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. 

Eight of Pentacles: The Master Becomes the Student

VIII: The Eight of Pentacles

From what we understand, a lot of the basis for the genetic work that the mystic pioneered came from data collected by her assistant. After a period of testing behind closed doors, a call for volunteers was issued by House Pentacles, requesting that able-bodied citizens donate their genetic material for the experiment. At first, it was hard to sell the golden people of the Kingdom of Pentacles on such a donation. There were probably a variety of reasons for this but the prospect of becoming the universally recognized face of the Pentacles army was daunting. However, a spirit of patriotism gripped some of our people and the donations began to file in. Weeks passed without result and as the request for volunteers spread across the kingdom and the monetary reward for a successful candidate steepened, it became painfully obvious that the experiment was not progressing for some reason. We were receiving daily reports of the struggles between the Swords Army and Pentacles Army. Our people desperately tried to show gratitude for our victories and not get too caught up in lamenting our losses. During this uncertain time, neither the mystic nor her assistant were seen publicly. It can only be assumed that they were committed to their work. 

Little did we know that they had already selected a successful donor, though the source was never officially revealed. It was popularly believed that the donor, often referred to as “the golden youth”, was not from the Kingdom of Pentacles. Naturally, this stirred wariness in the patriotic people of the Kingdom of Pentacles. It’s widely believed (though again never confirmed) that the donor was a drug addict that frequented a gray area between the Kingdom of Swords and the Kingdom of Pentacles; a vagrant that held no allegiance to any kingdom. Several merchants travelling the roads recognized his likeness when the new soldiers for the Pentacles Army were finally revealed. Further fire was given to the rumor due to the disappearance of the addict and the refusal of House Pentacles to divulge the name of the donor as a matter of privacy.

The first wave of the clone army was introduced to us in a public ceremony. The King of Pentacles himself introduced them as his “Golden Youth.” With the mystic and her assistant silently to his right and the Page of Pentacles and Queen of Pentacles wearing supportive smiles to his left, the King of Pentacles praised the Golden Youth as the “perfect fusion of science and magic.” They were designed to be completely subservient to the orders of the King of Pentacles with a quiet respect instilled in them. They obediently followed his commands with silent devotional reverence. The demonstration did not completely eliminate suspicion, but doubts were eased significantly. Those weakened doubts would reverse into full confidence as the King of Pentacles himself joined the Golden Youth in their march to the Kingdom of Swords. 

~

The Eight of Pentacles is often referred to as the apprentice’s card so how fitting that it finds the mystic adding her magic to scientific concepts primarily developed by her assistant. Here they are hard at work on a new enterprise though they are facing it with confidence and enthusiasm. Scarecrow Agriculture is behind them as they dive headlong into developing a clone army for the King of Pentacles. Gone are the mystic’s moral reservations and doubts, fading in the light of progress and new possibilities. The robes of both the mystic and her assistant are adorned in pentacles, indicating that they have embraced and been embraced by a profitable profession in the employ of the Pentacles Family. 

Life Beyond Scarecrow Agriculture

Scarecrow Agriculture could have been the end for the mystic and her assistant but the Eight of Pentacles finds them proving (to themselves as much as anyone else) that their brilliance is far from exhausted. Behind them, incubating in tubes of blue life liquid are three clones though it’s insinuated several more are incubating just out of view. The Eight of Pentacles often finds the results of hard work and ingenuity on display. Here the mystic has her genius creations unobscured, bold and naked behind transparent glass. The clones’ tubes are graced with the symbol of the pentacle, fusing the mystic’s magic and the assistant’s science.

Eight of Pentacles vs. Two of Pentacles

Some view the Eight of Pentacles as the inverse of the Two of Pentacles. The composition of these cards is similar. However, where the Two of Pentacles found the mystic and her assistant split between a robot and a scarecrow, facing opposite directions to show their divided attention, the Eight of Pentacles finds them facing one another with their unified focus on the clone army. They are now fully dedicated to this project with confidence.

Twilight Apprentice Days

At times the Eight of Pentacles can also allude to a feeling that the subject’s apprentice days should have been long behind them, echoing the dynamics of the master becoming the student. Since the mystic already found her humbleness during the Six of Pentacles, she is undeterred by such feelings of doubt. Rather she is beginning to see life as the eternal student and is instead consumed by her excitement of her latest endeavor.

 

Children of Bowie

Several weeks have passed since the death of David Bowie and I’ve been struggling somewhat with mourning an archetypal figure that had so much personal relevance to me and seeing that reflected in people from who I feel such a vast distance. Somewhere along that slippery road are the insecurities that feed elitism and nothing about it feels pure, but in all honesty it’s there. It takes a lot to admit something like that publicly and I won’t make it a habit but this is easily the highest magnitude a celebrity death will ever affect me, short of a future where myself and the people I love are famous.

Because You’re Young

I say it often and I’ve said it even more since January 10th but Bowie may very well be the first music I heard unless you count my mother going into labor while watching The Benny Hill Show. But since we’re not talking about my love of BritPop today, we’ll say the first music I heard as a baby was David Bowie. It’s strange to think that I was born sometime between the recording and the release of Scary Monsters but this wouldn’t really be relevant to my infancy because my parents had stopped following Bowie after Diamond Dogs. According to my parents, Hunky Dory helped me sleep. They often cited “Kooks” as a song in which they saw the potential in me, their firstborn child. I’ve always been touched by the sentiment, even though I’d have been shocked if my parents had suggested in response to my frustration with homework that we simply “throw it on the fire and take the car downtown.” Regardless, some seed of creativity was no doubt nurtured in me by those early days of my life listening to Bowie with my parents.

"Look at those cavemen go..."

Rebel Rebel

Other than Michael Jackson (Thriller was the first record I owned) and some Beatles records, music didn’t really speak to me as a child because I was more interested in drawing pictures, reading fantasy novels, and watching cartoons. Music didn’t offer otherworldly creatures (if I only knew). There was a brief interest in MC Hammer but I didn’t feel truly passionate as a music fan until I heard Nirvana. It was around this time that my parents, feeling particularly nostalgic, re-bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on cassette. I distinctly recall trips in the car where they tried to connect with me about the glory of Bowie or the trashy lipstick smudged melodies of the New York Dolls. But all I wanted to hear was grunge. I approached my parents’ music with an upturned nose, scoffing in disgust at Bowie “making love with his eagle” (not the last lyric I would butcher). Where did bestiality fit into my middle school romances? Bowie’s world was confident and I preferred to revel in the self-loathing of Seattle’s finest.

It only took a year or two for me to lighten up and soon, headphones permanently glued to my ears, I was borrowing my parents’ cassettes whenever I could: Goat’s Head Soup by the Stones, The Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin IV, but most importantly The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust; in particular “Moonage Daydream”…a song that launched a thousand fantasy romances. This may have been around the time I began to privately style myself as a poet and true romantic amidst a sea of unrefined cavemen. I couldn’t keep it up around my friends where I’d quickly devolve into immature jokes and posturing but behind closed doors, I wrote poems for girls with whom I felt I was madly in in love and “Moonage Daydream” was often the soundtrack.

We Are the Dead

Perhaps due to my family’s avoidance of grief whenever possible, I met Kurt Cobain’s suicide with a dazed shrug and the realization that I needed to find a new favorite band. After contemplating Nine Inch Nails (who were too aggressive) and The Cure (who would become my favorite band several years later), I decided on Marilyn Manson and spent a lot of my early high school years listening to surface level goth and industrial. Eventually, this path led to post-punk and deathrock. After reading an interview with Rozz Williams from Christian Death my senior year, I proudly mimicked his statement that he didn’t follow Bowie past Scary Monsters. Embarrassingly, I hadn’t heard anything beyond Diamond Dogs (with the exception of Earthling which I didn’t really listen to much) but who was I to contradict the gospel of Rozz? He committed suicide later that year and though my late teens and early 20s would find me buying every album through Scary Monsters, I never thought to question Rozz. At that point in my life, ‘80s and ‘90s Bowie would have no doubt baffled me anyway. I couldn’t really understand his soul period and only listened to the Berlin trilogy when the mood was just right.

Myself circa 1999.

Golden Years

Things eventually shifted and I found myself completely enamored with Bowie’s plastic soul period a few years after moving to Los Angeles. I distinctly remember a period around the time of my band Peppermint Pumpkin’s first show when I was turning up to clubs and house shows wearing sunglasses and exuding an antisocial depression all to the tune of “Somebody Up There Likes Me” in my head. Plastic soul Bowie was brilliant and spoke to the mannequin in me. I didn’t get what anyone else was doing and I sure as hell didn’t expect them to get what I was doing. I was suffering from cocaine confidence without the cocaine. Thankfully, I snapped out of it but I still feel a strong connection to that period of Bowie’s work due to my strange ego drama of that time in my life.

One of my all-time favorite album covers.

Bowie’s mark is undoubtedly felt in every aspect of my creativity, from the way I dress, to the images I draw, to the music I create, to the lyrics I write. Over the years, his work became even more vital to me, even further engrained in my sense of life. I never met the man though there was a point, less than a year ago, where it seemed like a strong possibility. I won’t go into the specifics but I actually rehearsed what I’d say to him a few times. I imagined casually walking over beside him to grab a bottle of water or something but beyond that I kind of froze. I realized then that I had nothing to say to the man except “thank you.” Just because he had changed my life didn’t mean that the gift could even come close to be reciprocated. And as if to confirm my realization, the potential meeting never came to pass.

Speed of Life

About a month before Bowie’s death, I started listening to him heavily. Maybe it was because Blackstar had been announced but for the first time, my obsession reached beyond the comfort zone spanning Space Oddity to Scary Monsters. I started with Earthling since I owned it but never listened to it, then stretched into even less familiar territory until I’d heard everything. Some things didn’t click with me that much (I’m still baffled by a lot of Black Tie, White Noise and can’t reconcile his version of “Tonight” since the version on Lust for Life was so brilliant) but for the most part, I realized that the Rozz path of not listening past Scary Monsters didn’t really apply to me. Around this time, I found myself in a hospital room beside the bed of a comatose friend, playing him “Golden Years” from my iPhone feeling nothing had the healing power and confidence of Bowie’s soul period, even though Station to Station found him transitioning toward the sounds of the Berlin trilogy. My friend didn’t make it but I still feel that “Golden Years” illuminated his journey to the other side.

