A while back my friend and Chagford neighbour Danielle Barlow began a massive artistic undertaking: to create a new tarot deck, The Witches' Wisdom Tarot, in collaboration with Phyllis Curott. Danielle is an artist and practicing hedgewitch here on Dartmoor; Phyllis is an acclaimed American writer on all things Wiccan. Their project was an immersive one, growing slowly over many, many months: imbued with all the myth, symbolism, tarot lore and deep love of the natural world these two women carry between them.
Danielle often uses family and friends as her painting models, so when she called for models for this project I nervously agreed to help. It's not that I haven't been painted before (in this faerie picture by Brian Froud, for example, painted back in the 1990s; or this one in David Wyatt's "Mythic Village" series, 2011), but I've crossed into my older years now -- a stage of life when the image in the mirror rarely matches the ageless self we still inhabit in the mind's eye. I'd be no faerie sylph this time, but an archetypal elder.
Furthermore, my health disability was at an especially low point then: I was physically frail, anaemic, shaky on my feet, not feeling particularly "magical" at all. The day Danielle came over with her camera was the day I learned the card I would be posing for: Strength. I laughed when she told me, it seemed so unlikely. "There are many different kinds of strength," she told me firmly. "Trust me, this is the right card."
Some time later I saw the finished painting (pictured at the top of this post) . . . and Reader, I admit, I cried.
Today, as the dark of winter approaches, as a new variant of Covid looms and our cultural/political discourse seems to grow more divisive by the hour, we're all in need of strength, and of the reminder that it comes in many forms. Danielle's words, imagery and hedgewitchery helped me to remember and re-imagine mine. I hope this story will do the same for you. Sometimes the quietest, deepest, most individual and paradoxical forms of strength are the ones we should value most of all.
"I trained in textiles, and then in horticulture," she says, "before returning to painting, my first love. These days I work primarily in ink and watercolour. I still juggle all three elements -- painting, stitching and herbalism. Deeply rooted in this ancient landscape of ours, my work draws heavily on folklore and mythology, and explores the deep connection, both physical and spiritual, between people and the land they inhabit. The spirit of this land has sunk deep into my heart, and as I wander its ancient tracks, I find myself endlessly fascinated by the shifting relationships between human, animal, plants and land. My paintings above all attempt to capture the elusive Genius Loci - Spirit of Place."
The Witches' Wisdom Tarot was published by Hay House last autumn. The artwork is copyright by Danielle Barlow, all rights reserved.