his former partner before he carries out his revenge in full. If anyone understands control, restraint, and even pleasure delay, it is the abomination known as Zombie Red. Thus, while Ash is locked in a stalemate, Zombie Red has the advantage of awareness.


The Paralysis of Disbelief Must Eventually Give Out

The result of the Two of Swords is a precarious balance that will likely tip in favor of the ignored problem quickly. Ash is having trouble not only processing the resurrection of a dead partner but also recognizing his own role in the agonizing final moments of Ryuichi Mishima. The confrontation takes place within a haunted house with a window looking out on yet another haunted house with storm clouds gathering ominously above it. A few symbols are worked into the haunted house in the distance such as the metal bat atop a spire. In Native American medicine cards, the bat is symbolic of death and rebirth or a need to let go of an aspect of oneself. This can include old beliefs and tired philosophies. Bats are also tied to the element of air. The insignia of an eye glows in neon pink from the roofing of the haunted house. Here, the eye is a signal to open one’s eyes to face disturbing truths.

Zombie Red’s Sword of Doubt and Fear

The Two of Swords also introduces us to Zombie Red’s sword which is much different than Ash’s sword. The blade itself is curved with the guard fashioned to resemble a closed eye with razor lashes. This shows the shadow qualities of the Suit of swords; deception, confusion, fear and an inability to accept the truth. Zombie Red is an agent of Ash’s fears and doubts and his blade aptly reflects this in its grip and pommel, crafted to resemble the vertebrae and skull of a rabbit. In Native American medicine cards, rabbits symbolize the tendency for people to attract problems through fear addiction. The ribbons at the end of the rabbit skull pommel further allude to the floppy ears of a rabbit.

The Rigid Restraint of Leather

Though not a unique symbol to the Two of Swords, it’s also worth noting the bondage gear that adorns Zombie Red. This is a window into his masochistic, highly restrained nature. Zombie Red is marked by a militant sense of control and self-discipline with his leather suit preventing him access to the majority of his virulent rash and thus depriving him of any relief. This is also symbolic of his closed off, rigid focus. As he represses any means of soothing his irritation, his mind is further steeped in madness with one outlet: the death of Ash Gravedust. This singular sense of control is very in line with the themes of the Swords.

The border is punctuated with blindfolded masks that each shed a single tear. These masks are reminders of those unwilling to face necessary, yet painful truths despite being aware deep down of a growing problem. The corners depict a stalemate clash of Ash’s and Zombie Red’s swords.


Ace of Swords Presents a Call to Adventure… and Challenge

The Suit of Swords is possibly one of the most difficult projects on which I’ve worked but I recognized this early on, before I’d even drawn a single line. The Swords deal with matters of the mind, often exploring challenging themes and disturbing elements that we’d rather ignore than face. Perhaps more so than in any of the other Suits, the Swords deal with fears and doubts. Immersing oneself in the Season of Swords can be a cold, isolating experience.

Caught on the Winds of the Season of Swords

I knew that the Swords would be challenging but what followed were some of the most difficult moments in my life. I was caught off guard by the end of my 7-year marriage, saw one of my greatest inspirations and a lifelong hero David Bowie die, voted unsuccessfully against the ascendance of a political administration more disgusting than any I could have imagined possible. I dreaded working on the Swords Suit knowing that my life often absorbs the essence of these cards as I work on them, drawing uncanny parallels. Yet, I felt its frigid currents blowing through my life and knew ignoring them would be much worse. Shortly following the loss of Bowie but prior to the nightmare of November and the personal devastation of December, I began to actually draw the Ace of Swords…and so began the stirring of those winds that would eventually blow away the ashes of the life I had known.


Omega Meets Alpha in the Ace of Swords

The Ace of Swords begins my Suit of Swords with the death of its protagonist, a self-obsessed bounty hunter who is reborn into an underworld-style afterlife under the name Ash Gravedust. The card depicts two distinct scenes in Ash’s story: his violent death and his resurrection into his afterlife. Bisecting this scenes is Ash himself, wrapped around his sword that is a central focus for much of his story. In the Ace of Swords, the dual nature of the sword is thematically significant. I decided to make Ash’s sword itself reflect this dual nature. The black edge of the blade touches his past; a scene in which he dies from a head wound, reinforcing the Suit of Swords’ purpose of understanding the mind. The silver edge of his sword touches his present; his resurrection with new “life” into the underworld. While his decisions to pursue a career as a bounty hunter eventually cost him his life, it was not the end as he had always imagined. Death was not final after all.

This bleeds into another concept of the Ace of Swords: what we perceive as negative may ultimately be positive. That’s not to say this card calls for celebration. Rather, the blessing in disguise is often accompanied by hardships and challenges that must be overcome. Thus, as Ash claws his way triumphantly from the earth, it is amidst a Japanese cemetery with a haunted house in the distance illuminated by an ominous bolt of blue lightning. Ash isn’t exactly dead but he’s certainly not safe either.  

Walking With or Against the Wind

As with the Ace cards in all of the Suits, the Ace of Swords carries a current of dynamic energy. Ash isn’t exhaustedly pulling himself from the earth, he’s triumphantly emerging from dead limbo, reaching for the sky. Likewise, wrapped around his sword at the center of the card, Ash wears an expression of marked determination though he may not fully realize the challenges he is about to face. Again, the dual nature of the Swords comes into play. We see this spark in Ash, this desire to live. But the Swords are representative of wind, a force with the ability to push our sails forward or immobilize us or even set us back with merciless resistance to our intentions. It’s difficult to make out but the haunted house actually features stone gargoyle-like faces that emerge from some of its corners. These are actually tiny faces of Fujin, the Japanese god of wind blowing gusts of air to remind us of the adversity on the horizon for Ash.


The Futility of Resisting Life’s Lessons

But Ash isn’t necessarily in the underworld to be punished for his self-obsession or as condemnation for his scoundrel lifestyle. He is here to learn lessons that he resisted in life. In his moment of death, he is sprawled across a cold, metallic floor with a series of arrows pointing downward, indicating his need to go to the underworld to learn his next lesson. Likewise, the sword at the center of the card is pointed downward. Ash’s lessons will be delivered with a fair amount of pain, though this is directly proportionate to how long he walks against the wind as opposed to letting it guide him into the direction of the fears he must confront. Again, that dual nature rears its head as there is a beneficial type of resistance that Ash must embrace: the resistance that finds him facing his challenges. There’s also a destructive form of resistance which will be explored in the next card: an unwillingness to accept a harsh reality and deal with it.

The Symbolism of Ash’s Sword

Ash’s sword is forged with some other general symbolism important to the Suit of Swords. The pommel of the sword is a silver owl with white diamond eyes. In Native American mythology, the owl is skilled at seeing through deception to a hidden truth. The Suit of Swords often deals with great truths and communication being either obscured by lies or guided through truth. The significance of diamond eyes is twofold: I used eyes as a recurring theme in several of my Swords cards as a reminder of the relation of personal perception to the truth or an echo of the saying “open your eyes” to an apparent truth. Diamonds parallel the lessons learned by Ash; highly precious but arrived at through great pressure. The handle of Ash’s sword is marked by a silver lightning bolt, another common symbol on several of my Swords cards. Lightning is often used to symbolize new ideas or philosophies and the illumination of truth. But lightning is also seen as an agent heralding destruction; a supernatural cleansing that allows for creative fertility in its wake. In this way, lightning can be traumatic but eventually leads to great benefit. As Ash goes through a private hell, he’s learning vital truths. The guard of his sword is comprised of a series of symbols including an eye, a crescent moon, and the sun. This shows the duality of mystery and the illumination of truth.

In the border of the card, we find simple reinforcements of the themes already discussed. Sky blue diamonds, partially obscured by shadow punctuate the border. At the corners, we see Ash’s swords bisecting panels to create a silver and black duality.


Attempting to Capture Carisa Bianca Mellado’s Black Opera The New Queen in Portrait

My portrait of Carisa Bianca Mellado for her New Queen phase came together during a melancholy point last November, amidst disturbing political news, creative complications and personal crisis. In that point where the orange glow of autumn begins to blur into winter’s iron gray, I put aside work on my Swords Suit to explore another artist’s world momentarily. The portrait was intended as a surprise gift for Carisa’s birthday. Over the years that I’ve known her, I’ve learned that Carisa is fiercely protective of her vision. Her New Queen album challenged me as a listener more than her other material because of its connection to classical and experimental work. I thought it was important to try to convey the darkness of the source material while also indicating the dramatic trajectories of the story that Carisa had so artfully constructed.