Blackstar

There’s so much I could actually write about the death of Bowie, but in truth, it really brings me down to revisit a lot of the feelings. Instead, I’m going to take two excerpts, the first from a Facebook post I made following his death:

“I feel compelled to mention that just after dark on Sunday night, while walking with Carisa and Romeo, we heard the sound of an owl in the night. Suddenly, Carisa noticed the owl, perched majestically at the top of a dead tree and we marveled at it. I can't remember the last time I saw an owl but suddenly as we continued walking, we noticed there was another owl just a few branches away, in the same dead tree. We listened to them momentarily and felt the magic of that moment. It's hard to think that the most inspirational artist was in his last hours on earth in those moments but it also carries with it his intensity. And so I continue to walk forward in the footstep of this giant with love and gratitude.”

The second excerpt is directly from my diary:

“There are myriads of strange reactions I had to Bowie's death - moments of restlessness in bed, possibly some nightmares, re-evaluations of art, my life, my friends, and peers. But just to add a few truly moving moments: there was a point driving home listening to Low when the sky was Martian red with chalky, grayish blue clouds. It reminded me somewhat of the cover of Low and felt so inspirational. The other moving moment came when I was finally moving beyond Bowie and listening to ‘Surf's Up’ by The Beach Boys. I found a picture of a late afternoon sunset on the beach with people looking out into the goldenness - everything was either this muted, burning gold or black. The ending part of ‘Surf's Up’ was playing and I felt that Bowie was so far away - somewhere in the depths of those black parts of the ocean. It was painfully revelatory - feeling the expanse of space and time between myself and a person who had created aspects that meant so much to me. I wanted ‘Surf's Up’ to play at my own funeral because in those moments it seemed to conjure the inescapable majesty and horror of death and that seemingly unnavigable void. In that way, ‘Surf's Up’ meant more to me in the death of Bowie than most of Bowie's songs.”

The image that I looked at while listening to "Surf's Up" - photographer unknown.

Bowie was often helping me to understand life, like any talented mythmaker. Even in his final hours, he proved that neither illness nor old age can obscure the brightness of the human spirit; that there is no age limit on being a rock star. I sometimes feel insecurities at wanting to be a rock star at my age but Bowie has eased a lot of those doubts in the way that he left our lives. Anytime is the right time to be a star. As Bowie says in “After All”, “They’re just taller children.”

 

Seven of Pentacles: An Indecent Proposal

Chapter VII. The Seven of Pentacles

The Page of Pentacles provided the mystic and her assistant with a state of the art laboratory, though it quickly became obvious that the animation of scarecrows relied primarily on magical arts. Still the mystic seemed to appreciate the privacy that the laboratory, located deep within the Tower of Pentacles, afforded her. The mystic was known to take leave of the laboratory sporadically, leaving her assistant behind to diligently draft reports of their work on the super scarecrow. While the royal family of Pentacles has to this day never disclosed the purpose of the mystic’s absence in these early trials, reliable yet anonymous divulgences indicate that she returned from this unknown place with the gourds that would be used in scarecrow animation as well as a pumpkin juice that, when applied to the sticks and straw of an inanimate scarecrow, imbued it with life.

The incredible results yielded to the mystic instilled faith in the King and Queen of Pentacles who, until that point, had allowed the Page of Pentacles to employ the mystic as a learning experience. However, as the new Knight of Pentacles neared completion, the King of Pentacles decided upon a risky proposal of his own that ultimately won the war against the Kingdom of Swords.

While the mystic’s work with scarecrows introduced the King of Pentacles to her talents, he recognized that a scarecrow, no matter how agile and intelligent, would not win the war. However, he was made aware through his observant wife, the Queen of Pentacles, that the mystic and her assistant had been using the lab in their free time to explore work that merged genetics and magic. The royal family of Pentacles could only speculate as to the intended outcome of such curiosity, but it almost immediately gave the King of Pentacles an idea that, due to its ethically sensitive nature, he kept from the innocent Page of Pentacles.

The story goes that the King of Pentacles presented the secret offer to the mystic as her assistant was busy lowering the golden mask and red helmet of the Knight of Pentacles onto his newly stirring body. The King of Pentacles disclosed that he was aware of the apparent leaps and bounds achieved in genetic experimentation through the mystic’s magical arts and her assistant’s scientific mastery. Knowing this, he proposed that the mystic manufacture a clone army in the hopes that the Kingdom of Pentacles could crush the Kingdom of Swords. In return, the royal family of Pentacles guaranteed a lifetime of wealth for the mystic.

It can only be speculated that the mystic felt conflicted by the offer. Though she had the knowledge and skill to create the clone army that House Pentacles so strongly desired, it would come at the cost of betraying her previous brief benefactors to a potentially mortal degree. Whether this left the mystic in a moral quandary or not will forever be questioned but never confirmed. However, not a full day passed before the mystic agreed to the terms. Before the Knight of Pentacles had even taken his first nimble step, the mystic was hard at work on the first stage of an army of clones. 

~

The Seven of Pentacles finds our dear mystic in yet another situation filled with opportunity although this one may come tied to a difficult decision. We find the King of Pentacles having a clandestine discussion with the mystic, emphasized by his hand being used to cover his mouth. He is proposing that the mystic use her magical prowess and research to create an army of clones to sway the ongoing war against the Kingdom of Swords in the favor of the Kingdom of Pentacles. The King of Pentacles is a rather amiable character, smiling confidently as he puts forth the proposal that will undoubtedly lead his kingdom to victory.

The Price of Ambition

While the King of Pentacles may have no qualms in dealing a fatal blow to his rivals in House Swords, the mystic has no such luxury and instead is burdened with a choice weighed down by feelings of treachery. While the royal family of Swords dismissed her following the failure of Scarecrow Agriculture, they also offered her opportunities that propelled her forward in her research and allowed for her advancement, even if their contributions were temporary. The mystic still understands the power of gratitude for those moments early on in her relationship with House Swords as well as her business relationship with the people who inhabited the village near September Hollow. Beyond this, the mystic has also seen the humanity in the people of the village. Therefore, there is an obvious moral quandary to the opportunity that the King of Pentacles is offering the mystic. The Seven of Pentacles often comes with a choice and it’s not always an easy one. It may call for a sacrifice or a compromise of morality, but it is completely up to you which path you ultimately follow. We can see the ponderous and possibly anxious look on the mystic’s face. All of the wealth she’d need to see her passion projects through to the end is in a pentacle-emblazoned bag inches away. 

The Seven of Pentacles Beyond Morality

Ultimately, she will accept the King of Pentacles’ offer and begin the manufacturing of a clone army, despite her moral and ethical misgivings. Though we can acknowledge the moral compromise in her situation, the mystic’s decision to pursue her life goals at the cost of betraying her former employer is neither right nor wrong but simply the trajectory of her life. We are instead observing the moral aspects of the mystic’s decision from a place beyond right and wrong; as disassociated voyeurs.

Boldly Stepping Forward Onto Uncertain Ground

Beyond the moral challenge the proposal presents, a challenge of skill also looms over the mystic. Her foray into genetics is relatively new, relying heavily on information that her assistant knows better than her. In the back of the mystic's mind, she is accepting the proposal with a lack of certainty that she actually has the knowledge and skill to complete the task at hand. 

The mystic could rest on her laurels with a secure standing in House Pentacles for her successes with Scarecrow Agriculture and the Knight of Pentacles, or she could risk failure for the chance to see her combination of magic and science to its ultimate conclusion. 

Six of Pentacles: Seeing the Present Through Humble Green Eyes

XI. The Six of Pentacles

We don’t know the details about the inner workings of our royal family of Pentacles, but according to the Page of Pentacles himself, the idea that sowed the seed that won the war came to him while wandering the bountiful fields of Pentacles Country. While looking at one of the scarecrows hanging immobilized at the edge of a patch of strawberries and pumpkins, he contemplated the tales of the mystic and her supposed Scarecrow Agriculture that had been so lauded prior to the twin disasters that ravaged our enemies in the Kingdom of Swords. It was just a thought but it was the spark that found him investigating the accounts behind the mystic and Scarecrow Agriculture. When she crossed the border into our kingdom, emissaries sent by the Page of Pentacles were awaiting her.

It’s also confirmed by representatives of House Pentacles that the Page of Pentacles held counsel with his mother and father, the Queen and King of Pentacles. He explained to them his careful research into Scarecrow Agriculture and the unusual woman who seemed to manifest from nowhere. He also reminded them of the bitter failure of Scarecrow Agriculture in the face of the natural disasters that befell the Kingdom of Swords. The Page of Pentacles then put forth an idea that wasn’t simply bold. Many would have openly laughed in the face of such an idea. Yet, the sage Queen and King of Pentacles were well versed in the potentially lucrative outcome of risks so they gave the Page of Pentacles their blessing, knowing that regardless of failure or success, he’d learn the lesson he was meant to learn.  

Immediately upon crossing the threshold into the Kingdom of Pentacles, the mystic and her assistant were ushered away by the emissaries of the Page of Pentacles where they were fed, bathed, and briefed on their meeting. They were escorted to the lavish mausoleum of our dear fallen Knight of Pentacles. The decadent mausoleum provided the amount of secrecy the Page required to explain his proposal to the mystic.

From the jade steps of the Knight’s memorial, the Page of Pentacles asked the mystic if she could create a “super scarecrow” of sorts; one much more intelligent than the amiable yet oafish creations that lumbered through the fields during the brief season of Scarecrow Agriculture. Once the mystic confirmed that such a feat was absolutely in her reach, the Page of Pentacles produced a generous advance and further details. The “super scarecrow” would serve as the new Knight of Pentacles, nearly invincible to the blades of the army of House Swords. If he did fall, the mystic could apply her resurrection techniques as she had with her other scarecrows so that the new Knight of Pentacles would always be reborn with the same knowledge. The mystic showed no misgivings in fashioning the new leader of the army that opposed her previous employer. She gladly accepted the generous offer from the Page of Pentacles and immediately began work with her trusted assistant at her side.

~

The Six of Pentacles introduces us to the mystics working relationship with House Pentacles, an experience that will prove to be much more lucrative and fulfilling than her dealings with House Swords. That’s not to say the mystic is free from challenges but the Six of Pentacles is, in general, a much happier point of her journey than the points she explored in the previous two cards. While the Six of Pentacles finds the mystic regaining her footing, it also presents a slightly different road to her that leaves her re-evaluating her haunting history with the failure of Scarecrow Agriculture.

