Irene Mudd: Identity, collage, & the fluidity of symbols

This is a guest post from Irene Mudd, introducing her collaged tarot deck, the Guided Hand Tarot.

Art has always been an integral facet of my spiritual practice.

Creating has always been a form of meditation and magic for me, elevating my consciousness and helping me recognize my own power. Tarot is a perfect marriage of the worlds of art and magic, both of which have helped me through countless bouts of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. For years, tarot and art have helped me empower and inspire myself and others, so it seemed an obvious choice to make a deck of my own.

Let me introduce myself: My name is Irene. I am an artist from Louisville, KY and the creator of The Guided Hand Tarot. It is hard for me to give a brief ‘elevator pitch’ about my deck, because – like most tarot decks – it is multi-faceted.

I chose collage as the medium for my deck, because I felt that it shared a fascinating parallel with tarot: fluidity of symbols. One of the first things I learned when I started practicing tarot was that, while tarot is a very structured system with defined ‘meanings’ for each card, the way those cards are interpreted can wildly change what they ‘mean’ from querent to querent, reading to reading.

As an art form, collage deals with similar issues – what happens when you take an image out of its original context? How does its meaning change when placed in a new environment? How stable, then, is an image’s symbolism? Collage explores these questions and has historically been used by artists to challenge existing power structures and transgress oppressive social norms (for example, Dada artist Hannah Hoch’s work).

Redefining archetypes

Having studied art history for many years, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that being represented in art is immensely powerful – this is why the recently released portraits of Barrack and Michelle Obama are such a big deal. Many mainstream tarot decks (most notably the Rider-Waite-Smith) have been criticized for their homogenous representation of archetypes. Most decks feature an overwhelmingly white, cis, heteronormative cast of characters (though many awesome decks such as The Black Power Tarot and The Butterfly Effect Tarot have recently challenged those norms).

This is significant because tarot, like art, reflects our lives – so if we look at either and see no one we identify with, no one who looks like us, it is as if our identity doesn’t matter, our story isn’t important. By using found images of people – mostly from vintage magazines – I was able to integrate a wider variety of cultures, ethnicities, ages, and genders into my deck.

Every human in this deck is or was a real person, not an idealized concept of a person.

Another important issue to me when making the deck was to subvert many of the heteronormative archetypes in the tarot which rely heavily on gender binaries.

As most queer tarot practitioners know, the tarot has many archetypes that play on embodying ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ energy, as if they were polarities. The Guided Hand Tarot features queer women, androgynous figures, and characters in gender-violating roles, approaching the tarot from a queered feminist perspective. Ultimately, I wanted to create a more inclusive tarot deck that people can identify with and thus connect more fully with.

The guided hand of Hilma af Klint

The aesthetics of this deck were highly influenced by the work of artist Hilma af Klint, who is now being credited by many art historians as the first abstract painter. Klint was also very involved in the Spiritualist movement at the turn of the century in Sweden and believed that spiritual energies aided her in creating her stunning mystical paintings.

Her work is very geometric yet organic, and her color palates are lush and powerful. She claimed to make these paintings automatically, without preliminary planning, believing that spirits were guiding her hand to produce the mysterious imagery captured within them. I felt that Klint would make a perfect High Priestess, given her strong belief in the power of intuition and nascent psychic power. The process of creating this deck was very similar to how Klint described her art practice – incredibly intuitive, unplanned and automatic, like reading the tarot.

I hope, if you choose to purchase this deck, that it resonates with you, and that it guides your hand as it has guided mine.