A Surprise Collaboration

Since I didn’t fully understand The New Queen when I first heard it, Carisa painstakingly explained her concepts to me over the years. It’s actually a very rich opera that adds a strange majesty to tragedy; a sort of high class horror. I’ll say no more for fear of minor misinterpretation but the record is still available in digital format and the videos, all conceptualized and directed by Carisa, are also available to watch on the Carisa Bianca Mellado site. I had the honor of playing keyboards as part of Carisa’s orchestra for her sole live performance of The New Queen opera and also performed as the characters H and Gebo in the videos. However, like all of Carisa’s music, I had no creative input in The New Queen (in fact, it was recorded before I even met her). So, doing a portrait of Carisa’s New Queen concept as a surprise birthday gift was akin to a surprise collaboration…which could have ended disastrously. Fortunately, Carisa seemed to enjoy the result.

In Favor of Mystery

Normally, I like to explain the symbolism behind my art but, in the spirit of this piece, I’ll leave all symbolism up to the viewer to piece together through the music and videos already out there. The portrait is centered on Carisa as the nameless queen, wearing a mask comprised of iron roses, red thorns, a black heart, and a pattern reminiscent of dripping blood. In the artwork for the album, Carisa is often portrayed wearing a mask with feathers sprouting from the center so I took those asymmetrical black feathers and positioned another image of the queen so as if the feathers would allude to black angel wings. In this image, the queen is holding her head high in a haughty manner with a collar punctuated by iron blades and a jagged crown with a single red jewel at its center.

The Figures of Carisa’s New Queen Mythology

To the right of the queen is M, a frolicking maiden-like entity that appears throughout the album. At her other side is Gebo, an advisor to the queen with uncertain intentions. The clothes of both characters are adorned with the runic symbols that Carisa assigned to them when working on the concepts of The New Queen. Across a spectral checkerboard floats the visage of an entity called H who appears at times in Carisa’s New Queen mythology. The borders of the portrait depict a bear, a zebra, a pig, and a horse; animals that are prominently featured in the videos and album concept.

A dark political atmosphere was an appropriate time for this portrait. But there was also a strong sense of sadness beyond politics that was in the air at the time though it went unrealized by me for several weeks. It didn’t really find its way into this piece but is saturated throughout my Swords Suit which I look forward to sharing over the coming months.

The King of Pentacles Exhibits His Gilded Love for the Material World

The King of Pentacles didn’t flow from me with quite the same confidence as the Queen of Pentacles because he was illustrated at a point in time when I was struggling with seeing myself as abundant and capable of attracting wealth on my own. However, I did have a genuine love of material opulence which allowed me to fondly recount times in my life when I’d been better off. Revisiting those times with gratitude in my heart allowed me to first envision my idea of the King of Pentacles. I also took a lot of aesthetic inspiration from an Indonesian marionette that my wife at the time had received from her brother as a gift. Through mixing these influences, I was able to imbue an initially cold elegance of materialism with a gilded warmth closer to how I felt about wealth when at my financial prime. 

A Pure Love of Wealth

This scene actually finds the King marching to war against the Kingdom of Swords. His face is calm, smiling with warmth and pride as if he’s already attained victory. His smile is an important window into his personality, showing that his love of the material is a pure love and not corrupt. I’ve heard many opinions across spiritual communities condemning a love for the material. While I can see this point applying to those who lose themselves solely in the material world, I think it’s actually healthy to appreciate possessions and express gratitude for luxury. Personally, I find it much easier to operate with generosity and love when I feel abundant. This is the way I view the purity of the King of Pentacles’ love for wealth. He hasn’t lost his soul or abandoned his feelings in pursuit of material conquests.


An Abundant World

Even en route to the battlefield, the King of Pentacles is surrounded by abundance. This illustration shows that he is in the company of the Knight of Pentacles and a duo of clone servants, one waving the red-and-gold war banner of House Pentacles, the other pouring the King a golden chalice of pomegranate wine. Pomegranates are often symbolic of wealth and fertility and were used heavily in my Knight of Pentacles card. The King, the Knight, and the two clones are actually part of a larger procession of the clone army out of shot of the King’s portrait. The battalion marches through a lush pumpkin patch where scarecrows are busy harvesting handfuls of ripe pumpkins.


The King of Pentacles Dirties His Golden Hands

There are a few messages to be gleaned from the King joining his army in battle. The first is in the battle itself. The fact that House Pentacles is even going to war against House Swords reveals the King of Pentacles’ penchant for ambition and material conquest. But he is not barking orders from the comforts of his throne room, rather he is actively engaged in the war. He believes in action; in rightfully earning his rewards. That doesn’t mean he won’t stop to enjoy the niceties afforded him; he will gladly accept the cup of pomegranate wine from his dandy clone servant. But when the time comes for battle, he’ll be the first to get his golden hands dirty.

The Sign of Taurus

The King of Pentacles is often tied to the sign of Taurus, representative of love for the material world. References to the bull have been worked in throughout the illustration, from the golden bulls with ruby eyes in the border, to the King’s horned golden crown which combines bull-like horns with a warped golden pentacle. A golden ring pierces the King’s septum, again in reference to the bull, while the connecting chain was somewhat inspired by the Indonesian puppet I mentioned earlier. I imagined the King of Pentacles to wear armor of cybernetic gold, similar to the material used in the Queen of Pentacles’ gown, to reinforce themes of material decadence but also imply the functionality of the King’s personality. He is not a frail dandy but rather someone who works for his achievements. I felt a golden suit of mechanized armor would clarify this. Originally, I had planned on illustrating the King of Pentacles tossing golden coins to his servants to symbolize his beliefs in rewarding good work. However, I felt that I had already adeptly demonstrated his qualities without distracting his confident smile with this action.

The King’s Pet Squirrel

I do want to point out two more symbols that reinforce the essence of the King of Pentacles. The first is his pet squirrel, following the King in matching golden armor with pentacle coins woven into his bushy tail. A squirrel may seem to be an odd choice of pet for a monarch who values the finest things in life but we must consider what the squirrel represents in Native American medicine: preservation of wealth through careful planning and saving. Likewise, squirrels harvest with confidence, preparing for even the harshest of winters through working both hard and smart.

The Golden Tower

The final symbol is the towering palace of gold reaching to the heavens beyond the King of Pentacles. This is the physical embodiment of his life’s achievements, glowing warmly in the earthy dusk. While most of us do not have a physical tower as an avatar of our achievements, we build our own towers through our lives nonetheless. Think of all the wealth you have accrued from birth to this point: the meals you’ve enjoyed, the beauty captured by your eyes, the games you’ve played and the places you’ve stayed. You’ll find there is always something for which to be grateful and this will serve to align you with the energy of the King of Pentacles.


Spirit Guide of Choice & Spirit Guide of Optimism

It’s been ages since I’ve made a proper update but I’ve been pretty much buried under the work I’m doing for the Swords Suit of my tarot deck. The Swords are the suit that I struggle with the most on a personal level so it makes sense that this portion of my tarot project would be the most difficult for me. That said, the Swords Suit is coming along. In addition, I’ve been working with my Peppermint Pumpkin bandmates James Rupert Powell and Carisa Bianca Mellado on finalizing our debut album The Children’s Crusade which we began work on something like 5 years ago. Other commitments and a bit of laziness on my part have left the recordings in limbo but James and Carisa have finished producing it and it’s in the mastering stages. My goal is to have it available to everyone by Halloween.

 So, while I’m moving forward on these rather major projects, I wanted to take a moment to share a spirit guide portrait that a dear friend commissioned me to create for another dear friend. I did this about a year ago and wasn’t sure whether I’d share it because I only had a couple hasty photos of it with my iPhone but I really enjoyed how it turned out so I figured what the hell. There was a whole build-up to channeling these spirit guides which I won’t go into, but it involved a deserted nocturnal midway illuminated by red posters, a monolithic stone elevator, and horror film white strobes. What follows are excerpts from my initial notes.

I regarded the first entity I encountered as the Spirit Guide of Choice: The first Spirit Guide reveals herself to me just beyond the elevator doors. She is rising lithely from a white bed blanketed in soft, silky white sheets, looking up to me with a red, featureless face. In rare moments, I see a single eye peering from a hole in the deep red visage but this is fleeting. The eye seems to regard me with curiosity, drawing a sense of safety from the red mask. She has an athletic frame, almost waifish. Two mirrors levitate in her midst, attached to her through chains that connect to rings piercing her nipples. I don’t know what she sees in these mirrors. It feels like a violation of privacy to ask and she never offers so this remains a mystery to me. She wears a lavish sort of collar made of a tough black frame that almost appears rough and chitinous. Within these frames are mirrors and while the floating mirrors remain obscured, I can at times catch glimpses of the reflections in the mirrors of her collar. At times, I see in the mirrors a pale angelic feminine face with red eyeshadow, dark hair tied over her head, black lips, and sharp features. She is smiling and while there is a darkness to her, I sense nothing sinister. At other times, I see a demure pale face with a soft pink glow to it. This face averts its gaze while a strong wind blows a wild mane of blonde hair beneath the soft pink clouds.

