Three Card Spread by Byzantia Harlow

Three Card Spread

I look at the card I have just pulled. A column extends all the way to the top. This monument, built on out-dated foundations, has been hit by a cosmic thunderbolt, rendering it a crumbling ruin. We see it in mid destruction. A burning shell, an alchemical spell, a cry for repentance. Repentance – the activity of reviewing one’s own actions, (or those of one’s culture). The feeling of contrition and regret for past wrongs, accompanied by commitment to change for the better. Figurines are falling from the pedestal of the past, the column is being reclaimed by the present, its surface re-written with commentary from the future, a layering of hope.

The Tower card symbolises everything from the past that no longer serves the present falling away – transition, transformation, transmutation. It foretells events that crack us open, creating entry points for the light to flood in. When The Tower falls, it leaves a space in which we can rebuild. The Tower is a portent of powerful times of change.

I think of the psychics on YouTube who asked, “who do you want to be when you go back outside?’’ In answer, we would consider whether we want to return to our jobs… we would rethink our relationships, our living arrangements and our societal structures. The psychics assured that when we could finally look back on this time we would call it ‘The Great Awakening’. They knew something was coming, they predicted a portal year, ‘Ascension’… 

The Tower kept coming up for them again and again. And so did The Hermit card.

So we have all been pondering and wondering, looking for illumination in the flames of our internal, candlelit caves. Psychoanalysts promised that a withdrawal into Self could be enhancing, giving insights and promptings from the unconscious. This would be a time of anxieties and fears, but also the harbinger of growth and change, they offered.

Wouldn’t it be good if we could wish ourselves away… a song interrupts this train of thought to ask me… Wouldn’t it be good if we could live without a care…

I hinge open my laptop, noticing that it reminds me of a clamshell. This thought then elongates into a vision of an oyster shell. I imagine a particle of silt slipping inside this mollusc and then the slow accumulation process, enacted by the oyster in self-defence, to form a lustrous pearl around the parasitic intrusion. I think about viruses and wonder what nacre we may be accruing as a result of this intervention into our lives. About what future beauty may result from present traumas.

I imagine all the endless self-feeding thoughts being generated now, as our minds run rampant whilst our bodies are forced to be still. This idea loop-de-loops around me and manifests itself as an ouroboros of collective worry, expanding to encircle the earth. Thoughts no longer function as they used to, they are too much and not enough, simultaneously. Feeling the inadequacy in this, I consider the solipsistic indulgence of the last love letter I wrote, which is floating on the screen in front of me. I begin to re-read it to myself, the neurotic that I am, knowing that the materiality of language could never be an adequate expression of the immaterial.

Many nights, wondering if you were safe, I looked up to the sky and felt comfort in knowing that she was wrapping you up in her moonlit quilt. I scoured her surface for guidance, as humanity has since the beginning.

I read that Mother Earth was formed from the cosmos, and that we contain stardust within us, imbued with this numinosity. What we searched the skies for has been within us all along. Skype healers advised me to journey inward to try to find myself, and you within me, inside the astral realms.

But how?

Well, to get there you begin at the staircase. It spirals off to the right, leading to a dwelling with a clear crystal doorway, the path is set with gemstone fragments glistening in the golden light of the ember hours. Through the doorway a low pink hum emanates. You can feel the energy of this light, warm and inviting.

This is the place I go to reach you, knowing you will be waiting for me. Four large metallic cups pulse gently in front of the steps. I wonder whether molecules of spilt water can ever be gathered up again. I’m thirsty but these vessels contain no liquid, instead wildflowers spring from within them, abundantly. This place is steeped in the innocence of childhood. A fifth cup is balanced on the staircase, showing the way.

I start to spiral upwards, pausing for a moment at the top. Finally, I proceed through the hazy veil of light, into the pink paradise, slipping away into the forever.

It’s dry and silent on the other side, all is stained a chalky rose. The atmosphere is thick and visible; it has a weight and resistance to it. I feel my feet sink into the sandy powder beneath me. Movements are elongated and slow; with each step I am beginning to change form, becoming wavy. This place is not meant for bodies, I worry.

Each step forward eases my anxieties. At the precise moment of their release I recognise how I have nursed these worries previously. I wonder where my feelings are going as they leave me. Part of me is sorry to relinquish them. Then another step and my mind is blank, I try to recall what I was thinking. 

A feeling of serenity envelops me in the thick and timeless present.

A silhouette far out in the distance assures me you’re here. I wonder if I will ever reach you at the exact moment that I’m by your side. You’re elasticated and shimmering, like hot air on metal. You hold a sixth cup out towards me, knowing I have come to drink from the well.

“Have you taken it from the same source?” I ask. My voice sounds cold and distant like far off zinc reverberating.

You are silent, but your answer floats into my consciousness:  “no one will drink the water of your well unless you yourself drink it”.

I try to remember Hexagram 48 of the I Ching, knowing its advice is relevant. Something like, your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. It states that anyone can nourish others and give meaning to their life, regardless of the decadence to which they had succumbed previously – as an old well can always be cleaned to provide fresh water. I remember that it advised it crucial to drink before you become thirsty, but it was too late for that. And finally, that it suggests we must hold to what is inexhaustible, pure and true within ourselves, and others – to never give anything up as hopeless.

You motion for me to drink.

I take the cup from you, and I choke on the sediment it contains.

The sediments of sentiments, I think to myself. They say that dirt can be chthonic and natural, the alchemical dung heap from which creativity flowers. And so I try to force down the slurry you offer me… wondering if poisoned chalices can sustain, and if so, whether they can sustain anything pure and true.