The Honorable Generosity of the Mystic’s New Benefactor

The Page of Pentacles is a central figure in the Six of Pentacles in that he becomes the mystic’s benefactor, believing in her when all others have lost faith, possibly even the mystic herself for a brief period. He is seen presenting a generous advance, split evenly between the mystic and her assistant in a gesture that recognizes both in fairness. While the illustration may imply this is an assumption of the Page’s, the even division of funds is actually authorized by the mystic, her penchant for fairness already exhibited in the Three of Pentacles. A theme of charity and fairness is deeply woven into the Six of Pentacles.

The Evolution of an Idea

The Page of Pentacles is also pointing out the new road for the mystic, asking her to explore her gift for creating scarecrows in ways that move beyond her limited vision of Scarecrow Agriculture. The Page of Pentacles acknowledges Scarecrow Agriculture for its brilliance but challenges the mystic to take it even further. In these moments, the mystic realizes the shortsightedness of Scarecrow Agriculture, underscoring a common theme in the Six of Pentacles of dissatisfaction with past or present endeavors. Here, it’s no longer a bitter loathing for the idea that crushed her reputation, but rather an understanding that the idea was great but had not been given room to evolve.

Comparisons of the Six of Pentacles and Three of Pentacles

The Six of Pentacles finds the mystic in a similar situation as the Three of Pentacles but key points have changed. The Page of Pentacles has set up a clandestine meeting in a mausoleum (yes, a lavish and esteemed mausoleum but a mausoleum nonetheless). In the Three of Pentacles, she was meeting the royal family of Swords on the grounds of the Palace of Swords. Gone is the overly confident woman looking directly into the face of the King and Queen of Swords in the Six of Pentacles. Rather, we have a humbled mystic who is not yet fit to meet with the King and Queen of Pentacles. Instead, contracts are carried out by the Page of Pentacles. Likewise, where the mystic met the royal family of Swords head on, her she is positioned lower than the Page. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, rather this is simply the mystic’s current placement in the cycle where a sense of humbleness finds her watching her steps and enterprises more closely. Perhaps this is precisely what she needs to make her future endeavors with magic pay off.

In the end, the Six of Pentacles is a somewhat joyous opportunity for the mystic, though it finds her kneeling where she once stood in command. Instead of the indifferent support of prestigious powers like the King and Queen of Swords, she now has the patronage of the Page of Pentacles who, despite his studiousness, is too young to be seen as a real power. Yet, from this unexpected avenue, she’s been shown her own creations with a whole new sense of potential. On the ashes of Scarecrow Agriculture, in the tomb of the Knight of Pentacles, she begins her journey to create a super scarecrow who will stand as the new Knight of Pentacles. 

Five of Pentacles: A Dark Freedom Through Loss

Chapter V: The Five of Pentacles

 

You’d be hard pressed to find a single family that wasn’t dealt a crippling blow by the odd weather that wrought its unwavering cruelty on the Kingdom of Swords during the Season of the Mystic. But nature’s war against us was further compounded by the human war that had been growing in fury for some time. The Kingdom of Swords had been in conflict of varying degrees of intensity with the neighboring Kingdom of Pentacles for as long as any of us could remember. It was in those darkest of days when we were rationing our meager food supplies and praying for rain that we received unexpected news the likes of which we’d never have expected. A cloud of Sword Knights had descended upon the Knight of Pentacles and extinguished his life. While we didn’t have much material to throw together a celebration, a celebration was required nonetheless. So, we danced through the hot night, drunk on cheap pumpkin wine. With each swig of the bottle, I felt like I was not just toasting the death of our enemies in the Kingdom of Pentacles, but also the death of Scarecrow Agriculture and the ultimately long, hard fall that came with it. We swallowed the spiced swill gluttonously, as if it were made from the corpses of the scarecrows themselves. Blinded by booze and bitterness, we never saw her go and that was in her best interest. Amidst our revelry, the mystic and her assistant vacated September Hollow, presumably through the decaying industrial remnants of the rusting factories that line the crumbling roads leading out of the Kingdom of Swords and into the Kingdom of Pentacles. That evening we passed out with curses on the family of Pentacles and the mystic on our cracked, dry lips.

*Thus ends the accounts documented by the people of the Kingdom of Swords. What follows is transcribed from the records of the Kingdom of Pentacles.*

While we know that the royal family of Pentacles had been observing the woman who we, the public, only know as “the mystic” for some time, we do not have full access to those royal notes and can only speculate upon what the family has confirmed. However, we should mention that had it not been for the astute Page of Pentacles’ curiosity of Scarecrow Agriculture, our fates may have been different. While we have no doubt that the Kingdom of Pentacles would eventually triumph over the Kingdom of Swords, the path to success would have certainly been slower.

Reports began to trickle in of the mystic’s arrival before she’d even officially arrived in the Kingdom of Pentacles. She was seen stumbling through the industrial zone toward the periphery of the Kingdom of Swords where faded advertisements for the wonders of Scarecrow Agriculture met celebratory propaganda of the tragic fall of our army’s general, the Knight of Pentacles. All reports painted her as barely capable of trudging forward, desperately clutching a cheap bottle of pumpkin wine in her hands, followed by her subservient, yet no less concerned assistant who seemed to have refrained from completely obliterating her senses with soothing chemicals. The mystic stepped over the collapsed husks of vagrant drug addicts, almost unaware of their presence while her assistant kept a singular focus on her.

It shows real vision that the Page of Pentacles actually saw opportunity as the first impression we got was that this staggering drunk could never hope to touch the heights of the tales that preceded her. We didn’t see an otherworldly mystic. We saw someone who had given up hope and lost her way…assuming she’d ever had a way to lose.

~

There’s a lot to be said for letting go in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges but this response was rarely encouraged in my own life. I spent a lot of time pressed up against a problem, suffocating myself with it, pummeling it with my fists until they were bloody tatters of uselessness. Doing our best is not always the same as trying in the face of a challenge. Life gives us signals to be still, to go within, to travel with the flow, to take the path of least effort. Sometimes we don’t take the path of least effort because we don’t trust that the path will lead us where we want to go. In my life, a refusal to relax in a stalemate has resulted in some miserable experiences where I end up collapsed and immobilized anyway. A universal scenario would be the worker who pushes himself to show up to the job day after day despite a developing cold. Typically, that worker will reach a point where the cold will consume him and he’ll be much worse off than had he just listened to life’s signals early on and rested. The Five of Pentacles illustrates that point of resignation; a point where the mystic has pushed herself past that point, bitterly clutching her dwindling pentacle coins only to end up destitute and penniless.

The Subtle Trajectory of Life

Here, we find the mystic driven from her farm/lab in September Hollow to the cold, decrepit industrial zone bordering the Kingdom of Swords. At the top of the illustration, a chipped and rusted sword skewers four pentacle emblems also tarnished with rust. The sword is actually pointing the mystic forward to indicate the world beyond us propelling us in the moments when we are resigned and, in a sense, standing still. While the mystic is literally walking forward, in the greater sense of her story, her vacating the Kingdom of Swords is actually her resignation; the moment that she settles and begins to fall into place in her life’s trajectory.

The Unique Resignation in the Five of Pentacles

To further show that the mystic has given up, she is seen clutching a bottle of cheap pumpkin wine, staring off in drunken vacancy with unfocused eyes. It’s not immediately obvious in the illustration, but the poster victoriously advertising the Knight of Pentacles’ death presents an opportunity to the mystic. Likewise, the vagrant youth she has just stepped over embodies a key to yet another great opportunity. All of this will become clear within the next few Pentacles Suit cards, but at this junction, we are as much in the dark as the mystic herself. However, the mystic would maybe have noticed the potential in the death of the Knight of Pentacles and the vagrant youth had she not dulled her senses with cheap wine, choosing to get lost in the labyrinths of her sorrows. Drinking to dull pain is not quite the same as resignation to a situation but luckily for the mystic, the Five of Pentacles finds her doing a little bit of both. In the Four of Pentacles we saw the mystic lost in fear, ignoring the ideas of her assistant. The Five of Pentacles finds her collapsed in intoxicated hopelessness, blinded to opportunities hinted at by the world around her.

The Haunting of Past Achievements Through Filters of Failure

The bitter dregs of her past achievements haunt the mystic in the Five of Pentacles. She has just passed a faded advertisement trumpeting the benefits of Scarecrow Agriculture from a previous time when success seemed tangible. She rakes swigs of harsh pumpkin wine produced from the dregs of whatever meager crop her efforts managed to yield. She is literally drunk on her own failure.

The Support of the Universe Through the Assistant

The mystic’s assistant has more optimism than the mystic and has chosen to face their situation in sobriety. However, she is ignorant to the opportunities around them as well because she is blindly following her mentor and also spending her energies trying to make sure the mystic doesn’t hurt herself in her drunken state. Here, the assistant is a reminder of the cradling hands of the universe; despite the darkness of the mystic’s situation she has a competent individual ready to care for her if necessary. Though the mystic is nearly oblivious to her assistant at this point, it doesn’t change that such reinforcement is ready to catch her if she should fall.

The Otherworldy Haunts of the Five of Pentacles

The rabbits reappear in both the rusted metallic thorny rose borders of the advertisement posters and the borders of the Five of Pentacles card itself. This continues upon the rabbit image on the mystic’s belt in the Four of Pentacles but in the Five of Pentacles we are not met with the mere silhouette of a rabbit but instead rusted, gruesome corroded nightmare versions of the creatures manifest. In the borders, the rabbit heads are presented upside down, inverted crosses being used to indicate an over-the-top, otherworldly horror; a reality infiltrated by demons we tried to suppress desperately in the Four of Pentacles. The Five of Pentacles finds those demons running free over our immobilized bodies. However, this is a momentary darkness as we’ll see in future cards in the Pentacles suit.

Cracked inverted pentacles in the border were intended to indicate a total reversal of the fortunes of the first three Pentacles cards. I later learned that an inverted pentacle does not mean a reversal of fortunes and can, in fact, magnify fortunes. With this knowledge, inverted pentacles were later used with such sentiment in my Queen of Pentacles card. However, through my ignorance, the inverted pentacles in the borders of the Five of Pentacles were meant to indicate a reversal of financial fortune and since they were forged with this intention (and such an intention remains in the symbols and mood of the rest of the Five of Pentacles illustration), such an intention remains.


Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Other Memories of Gratitude

Being a child with a weakness to materialism, one of my happiest memories of Thanksgiving involved waking up early to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I only had a vague understanding of Macy’s because we didn’t have one in our local shopping mall at the time. I recognized it as somewhat equivalent to Sears whose Christmas catalogue normally turned up in the mail around this time, much to my acclaim. My love for Los Angeles developed a lot over the years but as a child I was drawn to New York City. To me, it carried a sense of black tie sophistication and stoic wealth. I wanted to live in a penthouse apartment with windowed walls and descend to the snowy streets to watch the lighting of the giant Christmas tree. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade promised a glimpse into my idealized New York where vast blank gaps were hastily filled in with movie magic.

But watching the parade itself was a sort of ritual to me because I didn’t always enjoy it quite as much as I told myself. It took a lot of dedication for me to stay glued to the marching bands and balloons of characters with which I felt no particular affinity. I couldn’t even tell you today who I wanted to see marching down that crowded street. I enjoyed the spectacle; the giant turkey, Santa Claus waving from his float. But something always felt missing or incomplete. Perhaps the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was Christmas foreplay, setting my mind to thinking of gifts while still keeping them a month away. But despite that unfulfilled sensation, watching the parade early in the morning actually meant something to me. Sometimes, I awake close to noon on Thanksgiving Day with a feeling as though I’ve missed something important. Though I know I’d not really set an alarm and deprive myself of addictive dreams in the name of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a slight pang twinges at me as I momentarily wonder if I missed out on some magic.

Another formative experience involved going to work with my father one gray Thanksgiving morning. I must have been slightly older because I willingly skipped the parade to help my father out. My father’s a carpenter and he was installing cabinets in a condominium by the beach. Before we headed up into the condo, we walked out over the wet sand to watch the violence of the waves beneath the cloudy skies. I held my hands out at my sides and felt myself propelled toward the raging sea by a gust of wind catching my baggy shirt. I’d never been pushed by such wind in my life. I could practically fall against it with all of my weight and find support. I imagined the possibility of being pushed into those waves, the terror. It was exhilarating.

This isn't an actual image from that day but somewhat similar to what I remember.

Another Thanksgiving found me standing in a field of tall, wheat-colored grass gently waving in the breeze. It was just an empty lot beside my aunt’s house. She moved around often so I never got very acquainted with that lot, nor do I know where it would be today (though I can only imagine a house now stands in its place). But in those moments I felt at one with the land for reasons I can’t fully express in writing. The lot of land didn’t look like Southwest Florida to me and this filled me with such a bittersweet rustic spirit.

A scene from the Terrence Malick film To the Wonder (2012) that reminded me of the lot beside my aunt's house.

The holidays that my family celebrated when I was a child left an immeasurable presentation on me creatively. Perhaps it was a feeling of abundance or, in some strange way, a child’s perception of success. How do you measure fortune as a middle class American child? I loved things on a spiritual level and I didn’t always take these intangible joys for granted, but I was still heavily motivated by gifts, candy, and the revelry associated with holidays. I feel I create less when I’m distracted by struggle. When my life feels abundant, my mind feels untethered and I’m no longer afraid to explore new ideas or broaden my vistas. My family were always very generous to me during the holidays and thus I viewed these spellbound moments as charging stations for my creativity. Gifts and social ritual brought inspiration and magic that fueled my creativity. For me, this feeling was strongest in Halloween and Christmas. Thanksgiving was the odd holiday that fell in between, yet even as a child I tried to honor it as best I could. I tried to communicate spiritually with higher powers, I volunteered to lead prayers when my extended family got together for dinner, and (at least as far as I remember) I tried to voice my appreciation for a life that I knew I loved. I did everything possible to stay conscious and acknowledge that I was lucky.

But I grew up in the plastic paradise of Naples, Florida, where the rich elderly go to die in comfort. I was incubated in manicured nature and though I considered myself a privately spiritual child, I never strayed too far from comfort and materialism. It’s easy to feel grateful when my family’s setting the table with a week’s worth of food including at least one pumpkin pie for me and me alone. Prayers of thanks flowed off the tongue when no responsibility stood between me and my writings and drawings or, if I felt like it, video games and TV. How could I not feel rejuvenated by that kind of environment? Just to clarify, I’m not condemning my past because I got so much when others had so little nor am I yearning for a return to those carefree days. Rather I’m acknowledging they existed and concluding that I am inevitably grateful for everything that came from them. 

Tourist Trap Time Warp into 80s and 90s Nostalgia

In an attempt to add an extra dimension to the blog portion of this site, I’ve decided to spend time talking about places, events and everything in between that may have had some sort of impact on my art; even if that impact is hard to immediately place as is the case with today’s foray into 90s nostalgia. Before I get into the phantom memories of a tourist trap called Skull Kingdom, I’d like to talk about my childhood association to Orlando.

If you lived in Florida in the 80s or 90s (and probably still today), Orlando was pretty much where the majority of the theme parks congregated, bound together by some unspoken pact. There were a few rogues (most notably Busch Gardens in Tampa) but whether you were the king of Florida’s theme parks (Disney World) or a paltry pauper tourist trap, you wanted to be in Orlando or possibly even on the periphery somewhere, like Kissimmee. Some of my favorite childhood memories involved my entire extended family piling into 2 or 3 cars and heading up to Orlando to hit up one of the big theme parks and a dodgy tourist trap or two along the way.

The Gateway to Plastic Magic

The guardians at the gates of this veritable Pleasure Island were actually two rather uneventful monuments, at least in my experience. One of these was the restaurant Medieval Times where you could eat a chicken leg while watching knights joust. The other was possibly the dullest idea ever conceived for a theme park, Boardwalk and Baseball. One of my childhood friends loved Boardwalk and Baseball but I always dismissed it for its sub-vanilla blandness. I wasn’t much of a sports fan so it’s hard to say if I’d have held Boardwalk and Baseball in higher regard otherwise. Yet, its looming white roller coaster signified our temporary descent into a sprawling landscape of bizarre magic so its flat greeting was still cause for excitement. 

Boardwalk and Baseball: possibly the most boring idea for a theme park. 

Unregulated Tourist Trap Terrain

While Disney World regulated their magic pretty tightly, they had no control on what a periphery tourist trap was doing so there were plenty of opportunities for the magic to get creepy. I vaguely remember my older cousins totally freaking out in a wax museum but I was too young to fully process what was happening. As my family drove from hotel to restaurant to theme park to tourist trap I would do whatever I could to score a seat in whichever car my cousins were riding in. I distinctly recall them covering my eyes and shouting “Oh my God, it’s Bugs Bunny walking on the side of the road!” I would frantically try to break free from the human blindfold to no avail. They’d let me go and say “Oh, man, you didn’t see Bugs Bunny?” and I’d feel like I’d missed something truly incredible. I’m not sure why they opted for Bugs Bunny over the much more convincing Mickey Mouse but I still believed it. I never held a grudge over these slights because there was just too much going on to care.

Bugs Bunny taking a twilight stroll along the Florida Turnpike...

Possibly on the same trip, we got sucked into a roadside tourist trap that I believe was called Bible Land where we watched a recreation of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I remember it being near-silent with the exception of some sobbing and synthetic thunder crashes. No one else in my family seems to remember Bible Land so maybe it didn’t happen quite like that. I guess there’s a more recent Christian theme park in Orlando called The Holy Land Experience but I’m pretty sure Bible Land was something completely different. I’ve found it mentioned here and there in forums so I’m pretty sure at least some of my memories of Bible Land have to be valid accounts.

Where to Eat in Other Dimensions

In retrospect, it’s difficult to imagine my grandparents coming with us on these family trips to Orlando but they must have accompanied us as I remember eating with them at Shoney’s one night, absolutely exhausted from a day at Disney. Shoney’s was really specific to the Orlando experience because I can’t really recall ever eating at one outside of Orlando. I could barely keep my eyes open as we waited for the food but I specifically remember looking at the red stained glass lamps hanging above our table in the crowded restaurant on that summer night, lost in their cheap glow.

Skull Kingdom; the Ghost of 90s Nostalgia

While I’d have gladly told you a few weeks ago that my memory of Skull Kingdom must have taken place in the 80s, it seems that the fleeting memory of the haunted castle is pure 90s nostalgia since it doesn’t seem that it even opened until 1993. Skull Kingdom was actually the catalyst for this post; a bizarre half-memory staring mysteriously at me through my hotel window somewhere on the infamous tourist trap free-for-all that was International Drive. Like Medieval Times and Boardwalk and Baseball, Skull Kingdom was never a place my family actually hit up on our travels to Orlando. In fact, I don’t think I really paid the castle with the giant skull entryway any attention. Rather it was just another drop in the ocean of overstimulation that constituted a childhood trip to Orlando. Yet, the other day a vague memory of Skull Kingdom popped into my head and I found myself scouring the internet for “skeleton castle Orlando” to find, unsurprisingly, that Skull Kingdom had been demolished to make way for some condos. Looking through what little I could find in memorial to the tourist trap, it seems it was your garden variety year-round haunted attraction…but even that basic concept seems so alien now. Had my family actually gone to Skull Kingdom, I’d probably have dismissed it from my memory, letting it be swept away in the currents created by the void in a lack of mystique. But the fact that I dismissed it at the time brought it back to my mind with such novelty. Thinking of that janky skull watching over International Drive with glowing eyes, my memory was forced to contemplate, “What the fuck was that?”

Skull Kingdom - memorable in passing. 

The strange thing is that I can barely remember any of my experiences at Disney World, but I still find myself prone to momentary flashes of 80s and 90s nostalgia via some insignificant glimpse at a passing tourist trap in the Orlando summer twilight. I’m sure Disney World was awesome but what stands out in my mind was my father talking his way out of a speeding ticket with Skull Kingdom looming a stone’s throw away, the spotlights in the distance over the yet-to-be-disgraced Sea World, or brochures in hotel lobbies for places I’d never go like Wet ‘n’ Wild, Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not, or the Mystery Fun House. I can’t say how this applies directly to my art but there was so much magic caught in the cracks between those cheap novelties and gimmicks. It almost seems impossible to put into words. 