I regarded the second entity I encountered as the Spirit Guide of Optimism: Suddenly, a young girl (I’d estimate somewhere between the ages of 9 – 11) comes strolling out of the darkness. Her skin is an otherworldly gray and she is dressed in patchwork rags, yet she seems so cheerful. A warm October breeze blows her long stringy blonde hair. Without hesitation, she takes the hand of the red-faced Spirit Guide. I immediately realize that, despite a jarring lack of similarity, the gray child Spirit Guide and the red-faced Spirit Guide are friends. At this point, I come out of my trance.

The choice (because I do believe it is a choice) for the red-faced Spirit Guide to wear the red, featureless mask may have obstructed my view, but it didn’t feel confrontational or reclusive. Rather it seemed to have almost a logical caution to it. In the rare moments when her eye was visible, I noticed no suspicion or fear but rather a calm curiosity. She actually came off rather kind and gracious despite aspects of her appearance that seemed sharp and cold.

Ultimately, I feel the caution exhibited by the red-faced Spirit Guide is actually the result of her primary essence which is that of making choices. The featureless red face makes no commitment to identity while the mirrors display varied faces such as the sharp woman and the shy soft woman who are possibly exaggerated archetypes that the red-faced Spirit Guide can access through these mirrors. It’s as if she is trying on a new face, a new personality, a new lifestyle and testing it out before committing to it. There’s a playfulness to this, like when one plays dress-up as a child.

I feel like this Spirit Guide is a chameleon, ever-changing as she makes new choices but never sticking to one form. Perhaps the day will come when she makes an ultimate choice and strips her red mask away but for now I feel she is enjoying the fun that comes with versatility.

This may be less important but still worth noting: just because this Spirit Guide exhibits caution does not mean she is timid or afraid. In fact, she exhibits a great deal of confidence, knowing she’s making her choices after educated assessments. This is most apparent in her spiky head dress, a crown of sorts. This Spirit Guide is very comfortable as the queen of her castle, though it is admittedly a small castle for now.

The gray child Spirit Guide didn’t disturb me despite her shabby condition because her smile seemed to burn away her circumstance with its cleansing glow. She came into the scenario the way a happy child greets a new day, paying no heed to her tattered dress and dirty socks. I didn’t get the impression that her hands were bandaged for any particular reason save a quirky fashion, possibly some fancy of make believe or a game to which I wasn’t privy. This child had obviously been up against adversity and challenges, yet she smiled as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Therefore, I see optimism as the primary message of the smiling gray child Spirit Guide.

A warm October wind blows her hair, the warmth of an Indian summer pushing back the bitter colder months. This child, despite the cold gray skin with which she was born, radiated a warmth and an appreciation for rustic simplicity. I have no doubt this child actually enjoyed sleeping on a bed of dirt beneath the stars. Clothed in rags, she smiles because she’s already acquired the most important things in life and is certain that she will be able to get the rest when she needs it.

Optimism and choice can work beautifully together or rather optimism typically improves choice. While it may seem that the red faced Spirit Guide has taken the gray child Spirit Guide’s hand in a moment of maternal affection, I believe that the gray child is equally her guardian.




Horror Art Amplified by the Influence of Stephen King’s It

When I was around 11 years old, my family decided to drive from southwest Florida to northern Ohio. I wasn’t that great at videogames so, figuring my Gameboy wouldn’t keep me entertained for long, I decided to buy a book; one that would be long enough to last me through the trip there and back. I finally decided on Stephen King’s It; a book that would stay with me long after that trip. I had already been pretty obsessed with horror art as a kid; gravitating toward the Ravenloft campaign setting in Dungeons & Dragons and drawing any monster that my imagination could conjure (or in many cases regurgitate) but It knocked me on my ass. I’d never read anything so raw, so perversely vicious…I felt like the book was radiating illness into me, yet I still couldn’t put it down. I’d seen new depths of terror by the time I finished the over 1,000 page vacation in hell; a sickening depression taking hold of me as I constantly thought of the sadism and brutality that the endless creature emanated while leaving a void where childish innocence had once resided. To this day, no reading experience has come close to matching the hopeless low of It with the exception of The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers which left me despondent for nearly 2 weeks.

Floating in the Deadlights

With It, King immerses us in cinnamon childhood nostalgia with brownish bloodstained edges, the intense terror of psychotic afterschool bullies, and a transdimensional cosmic nightmare too immense and horrific for our minds to properly process. In this reality, no amount of purity and innocence can shield you from the fates that stories typically reserve for only the most horrid of villains. Our very flesh becomes just another weakness, another vulnerability to be exploited by an insatiable creature with no reason. The ones we love turn to dust in our arms and the ones we once feared are slowly digested before our eyes. And then there’s this whole other level that It refers to on a number of occasions; the deadlights, an orange glowing radiance that actually sucks away light and beauty, a foul error in cosmic balance that slowly consumes the sacred.

Skarsgård as the 2017 incarnation of Pennywise the clown.

A Legacy That Decays Forever But Never Dies

I regard It with a reverence owed to the blackest of the black. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s work in general, having devoured his novels in middle school, but none even scraped the surface of the constantly corrosive predatory nightmare of It. After reading the book, I avoided watching the mini-series that had come out the year before, fearing if it even came close to the unbridled mania of the book that it would be far too much for me to handle. The images in my head were almost paralyzing at times. Several years later, in my late teens, I finally gathered enough courage to watch the mini-series and, though it was entertaining, it never came close to matching the rusted, grotesque depravity of the book. I’m not sure how I even imagined a made-for-TV mini-series could come close to touching the cosmic horror of the novel. For years, I rested in the assurance that the terror I’d felt as a child would never manifest with the life…or unlife…with which it had lurched forward in my own imagination. Then, it was announced that Cary Fukunaga, he of True Detective fame, was developing a 2-part It film and just the notion of Fukunaga’s direction combined with the most soul-sucking book of all time made me shudder. Then, after a few stumbling starts, Fukunaga was out and I could rest assured that terrible Hollywood decisions had saved me from having a few years scared off of my life.

The version of Stephen King's It that I read when I was 11. 

The Inspiration of the New Pennywise Pierrot

But a few days ago, images were released of the new look for Pennywise in the 2017 remake of It that has moved forward without the dark artistry of Fukunaga. I’m not that afraid of clowns, so Pennywise in his actual clown form never frightened me much, especially as a smart-assed Tim Curry. The latest incarnation of Pennywise doesn’t frighten me that much either but I think he looks fucking rad. Costume designer Janie Bryant talks about it in-depth in an Entertainment Weekly article and her attention to detail is impressive. The idea to portray him as a predatory jester out of time is a way I hadn’t imagined Pennywise myself but one that plays so well into my own aesthetics of fools, harlequins, and clown princes. Merging this trusted archetype with something so base and sinister is truly brilliant and it’s these juxtapositions I feel that propel horror art forward or, at the very least, connect it to me in a frighteningly personal way. Bill Skarsgård (of Hemlock Grove) is cast as a more youthful take on the character of Pennywise; a factor that I feel could make the whole atmosphere somehow sadder. Tim Curry presented a garish, old man Bozo-style clown taunting children while Skarsgård will be this strangely foppish, infantile pierrot literally devouring children.

Childhood Universals Cast in a Nightmare

Another reason I’m excited about this remake is the casting of Finn Wolfhard (who turned in one of my favorite performances as the instantly likeable Mike in Stranger Things) and Owen Teague (who I know as the somewhat tragic Nolan from Bloodline). I am really curious to see how the film handles Teague’s character Patrick Hockstetter who was a disturbing character in the novel in his own right. I won’t spoil Hockstetter’s unique perspective for anyone who hasn’t read the book but he’s also an interesting character for one scene in which he surprisingly initiates an eerily manipulative homosexual experience with the primary bully of the novel. There’s a universal aspect to sexual experimentation in childhood years but it’s given a grotesque frame when presented within an epic about an extradimensional hyper predator that seasons young blood with pure fear and adrenaline. Normally, I’d assume that Hollywood would take a safer route (especially in the wake of cutting Fukunaga from the film after he demanded an NC-17 rating) but I’ve read rumors claiming the new director has stated plans to explore the homosexual aspects of Hockstetter’s character.

The Bowers gang with Owen Teague as Patrick Hockstetter (far right).

