GEORGIA van RAALTE
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Kent
The Ghetto Tarot
I completed Undergraduate degree in Theological Studies at the University of St Andrews. I studied for my MA degree at the University of Amsterdam, in the Western Esotericism track of their Religious Studies program. My thesis was titled “Tea, Scones and Socially Responsible Sex Magic: the Egalitarian Occultism of Dion Fortune”, and explored how Fortune attempted to balance esoteric practice with normal social life. I have been accepted to begin my PhD studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, in October. The working title of my thesis is “The Price of Magic: the mechanics of ritual magic and the effects of prolonged magical work.” Focusing on a number of key esoteric practitioners in 20th century Britain, I will be exploring the modern practice of magic. The manipulation of esoteric symbolism and the ritual use of taboo-breaking acts will be particularly important as I consider whether it is possible to be both an occult ‘adept’ and a functioning member of normal society.
Belgian photographer Alice Smeets and Haitian art collective Atis Rezistans created the Ghetto Tarot deck in 2015. A photographic interpretation of the Rider-Waite tarot deck, the images were created in the Haitian slums using only material the artists were able to find locally. Smeets chose the name Ghetto Tarot, hoping to stimulate discussion about poverty and privilege. Without trivializing poverty, she argues that it is important to recognise that the ghetto can be a place of happiness, spirituality and creativity. Christian Liberation Theology has begun to recognise this, and it is time the study of esotericism does too, for it is in the social margins that we find the occult still alive and productive.
The cards use symbols from the Voodoo religion to embody the meaning of the Rider-Waite deck. Crossing the line between Western and non-Western forms of occultism, the Ghetto Tarot confronts the colonial gaze. Taking the liminal political subject and projecting him to the realm of art, the Ghetto Tarot transforms an object of pity to one of enlightenment. As a performance of the occult, the Ghetto Tarot collapses the boundaries between art and life, between the sign and what is signified. In order to explore the boundary-breaking nature of the Ghetto Tarot I will follow the presentation of my paper on the deck a participatory tarot reading session, focusing on the theme of liminality and the collapse of the boundaries between art and life. An image of each card drawn will be projected for the audience to see, and I will ask audience members to contribute readings of the cards, based both on their prior knowledge and spontaneous intuition.