a pitch-black space. Nothing but darkness all around you. At some point you can’t quite fathom there’s a light. A small light that seems to grow little by little as you walk in its direction. As you get closer, you realize that its shaped like an arrow. The arrow, a keyhole on a door, pointing up. You want to know what’s on the other side, and so you peep through the door, getting a glimpse on what’s on the other side. There’s not much to see – it is a keyhole you’re peeping through after all – just a bright open space. You open the door and enter this new world, the darkness becoming a distant memory as the door closes behind you.
As with all worlds, this too embodies the spirit of the Labyrinth, even if it isn’t your regular. There’s no walls here, just empty space punctuated with the ocasional structure. As with all labyrinths, this one also have rules. And they are simple. He is to follow the arrows until he gets to the end of it. That’s it. Just follow the arrows until he gets to the other side. But there’s a catch: not all arrows are visible. Some are buried in the sand. Others, hidden on the top of strange walls, or imprinted in an ice cap. It is his task to find the arrow that will lead him to the next stage of his journey.
That this labyrinth has no walls is of no consequence. You see, all labyrinths are the same: they’re a gathering of paths that meet and combine only to later diverge again. It is rumored that all labyrinths share the same path. A place outside our perception of time and space where they all meet. A place where every traveler can meet with each other or, maybe, change courses and decide for a new path for himself. A place where the traveler can become one with the labyrinth and begin to transcend it. If there is ever a place to know oneself it is there. At the crossroads of every possibility.
We, however, don’t know anything about this man whose journey we’re witnessing: we don’t know his name or his story, we don’t know where he is going. We don’t know what he’s searching or if indeed he is searching for anything. All that we are allowed to do is watch. Watch as this man silently (progresses) through the maze, taking his directions from arrows that appear every now and then, pointing the way forward, hinting at the possibility of a trajectory. Of a path. But when he realizes where he is, all that we get to know is this:
Our hero continues on his solitary walk until a moment where he finds the arrow that leads to the exit. He is now an old man and has lost almost everything he carried with him. He tried to avoid this one last arrow, but to no avail. The arrow follows him. It becomes his shadow. He has no choice but to accept what comes next. But then, why would he want to avoid this? Hasn’t he been following all the other directions? Hasn’t his life been a walk from arrow to arrow across strange / deserted landscapes? What is he afraid of? He stops for a moment, looking at the arrow. Trying to figure out where it will lead him. And resolutely, he steps down and exists the labyrinth.
What you’ve just read is a brief summary of Sens (which you can also get it here), one of the latest works by french cartoonist Marc-Antoine Mathieu. If you’re not familiar with the French, don’t worry. The book is mostly a mute graphical account of this man’s journey. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. Inside its pages is one of the most interesting explorations about the meaning of life and the journey each and every one of us takes from the moment of birth to that final moment where we leave the maze of life.
As tarot readers, and even as humans, that is something that every once in a while concerns us. Where did we come from? Where are we headed? What is the meaning of all this? You know… the BIG questions. Sometimes, it’s easy to find a path and follow it. Other times, not really. It is at those moments when we pick up our cards and start asking questions. What should I do? What is the meaning of? Why did this happen? How can I proceed?… And, like the man in this story we take our cues from visual hints. We look for directions, because, well… things do get easy when someone or something points out the way forward. For some, it’s about removing the burden of choice. For others, it’s about strategy: to know possible outcomes in order to decide the approach that best serves their purpose. Others still, just want to know what the heck is this all about.
For all, it is about seeing. Is this why we need images to tell us stuff? We do tend to believe what we see, after all. What is fashioned before our very eyes. With the tarot, events are presented to us as images. In a way, we are there in those images and it is those images that we take with us when the reading ends. This is, I’ve always thought, one of the greatest allures of the tarot and other image-based divination systems. The ability to perform an autopsy. To see with our own eyes.
With this in mind I’ve asked the cards “Why are images so special that we turn to them in to figure stuff out?
La Maison de Dieu. La Force. La Mort.
They are needed to bring down our defenses. By doing this, they make us confront all the nastiness that’s inside of us, just waiting to creep out. All the things that we’d like to keep in check and in fact, we probably fight to keep them under a leash. They are important because they make us see all the stuff that we don’t really want to face. But face them we must, if we want to deal with what’s at the root of our problems and sort things out. They are special because they show us things and make us act upon it. That’s their power and our weakness.
Like St. Thomas, we’ve developed a soft spot for information that comes through the sense of sight. Whether they are visions, dreams, or whatever’s hanging in front of our doorstep. “A man profits more by the sight of an idiot than by the orations of the learned“, an arabian proverb goes. “Foresight could make wise men of Durraman’s donkeys“, as another proverb goes. Or the classic “out of sight, out of mind“. Even in the Bible we get things like “preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight“. Sight has a special place in the way we perceive the world. Our world. It is only fair that it should be sight that pinpoints what we need to work upon and calls us to action.
Placing our need / desire / wish to become aware on a set of random images that pop up from a deck of cards might be just absurd. But, as Marc-Antoine Mathieu points out in this very same book, “the absurd only makes sense if it is accepted“.