I welcome you to the Hearth of Mary

The Spirit of Tarot : The Search for God’s Picture book is an exhibition at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley California from 28 October 2021 to January 28, 2022. At the moment is it only an in-person exhibition, but it will become an online one next year, according to the exhibition archivist David Stiver.

The Mysteries of Mary tarot deck in the exhibition at The Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California

The exhibition is entitled The Spirit of Tarot : the search for God’s picture book and is introduced with a quote from the book, The Tarot of Lenora Carrington.

The Graduate Theological Union is a private college founded to support graduate theological education and promote ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the GTU’s location enabled access to the resources of the University of California, Berkeley, as well as with Stanford University according to the website www.gtu.edu

A selection of 12 tarot decks were chosen for the exhibition, reflecting an inter-spiritual, intercultural spectrum and both the Mysteries of Mary and the Mysteries of the Black Madonna have been included. According to David Stiver, the exhibition is done in a circle with each display facing the centre. My decks are flanked by Vicky Noble’s Motherpeace and Paul Foster Case’s Bota tarot deck.

The Mysteries of the Black Madonna tarot in exhibit at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley

In her book Imaging Pilgrimage, Art as an embodied experience, dr Kathryn Barush writes in-depth and brings together the study of medieval representations of pilgrimage to a number of contemporary art that is created after a pilgrimage and intended to act as a catalyst for others to experience, grace, healing and contemplation.  I am so honoured that she included my work with sacred altars, tarot decks and pilgrimage into this beautiful and enlightening book.

You can read the full article here on my blog.

Sacred Pilgrimage as foundation stone of the creation of both these decks.

It is also obvious that the art and iconography of the shrines, sanctuaries and statues imbue a certain sensitivity which connects with that most authentic, unveiled part of oneself. It is not the merit of the art that is most evocative to the pilgrim, but rather the pure devotion and worship of the believers who created the iconography and iconosphere of the shrines, which evoke a deep sense of being ‘at one’ with the sacred in the beholder.

When you enter the iconosphere or sacral space of the sanctuary, you enter into a profound ritual relationship which changes you. Your visual interaction with the sacred icon transforms you from tourist into pilgrim;  your visit becomes a ritual pilgrimage and you enter into a sacred relationship with those who have worshiped here before you and you become a devotee, even if it is only for the duration of your visit.  You are alchemically transformed from a passive visitor, who came to see the shrine, into an active participant in something far greater than ordinary life and its struggles.

Shrines and sanctuaries in their representation of the miraculous event, apparation or sacred story that took place there, are an intrinsic part of the ritual and relationship with the sacred.  The statues and other iconic works of art that are created to embody the apparition or miracle of the sacred being, are believed to be and has proved to be full of power.  Copies of these icons and shrines are also believed to carry some of the same power as they represent the sacred event and physical embodiment through the iconography.  The small souvenirs which include holy medals, ex-votos and especially the smaller replicas of the holy icon, are also an important part of the sacred relationship and serves an important ritual function in the personal devotion to the Mysteries.

The Black Madonna of Tindari in Sicily – I brought back the statue from Tindari and dipped it along with other souvenirs into the lake below the church.

Part of the power and worship of an icon and shrine of a holy being, is the aspect of distance, or being removed from us who are behind the veil.  We see this in the ritual coverings that are put over the statue; at times there are curtains that are only opened during Mass.  During festivals of worship, the statue is brought out into the streets and into among the people and everyone feels blessed and it is an important part of worship to touch the statue.  Often  it is part of the ritual to knock on the door of the sanctuary or to sing to the deity to be allowed into the sanctuary or chapel. This perceived distance in time and space adds to the power of the icon.  Seldom are really powerful icons found in the middle of a bustling city;  they are usually tucked away in distant places and they require from one to undertake a physical and psychic journey.  Different shrines have different attributes and you will visit the one that you are most in need of.

The smaller reproductions that we take home and use on our daily altar and for daily rites do not diminish its power.

With this understanding in mind, I created the Mysteries of Mary tarot deck and now the Mysteries of the Black Madonna deck.

We are forged and fired in the crucible of the heart and art gives life and meaning to our stories.

My prayer is that I share the right medicine for you and that my words will create a sacred altar reflecting the beauty, truth, wisdom and justice which is potent and potential in our world.

The ancient tradition of creating sacred altars used to belong to the Great Mother and her devotees and it was incorporated into religion by the nuns and convents. I call it Sacred Altars and it is my offering on the Altar of Life. Twenty years ago I became a pilgrim to sacred places on the Earth and especially to where the Divine has stepped through the veil to reach us and where Mary had appeared to others. I bring waters from the holy springs and rivers; I bring back oil and salts sanctified by the Presence of the energies at these sacred places.

Pilgrimage and sacred ritual is my foremost spiritual practise. Raised Dutch Reformed Protestant, the rich lustre of sacred and holy places offered a well of inspiration for my parched soul. My travels have taken me to many different religions, cultures and traditions. Until I came into contact with the mystical side of Christianity. My first ritual I attended was the festival of Archangel Michael in Mont Sant’Angelo in Italy, then visiting Padre Pio. Then followed walking the pilgrimage of Bridgid, the sacred well and labyrinth in Kildare, Ireland. And that is when my art appeared in the form of paintings. Ritual grounded in the knowing of the unconscious, awakens us from the dream of habitual seeing and thinking. The conscious mind lacks the ability or maybe the neural pathway to communicate the new-found wisdom intellectually, and thus the expression through art steps in. Well, that is only my experience and understanding, of course. But I had not been an artist till I participated in sacred ritual. My stay at Lourdes and participating in the rituals daily, turned me into a full time artist. When one participates in a ritual (probably any ritual, but when you regard it as sacred, you add a certain ‘light’ to it) you are transported into a different time and space : colors are different; the light is different; everything has meaning and the ordinary become extra-ordinary. My art novena for Lourdes in particular, highlights my statement that our lives are the altar to the Divine and I strive to capture that numinosity of the sacred ritual in my photographs and altars. I only started creating sacred altars on my return from Lourdes. These small shadowboxes are vignettes, a moment in time in the life of ordinary human beings, lifted out of the mundane into the numinous, merely by seeing life as sacred.

I create from the eye of the heart, rather than the eye of the mind and hope to illuminate and show the underlying image and Divine Presence in the vignette of our personal stories.
blessings, Sri Hettienne Bhaktymayi Maria Ma