Though Stephen King’s It has left an immeasurable influence on me, it’s definitely in a deep end of terror that I often avoid in my own horror art which strays from gore mostly because I use my own imagination as an alluring escape. That being said, I revere the pure horror that King seems to effortlessly tap in It as a truly moving force; one that echoes in the recesses of our hearts and minds long after the final page is turned. Leaving someone so fundamentally disturbed is an emotional experience the equal and opposite of passionate, hearts-a-fluttering romance. At times, I feel compelled to purposely approach the barriers of what disturbs me in an exploration of the horrors I can’t quite explain. It’s hinted at in some of my art but probably won’t be fully explored until I begin work on my graphic novel which presents my complete mythology in elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  


Archetypal Influence of Fellini’s Brilliant Sci Fi Period Piece Satyricon

Satyricon was the first Fellini film I ever had the pleasure of viewing and, though I consider Fellini a true master, it has remained my favorite after repeated viewings. In fact, it easily tops my favorite films having spoken to me on so many levels about the importance of the cosmic fool, the charm of the scoundrel, the familiar sting of betrayal, and the importance of myth. I’ve witnessed many viewers daunted by the fragmented nature of the film, mirroring the incomplete shards of mythology provided by the classic Petronius epic. But I’m somewhat offended when I hear someone slag Satyricon off as pretentious because I connect to it so strongly. I recognize the questionable nature of making such a bold statement about a movie that basically follows the exploits of two degenerates in the age of Nero involved in an often literal tug of war over the affections of a teenage boy. But there are such colorfully melancholy truths beyond the details.

Science Fiction of the Past

The aesthetic of Satyricon was accurately described by Fellini as “science fiction of the past.” Shrill horns merge with atmospheric synths as unsettling gazes stare directly from the screen at you, constantly breaking the fourth wall as if you are some alien observer. Fellini’s depiction of Rome in the age of Nero flows like a casual nightmare with monolithic tenements jutting forth from ever-present shadows. The characters seem as disoriented as the viewer, falling from one absurd situation into another, asking disjointed questions such as “Do you know where I live?” Some characters speak undecipherable languages while the dubbed voices carry on strange conversations forcing the spectator into the role of the stranger in the strange land. My DVD offers dubbed and subtitled options but I find the dubbed version far superior, with lines such as “he sits down to piss as if he’d never been born a man” and a vicious fight between former friends ending with an exasperated “I’m sorry, love.” This unforgiving apocalyptic landscape is almost a character in itself yet serves as the lightbox that so gorgeously contrasts the archetypes I adore.  

 There's a general uneasiness that creeps in throughout the alien realms of Fellini's Satyricon. 

There's a general uneasiness that creeps in throughout the alien realms of Fellini's Satyricon. 

Beginning a Sci Fi Fantasy Film with a Towel Fight

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ONWARD: The moment I truly connected with Fellini’s Satyricon comes early in the film. We’re initially greeted by the oiled Roman Ken doll Encolpio, Rocky Horror before there was Rocky Horror, pushed into a homicidal rage by the betrayal of his teenage lover, the supernaturally cherubic Gitone. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it can be reasonably assumed that Gitone wouldn’t actually be everyone’s cup of tea, but the film reinforces his super pheromones quite regularly. As the scene progresses, we’re introduced to Ascilto, Encolpio’s darker more clownish roommate who raped Gitone while the boy slept in Encolpio’s embrace. This obviously causes a rift between Encolpio and Ascilto and we see this played out in an oily wet towel fight in a bath house where Ascilto has just severely beaten if not killed a john.

The characteristically determined Encolpio. 

The Familiarity of Betrayal

Eventually, Encolpio tracks down Gitone who seems to sort of just go with the flow; he doesn’t seem overjoyed to be united with Encolpio but he willingly absconds with the older man to the tenement squat they share. Bear in mind, this was ancient Rome where the love affair between a man in his 20s and a teenage boy was accepted. If you can’t suspend your repulsion of that, Satyricon will be an impossible film to absorb. Anyway, Encolpio ends up getting intimate with Gitone and later Ascilto sneaks into the tenement to find the two sleeping. Encolpio, high on reuniting with his lover, no longer wants to murder Ascilto but instead seems content to simply kick him out of the flat. Finally, Ascilto asks how they will divide up Gitone, a question that Encolpio can’t even seem to fully process. Ascilto suggests they allow Gitone the free will to choose who he will follow. To our surprise as much as Encolpio’s, Gitone chooses his rapist, Ascilto, leaving Encolpio suicidal and shattered. This all happens within the first 15 minutes or so of the film.

Encolpio and Gitone in happier times. 

Few cinematic moments gutted me with the severity of the scene where Gitone chooses Ascilto. In fact, I think they are the only words Gitone utters in the duration of the film so Fellini obviously intended them to speak volumes. In that moment, I divorced the fact that Gitone was a boy choosing between two sexually predatory men. Encolpio’s actions speak of infatuation and a gentleness but in that vulnerability, Gitone actually dominates him. In a moment of true darkness, Gitone chooses the man who cares less for him but also the man who is not so easily tamed. It’s a nauseating twist but so beautifully illustrates these bizarre yet relatable archetypes, no matter that they may be difficult to face.

Archetypal Influence

I find the exploration of archetypes to be crucial in my artistic work with the archetypal influence of Satyricon still resonating strongly in my visual art, stories, and music. On the forthcoming Peppermint Pumpkin record The Children’s Crusade, I explore the volatile reaction between true romance and dark sexual urges on “The Degenerate.” The Degenerates was an alternate title for Satyricon. The character of Encolpio had a tremendous visual influence on my design of the golden youth who is cloned to provide an army for the King of Pentacles in the Pentacles Suit portion of the tarot set on which I’m working.

 Gitone and Ascilto watch on at Encolpio's wedding to the sea captain Lichas. 

Gitone and Ascilto watch on at Encolpio's wedding to the sea captain Lichas. 

But less directly, though no less potently, the strange connections of romance, rivalry, friendship, and betrayal that connect the characters of Encolpio, Ascilto, and Gitone find their ways into my ideas; into the ways I imagine my characters interact. On a fundamental level, Gitone is a victim of pedophilia. But when removed from the mores and seen through safe filters of fantasy and mythology, Gitone is a cunning coquette and a natural prostitute. In this perspective, Encolpio is actually the fly in the web. Ascilto may be a murderous criminal but there are moments where his sneer is lost in shock or anger that we see he most likely cares far more for Encolpio than Gitone, for whom he impulsively sacrificed his relationship with Encolpio. As if to clarify this point, Gitone is lost to both of the fools halfway through the film, no doubt carried away on his own adventures spurned on by his otherworldly charm. As Encolpio and Ascilto face minotaurs, commit crimes against hermaphroditic demigods, struggle against impotence, and even, in one case, meet an unglamorous fate, Gitone is never mentioned again.

The Ancient Roman love triangle of Encolpio > Gitone > Ascilto. 

I can’t quite find the words for the higher truths that these relationships and circumstances speak or how they so strongly inform my own art, but somewhere in that ancient Roman bravado and clownish charm, I feel the love of an enemy, the cold cruelty only accessible through love or obsession, and a forgiving nature of familiar friendships, set against the iciness of alien environs, that is all heavily worked into my art. 

The Page of Pentacles Introduces Financial Revelations

The Page of Pentacles is the first of the 4 Page cards I will illustrate (as of writing this, the only other completed is the Page of Swords). I started illustration on the Page of Pentacles before the rest of the Pentacles Suit (with the exception of the Knight of Pentacles who was illustrated independently of the other cards in the Pentacles Suit). Since Pages are often about beginnings, it seemed an apropos place to start.

In the timeline of my Pentacles Suit, you could imagine that the Page is probably having his epiphany roughly around the same time that the space mystic is undergoing the strain of the Five of Pentacles. Stories of Scarecrow Agriculture have reached the Page who is starting to realize a solution to the recent death of the first Knight of Pentacles: recreating that essence using the mystic’s unique ability to animate scarecrows. The scarecrow looming over the Page, though lacking sentience, is an allusion to Scarecrow Agriculture and we can connect the dots to imagine what the Page sees as the potential of the golden coin. 

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion

All of my Pages are loosely based on the same youth so that hopefully there will be a strong resemblance between all 4 when they are completed. That being said, each has a distinctly different personality and style. I decided to portray the Page of Pentacles as a mod, a dedicated follower of fashion, because of the youth’s proclivity toward the material world. Though pink is not a color oft-associated with the Page of Pentacles, I felt immediately drawn to the color as it’s one I personally feel drawn to in my own fashions. If I want to stretch for a connection, I could point out that the heart chakra consists of the colors pink and green with green also expressing life, nature, and money. But the truth is that pink just has a materialistic charm for me; something squeaky clean, glossy, and somehow innocent in a plastic, self-absorbed manner. The Page is also wearing pretty pink make-up in this illustration, re-emphasizing his interest in fashion and appearance. There’s a certain sense of glamour in his fresh, rosy cheeks and glossy pink lips.