Four of Pentacles: A Tight Grip That Loses All

IV. The Four of Pentacles

The end of what some referred to as “the season of the mystic” seems like it came abruptly, but it was actually two distinct stages that resulted in her fall from grace and her eventual exile from the Kingdom of the Swords. She seemed so otherworldly and superhuman after being appointed Head of Agriculture by the royal family of Swords that I suppose we just thought of her as invincible. It’s anyone’s guess what she thought of herself in that unforgiving autumn, but I reckon if you’re human enough to fail, you’re also human enough to feel afraid. I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

Four Of Pentacles SMALL Watermarked.jpg

The first rains fell early on in the autumn, before it was cold enough for the snow to set in. No one really paid it any mind until maybe about a week in, when instead of showing signs of easing up, the village was pummeled by a storm the likes of which you maybe see only a handful of in a lifetime. A week after that, some homes were severely damaged as the downpours continued regularly. And another week after that, some homes were gone. All of our automatons were lost in the flash floods that also took with them a good number of homes and livestock. The scarecrows were able to fend for themselves in the violent weeks of rainfall but the mechanical men were just no match for that amount of water.

It would have been stranger trying to rebuild after the crushing blows of the storms had it not been for the scarecrows. In fact, we barely felt the loss of the automatons, sometimes forgetting they had even been there until we’d come across their rusted frames in collapsed heaps, scattered sporadically in the fields. The storms hit us hard, but if that had been all we needed to endure, we’d have pulled through. The scarecrows collected what harvest wasn’t lost in the floods and helped to hold us together through a hard winter.

I wouldn’t say we were prepared for the level of devastation that come from the floods, but stormy weather is a harsh part of life in the Kingdom of Swords. Droughts are not. That’s not to say they’ve never happened but I couldn’t recall a drought in my lifetime, though I’d heard stories of a dry spell when my grandfather was just a boy. With a war declared against the fertile neighboring Kingdom of Pentacles and too great of a distance to the water-rich Kingdom of Cups, we had no reprieve from the oppressive heat and dryness that seemed to wither our fledgling crop before our eyes.

Adding to the brutality, our scarecrows were not faring as well against the dry heat as they did against flood waters. Soon, our scarecrows were painfully dehydrating to mere husks in our fields and any attempts to seek renewals from the mystic fell on deaf ears. I walked to September Hollow myself, waiting until the sun was low in the sky so that I wouldn’t succumb to heat stroke in my travels. Dragonflies cut through the hot air, somehow immune to an inescapable brutality.

I arrived at September Hollow to be greeted by the mystic’s assistant who somberly told me that the crop of pumpkins needed for renewing my scarecrow would not be ready for some time. I protested but the assistant seemed to not even hear me. As I stood there arguing, she wordlessly walked away from me across the cracked, hard earth that once presented the lush pumpkin fields of September Hollow to where the mystic stood. I wouldn’t have even noticed her in the early evening she stood so still and silent. I was startled out of my anger as I watched the assistant place a hand on her mentor’s shoulder but the mystic gave no response. Dumbfounded and out of options, I dragged myself back to the village through the dust and falling darkness.  

Somewhere in the bountiful clouds of complaints, I remember telling folks about what I’d seen in the twilight at September Hollow. Naturally, I hadn’t been the only one knocking at the mystic’s door so to speak and it seems. Strangely, others reported seeing a similar scene: the assistant trying to break the mystic from what seemed like a trance, motioning to something on the electronic tablet she always carried. The mystic never responded in any of these accounts. Likewise, no one got a scarecrow renewal, not that we had much for the scarecrows to do.

Desperation was in the air and thoughts were actually turning to storming September Hollow for answers. The strange thing is that, deep down, I think we knew the mystic wasn’t at fault for the hand that nature dealt us. But in those weak moments, it was easier to have someone to blame. I suppose the Swords Family felt the same because we soon got word that the mystic had been relieved of her probationary position as the Head of Agriculture. The Garden of Swords was nothing but wilted husks and dust, much like the dead scarecrows that littered its arid grounds.

~

The Four of Pentacles was an appropriately scary card for me to work on. As I’d mentioned in a previous post, my work on the cards seems to parallel events in my own life and the Four of Pentacles is a card that can be weighed down with anxiety and a feeling that what we have just isn’t enough. It’s a common theme that runs through everyone’s lives, though it can often be difficult to divorce ourselves from our egos enough to see it clearly. We hold on tightly to what we have, terrified that it’s slipping away. Yet the tighter we hold, the more we lose. This is the hard lesson at the heart of the Four of Pentacles.

A Tight Grip That Can Only Lose

Here, we see the mystic desperately clinging to one of her pentacle coins. It burns its image through her clasped hands. This has a lot of meaning in that she is tightly holding onto something that is bringing her pain. At the same time, her tight grip mars and obscures the image of the pentacle (with the broken pentacle representing disconnect from source, purity, flow, and trust here). The mystic is turned away from the assistant, choosing instead to survey the dry, cracked fields of her failure, the dying scarecrows and rusted automatons, with inconsolable horror. 

The Four of Pentacles Cautions Us Against Fear and Illusion

The mystic is trapped in a nightmare of her own making; a mental cage of doubt and desperation. In Native American mythology, the rabbit is a symbol of fear with the admonition that if you hold onto your fears, they will manifest and consume you. A rabbit adorns the belt of the mystic as a reminder of the fear that she’s chosen to live in. Native American mythology also depicts dragonflies as symbolic of illusion; a reminder not to get lost in the labyrinthine hall-of-mirrors that convinces us of a concrete, limiting perspective. At times, we need to disconnect from our illusions and perspectives. We are souls and energy, not the stories that we tell ourselves. Those stories are only truths as dictated by the ego. Instead of holding her pentacle coin with gratitude, the mystic holds it with a sense of lack; a fear-based illusion forged by her ego. The Four of Pentacles asks us to shift away from these illusionary terrors before dragging the nightmares of our minds into our physical realm.

Ignoring the Solution That Taps Us On the Shoulder

The assistant is not immune to the fear but she’s coping with it better than her mentor. She wears a look of concern on her face, though this concern is less about the failed enterprise of Scarecrow Agriculture and more about the mental state of her teacher. The assistant is holding her tablet in her hand which bears a message in the writing of her people which would roughly translate to “DNA.” This is the key to a potential solution to the mystic’s current presumed impasse, but the mystic can’t hear it as she’s so lost in the nightmare and the frenzied struggle to retain what she so fears she’s losing. The assistant’s notes will (fortunately for the mystic) come up again a few cards from now, but for the time being, the solution will remain out of the mystic’s reach through her own actions. This is particularly frustrating as the fear in the mystic’s eyes betrays that, despite her clinging to dying methods and falling into a state of seeming paralysis, she feels a pressure to take a risk on a new method.

The Four of Pentacles introduces us to a bizarre character flaw of the mystic. Despite the brilliant solution tapping her on the shoulder, she stays rooted in pessimism and insecurity which basically anchors her firmly to a sinking ship. These are all sub-themes of the Four of Pentacles: the spurring on to try new methods, the warning not to get stuck in the quicksand of doubt and indecision, the propensity in some of us to stay numb to the clues and signs from the universe all around us.

The fundamental disconnection of the mystic through ego is echoed in the dry, cracked, broken pentacles of the borders and the remaining three pentacle coins strangled and constricted by dry, brittle dead twigs. Rotted, collapsing jack-o’-lanterns (the dead heads of scarecrows) mark the border as well, symbols of the mystic’s dwindling enterprise.

 

Three of Pentacles: Of Partnership, Probation and Ambition

III. The Three of Pentacles

With a toiling scarecrow in the fields of every respectable farm in Swords Country, it came as no surprise when we witnessed a confused cloud of knights clumsily making their way down the road that ran through September Hollow. While communication isn’t the strongest suit of a Knight of Swords, the troop was fortunately headed by the Page of Swords, whose sharp tongue was known to get to the point. We could easily guess where they were headed and just as easily presume why they were headed there.

A few days later, word travelled back to the village from workers at the building site of the new wing of the Palace of Swords. The mystic was overseen leading some sort of presentation amidst the dull blue lights of the incomplete palace wing. The Page of Swords was witnessed skeptically watching a demonstration of an animated scarecrow while the King and Queen observed silently with clinically scrutinizing eyes. Word had leaked that the Swords Family had met the idea of Scarecrow Agriculture with a certain amount of suspicion, but how could they ignore the wonders of a scarecrow animated before their eyes? 

Ultimately, it appeared they were swayed by the magical oddity and its otherworldly mistress. Despite the Page’s famous cynicism, the King and Queen were said to have given the mystic a payment for a probationary contract in which she would be put in charge of the vast but harsh royal gardens of the Swords Family. Agriculture in the Kingdom of the Swords was challenging to say the least. However, we’d seen the mystic work wonders in the fields of September Hollow. It’s hard to say that earned her our faith, but there was definitely a strange air of confidence in the village as we heard the news that the mystic of September Hollow had been appointed as the Head of Agriculture for the Garden of Swords.

Another interesting observation was made that day, although potentially less significant to the overall story of the mystic and her brief time in the Kingdom of Swords. She was seen giving a third of her down payment to her assistant. This may seem inconsequential but it opened new doors into our theories on the relationship between the mystic and her assistant. It isn’t unheard of to see such a division of earnings in the Kingdom of Swords but it could easily be deemed generous. While the mystic remained an enigma to us, we still had enough prejudices to be surprised by this momentary glimpse beyond her iciness to actually catch a glimmer of what could be seen as kindness or appreciation.  

~

The Three of Pentacles is a card pregnant with financial opportunities but with it comes legitimate challenges. Imagine a pay advance on a major project. The mystic is in a strange position in the Three of Pentacles because she’s been focused on perfecting Scarecrow Agriculture and she’s confident that she’s reached a sense of mastery with it, but it’s still a relatively new venture for her. The royal family of Swords have approached her with a proposition, naming her their Head of Agriculture. This all seems like good news and in several ways it is; the pentacle coins are in hand. But what’s important to consider with the Three of Pentacles is that the mystic has never tried to work with Scarecrow Agriculture on this scale before, nor has she worked under such scrutinizing, skeptical authority. The financial start-up is great news and forward movement on a monetary goal but it’s also just the beginning of a period of focused work. Therefore, the Three of Pentacles may be a reason for celebration but it shouldn’t be a “mission accomplished” party. 

