Ash and Stardust, a monthly column by energy worker and artist/writer DHIYANAH HASSAN explores the intersections of tarot with healing and creativity. You can read the rest of the series here.
For October, I came up with a personalized tarot-inspired inktober challenge that I named after this column, #ashytober. I drew a card for each day and then illustrated my response to that card. The result is a series of digital art illustrations that gave life and ambience to the vibrant things that pulsate vividly beyond the surface of my days. Save for a couple of lags, I spent my October making art that I had no chance to plan for since each day’s prompt only happened when I pulled a card from the deck. I documented the work and shared some insight about the process for each piece on my Instagram (they’ll also be up on my website once that’s back out of its hiatus).
The ways in which I work has changed. Instead of squeezing effort to make things, I’m more focused on allowing things to happen. There’s so much that wants to come through me, so much that’s getting ready that wants me to be gentle with it.
Working on #ashytober after months of light sketchbook work allowed me the space to let the different parts of my work – my art, my training as a healer, my words, my aspirations – find their own ways to integrate and merge. I also found out that working intuitively was a great way to allow old strategies of art-making to adapt to where I’m at now.
Like how with each piece of #ashytober, I was building – finding – a fantastical world that housed its own cosmic cartography with strange landscapes, multiple suns and moons in the sky, and characters living diverse lifestyles.
Building up a cosmology for magical worlds – like building up the narrative behind the theory behind the symbology of a series – is something I’ve grown so accustomed to in my work as an artist. Except that I used to pressure myself to the point of paralysis that not much of this work gets to see the light of day. And so it was really delightful – like unwrapping candy to find a surprise toy packed inside with it – to see an entire universe of characters and narratives being spun out so spontaneously with each piece.
Other than making sure I spent 1 to 4 hours per piece so that I wasn’t burning my body out, I didn’t hold back. And I loved the works I was making. And I was okay with loving them.
Staying true to the intuitive process of reading tarot cards, I was consistent about working with my first reactions to each card of the day – the first emotional response, first thoughts, the immediate visions that popped up – so that what drove me was just intuition. My adoration for color, my curiosity about making images, and my love of storytelling all popped up only to support the movement and whims of my intuitive responses. This was how I worked when I was painting moons back in 2014. That was a very abstract, conceptual series (a method of working I also love dearly). This series, though still elemental in concept, is more figurative. Each piece a tableau or vignette when pieced together form a map of a world that’s figuring out how to own up to itself in all its strangeness.
I’ve sat down with people who’ve eyed my hands shuffling tarot decks with so much curiosity overflow that I had to ask if they’d like to try a reading. I can tell when they want to say yes but they smile shyly or smirk and shrug instead, sometimes followed by the ‘Yes’ that’s already in them or the ‘No’ that’s reaching for them from old habits slinking into their thoughts as anxiety, doubt, or skepticism. I’ve been this person, shrugging and saying ‘No’ when what I really wanted was for you to take my hand, send warmth into all the parts of me that had been iced shut then look me in the eye to say, “It’s okay.”
So I try to nudge this person on, if it feels right to. If I have capacity to. I do no hand-holding but I will hold space if they can show up for it. I aim to be gentle but oftentimes I can already feel their nerves shocking and colliding, and it takes a fair bit out of me to remember which part of us that I am in that moment so that we can get somewhere with all this energy.
When a person gets too quiet in a session (I’ve gotten better at letting that quiet be when it simply needs to be), I lower my filter so that what comes through is closer to its raw form – I soften the impact as much as I can, but we all know when we’re getting a talking to from our higher selves.
This particular quiet reminds me of some of the Old Me’s I’ve lived through. Shuffling my first ever deck and thinking at least ten times before pulling a card. Or, having a small panic attack upon unveiling a card that was clearly made to challenge or provoke me (spoiler alert: they were all made to challenge and provoke you – they’re catalysts, that’s the whole point). Or, putting cards back into the pile because I didn’t want to deal with their symbolisms (hence the birth of the Chaos Spread – ha! – but for real, it’s a great exercise in acclimatizing to your intuitive self whether you’re a baby tarot reader or the high priestess of a Lemurian past).