The Page of Pentacles Connects to the Earth

That being said, the Page of Pentacles isn’t a very plastic fellow. I tried to draw some connection to the earthy colors typically associated with the Page by using a rustic brown color as part of the stripe pattern decorating his trousers as well as earthen colors for his sweater which is divided down the center by a golden textile chain of pentacles. Another color I used liberally with the Page is a golden yellow since, in the Pentacles Suit, I often used golden colors to represent material wealth. The Pentacle design emblazoned on his cap is golden, while the clasp that keeps his luxurious cape together is fashioned from gold. He wears bright yellow gloves clasped with gilded pentacle buttons. His hair, cropped into a page bob, is a lighter golden blonde, reminiscent of straw – a connection to the abundance of the land. The pentacle pattern that adorns his cape is actually the pentacle symbol combined with a bull’s eye target, emphasizing the Page’s characteristic focus and determination.

Revelations of a Budding Youth

The land itself around the Page is overflowing with the voluptuous bounty of nature and he is transfixed in awe at the center of it. Budding roses in the border are a reminder that this is a boy not yet in bloom but still evincing the flushed colors of potential. Since the Page of Pentacles is often a representative of comprehension of the full cycle of life (growth, harvest, death, and re-birth through the shifting of seasons), I decided that the crops growing around him should represent my association to differing points of the year. I see strawberries as my favorite fruit in warmer months while pumpkins hold a very special place for me in relation to my favorite season, autumn. The plentitude of fruits and vegetables presented in this illustration point to the obvious rewards for work and planning, yet the flowers serve no immediate purpose to the Page other than their gorgeous appearance. This is to remind us once again of the Page’s preference for material pleasure and his weakness for fashion over function. Despite the Page’s material inclinations, this illustration finds him at a turning point, demonstrated by the look of awed realization in his face as he fixates on the golden pentacle between his fingers. It may be a singular coin, no more than the golden pentacle that begins the mystic’s journey, but the Page of Pentacles often portends small starts to big stories. In his intense gaze, we can gain a sense of the potential he sees through the material world. 

Careful Nurturance Grows Big Rewards

Keeping up with the theme of big things growing from small seeds, I illustrated the Page sowing pumpkin seeds as he gazed into the coin; an allusion to his future with Scarecrow Agriculture (the scarecrows are animated through magical pumpkin heads). These seeds also punctuate the pentacles that stand at the four corners of the border of the card. Sometimes seeds need gentle nurturance to produce their miracles and this energy is in sync with the essence of the Page of Pentacles. He can be at times joyful and flushed with the possibilities of the sensual world but then at other times quite somber, displaying a sensitivity that demands gentle guidance. In addition, we’re reminded that the minutest of seeds can, with diligence and time, become mighty redwoods. Again, the Page excels at the manifestation of the large with the small through diligence and determination.

The Page’s Yellow Roses

Without any initial research, I knew the Page would be surrounded by yellow roses specifically. With a cursory glance, I discovered that yellow roses in Eastern cultures could be seen as a symbol of wisdom and power, both of which figure heavily into the Page of Pentacles. His wise revelations reveal to him the power of the pentacle coin within his hands as he recognizes the full potential. However, the yellow rose is also used to symbolize a focus on new beginnings which is another theme deeply engrained in the Page of Pentacles.

Brave Boundary Breaking

The border of the Page of Pentacles is unique in that it’s the only one of my Pentacles Suit to have a pentacle with a point that breaks its own circle. I intended this as a reminder that the Page sees beyond the immediate and into the greater picture. It also can remind us that the Page is not afraid to enter new situations and scenarios to achieve his focus. 

 The ill-fated original sketch 

The ill-fated original sketch 

False Starts Miles from Earth

I began the sketch shortly before departing on a trip to Brighton where I was playing guitar for Carisa Bianca Mellado opening for the Academy of Sun. With a 13 hour plane trip ahead of me, I decided I’d have plenty of time to work on the sketch so I brought my illustration pad along with me. But before I’d even left LAX, I’d managed to spill a bottle of water directly onto my drawing pad. I never found myself in the mood to draw on the plane anyway and when I returned to Los Angeles a week later, I felt a distinct lack of inspiration stemming from the jet lag. There was something intensely beautiful to me about the face of the Page of Pentacles in my original sketch and it was a distinct charm that I wasn’t able to match in my subsequent effort that became my official illustration of the Page of Pentacles. Initially, this left a somewhat bad taste in my mouth, though I immediately liked my second attempt. Today, I’m pleased with the end result on the Page of Pentacles and feel that it is the representation it was always meant to be.

Kay Nielsen and His Art Nouveau Fairy Tales

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember but, aside from a mandatory Humanities class in college, I’ve rarely sought out influence through other artists. That’s changed somewhat in the last few years, but spending 90% of my life largely ignorant of other illustrators has left that facet of the art universe relatively unexplored by me. When speaking of visual artists, chances are I’ve never heard of them. So it came as a pleasant surprise when, last week, my friend Jared asked me if I’d ever heard of Kay Nielsen. 

The image used to introduce me to Kay Nielsen. 

The Age of Generic Dragons

The initial image Jared shared with me was taken from Nielsen’s illustration work for a project called East of the Sun, West of the Moon which compiled fairy tales that Nielsen further brought to life through his mystical art nouveau illustrations. This brings me to a personal point that I feel is particularly illuminated by the mastery in Nielsen’s unique works: a cursory search for “fantasy art” brings up a seemingly inexhaustible army of computer-generated pieces with, in my opinion, only the minutest of distinctions between them. They’re nice enough to look at but they lack the combined spirit and edge of artists like Nielsen. I’ll rarely waste moments focusing on what I don’t like in art so let me put it succinctly: I’d get lost for longer in just one of Kay Nielsen’s majestic visions than I would in thousands of computer-generated generic dragons that seem to be the hallmark of modern fantasy art. 

The Sylvan Mystery of Kay Nielsen

I haven’t read the fairy tales that accompany Nielsen’s works but the stories untold almost make them more special to me. When given just what Nielsen allows us (and don’t get me wrong, what he allows us is generous) we can fill in the blanks with our own stories and visions. I love this mystery in art though I often get so excited by my own visions that I can’t help but explain every nuance of my art and every tale behind it. The questions posed by the elongated, pointed, sylvan characters that elegantly stroll through the fantasy-scapes of Nielsen reignite the excitement of childhood enigmas. I would have loved to see a Kay Nielsen and George MacDonald collaboration. MacDonald’s horror fantasy fairy tale Lilith: A Romance was one of the most profoundly moving novels I’ve had the honor to read (and one which I’m sure to revisit at great length on a posting here in the future). Nielsen’s nimble yet regal creations, straddling the line between children and adults, would perfectly suit the mood of MacDonald’s Lilith.

The Folly in Abandoning Art

In reading about Nielsen’s life, it was disheartening to discover that he died in poverty after being let go from his concept art position at Disney. During his 4 years at Disney, Nielsen created art for the iconic “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia as well as concept art that was used over 30 years after his death in Disney’s rendition of The Little Mermaid. Thinking of so many great artists dying in penniless rejection brings me concern for modern society’s ignorance to the integral nature of art. Art communicates mythology. Without it, we are walking alone in darkness and we’ll never find one another. Following his death, Nielsen’s estate attempted to donate his amassed body of illustration work to museums but was met with rejection. Obviously, someone recalled Nielsen’s greatness and today his work is honored so, at least for his audience, this story has a happy ending. But abandoning art is a dangerous folly of the modern world and one that can’t endure for long. 

The Queen of Pentacles and the Sensual World

The Queen of Pentacles is easily one of my favorite works thus far, offering a dimensional doorway into my mythological phantasy with more accuracy than many of my other efforts. She embodies a sense of pleasure attained through accomplishment, standing proudly against a backdrop that presents earthen bounty and golden luxury. For me, her portrait exudes a rustic sense of achievement that I equate with autumnal power and confidence in a pagan bond with the spirits of nature. It’s easy for the Queen of Pentacles to exhibit faith in the occult because she has mastered it. In her voluptuous frame we find both the toil and the harvest. She is pleasure but she is also pleasure earned. 

Inverting the Rabbit

Despite autumnal leanings, I would consider the Queen of Pentacles to be my Easter card, offering the fertility of the spring in the same breath as the harvest of the fall. This fertility is underscored by her pet rabbit, wearing its ornate golden harness and cradled affectionately though proudly in the fold of her arm. Throughout the Pentacles suit, the rabbit appeared to the mystic as a symbol of fear, resulting in barren times in both the Four of Pentacles and Five of Pentacles. But the Queen of Pentacles demonstrates a talent for inverting the fear associated with rabbit, turning it instead to lucrative, fertile success. Where once was horror now stands power. Themes of fertility are further reinforced by the Queen’s tendency to travel in her egg-shaped golden carriage, visible over her left shoulder. The carriage features a padded interior and red upholstery of the finest textiles because the Queen will only travel in the most luxurious of manners. Easter eggs decorated with Pentacles also decorate the border of the card.

