"Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark", written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, holds a remarkable place of regard in my life. These books were the foundation upon which I built, from my childhood, a love of horror, of writing and of art. Though the imagery accompanying these stories were, well... to be blunt... horrifying, it was also liberating to my creativity and imagination. They inspired me to write and illustrate my own collection of horror stories at the young age of 11 years. My elementary school teacher was so impressed by my attempts that I was invited to participate in writing workshops, and was encouraged to develop my voice and style through all the years that followed. As a result, I became a published poet who, to this day, draws on the memories of my relationship with these stories to write my incredibly self-indulgent contemporary free verse.
So, when I discovered the Ritual Abuse Tarot, illustrated by Ryan Sheffield as an homage to Stephen Gammell, I knew I had to have it. I knew I had to re-invite my childhood inspirations back into my life and embrace their message. As Ryan states in the small accompanying guide book, the deck was originally constructed as a satirical look at the inconsistencies of tarot, but became it's own creature, with its own voice. He embraced this strange dichotomy between his own disbelief and lack of knowledge regarding the tarot, and how the cards can still provide a meaningful message, by stating the following:
"Chaos and contradiction are the heart of this deck, so take it seriously and have a laugh. Follow this guidebook to the letter and make it up as you go along. Just do me a favor an enjoy yourself. Or don't."
And it's not tied down by the artists insistence on pushing a prescribed meaning with each image. In fact, you are encouraged to stretch these cards beyond the imagery and traditional meanings and simply have an experience... whatever that means.
This deck also proves that an artist or deck creator doesn't need a life-long relationship with tarot him or herself, doesn't even need to believe in it at all, in fact, to create an effective tool for established readers. Though much of the artwork does embrace traditional imagery, there are cards that seem to step away and carry their own story, their own way, and that's been an amazing discovery these last few days.
I've had a truly visceral reaction to this deck. At the risk of sounding absurdly emotional, even my inner child squeed with delight upon its arrival, and I have since been immensely satisfied by my growing relationship with it.
The imagery may be too dark, too disturbing, for use with clients. I imagine you'd have to understand your client well, or allow them to chose the deck themselves, before venturing forth with the surprisingly deep messages this deck reveals, in a dark but cheeky way. Perhaps, even, you might consider this deck too dark for you. However, I urge you to embrace the imagery for what it is... an artist appreciating the art of another, and sharing that appreciation with you. It is this appreciation that happily reveals a truly joyful relationship readers can have with these cards.
Brightest Blessings! And, should you brave the darkness and shadows of your own stories, I hope your journey is as joyful as mine!