What is that little jump of fear in the ribcage before you meet the cards face up? That little gasp of thought, suddenly your shoulders shiver a little and you have to pep talk yourself to be ready. Are you that afraid of yourself?
Because that’s ultimately who you meet when you engage in things like cartomancy, bibliomancy, and working in dreams or trance states. The parts of you that are made of magic. Or, the parts of you accessible only through the subconscious. Or, the parts of you you haven’t even met yet. Your intuitive self. The vast Being to your fleshy Human.
That’s the force that drives what some of us label “coincidence” out of doubt and into meaning, pulling back the veils (if that’s what we’ve said yes to – to those of us who get enough from our rational selves, that’s okay too there’s no one right way of Being) and guiding us towards whatever we’ve chosen to believe is good for us. Intuition.
So when you pull a card, with a question or a feeling at the foreground of your focus, you’re letting your intuition take the steering wheel. You’re trusting it with your body, too, and for those of us who have to heal in ways that go beyond the limits of society’s expectations or impositions, this act of trust goes a long, long way. It’s good medicine, and for many reasons.
The physical act of pulling cards amplifies the intent to reclaim bodily agency. The connection that happens when you let someone else read your cards teaches us how we exchange energy. The way your system of reactivity may shift from anxiety into self-mastery as you train yourself to observe your responses to the cards’ symbolism rather than just react to them – gradually, you grow more into yourself and closer to a version of you that’s healed. Until you almost can’t wait to flip the cards face up to get started. Until you can see The Tower and laugh with real, non-maniacal un-ironic, joy.
Drawing a card a day is the best way to learn tarot – everyone will tell you that because it’s true. Your intuition is full of wisdom and it has your back. How you respond to a card in the present moment is more potent than the keywords jotted down in your tarot diary or someone else’s interpretation on a blog somewhere. And those things are wonderful research materials and can teach you how to talk about tarot which is equally important. But if you’re not connecting and trusting your intuitive self your engagement with the cards will be as limiting as the volume of your self-doubt.
With #ashytober, drawing a card a day and then drawing my response to them left me no space to doubt my intuitive readings of each card. Because art-making is such a physical act that takes energy and time and sometimes careful planning because you don’t want to work yourself into cramps (or flare up any lingering injuries or old/chronic pains), all my rational self was in charge of was setting a timer so that I didn’t work too hard or forget to take breaks (because I know myself, I’ve spent twenty straight hours painting one thing then twenty weeks recuperating from it – on multiple occasions). Everything else I gave to my intuitive self. And at first it felt a bit awkward just because I hadn’t been as actively creating like this in a while, and then after the first week I began to look forward to it (I was a bit bummed when it ended but things are always moving and I’m still always creating).
By the end of the month, I felt so refreshed and clear about the possible pathways my works could take going forward. I also felt better about deciding to take a longer, slower time with a project I started late last year – creating my own tarot deck. Yes, that’s happening! And this #ashytober series was such a good opportunity to build up the confidence to return to that project with fresh eyes.
I feel like the works I made for #ashytober visually summed up the exciting energies that have been steeping and brewing and bubbling underneath the surface, and I highly recommend this project or something like it – for any time of the year, for whatever span of time that works for you, using whatever creative formats or tools you have access to – if you’re looking to connect to the cards and your intuitive self in a more intimate and creative way. Artists and writers have been using tarot as a supplement to their individual creative flow for ages, and now that tarot decks are more accessible there’s more space for us to expand the ways we use and connect with this storytelling tool – try it! If not for the industriousness of a routine-based practice (which in itself is a great way to flex the creative muscles), then definitely for all the surprises and discoveries it will bring you.