The Heightened Power of the Queen of Pentacles

The crown of the Queen of Pentacles is fashioned to look like a pentacle descending into a pair of horns, representing the cloven-hoofed earth creatures. The goat is often associated with the earth sign of Capricorn and decorates the inverted pentacles that adorn the borders of the card. The last time we saw an inverted pentacle was in the Five of Pentacles when the mystic had lost everything. At that time, the symbolism played on modern misunderstandings that an inverted pentacle reversed the bounty. Between the Five of Pentacles and the Queen of Pentacles, I learned that the negativity of the inverted pentacle is ignorance and that an inverted pentacle may actually indicate heightened power. Thus, in a happy accident, the parallel between the broken Five of Pentacles and the abundance of the Queen of Pentacles is even more pronounced. Here, the inverted pentacles indicate that intensified power.

Material gain and abundance is etched into every detail of the card: the Queen of Pentacles’ golden gown alight with the red lights of mysterious machinations, the towering Palace of Pentacles in the distance, the golden coin-operated horse (similar to the steed of the Knight of Pentacles yet serving a different purpose), the inviting green fields, the metallic golden apples crowding the tree with prosperity. Even the Queen’s eyes are green; the color of both nature and money. 

Enjoying Earned Pleasures

In designing the physical appearance of the Queen of Pentacles, I wanted to get across the sensual nature of abundance. Therefore, she is presented as voluptuous with full breasts, lips swollen and flushed with life, tan sun-kissed skin, and hair as gold as her priceless possessions. The Queen of Pentacles may seem to be languidly enjoying the finest that life has to offer but her stoic expression reminds us that she’s not a socialite but rather a shrewd businesswoman who used a combination of wisdom, intelligent strategy, and work to attain the things she so enjoys. As her servant fills her pentacle-embossed golden chalice with expensive champagne, she enjoys every drop knowing that it is rightfully hers.

We’re often warned from childhood of the meaninglessness of a life without accomplishment. Sadly, we’re less often warned about the pitfalls of a life devoted to labor with no importance placed on relaxation and pleasure. The Queen of Pentacles is wise in that she’s learned a balance of both. She’s willing to work hard to achieve her life’s purpose and visions but she has no time for work without meaning. She’ll work smarter instead of harder but is not afraid to break a sweat when it’s the only option. The Queen of Pentacles, though acknowledging that her efforts earned her rewards, does not wear her work history as a martyr’s badge of honor, nor does she hold her work over her play. Instead, she recognizes that enjoying her desires enriches her life just as much as achieving them. 

The inclusion of the apple tree was more personal than symbolic, although it obviously ties into themes of abundance. It came to me in a vision of a beautiful orchard stretching across rolling hills beneath a sky much like the one above the Queen of Pentacles. It’s unclear as to whether this sky is the twilight of sunset or the dawning sunrise, but this uncertainty further recounts the parallels so prevalent in the Queen of Pentacles: Spring/Autumn, natural/material, toil/harvest, business/pleasure.


Albertine Simonet: A Poisonous Paramour for the Decadent Movement

*The following post contains spoilers for the 7-part novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

Whether illustrating, composing music, or writing, I draw major inspiration from archetypes. I could go on and on about the archetypes that inspire me most but today I’d rather ruminate on a specific character from the pages of Proust’s 7-part masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. I turned to Proust a few years ago when I was sentenced to public transit for 3 hours daily and though I never miss those excruciating bus rides, I am grateful that it forced me to take the time to catch up on my reading. Though he’s not often associated directly with the Decadent Movement I so love, Proust’s flowery writing on the introductory novel of the series, Swann’s Way, displayed heavy influence from the Decadent Movement layered in its pining nostalgia. While I was immediately taken by the languid surface-deep romances and high society fantasy on display in Swann’s Way, only brief moments hinted at the perverse darkness that would make In Search of Lost Time oddly relatable and a reading experience I’d treasure. These elements appeared in fragments, but their grand realization was introduced innocuously with the character of Albertine Simonet in the second book of In Search of Lost Time, bearing the incredible title of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.

The Charm of Albertine

Albertine immediately reminded me of the allure of young love, introduced as the mysterious unofficial leader of a group of charming girls in the seaside resort town of Balbec. It’s hard to explain why she immediately commanded my attention; whether it was her station within the group, the fact that she wasn’t the most obviously pretty of the group yet somehow carried her own sense of charm, or simply Proust’s clever direction of her catching the narrator’s attention. Albertine is described as dark and her actions often resound with confidence. When Proust’s narrator develops an unhealthy fixation on Albertine, it almost seems justified. She’s alluring because she carries her own brand of unique charisma, in spite (or more likely due in part to) her uncertain social standing. 

 Albertine Simonet as illustrated by DeviantArt user  quiteproustian

Albertine Simonet as illustrated by DeviantArt user quiteproustian

The Teenage Fantasy

Albertine is everything I wanted from a girl when I was a teenager: her ill reputation and disapproval from adults, the window she offers into an alien world of her own design, a darkness marking her beauty, a ray of confidence shining through the enigma, and a tendency to reject, as if the constructs of her world are too precarious to her fragile suiters. A narrator’s perspective can often be tenacious, so it’s not much of a surprise that when Albertine initially rejects the narrator’s advances, it feels as if we too are being rejected. Albertine’s true thoughts and feelings are always obscured from the narrator and reader, so her impulses take us by surprise. When she not only reciprocates but aggressively and amorously pursues the narrator, it’s a genuinely startling though welcome moment.

Crippling Obsessions

But the romance waxes and wanes on both sides with the narrator feeling stifled by Albertine’s seeming devotion at times while pining for her painfully when she pulls away. It can come off as a pathetic display but so many nuances of the relationship between Albertine and the narrator speak directly to me of my own adolescent romances; a pallid vulnerability trembling with anxiety over paranoiac fantasies. Proust takes it pretty far over the course of In Search of Lost Time so that the relatable points are soon obliterated by the narrator’s over-the-top obsessive need for control, desperately trying to tie Albertine to him by any means necessary, be it marriage or straightforward imprisonment. The narrator’s fixation on Albertine warps him into something sickly and horrid, hoarding her like a porcelain possession with the walls of her prison growing higher with each of the narrator’s delusions. Sympathy for the protagonist flies out the window rapidly.  

 Girls in gangs: a cinematic portrayal of Albertine's group at Balbec. 

Girls in gangs: a cinematic portrayal of Albertine's group at Balbec. 

It’s hard not to root for Albertine when she finally makes her break from the luxury apartment where the narrator has kept her confined. But we’re lowered back down into his paranoid perspective yet again as he searches obsessively for her and the shadows of his paranoia seem to gain substance. When we hear that Albertine is dead, it seems like another deception but we eventually accept the grotesque reality that she is permanently severed from this world. After her death, the hidden world of Albertine Simonet gradually comes to life and, though it never excuses the narrator’s base actions, we’re still left somewhat gutted when we realize that his suspicions were actually true.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

It appears that Albertine was involved in passionate, sexual relationships with a large number of the women mentioned throughout the 7 volumes and even engaged in a game of sorts with the narrator’s rival in which she and he would seduce innocent girls and bring them to brothels for orgies. It’s over-the-top to the point of being almost unbelievable but Proust paints it with such detail and with so much insistence that we trust in the heartbreaking horror of her betrayal. Of course, when we step back into reality, the narrator deserved pretty much anything he got but we get the impression that this was simply Albertine’s life, even before she’d met the narrator and that she wasn’t driven to her infidelity and betrayal through any of his actions. This may not be the case with all of Proust’s readers, but I was charmed by the character of Albertine into a sense of trust, similar to feelings I felt with high school romances; a faith separated from any sense of reality. I didn’t see a human being as much as I saw my perfect paramour come to save me from the suburbs through a window into her fantasy world. And like the narrator of In Search of Lost Time eventually that fantasy world crashed into a sexualized reality with an addictive sense of jealousy and the passionate sting of betrayal that not only haunts but possesses.

Albertine Simonet reinforces an archetype prevalent in my own work and one that I’ve alluded to in my illustration of Dorian Gray, my admiration for Franz von Bayros, and, though I didn’t mention it before, resounds somewhat in my idea of the lunar witch that rules over my illustration of the Moon tarot card. She’s a perfect crushing romance for Decadent Movement protagonists that pine and long only to be unceremoniously destroyed through sexual desire and the elitism of betrayal. There’s a particular sting that resounds when the gates of Heaven seem to close to you forever and that sting sticks to the smiling lips of characters like Albertine Simonet. 

