Tag Archives: stories

Crowdsourcing Story: the Welcome to Night Vale tarot

As readers of this blog know (and there aren’t many of you, and I love that, because niche readers for niche stuff 😀 ), my spiritual path is rooted in story, particularly in modern stories. We didn’t stop myth-making when we ‘became modern’*. We didn’t even stop shared myth-making across communities. But now we do it in the darkness and on the margins. Most of us think stories are for children. Or if we do appreciate story, we tend to think that only ancient stories are ‘real’ and that only ‘official’ myths (whatever they are) can reveal deity and the Divine. What silly children grown-ups we have become, falling in line with a social contract that serves almost no one.

But story still lives, and communities still make it.

One of the modern stories that inspires me the most is ‘Welcome to Night Vale’. It’s a classic form of community and social myth-building, inspired as it is by everything from HP Lovecraft to the modern conspiracy theory. The active fanfiction/fan art community around it deepens the community aspect of this myth for a zeitgeist. It’s hilarious, deeply sarcastic, and mind-bogglingly weird.

It also challenges social norms, incredibly subtly. I mean, in a town where the City Council isn’t quite human, Cecil and Carlos being in love is hardly that interesting. At a radio station where there’s a cat floating in one of the bathrooms, you barely notice when they announce that the station recently made all the public toilets gender-neutral. In a community where a schoolchild is embodied as a disconnected man’s hand, it’s hardly remarkable that another is a wheelchair user. In a society where the Sheriff’s Secret Police are watching the people all the time (competing with other shadowy agencies for access to your privacy), it’s easy to miss that the Sheriff themself uses the pronoun ‘they’ (and is voiced by a trans woman). And I love how these things specifically go unremarked upon. Janice is a fully-fleshed-out character before we ever learn she’s a wheelchair user, and then only because someone is stupid enough to want to change her, which her uncle Cecil is not at all happy about. Teens in Night Vale might have crushes on girls or boys (and presumably on non-binary people too) – the gender of their crush is not that interesting (unlike the existence of the crush, which is on a register of middle school crushes so that any curious parent can easily invade their children’s privacy). It’s my kind of town… except, y’know, for the enormous despotic glow cloud that controls everyone’s minds. And the many different colours of helicopters all watching everything you do and occasionally abducting people. And the prohibition on wheat and wheat by-products. And the abandoned mine where people are sent if they don’t vote correctly. And the Faceless Old Woman who Secretly Lives in Your Home and eats out of your fridge and critiques the way you iron your shirts. And the period where a corporation dedicated to a Smiling God from the next town over controlled everyone’s lives for a bit – but it was all OK, because young town hero Tamika Flynn and a whole lot of other community members rescued everyone, in the usual show of town unity and community mutual support… and I’m back wanting to live there again.

So obviously, since I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt (three of them actually), I had to have the Welcome to Night Vale tarot deck when I heard about it. (Birthday present to myself.) The WTNV tarot cards are another example of community myth building – the deck was created not by the WTNV creators, but by Hannah Holloway, a fan-artist, and they discussed and crowdsourced some of their artwork ideas with the fan community. See here for Hannah’s master post of WTNV tarot cards, where you can click on each card individually.

On the whole, I’m not very good at tarot. Ogham is much more my bag, because I can relate it to story, by linking associations (of various kinds) to Irish myth. But I’ve always wanted to see more tarot decks based on stories that I’m familiar with, and when I find them, there’s a lot more I can do with them. There are many stories in the Rider-Waite-Smith and other decks, but to access these, you need at least some understanding of numerology, Kabbalah, Christian symbology, astrology, and other systems. I’m extremely impressed by anyone who is able to work with such a range of mythic and symbolic languages, but not everyone is able to. The closest I come is using the Druid Craft deck a bit, which is close to RWS but puts a more familiar (for me) druid-y spin on things. On the other hand, other decks based on other stories can take you to fantastic places, using those ideas but taking them in new directions. I’ve been creating a Battlestar Galactica deck for myself at some point (I’m half way through, but am not able to share it or use it for others because of copyright issues). There’s something about relating characters you know to the underlying concepts and archetypes** of the tarot cards. Which are, after all, no more than a set of crowdsourced stories. Why not keep doing the same thing with more stories, that more people can access?

This weekend I did a test reading for my spouse. This deck is super sarcastic. Which anyone who has listened to Welcome to Night Vale would not be surprised by. I absolutely believe tarot decks have personalities, though I’m never sure on how much of that is about the creator and their art and stories (or the stories that decks are based on), and how much is about me in combination with a specific set of cards. Probably a mix of all that and other things too. (I’m not the type that feels the need to cleanse cards because their ‘energy’ might get muddied, or any of that. To me, they’re pictures on paper. It’s the ideas that have the power.)

Anyway, the spouse asked a question about a choice they have to make. I was hoping some kind of direction would emerge – the choices in question were all very different, and a focus could have become clear through the pictures and how I read them.

This was the result:

IMG_1619

Image: WTNV tarot cards in a simple spread. Left to right: The World, Nine of Cups, Six of Pentacles, and (clarifying card) Two of Wands. Artwork by Hannah Holloway.

I call this photo “The world is your sodding oyster, now go and do whatever the hell you want to do.”

