The place is called Ghost Gallery, but that doesn’t mean it’s invisible. So I’m not sure why I have such a hard time finding the space. Still, it takes several laps around the block before I find the place. It also takes standing directly next to the front gate while using Google Maps. And then takes one more lap around the block because I don’t understand Google Maps, apparently. The point is, Ghost Gallery is a little hard to find, but it is worth the haunt…I mean, hunt. (In Tarot, the Fool is the protagonist, and as the protagonist of this story I can tell you that walking around Capitol Hill trying to find the gallery made me feel like a fool indeed.)
Ghost Gallery’s current show, The Art of the Tarot, is a group show curated by Ghost Gallery’s curator Laurie Kearney. The show features work by local and global artists centered around the theme of the tarot deck and accompanying lore. For the opening, there’s a bar at the back, and right up front Emily from Joyride Tarot is doing tarot readings ($20 for 10 minutes).
The Art of the Tarot is on theme, both for the gallery’s mysterious name and the recent “witch renaissance” in pop-culture. As a wee baby heathen in the 90s and 00s, I could only find crystals and tapestries at our mall’s one weird stoner store Atmosphere, or in far-flung new age shops. Now they’re ubiquitous dorm décor thanks to norm-core stores like Urban Outfitters and even Target stocking them. Witches and mysticism are “in,” according to Salon and other media outlets. Calling it “Mysticore” and the “season of the witch,” trend-spotters have predicted a witchy influence in fashion and style since at least 2013. Tarot itself saw a huge popularity surge thanks to The Wild Unknown’s tarot deck taking off (thanks in large part to social media shares).
Some witches and other mystic-minded folk have seen this increase in witch acceptance (at least as witch aesthetic acceptance) as a positive. Big brands carrying pentacles, incense, and tarot cards means greater access to good for practitioners, and a de-stigmatization of these symbols as evil or abnormal. On the flip side, other magickal practitioners see the trend as an appropriation of symbols, stripped of their deeper meaning and cheapened for mass-market consumption. (A good editorial read on the community’s divide and one woman’s experience can be read here.)
Ghost Gallery does a good job of bridging that gap. The space itself is set back from the street, and you walk through a gateway and through an enclosed patio to get there. You’re primed for something different already, gently transitioning from the street to an art space. It makes it feel like you’re seeking out the symbols and beliefs the show deals with; it makes you deliberately contemplate them instead of seeing them on a rack of shirts or whatever in a box store. Like any art, you can come here and look at the works and go no further than “Hey, that looks cool” or “I’d never put that over my couch.” You can look at purely the aesthetics of the images in front of you and that’s completely fine. But if you want deeper meaning, the space and the patrons allow for that, too. Many of the artists are here for the opening, standing with their works and talking to guests. They talk visuals, sure, but a lot of them talk about the meaning of the Tarot and other magick in their own lives and artwork.
It’s so crowded I have a hard time telling which people are artists and which people are guests. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of art in the two rooms, of the paintings and drawings and jewelry and objects on the walls, shelves, tables, floor. They works are unified by a theme, sure, but quite different in terms of style and materials. It’s not an unpleasant jumble, but it’s still a lot to take in. I wedge myself in a corner by the front to try and get my bearings. Emily of Joyride Tarot is offering 10-minute readings and I jot my name down on a time-slot to feel a little more grounded in my purpose here. When I feel overwhelmed by the amount of people I can think to myself “I have an appointment. I am supposed to be here.”
I’m here for personal enjoyment, but I’m also here to cover the event for Scream Sirens Magazine. I worry that it looks weird to lug in my big camera and take photos of the artwork and event, so I make my way to the counter to introduce myself and make sure it’s really okay that I’m there. (By the way, this uncertainty of belonging, of feeling in two camps, could be represented by the Temperance tarot card. I’m not sure where I come down on the witch symbols as pop culture fodder debate, and I’m not sure of my role at the event tonight. Drinking from both cups, this one.) I introduce myself to Kearney, and she makes me feel welcome immediately. Her excitement is now my excitement, and I photograph as well as I can in the crowded space. Art event photos are tricky: if the show is good, people will be looking at the art, meaning you get a lot of photos of people’s backs. Ghost Gallery has lots of nooks and crannies, though, and even better: lots of mirrors. I catch people’s better angles in both.
The patrons are a good mix: some society-looking art patrons, some grungy artists, some gothically-attired magick practitioners, and some nondescript folks like me. The bar at the back of the shop helps them to mix, and so does the tight quarters: you’re going to bump into someone, you’re going to look at art next to someone, you’re going to reach for the same pendulum as someone else. I can start to tell the artists apart from the visitors because mostly they have their backs to the work, standing in front like proud but protective parents.