Ten of Pentacles: The Key to Immortality

X. The Ten of Pentacles

Some have referred to the tale of the mystic as one without end, though all but the slightest fragment of her ongoing tale has been eclipsed from the public. Again, we are left with rumors. Many say she died and that the reported glimpses of the mystic are simply her apparition, haunting the gilded corridors of the Palace of Pentacles. Others say she found the secret to immortality somewhere amongst her potions and incantations. But this is all pure speculation. The truth is that the mystic will forever live on as a heroine in the history of the Kingdom of Pentacles. 


It’s difficult to stare into forever, let alone walk into it, without losing one’s mind. Yet, most of us in some way or another are striving to leave some sort of impact on the world that will outlive us. Some seek this out in fame, others in children that extend their legacy, others in material fortune. While the Pentacles is largely the story of someone believing in herself against adversity and going on to not only secure her foundation in the world but also build upon it, the tale ends by staring beyond the limitations of the material world and life in general and achieving immortality.

The Ten of Pentacles Explores Immortality

The mystic created an indispensable method of farm labor with Scarecrow Agriculture; a gift to the land that would outlive her. She further developed her work until she accessed the morally ambiguous achievement of building a clone army for House Pentacles. At some point following her retirement in the Nine of Pentacles, it is assumed that the mystic finally dies, though the when and how are unimportant. But I wanted the Ten of Pentacles to illustrate how her work directly contributed to a sense of immortality. While this is often a figurative immortality, I chose a literal path for the mystic. 

The White Mystic Retreads the Cycle of the Pentacles

Following the mystic’s exit to paradise in the Nine of Pentacles, her devout assistant took up her work, continuing in the mystic role for House Pentacles. The assistant, now referred to as the white mystic, improved upon the cloning process using her own gifts of science and white magic. When the mystic died, the white mystic immediately began the process of cloning her former mentor. This not only demonstrates the white mystic’s own moral ambiguity but in so doing also reminds us of the immortality of the Pentacles cycle. The white mystic may make different choices than her mentor but she still finds herself challenged by the path of the Pentacles as it is a universal path that we all walk.

A Lifetime’s Achievements Stretch Onward

The mystic’s conscience is lying dormant within her nude body, afloat in nurturing liquids. The body that will serve as her vehicle through the next lifetime is surrounded by her creations; the Knight of Pentacles genuflecting to his mother in reverence, a hooded scarecrow servant waiting with a hint of curiosity, a duo of clones stoically standing guard. This is the life of the mystic; the achievements with the bagged head of the scarecrow and the battered shields of the clones serving as reminders of the dark that comes with the light. The mystic was a human and the Ten of Pentacles is a culmination of all of her human decisions. But this is also a reminder of the mystic’s bravery in the face of doubt and uncertainty and her tenacity in pursuing her life’s purpose.

The Role of the Family

In this rendition of the Ten of Pentacles, the smiling and expectant Royal Family of Pentacles serves as the mystic’s family along with the white mystic who touches the glass affectionately. This card often refers to a sense of tradition being passed on to one’s family and that is most apparent in the white mystic who has stepped into her mentor’s role yet awaits her rebirth with the warmth of love.

Symbols that Reinforce Infinity

The literal symbols of infinity decorate the pentacles of the card’s border along with a glowing symbol of infinity marking the base (foundation) of the mystic’s resurrection tube. Likewise, diamonds line the border of the card as a symbol of both wealth and immortality. The colors purple and gold were used to facilitate a royal theme (as the mystic has become the queen of her own private kingdom through her successes) as well as feelings of wealth and abundance so key in the Pentacles Suit.   

Franz von Bayros

This week I had the good fortune of stumbling upon the works of Franz von Bayros (1866-1924), an artist most closely associated to the Decadent movement which placed him in the illustrious company of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. It wouldn’t be fair to say that this was my introduction to the ornate and secretive erotic phantasy realms of von Bayros. I actually wear a T-shirt regularly emblazoned with one of von Bayros’ works depicting a woman succumbing to passionate lesbian advances in an intricate field while a wooden plank transforming into a bound woman performs fellatio on a winged penis. It’s a T-shirt for the post-punk band Entertainment and, though I loved the artwork, I wore the T-shirt primarily as a fan of the band. It wasn’t until this week that I stumbled upon similar works and quickly confirmed that the artist whose erotic surrealism I’d silently enjoyed was von Bayros.

Here I am pictured wearing my Entertainment T-shirt with a detail of the von Bayros illustration possibly entitled If It's Not Twins This Time.

A Fetish for Betrayal

I’ve often kept my own sexuality private, finding a mixture of sacred reverence in holding it close to my heart while fearing some sense of sexual guilt or humiliation if I were to explore it publicly. Without going into detail, a series of psychologically embarrassing sexual events occurred in my life from about age 7 to my early teen years and I spent a great deal of my youth finding it impossible to reconcile feelings of lust and love. I wrote poetic fantasies about the imagined liberty of being a eunuch, freed from sexual longing. In my shamed state, a sexlessness resulted in a purity of romance. I had my fair share of admirers in my teen years and while I often stoked the embers of passion with love notes in lockers, mix tapes, and poetry, I balked at pursuing anything physical. Often this resulted in the objects of my affection moving on to more experimental pastures and I was left with painful feelings of betrayal that somehow made the whole thing even more romantic to me.

 Franz von Bayros illustration possibly titled  Early Voluptuousness .

Franz von Bayros illustration possibly titled Early Voluptuousness.

A lot of von Bayros’ work reminds me of those feelings; trusted lovers reveling in devotion to a secret sexual world behind closed doors. Often when my own relationships dissolved like sugar in a glass of stagnating water, I fell asleep at night in mute anguish imagining scenes similar to those so intricately rendered by von Bayros; occult Sapphic bonds much stronger than anything I could convey in my silly love notes and amateur adolescent poetry. In my teenage naivete, I felt a coldness envelop my heart as I imagined a young woman with whom I’d once pondered eternity now laughing at me in the dark while her friend introduced her to a world she’d sometimes pondered but never known. Flagellating myself with these fantasies of betrayal became a masochistic fetish unto itself. Of course, this is simply a fragment of a picture in time; I had my sadistic natures and my personal perversions that I kept to myself. But in my head, I played this pure individual lost in a world of sexual traitors who laughed at innocence before placing it into their glossy mouths to dissolve on their tongues like candy. I was somewhat shocked when just a few years ago, I found many parallels in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

 Franz von Bayros illustration entitled  Erotic Paroxysm .

Franz von Bayros illustration entitled Erotic Paroxysm.

Cold Mannequin Lust in the Decadent Movement

This blending of sexual confidence and elitism exudes from the illustrated daydreams of von Bayros. Though the lesbian lovers and mesmerized dandies seem to be enjoying bonds with one another to varying degrees, I find little to no warmth in the often grotesque facial expressions, distorted limbs, and twisted smiles. Instead, it’s the momentary brain death of a pornographic orgasm, a cold recoiling of introspection that can accompany physical sexual fascination. It’s a disconnected reality wearing a flowery mask of romance. There’s an element to these works where excess spills over into waste; aimless blank socialite horror on some frilly alien frequency. Yet, it’s as if there’s a wall of glass separating that world of fleshy explorations and at times that glass seems hopelessly mocking. It’s difficult to reconcile the touching warmth of holding hands with maidens seduced by vampiric dominance, writhing in chemical ecstasy while welcoming an addiction to betrayal with fluttering eyelids. I’m left admiring the work of von Bayros the way I once admired unspoken kisses in secret places, drowning in echoes of clandestine sighs between plastic mannequins.

The mesmerized pure white eyes add a certain coldness to the lust of von Bayros' Hard as Mistress' Rubber

Baffling Moments of Bestiality

Not all aspects of von Bayros work in the Decadent movement connect so profoundly with me. For its pure arrogant debauchery and further alien qualities, I can appreciate his tendency to include bestiality in these secret scenes. However, it adds a facet to his work that’s not personally relatable, despite my adoration of depressing juxtaposition. In some attempt to translate the odd moments of bestiality, I’m reminded of a scene in a Bret Easton Ellis novel in which a guinea pig wearing a priceless diamond necklace crawls amongst the wasted nude bodies of its benefactors. Perhaps there is some parallel of gluttony that I can comprehend but it doesn’t feel sexual.

Meeting Within My Body presents an example of von Bayros' recurring theme of bestiality. 

I’ve been wanting to explore the erotic dimensions of my own mythology for some time but haven’t had the consciousness necessary. I imagined that sex would become more prevalent in my work around the time that I entered the cups suit of my tarot series or in the 2nd phase of my graphic novel which will focus almost exclusively on the sexual aspects of my characters. I’m sure when the time comes, von Bayros will be a huge influence.