A Probationary Contract at the Heart of the Three of Pentacles

The card displays a pivotal moment at the close of a demonstration the mystic has just presented by request of the Swords Family. The scarecrow was the focus of this demonstration as the Swords Family wants the opportunity to carefully inspect Scarecrow Agriculture and understand it as much as possible before drawing up any contracts. The mystic is seen handing a scroll to the King and Queen of Swords. The scroll can be viewed as the signed contract just as easily as it can be viewed as diagrams and detailed plans explaining the magic behind Scarecrow Agriculture.

The Swords Family have a natural suspicion in approaching unfamiliar matters. This is perhaps best exemplified in the expression and stance of the Page of Swords whereas the King and the Queen exhibit more of a cold confidence in their summation of the demonstration. These expressions are actually the beginnings of acceptance in the Swords Family, looking to outsiders as resignation. Since the Swords Family approach unfamiliar transactions with shrewd reservation, they are offering the mystic a three pentacle advance to implement Scarecrow Agriculture in the Garden of Swords. The position as Head of Agriculture is probationary, illustrating the “prove yourself” theme at the heart of the Three of Pentacles card.

The Confidence and Ambition of the Mystic

While the Page of Swords is skeptical and the King and Queen are cautiously accepting, the mystic is seen to be confident in her abilities to handle the immediate challenge. This symbolizes a blindness to limitations, a sort of “biting off more than can be comfortably chewed” that isn’t a given in the Three of Pentacles but is an underlying theme that can sometimes raise its head.

The mystic’s potential hubris is balanced by her willingness to share, another underlying theme of the Three of Pentacles. Even in her proud moment of victory she doesn’t forget the valuable help she received from her assistant and quietly acknowledges this by discretely handing 1/3 of her earnings behind her back to her pleasantly surprised and appreciative assistant.

The Divine Union

One of the major themes of the Three of Pentacles is a sense of teamwork; the idea that multiple parties are coming together for the advancement of a greater enterprise. The Swords Family are giving the mystic and her assistant the resources to take Scarecrow Agriculture to new heights while the mystic is using her magical ingenuity to potentially save the struggling agriculture of the Kingdom of Swords. This binding spirit is seen in the knots of the pentacles in the borders as well as the neatly knotted rope around the scarecrow’s burlap hood. The mystic’s robes are embroidered with the rune of Mannaz which stands for “divine union.” Mannaz is also carved into the foreheads of the jack-o’-lanterns lining the border.

To symbolize the common Three of Pentacles theme of building up projects or ideas, the probationary contracts are being signed in a yet-to-be-completed wing of the Palace of Swords. The columns of the Palace of Swords’ new wing rise from beds of hollyhock, a flower symbolizing ambition. This can be seen as reinforcing the mystic’s pride in the face of the looming challenge before her.

The new wing of the Palace of Swords serves as a perfect example of a world out of time. This has nothing to do with symbolism but is rather the world that the mystic (and the rest of the characters in my tarot series) inhabit. The stone pillars feature working blue electrical lights. In other cards, I’ve shown the mystic’s assistant using an electric tablet and stylus. I wanted the characters to live in a world that was simultaneously futuristic and ancient, defying logic and reason; a world where some a duel may be clashing swords or drawing laser guns and no one flinches.

 

Two of Pentacles: A Juggling of Enterprise

II. The Two of Pentacles

It’s anyone’s guess why the mystic started to put burlap sacks over the scarecrow’s heads. Some reckoned it was a form of preservation; that the burlap somehow protected the gourd from the elements and kept it fresh longer. Others supposed they were a form of enchanted blinders; that the scarecrow’s stayed more focused on their work with the burlap sacks limiting their stimulation. I don’t give that theory much salt myself seeing as the scarecrows had no trouble seeing right through the burlap as though it weren’t even there. These weren’t staggering, fumbling idiots of the corn fields. Your common scarecrow was agile, quick, and sure of foot. They’d pluck the pumpkins from the patch at September Hollow with great nimbleness despite their oversized twig hands. More than a bit of magic was at play with those scarecrows. The loads they were lifting should have reduced their hands to splinters, let alone their gaunt frames of straw, twigs, and worn fabric. Yet, they were stronger and faster than any man. So, if these oddly graceful golems could see right through burlap, what was the point of those hoods? No one knows, but there was one idea that I overheard at the market that really stuck with me: that it was too horrible to look into the face of a creature born into slavery. But why carve faces into the pumpkins anyway? As always, the wagging tongues of the village had an answer whether they knew anything or not. The popular rumor was that neither the mystic nor her assistant made so much as a single incision on those gourds. Rather, upon application of her spell, a face would manifest on the gourd through supernatural means; a side effect of the magic and a grim reminder of the cost of using the dark arts. 


There’s no denying that our village feared the mystic. But no one could argue about the improvements on our lives thanks to scarecrow agriculture. Scarecrows became more prevalent in our fields as costs dropped. Soon, purchasing a scarecrow was less costly than even a secondhand robot. Where robots eventually failed and had to be scrapped, scarecrows were recycled, returning to the earth. The same scarecrow was then resurrected for the farmer at a renewal cost cheaper than buying a brand new scarecrow outright. The resurrected scarecrow retained all of the knowledge of its previous incarnation so the hassles of re-training a new laborer were eliminated.

Scarecrow Agriculture revolutionized our farming community but that’s not to say that automatons were no longer of use. While the mystic was constantly bringing new scarecrows to life while resurrecting the fallen ones, she was also repairing the mechanical farmhands (for a modest fee) with the help of her assistant. While the mystic kept most of her operations hidden behind closed doors, the keen observer would note that her assistant was often placed in charge of matters involving automaton maintenance, potentially as a means to free up the mystic to devote her efforts to the animation of scarecrows. Passing brief conversations with the mystic’s assistant revealed that she had a vast education in the sciences far exceeding the knowledge of anyone in our village. Interactions with the mystic were typically conducted through her assistant. If it was a matter of automaton maintenance, the assistant might provide a quick analysis before wheeling the damaged automaton into their laboratory. However, if it was a matter involving scarecrows, the assistant would take notes with no disclosure before excusing herself to consult with her mentor (so we can only assume).

~

The Two of Pentacles is often associated with juggling enterprises. In the story of the space mystic, this involves balancing her new, ambitious ventures into Scarecrow Agriculture with her initial success with Robotic Agriculture. This was a strange dip in the path in my foray into money art, as the Ace of Pentacles was so full of promise and good fortune, whereas the Two of Pentacles is the first real inclination to the challenges that make the Pentacles Suit so interesting.

The Two of Pentacles as an Example of Balance

The illustration of the Two of Pentacles clearly shows the mystic drawing sigils in the air over a scarecrow that is either being brought to life or resurrected using the power of the pentacle adorning its chest. Meanwhile, the mystic’s assistant faces in the opposite direction, focused on the maintenance of an automaton who is similarly adorned with an enchanted pentacle.

The symbolism of the Two of Pentacles is fairly straightforward, finding different ways to illustrate balance and the juxtaposition of differing strengths, representative of enterprises. The tiles of the mystic’s laboratory housed within her augmented farmhouse alternate between green and yellow. This is paralleled in the mystic’s primarily black garb against her assistant’s white robes. In this you will find the balance of magic and science as well as dark and light. This is further reinforced by the juggling gloves in the border as well as the pentacles in the form of circus-y globes. A juggled balance bleeds into all aspects of the Two of Pentacles.

A Division of Efforts

A split in efforts is a twin theme of the Two of Pentacles illustrated by the divided attentions of the mystic and her assistant, the split of pentacles between scarecrow and automaton, and the general divide of the illustration’s composition.

A Mixed Message in the Coming Storm

The storm clouds seen through the window portend challenges on the horizon for the mystic. While these turbulent times are imminent, even this news comes with its own split, keeping it in line with the theme of the Two of Pentacles. Even as the turbulent storm threatens to potentially rust the mystic’s automaton laborers, it will bring much needed water for the crops.


Ace of Pentacles: The Flagship of My Money Art Period

I. The Ace of Pentacles

No one really knew from where she came. Children undeterred by the August heat in the badlands of the Kingdom of Swords emphatically talked about the day she arrived in her silver rocket, weaving confidently through the barley fields like a sinuous shadow. Grandmothers confined to the shade of porches peered with cautious eyes from dry, weathered faces, whispering about ancient occult sisterhoods that our languages forgot; sororities whose essences floated quietly yet ominously through the recesses of our dreams and our collective consciousness. In hushed tones, they speculated about the obsidian jewel that graced her tan forehead, claiming that it came to life when no human eye was watching. The rumors flowed about her like her regal black robes, initially earning her the nickname “the space mystic” eventually being simplified to “the mystic.” We never knew where she came from and we never found out.

Ace of Pentacles - uncolored - unedited - signature - resized.jpg

Just as you’d not find a shadow without light, likewise you’d not find the mystic without her subservient assistant, always garbed in similar robes but of purest white. The rumors bled over to this fair yet equally mysterious young woman with speculation that she was the mystic’s lover while others claimed she was simply the quiet disciple of the mystic. The story often went that the mystic was cast out of that cryptic sorority and, when given the choice, her assistant had chosen her mentor over the sisterhood, following her across the universe.

Such colorful speculation imbedded the enigmatic mystic into the tapestry of the lives of villagers travelling the narrow paths that cut across Swords Country. Along those weary roads, we’d see her like a wraith in the pumpkin patches with her diligent pale spectre never far behind.

While almost everything we know of the mystic is built on rumors and hearsay, some details were a little more concrete albeit not as lofty and fantastic. Perhaps the best example: the mystic had a seemingly singular focus on agriculture. It was well known across the kingdoms that the land in Swords Country was nowhere near as fertile as the earth in the Kingdom of Pentacles. But the farms in Swords Country could still turn out a harvest.

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Almost immediately after her sudden arrival, it was confirmed that the property south of September Hollow was acquired by the mystic. Had it been anyone else that acquired that land, decent for growing pumpkins, no one would have blinked. But any real news of the mystic was devoured by the locals and quickly cannibalized for the latest rumor. Reliable sources attested to seeing strange lights in the summer night skies over September Hollow in the weeks that followed and a heightened uneasiness formed around the mystic.

People began to take longer routes home to avoid the path that passed by the September Hollow pumpkin patch. But sometimes that path was unavoidable and had it not been for one of those times, who knows when we’d have seen such a thing for ourselves. In that September twilit evening, nearing the Harvest Moon, a prominent farmer’s son was forced to take that road. In the light of the dying sun, he saw a sight that nearly sent the village into hysteria. Because toiling those twilight fields so often patrolled by the mystic and her assistant was a mechanical man. This was perhaps the real beginning of what would come to be termed “Scarecrow Agriculture”; a process that forever changed two kingdoms.

