While the more common question is whether use of the cards are somehow connected with the movements of everyday life, and able to predict the future, the cards have also been used for meditation. With the work of Hettienne Grobler, the cards are like relics, capturing the spirit of a sacred place or a sacred construct.
To the artist and to Kathryn Barush, professor of Art History and Religion at GTU and Jesuit School of Theology, the cards serve like souvenirs from pilgrimages. In writing about Marian images commonly acquired at places like Lourdes, Barush notes that “the souvenirs and imagined landscapes link to the past but also to the imagined future.” (Imaging Pilgrimage: Art as an Embodied Experience, Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2021, 60).
Grobler, an artist and mystic from South Africa, has created several decks of cards modeled after the Tarot, but to be used for meditation. These images, often inspired by representative objects or images at a specific place, embody the spirit of Mary and the Black Madonna, similar to a relic.
Grobler writes in The Mysteries of Mary Tarot Deck: The inner mysteries of the journey of the Soul as portrayed by Mary:
The history of both the inherent power and the eradication of the Divine Feminine as an ideology, have been hidden and suppressed by each new ruling power and finally She was removed from religion and relegated to a small part of the story. In this deck, I set out to gather and collect old myths, legends and stories from a wide range of sources and put together the pieces of the puzzle of the archetype of Mary, the Divine Feminine, eternally birthing the Divine Son and Divine Daughter Within.” (Guide, 20)
The cards are lighter in coloring than the Black Madonna deck, which follows the same idea. In The Mysteries of the Black Madonna Tarot Deck, she writes:
The blessings of the Mother can be evoked through the invocation of Her name and by contemplation of Her holy image. This deck is a pilgrim’s journal and each card an altar for the undertaking of an inner pilgrimage to the sanctuary and heart of the Black Madonna. (Guide, 3)
In her chapter on “Mendicants and Manuscripts” in Art and Sacred Journey in Britain, 1790-1850 (2016), Barush notes the connection between Tarot cards and the iconography of a Pilgrim. Pilgrims were sometimes depicted very much like Le Mat or Le Fou. A pilgrims journey can align with the cards from the Major Arcana.
Examining Guillaume de Deguileville’s Les Trois Pelerinages (1435), she writes:
The pilgrim encounters Justice with her scales, as well as St. Michael weighing souls (which corresponds to the Angel of Judgment card); witnesses his own Death (card XIII); is terrified by Satan (the Devil card); meets the King (the Emperor); and witnesses a series of punishments (the Tower). He is shown Adam and Eve (the Sun card traditionally depicts male and female twins and can be interpreted as the moment ‘before the fall, in the full light of God’s presence’), witnesses the crucifixion (Hanged Man), and watches a priest celebrate the Eucharist (the Pope)…” (p 33).
Please see related resources at the Berkeley Art and Interreligious Pilgrimage Project.
The Mysteries of Mary Tarot Deck, Hettienne Grobler, 2016, 5 1/8 x 3 5/8 inches. Grobler is an artist, mystic, pilgrim, and wisdom seeker from Cape Town, South Africa. She writes, “The Mysteries of Mary is a wisdom path of the myth and the metaphor of Our Lady as reflected in the archetypal tradition of the tarot. Each card captures (or is) a shrine that is a story about Mary. Together, the cards, when read together, become a rosary of cards, creating a sacred Rose Garden.” Following the traditional format of a tarot deck, the suits are Suit of Vessels, Compassion; Suit of the Holy Rood, Beauty and Transformation; Suit of Distaff, Weaving and Sewing in the world; and Suit of Roses, the Cosmic Rose and Wise Woman. At left, the Ace of Distaff and a selecti0n of cards on display in the library.
The Mysteries of the Black Madonna Tarot Deck, Hettienne Grobler, 2021, 5 1/8 x 3 5/8 inches. Grobler writes, “The blessings of the Mother can be evoked through the invocation of Her name and by contemplation of Her image. This deck is a pilgrim’s journey and each card an altar for the undertaking of an inner pilgrimage to the sanctuary and heart of the Black Madonna.” The suits are Holy Wells, Holy Trees, Black Veil and Living Stones. The court cards are Virgin, Bride, Mother, and Sacred Hag. At left, the Sacred Hag of Holy Trees, x The Rose Garden, and cards on display in the library.
Hettienne Grobler is currently working on a Red Madonna deck. For more information, see: http://bookofmarysacredheart.blogspot.com/