Nine of Pentacles: A Private Parade

IX: The Nine of Pentacles

As is common knowledge, the forces of the Kingdom of Swords were no match for our clone army. As countless Sword Knights fell beneath the seemingly inexhaustible clones, the war finally came to a close. As is common knowledge in the Kingdom of Pentacles, we have several golden statues in honor of House Pentacles but not a single memorial. Thanks to the clones, no subject of our kingdom lost a life to that war. And for the time being, it seemed that the story of the mystic had reached its conclusion…at least as far as the subjects of the Kingdom of Pentacles were concerned. She was rumored to have been rewarded handsomely for her efforts and ingenuity. While her assistant remained a fixture in the court of our gilded king, the mystic herself vanished shortly after the war. Admittedly, it struck the people as strange that she disappeared so mysteriously without so much as a parade honoring her contributions to our victory. Yet, as the days grew even more prosperous, the questions faded. Though we lived in the glow of the mystic’s brilliance, she was out of sight and soon out of mind.


Unknown to the people of the Pentacles Kingdom, the Nine of Pentacles finds the mystic long gone from their realm, retired into other worlds accessible to her through magical means. As briefly mentioned previously, the mystic had been travelling via magically induced portal to a moon where she cultivated the pumpkins that allowed her to produce her scarecrows. The Nine of Pentacles finds the mystic reveling in her private celebration of her accomplishment. Her robes blow in a breeze that separates her surroundings into a sunny day and the moonscape that provides her enchanted jack-o’-lanterns. Her robes have shifted from the black uncertainty and darkness of her path to autumnal golds, referencing the harvest and wealth. The ground is festooned with a plethora of pumpkins and nine pentacles are caught up in the mystic’s ribbons all signifying the bountiful abundance that rewards the mystic upon the completion of her projects.

Honoring Success with the Nine of Pentacles

The Nine of Pentacles is a card celebrating material success and a toast to a job well done from life itself. However, this is not a success passed to our protagonist externally. She no longer needs validation from House Swords or House Pentacles as she has in the past. She doesn’t even need her assistant in this private parade of accomplishment. Instead, the mystic now glows from within, exuding a confidence that only comes through overcoming the obstacles of a material world.

Solitude in Paradise

Two of her clones prepare a glass of pink strawberry champagne (echoed in the pentacles of the border) as the mystic’s hand languidly awaits the glass stem. Yet, the mystic is virtually alone in her paradise, reflecting upon her immense accomplishments which also resound in the border with the face of a clone to the left, a burlap-hooded scarecrow at the top, and the golden mask of the Knight of Pentacles to the right. Here she can bask in her unique gifts and all that she’s wrought.

An End and a Beginning

Initially, I was saddened that the mystic reaps her rewards in her autumnal paradise without her dear assistant but this card shows a sense of self-satisfaction and self-worth that could not accommodate the presence of her apprentice. As the Ten of Pentacles will go on to illustrate, the mystic would never see her assistant again…yet in another way she would.

Funeral Glam

At the end of 2015, I started to hear of 2016 as the year of purification; the year of speaking our truth. I believe the first place I heard this was Kaypacha’s New Paradigm Community but I’ve admittedly had to dial down my viewing of his weekly Pele Reports at the request of my wife because of my inescapable tendency to add some sort of doom-and-gloom personal apocalypse filter to each of his messages. I immediately envisioned flowing ivory days as my insecurities were bleached away by a passion for sincerity. I certainly didn’t imagine a funeral procession beneath obsidian banners and streets blanketed in black and blue glitter, a sparkling bruise reminding me of vulnerability and mortality as I made each paranoid turn through the beginning of the year. I have walked into the shadow world of 2016 through an onyx gate flanked by the statues of two cold and naked black diamond dogs with eyes twinkling like ice planets. 

A Guide for Dying

Blackstar is the first of these statues; a final hymn for the dudes that almost shows us a glimpse of the other side of the black veil between skittering jazz drums and frantic, frenzied brass chaos. I don’t know if it’s possible to face death without fear. Sometimes I think of my own body on the slab in a morgue; cold and naked under unforgiving phosphorescent light. My soul may be gone from it but I love my body. It’s been very good to me in the years that I’ve known it and I’d never trade it for another. My heart breaks to think of leaving it behind someday but that’s my flaw to overcome or swallow. I felt like I considered my death but until I actually contemplated the mundane reality of it, I hadn’t been quite so afraid. I don’t want to think that everyday I reach the time, the exact second on the clock, that I will someday die; to consider there’s a place that I will die whether I go there frequently or have never been yet. I don’t want to have a final song to which I listen, a final word I speak, a final sunset, a final meal. By my nature, I want more but I admit this with deep gratitude and love for all that I’ve had. But Blackstar reminded me that no one escapes death, no matter how brilliant or charming. Bowie’s final album also brings me comfort the same way reading a guidebook brings clarity. Bowie was creating mythological guides that taught me how to live and with his final album he’s taught me how to die. The class and sophistication exuding from a death bed, the dignity of a condemned man – it’s all held so admirably, permeating the record throughout each track. The opening guitar line to “Lazarus” sounds like mourning so deeply that it’s impossible not to be immediately pierced by profound loss upon hearing it. 

I Never Expect the Fool to Die

My favorite track, if I were to be brazen enough to isolate a track from such a cohesive record, would be “Dollar Days” which initially sounds to me like resignation, like making peace with the inevitable. But then it’s punctuated with that lust for life and moments of desperately wanting to cling to a colorful world as all fades to ashen gray and an impenetrable black. The last minute of the song is possibly the closest Blackstar gets to a glam rock moment where it somehow juxtaposes the boldness and riskiness of youth against the black unknown in one more proud smile at the memories. This is particularly painful for me. When I look at the Fool balanced at the edge of the cliff, I recognize there’s a risk but I always expect him to turn out okay. I never expect the charming, clever Fool to die. 

The Painful Separation of Night Thoughts

Bowie’s Blackstar eclipsed the beginning of 2016 so fatally that I actually felt sorry for Suede having to release their brilliant new record Night Thoughts under such conditions. The second mourning statue guarding the gates of 2016, Night Thoughts is very different than Blackstar while also provoking contemplations of death that are oddly as elegant as they are painful. Where Blackstar offered us fleeting glimpses of a world that we couldn’t yet understand, a world beyond our world, Night Thoughts is firmly rooted in our known world but with its nose up against the black curtain with no knowledge of the other side but instead a haunting feeling of disconnection and separation. Though very sad, Blackstar ultimately achieves a sense of spiritual peace. It almost tells you things are not going to be easy but in the end they will be okay. Night Thoughts is not so quick to offer these sage assurances, instead exploring the beauty and glory of youth against the immeasurable pain of loss and ending up in a space of deep melancholy love. The album is saturated with the pleasures and pains of looking back on one’s life, but there’s always that feeling of disconnect echoing in lyrics like “And isn’t it strange that the method I choose/Is a way to get close but I get further from you?”

I Know All My Neighbors' Cars

The majority of the record is bookended by the panoramic “When You Are Young”/“When You Were Young” which at times reminds me of moments as a child when I’d ponder the eventual death of my parents, thoughts that would reduce me to tears in private, imagined moments of mourning. The album is still punctuated with electric moments of glittering guitar perfection but these don’t step far from the introspection as evidenced by the lyrics of “No Tomorrow.” Possibly the most radio-friendly track on the record, it also contains one of the most subtly destroying lines for anyone of my archetype: “I know all my neighbors’ cars.” As if this weren’t more clear, the brutal video clip features an elderly man committing suicide before his daughter or daughter-in-law turns up to find him too far gone to revive him. It’s actually pretty hard to keep yourself together when listening to Night Thoughts in the right mood.

While dark glam has probably been raining on parades since Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” it’s still surprising to see two albums of such beautiful starkness and honest introspection ushering in 2016. Blackstar and Night Thoughts have certainly soundtracked questions I doubt I’d have asked had they not been written. The introspective nature of the albums is made that much more pronounced against a backdrop of universal acclaim for Bowie. As much as I love to watch his brilliant art celebrated, it pains me to hear people covering his music so I’ve avoided the tributes. There’s nothing more to add to those songs that the music didn’t already say itself and in the case of Bowie, who didn’t imitate as much as he absorbed, imitation just doesn’t feel like the sincerest form of flattery. The funereal tones of Blackstar and Night Thoughts find my very essence aching at sponsored commercials with tacked on emphatic performances, like a self-congratulatory mockery broadcast live from the skull of a god. In bedrooms, on headphones, or in cars lit by sunsets, the juxtaposition is at once sickening and profound.