I’m excited to share my work with ARCANA —an innovative project based in Munich, Germany. Each participating writer was given the task of composing a piece of flash or a poem based on based on a specific card in the Major Arcana. When I opened that invitation, I found that I’d been assigned The Tower— the one card in the deck that fills me with acute dread.
From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to move away from the more literal interpretations, so I took the symbolism of the card and mashed it up with the prevalent motif of women in towers found in fairy tales and myth. (On a side note, check out Gregory Hergert‘s visual interpretation of The Tower in the Art catalog. He works in the genre of Urban Surrealism. I was especially intrigued by the differences in the ways we approached our individual interpretations.) You can view the complete works (ART 2021 & STORY 2021) at ARCANA.
As I worked on the concept for this poem, I followed the leads to early interpretations. In some decks, it was called La Foudre (Lightning); in others, it wasn’t included at all. I was especially intrigued by the link to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). This biblical link then then led me to the card’s connections to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the Harrowing of Hell.
Right: The Tower of Babel. Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563. Below: Minchiate card deck (Florence, 1860-1890): trump XV – La Casa del Diavolo; Playing Card (CH 18165941); The Harrowing of Hell, depicted in the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, 14th-century illuminated manuscript commissioned by John, Duke of Berry.
In the end, I fixated on that image of Eve being expelled from The Tower, which reminded me of the story of St. Barbara, who I’ve discussed at length during my Storied Imaginarium module on Rapunzel. In short, Barbara was guarded by her father, who kept her locked in a tower. She refused to marry, and her father eventually condemned her to death by beheading. However, after he did the deed, he was struck by lightning. How perfect is that?
At this point, I knew I wanted to write about Maidens in Towers. (For an excellent review of the subject of this popular trope, check out the essay The Maiden in the Tower by Terri Windling at Myth and Moor.) The result was the poem “The Tower.” I hope you enjoy it.
Right: Saint Barbara, by Jan van Eyck (c. 1437)
ABOUT THE PROJECT: One card from the Major Arcana is drawn randomly and given to the participant. How the artist or writer responds to their, will be revealed this October 20, 2021 at 3 pm (CET) This year’s show will be presented completely online. —Hazel Ang
ARCANA is the result of caffeine injected conversations between writer, Steve Toase, and curator Hazel Ang. Conversations about the occult, ceremonial magicians, and eccentric filmmakers inspired Toase and Ang to start an invitational project based around the cards in hopes of presenting an international community of like-minded artists to the Munich arts scene.
In 2019, 14 artists and writers were invited to participate. The visual and literary interpretations were presented in the beautiful Orangerie in Munich, Germany. The show was beautiful and was written about by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and InMünchen Magazine.
In 2020 Arcana became an online event directed by Ang with editing help from writer, Diana Radovan. The number of artists and writers invited doubled; 22 writers, 22 artists.