Like I say, sarcastic. In context, this is deeply hilarious, although also a bit frustrating for the poor spouse.

Stories have a life of their own. And I really love this one. Looking forward to working with it more closely with the deck. I’m having to go back and listen to all the episodes of the first couple of ‘seasons’ of WTNV in order to re-familiarise myself with elements of the story that I’ve forgotten. I am not unhappy about this.

ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD

now remember how long it’s been since you last worshipped in your bloodstone circle and go and make the appropriate sacrifices

IMG_1539.JPG

Image: examples of cards from the WTNV deck. Left to right: Strength (Dana Cardinal), The High Priestess (The Faceless Old Woman), Ten of Pentacles (the Coucil of Elders). All images copyright Hannah Holloway.

*Bruno Latour’s ‘We Have Never Been Modern’ – a book I recommend for anyone who thinks we changed as a society after the Enlightenment. We did not. We just began to think we did. 🙂

**Shorthand term. I don’t really like the concept of archetypes. I think it’s massively over-used in the Pagan community, and that what we think of as archetypes can be very Western-centric, gender-essentialist and diminishing of individual difference. Also: there are more important things.

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All that Lies Between: From the Centre to the Margins (and back again)

“…all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel…”

The shrine at Healy Pass, Co. Cork, Ireland (which overlooks quite a view...) Photo by Meredith Desmond

The shrine at Healy Pass, Co. Cork, Ireland (which overlooks quite a view…) Photo by Meredith Desmond

The Healy Pass, built to transport food across the  mountains between Cork and Kerry during the famine. Photo by Dulaman.

The Healy Pass, built to transport food (and coffins) across the mountains between Cork and Kerry during the famine. Photo by Dulaman.

There are the people who seek the centre.

And then there those who are happiest on the margins, out in the wild.

In my re-exploration of Christianity, I’m making an on-again off-again attempt to understand the Christian story from a new viewpoint, from the light of the wild places on the edge. There are many problems I’m having with this, as a polytheistic Pagan. In Christian theology, the Christian God is shown as owning all things and drawing all things to himself. There’s really no other way to see him, except at the Centre.

There are echoes of the margins in the Christian story/ies too. But I’m still thinking that a lot of these are found in the lived-out stories of those who sought the wild Christ, more than in the story of God himself.

Statue of St Brendan the Navigator, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork

Statue of St Brendan the Navigator, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork

St Brendan leaves Ireland in a little boat, and the myth echoes back after him: he reached America, pushed onwards by faith, courage and the other members of his small community who came with him. Is this a tale based on the older Irish myths of imramma, or was a real Brendan inspired by those stories to go out to sea? Does it matter? He is a patron of the margins. This is a man who, if he didn’t personally know my wild goddess, was driven forward from the edge of her land by her wild spirit. For the love of his own wild God.

Jonathan Woolley has been talking on Gods and Radicals about reclaiming the story of Narnia, from the edges and the margins, from the ordinary world, not the great hierarchy of Lewis’s obsession. Like him, I’m not looking for some great castle of Cair Paravel – the institutions and the ordered religion and the power of the state. I seek the magic on the margins, out in the wild woods. Trees my only companions, a dim lamp-post my only light. Out where my wild goddess brings snow and storms across the mountains. I can keep trying to house myself in a church, but I find myself called out to the shore again soon enough. I can keep trying to live in a castle, but I’m always drawn back into the woods. Is there a wild Christ here too? I’m not sure yet. But if I ever find him, it will be out here, where I live.

Mist that hangs like silk
Soaking in the rain
Trees that rise like ghosts
Bearing people’s names
And a sea that takes me
Where I do not know
But I gladly go

Shrouded in the sweetest grass
I’ve ever known
This my earthly bed
My beloved home
But the voice that calls me
To the far away
I can only trust every word you say

And here I am
Out on the edge of the world
With You, With You

– Iona, ‘Edge of the World’, song based on the story of St Brendan’s voyage


Bluebells

Photo: Bluebells, by Jillyspoon (Creative Commons).

Photo: Bluebells, by Jillyspoon (Creative Commons).

This is the story of six bluebells.

It’s Lag Ba’omer – Jewish bonfire night – and I’m in the countryside just north of London, on land that’s been allowed to go a bit wild. SJ and I go for a walk, as far out into the knotted trees and long grass as my mobility scooter will take me. Suddenly, under the trees, there they are: bluebells. Half a dozen, fighting to peep up through the grass and among hardier plants – delicate, tenacious, shining.

I’m struck by the power of life, of the  ecosystem we are privileged to be part of. These tiny bluebells will feed bees, who in turn will ensure that we are fed. Looking after the most insignificant of bluebells, we move one step closer to real-ising our interconnectedness with all life.

Later, at the bonfire, a child comes running up. “Mummy! I got flowers for you!”

In her hand, half a dozen bluebells.

We are a frighteningly powerful species. We think nothing of destroying entire ecosystems to gain more of what we want. More *things*, ripped from the face of the earth. Bluebells in our hands.

We’re also often a profoundly stupid species. We can’t relate well to the destruction of entire rainforests or the extinction of entire species. We only understand the little stories. Thousands of people dead in a natural disaster or a war? It’s too much. We need one story to relate to.

This is the story of six bluebells.


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