I realise that if I can hear your consciousness, you must also sense mine. So I resolve to think only of a green triangle, neutral and balanced, spinning slowly, lest I expose my distrust in you further.

“You are here, so I must be also”, comes your wordless reply.

I realise I have been found out.

The Moon was as heavy and bright as a car headlamp hurtling towards me, and its reflected glare shocked me present. Crisp and cold like the mineral protecting my bedside, which I grabbed for in my sleepy panic. What has happened to the crystal that I gave you? I decide if I ever have children, I’d like to name them Sol and Luna. Then a sudden, irrational and indulgent terror grabs me, the idea that I could tumble down the stairs and not be found for days. I decide I should chew my food thoroughly now that I’m living alone. Law of Attraction experts say that thoughts become things, so I try not to dwell on these images too long. It only takes seventeen seconds to set a manifestation in motion, so I ping the elastic band around my wrist and quickly affirm an opposing thought. Asking aloud to no one, ‘‘is the best way to predict the future to create the future – or is it the reverse?’’

And then, I’m lulled back to you by the soundtrack of subliminal self-love.

I am safe, I am happy, I am loved, I love myself…

I’m late, but you are waiting for me. Now we’re on a pirate ship riding the radio waves, rolling on liquid song, swaying rhythmically.

“What does the Seabird song mean to you?” I am desperate to know.

“I am still here, and so are you”, you answer cryptically.

A bird begins to circle us – tired and lost, looking for it’s home. It vanishes, only to return to us wretched… it lingers, like a haunting thought stuck on a loop, within the fringes of the vision. It circles the waters endlessly, stranded and unsure how to get back to land. I recall that birds navigate in reference to the stars, and so I look up to the night, but there is only a barren, blank backdrop above.

I watch the bird fall out of the sky dead from its search, crashing into the silvery waves below. They say the ocean is like the unconscious, I think to myself, and then I wonder whether this is why I keep finding feathers in my path. A quote from Jung echoes silently around us, until you make the unconscious conscious it will rule your life and you will call it fate.

I wake up drenched in salty water and say out loud, “I hope you are OK”.

And a sense of loss begins to pervade my present, the absence of something not yet begun. I think of Janus, the two-headed Roman God, who looked forward and back simultaneously. I remind myself that nostalgia is especially unbearable during Mercury Retrograde and then I begin writing you this letter, but I decide a letter isn’t proactive enough.

And so, I pierce blood red rose petals with 100% silk thread and I wear them on my skin for you. I wear them like the choker you once requested, and like I once wore you all over my skin. I wear petals in my sleep to dream of you. The psychics said there’s a chord between us still, that cannot be cut. In the morning the petals have dislodged and stained my sheets like burst bed bugs, squashed by the REM movements of my body remembering you. And then I remember when we danced. A binding spell.

What good are memories if they are one-sided?

If someone else remembers, then it must have been real.

And when there’s no one left to remember with, what then?

Well then we lose those parts of ourselves.

The crystal I gave you is good for the immune system, I hold its other half, which I kept, and I feel closer to you.

Do my good thoughts reach you?

How else can I love you now?

And how did I love you once? 

Like the Ace of Cups – I dove down into Mercury’s depths to be with you.

The silvery lake is a silent place, but it echoes with the truth. The journey to get there is inwards, but you will leave your body on the way. You put one toe into its viscous mass and all boundaries between you and it break down. Some kind of osmosis occurs, and you become one with its gelatinous form.

You break apart to become complete. Becoming one of the billions of molecules it contains – each and every one of these billions of molecules being another, transformed and connected within it.

It’s a sorting space, where things go up and down. Before you ask the question, the answer is shown to you… and in this wordless way, I found you and I found myself. For there is no you and I, separation is the great illusion. Everything is connected in the silver lake, suspended in a state somewhere between liquid and solid.

It is one thing to drink from its well, it is another to become one with it.

Unconditionally and infinitely…. that is how I loved you.

And how do I love you now?

The first time you held me, a word, one letter out from your name, appeared in graffiti bubbles opposite my house. I associated the tag with you ever after. Like a fluttering butterfly it landed on street surfaces to remind me of you. Now I see it with greater frequency than ever before – scrawled along the drawn shutters of closed shops. No one’s removing these interventions anymore.

There’s a term, Apophenia, it’s where your brain finds patterns in things, scouring for meanings within the meaningless of the everyday.

But how else could I love you now, we can only play with the cards we’ve been dealt.

A song interrupts me, releasing me from the screen, cutting me off from my own words. I chastise myself for the self-indulgence of my letter. Only a psychoanalyst would want to hear about another person’s dreams.

I close my computer and sing along with the radio…

In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels
The killing moon
Will come too soon

Up against your will
Through the thick and thin
He will wait until
You give yourself to him

Byzantia Harlow (b. 1986) lives and works in London. She received her MA Painting from The Royal College of Art, London and her BA (Hons) Fine Art from Central Saint Martins. Harlow’s work investigates the intersection between true experience, constructed encounter and embellished recollection. Recent projects have focused on re-enactments of genuine encounters laced with fictitious elements. Harlow is interested in the gap between source and sample, re-assembling these fissures to create veneers of truth – where the effigies may have become more meaningful than the originals. Her long-term interest in alternative societies, groups exploring the spiritual or supernatural and unconventional healing practices informs current work. For Harlow, every determination of an event is the balance between cynicism, or acceptance of the mystical. Blending the natural and the supra-natural, the work asks the viewer to take a leap of faith, to follow Harlow through the labyrinthine structures of sculpture, of social performance, and of constructed narrative. The artist is opening the door to both possible enlightenment and potential (dis)illusionment.