The majority of the villagers were terrified by the automatons that soon populated the mystic’s pumpkin patch, but some of the shrewder among the community approached the mystic’s assistant while she was running errands for her mentor in the village. These men held business close to the chest so the exact details of the transactions remain obscured from the public but soon we saw an automaton in the fields of all the most lucrative farmhouses in Swords Country. It’s assumed these metal men came at quite a price as the only farmhouse to boast more than two automatons was the one by September Hollow.

Word passed from farmhouse to farmhouse about these incredible robot workers. They sowed, they watered, they tilled, they harvested. These were all-purpose farming juggernauts. As will happen in the Kingdom of Swords whenever any sort of revolutionary event occurs, all eyes cautiously turned to the House of Swords in nervous anticipation. Yet, the royal family remained neither seen nor heard during those strange, early days (with the exception of the young Page of Swords who’d not deign to supply the general public with an opinion, preferring instead the company of snowmen).

Without intervention from the House of Swords, the automaton revolution was poised to be an unbridled success in the field of agriculture. Yet, even as her legion of robotic farmhands toiled away in her fields without rest, villagers were amazed to catch glimpses more often than not of the mystic and her faithful assistant, obsessively focused on a singular scarecrow amidst a sea of pumpkin and metal. At any hour of the day or night, the duo could be seen poring over a straw man with a gourd head. We were still so amazed by the mechanical men that we almost disregarded it. Who would have known the gleaming automatons were just a preamble?

Who can say whether anyone was actually there for the first animation? Accounts differ so I’ll only say what can be agreed upon. It was on a late summer afternoon when the sun was blindingly golden. The automatons were focused on the pumpkin patch as if nothing otherworldly were unfolding in their midst. It’s said that the mystic recited some sort of incantation along with a series of dramatized gestures. Purple fog poured from the patch and a torrent of wind gusted from nowhere in particular, seeming to raise the scarecrow into the air as if it were floating of supernatural means. But then the gaunt golem peered forth with a grinning glowing visage of unearthly green. Even in the wake of the invention of the automaton, we’d not have believed it. But again, those were the days before Scarecrow Agriculture.

~

The Ace of Pentacles marks a different point for me in my tarot project as this was my first work with the minor arcana (outside of some royalty cards). Having had some issues with money and debt, the concept of money artwas inspiring in that it was both optimistic and frightening. Many people who struggle with money have a cleverly camouflaged phobia of money and I believe money art can help to overcome that fear. My journey through the Pentacles Suit was meant to help heal my own terror of money exhibited by strange behaviors of mine; I have trouble making eye contact in business transactions. Even ordering a pizza can be a stressful situation for me because of the exchange of money.

Parallel Themes of the Pentacles Suit

Tackling the Pentacles as my first minor arcana suit was jumping into the deep end but some spiritual work I’d done filled me with faith that it would be integral for me to master properly executed money art before continuing work on the rest of my tarot deck. The parallels to my life during my work on the Pentacles Suit and the cards themselves were even closer than I’d imagined. Without opening the book on my personal life too much: when I began the Ace of Pentacles, I was unemployed and living off occasional odd jobs and the good graces of generous family and friends. By the time I’d finished the illustration portion of the Ten of Pentacles, I had a job that I loved and was pulling myself steadily out of debt.

Ace of Pentacles as the Introduction to the Space Mystic

The Ace of Pentacles is the first appearance of the mystic from outer space who serves as the protagonist of the Pentacles Suit. The mystic is a recurring character in my mythology, though her appearance in the Pentacles Suit is sort of a paraphrasing of her character. In other points of my mythology, she doesn’t have such an intense focus on agricultural advancement. However, the Pentacles Suit finds the space mystic using her magical gifts for agricultural pursuits to keep things somewhat thematic with the Pentacles’ association to earth. I also wanted the mystic to be someone with whom I could identify, thus she is not of the earth but trying to understand the earth. This would symbolize my own challenges with money.

The Symbolism of Scarecrow Agriculture

The artwork for the Ace of Pentacles illustrates the mystic using occult means to raise her first sentient scarecrow laborer from the earth. Her loyal assistant kneels among the pumpkins behind her, dutifully taking notes indicating that this is an experiment that has probably been underway for some period of time. Both the mystic and her assistant wear an expression of joy at the success of the scarecrow’s animation but it is a calm, confident celebration.

You can see the laboring automatons in the background; the mystic’s tried-and-true robotic laborers. The animation of the first scarecrow in the Ace of Pentacles marks an improvement on the robotic farming method. Scarecrows, basically golems of the earth, allow the mystic to use raw materials from the land such as dirt and vegetation to create a labor force as opposed to spending massive amounts of money on building and maintaining technological wonders.

This highlights one of the first aspects of money art so vital to the fundamentals behind the message of the Ace of Pentacles. The mystic’s use of the earth itself to create her first golem is symbolic of using an inheritance or legacy wisely to create future prosperity. The mystic is not resting on the laurels of her past successes. Instead, she’s taken her singular Pentacle and planted it and from it has grown the miracle of the first sentient scarecrow laborer.

The Ace of Pentacles as Money Art

Likewise, the Ace of Pentacles speaks about putting our energies into the earth for growth. This is reinforced by the seeds that lay at the center of each of the Pentacles in the border of the card. Contributing further to the abundant themes of money art as well as the meaning of the Ace of Pentacles, pumpkins are being harvested to present the cyclical nature of giving and receiving.

You’ll also see tiger lilies sprouting from the source of the sole Pentacle from which the scarecrow gains life. The tiger lily is a symbol of wealth. The spirals that decorate the robes of the mystic and her assistant represent creativity as the Ace of Pentacles finds the mystic achieving a novel solution through creation. The robes of the mystic and her assistant as well as the ragged shirt of the scarecrow are also adorned with the rune of Fehu, which is used as a symbol of wealth. All of this information reinforces the potency of this illustration of the Ace of Pentacles as money art.

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Sci Fi Art of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea

The exotic alien influence on my own sci-fi art of the French television show Les Mondes Engloutis (better known in English-speaking countries as Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea) only became apparent to me sometime within the last 10 years, though I haven't seen the show since I was 10-years-old…possibly even younger. Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea was markedly different than other Saturday morning fare with its steady stream of esoteric concepts. 

Conspiracy Theories in Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea

Even a brief glance at the premise of the show would indicate that the story alone acts as an influence on sci-fi art. The show was like a buffet of conspiracy theorist mythology, presented through the filter of an extradimensional fantasy so it never felt too heavy. A race known as the Arkadians living at the center of earth are facing the end of the world as their artificial sun is extinguishing. Two Arkadian children create a being named Arkana tasked with seeking assistance from the people of the surface. For reasons I can't quite recall, Arkana returns with only a duo of earth children, an escaped gladiator named Spartakus, and two pangolins with strange powers. 

The heroes of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea

Throughout their journies, the band of unlikely protagonists are confronted with adventures involving transdimensional travel, lapses in time, and the hollow earth theory. It was almost as if Jodorowsky had made a Saturday morning cartoon for children. Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Seais very direct about these concepts within the show's plot but I find similar themes are hinted at within my own fantasy and sci fi art thanks largely to the bizarre influence of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea

The Exotic Alien Influence on Sci Fi Art

I never felt a warm connection to the characters. Rather it was as if I sensed something slightly askew in the world of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea in addition to the obvious. It's a cold, foreign feeling that I've strived to work into my own sci fi art but can't say for certain I've even come close to achieving. And there's something reassuring about that because I find the atmosphere of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea to be genuinely unsettling. It's a stranger in an even stranger land mentality; a parade of unpredictable behavior, colorful and unable to be processed. It's a feeling so alien that only great sci fi art would be able to obtain it. It was impossible for me to feel comfortable when I watched the baffling episodes on Nickelodeon in the late-'80s. 

Super pangolins Bic and Bac...

For a work that I feel had such a pronounced influence on my sci fi art, Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea was actually a show I tried to avoid. I was creeped out by its grotesque earthy colors. But there was also an iciness in the presentation of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea, the same qualities that scared me in the paintings of Patrick Nagel (also an enormous sci fi art influence), the smell of hair salons, and the disconnection in watching an exotic, deranged interdimensional fantasy that almost felt post-apocalyptic from the futuristic, yet cold utopian sheen of the 1980s. 

Media-Manipulating Punk Pirates

The Interstrata Marine Pirate Federation were one of the most disturbing elements of the show for me. This quartet of sci fi art punk pirates would appear fairly often, typically preceded by a strange, boisterous pop song about the pirate philosophy. But these weren't typical pirates. They operated in a society that was carefully controlled by media manipulation. The only female in the group, Massmedia, piloted a radio craft from which she broadcast her pirate propaganda. All of the pirate's names were plays on word, one even being named Seskapil as in "sex appeal" (though this was changed in English versions to Sleazeappeal). The pirates flew about in metallic red lip vehicles lined with fangs.

Tech savvy media pirate punks...

The Corrupted Archetype

Another immense sci fi art influence reinforced by Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea was the inclusion of the archetype of a character born into morally honorable circumstances who is then thrust by fate into a situation in which s/he is raised, presumably against his/her nature, into a villainous character. It's a strange tragic element to incorporate into the story of a villain because there's a frustration in it; the frustration that this character could have been such a positive force but was corrupted without much chance. 

In Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea, the archetype wears the face of Rainbow, Spartakus' younger brother. Spartakus is separated from Rainbow when they are children. While Spartakus is sold into slavery as a gladiator, Rainbow is adopted into a lavish life and raised by gladiator trainers, adopting their cruelty. From what I can recall, Rainbow is never swayed from his villainous path. 

A somewhat similar character from another work that had an impact on sci fi art was Feyd Rautha-Harkonnen of Dune. It was the wish of Feyd's father that he'd break the Harkonnen penchant for violence and cruelty. Upon hearing this, Feyd's uncle took the child and raised him in his name according to the vicious and arrogant Harkonnen philosophies. 

The Sci Fi Art Animation of Spartakus...