The art is as eclectic as the people: big paintings, little drawings, jewelry made of bones and metal and crystals and wire that’s formed into tiny vaginas. The wall behind the register is dominated by large, colorful paintings by An-Magrith Erlandsen (Seattle). Tarot decks by several artists are scattered on tables, and I’m particularly charmed by the sweet “Mini Rabbit” tarot decks by Nakisha Vanderhoeven (Seattle). I think my brother would like the strong graphical qualities of Peter Benedetti’s “Divine Will” tarot deck (New York). I buy “The Heirophant” by Dark Days Tarot and a small protection charm from the Gallery (Seattle). A full list of participating artists is available on the event page, and many of the works are available for purchase via Ghost Gallery’s online shop.
The female divine is highly regarded in this show. I count at least four works that deal with The Empress card (my favorite is by Stasia Burrington), and several that show the High Priestess (I love the detail in the drawing by Dark Days Tarot). The moon, the stars, the earth, and other symbols are also represented by female characters. The number of male or female symbols a tarot deck features can greatly vary based on the deck. Often, the inclusion is less about the gender or anatomy, and more about the type of energy that card or deck represents. Anatomy or not, I like seeing such strong female representations in the art here, especially in a business run by a strong woman.
It’s my turn for a tarot reading. Emily has a quiet energy, and sits in a plush chair with her back to a red drape. She starts slow and quiet, but gets more animated the more we talk. She asks what my question is, and I tell her that I want to know what to do to get to the next level with my career. I recently graduated from a master’s program, and I’m desperately looking for a job in my field that a) seems fulfilling and b) pays a damn. I’ve applied to dozens of jobs without even a call back, and I feel really blocked about it. Emily writes my name and a few notes in her journal. She asks if she can say a blessing, and I close my eyes and touch my hands to the table while she asks for this reading to help me with my questions.
Emily spreads the deck (Alchemical Deck, by Robert M. Place) in a long line away from her and asks me to pick two cards. I run my hands across the deck, pulling two. I always hope I’m going to feel a jolt of electricity or a certain “rightness” that this is the card I should pick, but it never happens. Still, the cards I’ve pulled that way in the past seemed relevant to me, and it’s the same tonight. The first card I draw is the Hanged Man. In this deck, the card shows a man is tied by his foot to a beam by a long snake. He dangles toward the ground as coins spill from his hands. That card represents what I’ve done so far to get to where I am. My second card is the Six of Vessels, which looks much more optimistic. A woman pours liquid from one vessel into 5 others. Flowers bloom from one of the pots, and more grow in the background. This card represents what I should nurture to get where I want to go. Emily talks about the money and effort I’ve used in the past to obtain my degree, the struggle of school and job hunting and how it’s represented by the Hanged Man. Now it’s time to contemplate, to be deliberate in my actions, to water what is needed. She tells me she feels lush energy when she pictures my goals, but I need to look at the process step by step. I need to fill one cup at a time, move one step at a time, to get to where I want to be. All of this makes total sense. Whatever your beliefs, I think the advice Emily gives me with the help of the cards is really logical: this cost time and money but wasn’t random, so keep taking calculated steps toward your goal. I can do that.
I speak with Emily later by email to know more about her process with tarot. She’s read since high school, studying with Jan Wallace, who is also a poet. Emily’s tarot process is firmly bound with poetry, too: she says “Tarot and poetry were never separable for me […] I’ve developed my own approach to reading and healing work over time.” At the gallery opening, Emily had a book open on a table inviting visitors to leave their own poem. I write haiku poems, and reads: Is it fate in the cards?/ Or is it in these hands that/ Hold those small wishes?
I ask about her thoughts on the recent trendiness of witches and mysticism, and her answer is something that I think will further shape my own thoughts on the topic. I think sometimes we can worry that when newcomers find “our” thing, that there’s a finite amount of whatever that is, or that their presence will cheapen our own association. Emily’s answer is much gentler, very welcoming. She says, “There are many layers to working with tarot cards, and I think even going to tarot cards at first for a kind of risqué identity is related to people´s longing to understand themselves, to belong, to find joy, and to ameliorate their own suffering.” Put that way, it shouldn’t really matter to me why someone is on the same road as I am: I’m just glad they’re making the journey, too.
The Art of the Tarot is on display through Sunday, October 9, 2016 at Ghost Gallery: 504 E. Denney Way at Summit/Olive.
My interpretations for cards throughout this post come from the classic Raider-Waite tarot deck. There are myriad decks, and each may have nuances when it comes to reading those cards. I was never a big Lisa Frank fan but I’m crushing on this Lisa Frank tarot deck just the same.