Since we're talking about sci fi art, the animation of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea would seem primitive by today's standards but it incorporates a style akin to a simplified Moebius. Intricate structures are paired alongside visually exotic characters with a disjointing effect. I'm not sure if there's an actual term for this type of cartoon sci fi art although I've heard it termed French anime. 

Just some general weirdness going on...

The influence of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea on my sci fi art may have the strangest endurance of any of my influences considering I didn't enjoy watching it in the '80s and I've never seen it since, yet at least 15 years later it spontaneously came to me from the back of my mind with sudden relevance to my life. To see if you're similarly affected, you can watch full episodes of Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea on youtube (in some cases with translations) including the theme song that accompanies the appearance of the unnerving pirates. For some reason, I prefer the French version. 

The Hermit

2015 watercolor and pen

I conceived the basic concepts of what would become my Hermit illustration long before I began the tarot project. I assume the Hermit is an immediately identifiable aspect of each person, not so much mired in symbolism and cryptic mythology as so many of the other cards. We've all felt the pull of self-reflection, the loneliness of quarantine, the self-preservation in exile. I felt it quite a bit in my youth but I attached a melodramatic importance to it.

Often when I'd feel a teenage romance was unrequited, I'd reach a point of acceptance and then a strange sort of sexless arrogance, like I was some earthbound angel or spaceman meant to only appreciate the beauties of the human race from afar but never to actually touch it.

I feel like a lot of teenagers rationalize rejection in similar ways to keep from looking in the mirror and feeling the naked accusation that they just aren't good enough in someone else's standards. But as I'd imagine myself walking isolated shores on distant planets, a lone cold figure in a sprawling glittering universe of wonders, I felt special for not being chosen. 

BUY POSTER OF THE HERMIT

As I got older I would experience a similar feeling, though far less valiant, in times of deep overwhelm. When daily life avalanched around me, I wanted to pull leaves, bushes, grass and twigs over myself like a blanket, hiding from boogie man banks and the looming haunted house of adult responsibilities. In my adult life, when faced with romantic rejections or responsibilities I didn't want to accept, I found myself identifying with bog men.

Bog men, darling National Geographic centerfolds, are people whose corpses were mummified by the peaty swamps, preserved in a mixture of water and earth matter. I no longer saw myself as the charming angel or sexless alien but as the insulated bog man, a decaying wonder preserved by the natural world against the rotting laws of men. I would close my eyes and imagine sinking into hundreds of years of hibernation in that cool, all-encompassing mud. 

 

I explored themes of isolation in a more romantic aspect of my life as I began to write lyrics for music. In the early 2000s, I flirted with the idea of calling my band (which had more names than songs) Mannequin On Moon, the symbol for isolation in its purest form. Imagining a mute, plastic motionless effigy on the moon's surface encapsulated the romantic feelings of isolation I harbored.

I'd even fantasize about myself on a space station, visible to the voyeuristic eyes of planet earth through a one way camera. I'd leave video messages to earth updating the world on my life on the moon but I'd never hear a word back. Eventually, the moon seemed too populated in my head and the concept of the mannequin on the moon became Mannequin On Mars, a much colder atmosphere.

My illustration of the Hermit depicts this beacon of pure isolation, the plastic Mannequin on Mars. She is positioned with one hand pointing down to the concealed, potentially prehistoric bog man astronaut beneath the Martian soil. Her other hand points skyward to the stars somewhere beyond the cocoon of red sky. This speaks of the optimistic focus of the Hermit, almost a blind faith in the greatness beyond the world seen with our eyes.

This is paralleled in the hermit's catatonic eyes - his right eye lights up with the clearly visible star that the mannequin points to beyond the red skies. The mannequin serves to further divorce the prehistoric astronaut from human connection, instead offering painted-on eyes, cold plastic skin, synthetic hair, and a half-hearted gesture of anatomy. 

The traditional Hermit depicts a gray old man while my hermit is actually a prehistoric time travelling astronaut, literally frozen in a catatonic trance. Of course my hermit needed to be an astronaut to continue my romance with feelings of isolation and my honoring of the heroic qualities offered in those times in our life when we are lucky enough to get to know ourselves.

I believe that this astronaut is beneath the Martian soil voluntarily. The space is less his tomb and more his womb, evidenced by his fetal position. Eventually, my hermit will reach the understanding that he needs and his story will continue beyond the confines of the red soil. But it is through silence and self-imposed isolation that the hermit learns the valuable lessons he needs to continue on his path.

To further indicate this, I depicted the hermit with bare feet, easing his connection to the source. He is plugged directly into the matter around him though he remains disconnected from the world that we know. Such achievements are similarly possibly through quiet meditation and self-reflection. 

The clocks in the borders simply reinforce a common theme of the Hermit card: the passage of time. Likewise, the astronaut helmets in the borders are supportive of the theme of isolation.

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The Moon

My rendition of the Moon card grows from a happy coincidence, if you believe in coincidences. I had been wanting to do an illustration based on a dream that I had when I was in my early teens about a girl I simply referred to as the Lunar Witch.

The Lunar Witch was a strangely powerful figure in my dreamscapes, especially considering she was not part of a recurring dream but only visited me once. I awoke from the dream with an intense, burning passion for her which was confusing at that age as her actions in the dreams undoubtedly painted her as a villainous girl.

But despite her sinister actions, she showed a love for me that commanded my passions and I found myself blinded to her crimes, instead swooning at her mysterious beauty. Somewhere in Florida, I have a dream journal that tells the full detailed story of the Lunar Witch and all the ways she made my heart hurt so gloriously but for today I only have faded memories of the dream to draw connections to the Moon card.

From what little I can recall of the dream, I was waiting for a bus in the backyard of the home in which I grew up in Southwest Florida, in the darkness of the early morning. A glowing white fog was rolling in over the darkness soon illuminated by the hazy glow of the headlights of an ivory bus. The bus seemed to have been built from the bones of ancient creatures and was punctuated by futuristic round black windows that hid the passengers from sight.

I believe there may have been some controversy as to who was actually allowed to board the bus and a lot of this was orchestrated by a controlling force on the bus, a seductive girl from outer space who practiced black magic. I didn't approve of her actions that, at the very least, treated people unfairly but at the worst may have endangered their lives.

There was the sense in the dream that I knew the Lunar Witch well and that we were well known to be romantically involved despite our moral differences. When I'd voice disapproval of her villainous plans, she'd laugh me off as naive but regard it as cute. While she saw my attempts to dissuade her from evil as ridiculous, she also found it charming.

And though I recognized the deep darkness in her actions, her elitist acceptance of me seduced me. I felt special that someone as dark and lovely as the Lunar Witch found value in me and her rejection of the rest of humanity made her love so much more intoxicating. As I sat in the interior of the bus soon to depart for the moon, I kissed the Lunar Witch and felt the darkness in her cold lips that made my heart flutter. 

BUY POSTER OF THE MOON

So how does the dream of the Lunar Witch parallel the messages of the Moon card? The Lunar Witch was as mysterious as she was powerful. The mechanics she'd set in motion in the dream always remained hidden from me but at face value exhibited supervillainous levels of ambition.

Though she seemed to be only a teenager herself, she already exhibited an advanced knowledge of magical arts but again her history with magic was unclear as was her strong connection to the moon. Her propensity for dark deeds also alludes, in fragment, to the moon's symbol as the unconscious manifested in an erratic, uncontrollable manner.

Though she was, for lack of a better term, my girlfriend in this dream, the Lunar Witch was wild and unrestrained and her love for me never tempered her teenage tyranny. The lunar bus itself stood as a artifact of the unknown in motion.

The driver was never revealed, the windows were opaque, and it appeared with the spectral smoothness of a ghost on clouds of fog that obscured visibility. Also, the Moon card often signifies a connection between the conscious and unconscious world and who better to usher in such a concept than a girl from my dreams who instilled in me a terrible pain of longing upon waking. 

There are further connections to the tarot's symbolism of the Moon and the Lunar Witch that, again, were not preconceived. Her body suit of pearl silk is reminiscent of a cocoon which obviously points to the change that so often accompanies stepping forward into the unknown. When I was trying to put together a Batcave goth band in Florida in the early 2000s, I'd contemplated dressing up as my rendition of the somnambulist Cesar in the classic silent German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

My rendition of Cesar was to wear a white bandage body stocking similar in appearance to that of the otherworldly clothing the Lunar Witch wore when she appeared to me in my dream many years before. Again, this draws parallels to dreams as Cesar committed all of his crimes in a state of sleepwalking. Also, the Lunar Witch is depicted looking back over her shoulder, leading us into the unknown with the finger-to-mouth gesture of secrecy. Like the moon, half of her face is illuminated while the other half is in shadow. 

Typically, the Moon card features some sort of crustacean rising from the waters to indicate an ignored or repressed fear but I chose an animal I relate to more on a personal level in the gharial. Gharials are large, intimidating crocodiles with narrow snouts and needle-like teeth. But unlike most species of crocodiles, gharials are rarely dangerous to humans as their mouths are equipped for dealing with fish.

Since the gharial doesn't devour humans, it represents a baseless fear in the context of this card. The gharial's head is emerging from the black, murky waters of the river Styx where memories are lost. In this case, the gharial is a memory of unfounded fear that is re-emerging for potential confrontation although we can rest assured that its appearance is far more fearsome than its actions. 

The lunar bus is entering between two towers constructed from the fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. These towers represent illusions of security as they are built from bones, nature's biological structural supports. Yet, these are the bones of ancient animals who died due to unhealthy attachments to perishing worlds.

The towers stand as reminders of the casualties of an old world and cautions those of us who refuse to change. These creatures that relied on the security of old ways now decorate the gates to the land of the dead with their fossilized remains. The unobscured totem presents three dire wolf skulls in tribute to Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian of the underworld. The dire wolves also reference pure natural lunacy in the wolf's attachment to the moon.

This too echoes a connection to the primal energy that permeates the shadows of the Moon card. Again, the movement of the bus between these markers symbolizes movement between the conscious and unconscious worlds. 

Finally, the borders of the card depict the cycles of the moon as well as keyholes that remind us of the locked doors of mystery. The locked door may seem cruel but this is another message to the Moon card; a sense of waiting as the mysteries beyond us work their magic.

In my dream, the lunar bus never departed. Though I boarded it, we continued waiting and there was never an explanation for this. But rather than try to figure it out, I lost myself in the moment with the Lunar Witch, kissing her icy lips while I patiently waited for the mystery to unfold. 

BUY POSTER OF THE MOON