Monday, October 18, 2021

Mary and Materiality : The Mysteries of Mary tarot deck and art

 Imaging Pilgrimage: Representations of Sacred Space in Contemporary Art

by Kathryn Barush published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts 2021

In her book Imaging Pilgrimage, Kathryn Barush brings together the study of medieval representations of pilgrimage to a number of contemporary art that is created after a pilgrimage and intended to act as a catalyst for others to experience, grace, healing and contemplation.  I am so honoured that she included my work with sacred altars and pilgrimage into this beautiful and enlightening book.

Images from Kathryn Barush's Instagram posts

One of the chapters in the book is dedicated to 'South African artist Hettienne Grobler (Sri BhaktymayiMa), who creates shadowboxes of assemblages of souvenirs collected
from Lourdes, in dialogue with medieval art which is rooted in the same impulses
of memory, imagination, and devotion.  

In addition to Marian imagery, Grobler also draws from Bhakti theology, and widening the aperture, her work forms an important case study to show that art that
engages two or more traditions can be used as a window into a dialogical
approach to comparative religion.'

The chapter is sub-divided into

'How and why an apparition was first 'made material''

'Mary, materiality, and message: a pilgrimage through art'

'Water, water everywhere! The Lourdes replica tradition

'Bhakti the essence of this love relationship that one experiences with the Divine.
I think one can describe bhakti as 'being absolutely madly in love.'
At first one is in love with God and the realizations that God is 'in love'
with you; then this expands and you start to see love in everything
and eventually you see the 'face of God' in everyone and everything.'

'For Grobler, 'love' is the foundation of her personal beliefs and the visual
expression it finds, and she acknowledges that this means that she can relate
to many religions and paths.  

As with her other Marian art, Grobler's Black Madonna deck has been a deep dive
into this imagery and a prayerful experience.  It has also been a way to explore
'how far back racism has been forcefully applied and internalised. One cannot really separate the Black Lives Matter ideology and the Black Madonna and I have at times felt such
awe that this deck is being created in these times'

Her social media posts with images of these works-in-progress have been interspersed
with essays on the Black Madonna as a way to celebrate Black Lives.
Although less overtly political, Grobler's project has every
potention to be a powerful tool for reflecting on, and advocating the
abolishment of, anti-Black racism through the Hindu and Catholic
theologies that her work engenders, via both her artistic process
and the iconological content.

Kathryn first approached me a few years ago and we have had 'conversations' online
and through email.  This is an incredible book;  Katryn has a wonderful way of using
language and she has opened my eyes to the incredible wealth of medieval texts and
research and her own incredible understanding and sensitivity to art as a vehicle of religion across all traditions.  This in-depth work has underscored all that I experienced within myself.  I regard
myself as 'one who walks between two worlds' and Kathryn is a kindred soul.

Dr Barush is Thomas E. Bertelsen Jr. Associate Professor of Art History and Religion

Dr. Barush received a D.Phil. from Wadham College, University of Oxford in 2012 and has held positions as Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and as curatorial assistant at the Yale University Center for British Art.  She is the author of the monograph Art and the Sacred Journey in Britain, 1790-1850 (London: Routledge). Shifting the focus to the present day, Dr. Barush's current book project (Imaging Pilgrimage: Art as Embodied Experience, Bloomsbury Visual Culture) explores the transfer of 'spirit' from sites to representations through a critical examination of contemporary art (including assemblages of souvenirs, built environments, and reconstructions of sacred sites) created after or during pilgrimages with the intent to engender the experience for others. 

Dr. Barush takes an interdisciplinary approach to art history and is especially interested in expressions of belief across a number of religious traditions. She values a contextual and hands-on approach to learning - her students closely study ritual objects and sacred artworks up-close and in person wherever possible. Such objects, especially in places of prayer and worship but also as re-contextualized in the secular space of public museums, offer crucial insights into the study of historic and contemporary lived religion, devotional practice, and popular piety.

In addition to her research and writing, Dr. Barush is an advisor to the British Pilgrimage Trust and a member of the advisory network of the Yale Center for Material and Visual Cultures of Religion. She is also an avid walker and has led a group of graduate student pilgrims along the Camino Ignaciano in Spain.  

Follow Dr. Barush' adventures and research on Twitter @pilgrim_travels

From the website of the Graduate Theological Union -

Friday, February 21, 2020

Mysteries of Mary Amulet and Healing Oracle sets

I have put together a few very special
Mysteries of Mary Oracle healing sets
in my shop - as you know these are
limited editions as many of the parts
are not readily available

I visited St Terese d'Lisieux in France on a very special pilgrimage.
I blog about it in Walking with Mary.
I brought back small statues, holy medals and holy cards.

I have created a special St Terese d'Lisieux edition set - I have only one

This set is a full Mysteries of Mary oracle set with 45 charms but then
included are a red rose charm, a red skull, a special red St Terese holy medal,
and a tiny copy of the Smiling Madonna as seed in my VIII Roses card
in the Mysteries of Mary tarot deck
a silver coloured St Terese small statue 
a sterling silver tiny highly detailed St Terese charm
all put together in a special St Terese tin with extra rosary and bag.

I also have a few mini add-on sets.

The Divine Infant of Prague.
I visited the Divine Infant of Prague during Christmas time in 2018.
Here I came across the beautiful black Infant of Prague which
will have a place in the major arcana of the
Black Madonna tarot deck.  
I attended a special blessing ceremony of the tiny
Infant of Prague and I dipped all the miniature statues
into the water in the chapel.  Each holy card and post
card was touched to the ancient statue that used to belong
to St Teresa d'Aville.  These ancient statues and items
of devotion carry enormous energy and potential
for our own healing and spiritual journey.

I have only a very few of these sets available.
They are up in my shop at

Each set includes a gorgeous glittery holy card from Prague,
a postcard from the church, two holy medals, the one coloured
enamel and the other plain silver coloured (of the Divine Infant)
a small vintage plastic statue of the Divine Infant
and the smallest, sweetest vintage plastic charm of the Infant,
as well as a red rosary.
All put together in a red voile bag

These are available as an add-on set that you can buy separately
or it comes included with a 45 piece charm set (which will then
be a 48 piece charm set)

I visited St Terese d'Lisieux in France on a very special pilgrimage.
I blog about it in Walking with Mary.
I brought back small statues, holy medals and holy cards.

I have created a special St Terese d'Lisieux edition set - I have only one

This set is a full Mysteries of Mary oracle set with 45 charms but then
included are a red rose charm, a red skull, a special red St Terese holy medal,
and a tiny copy of the Smiling Madonna as seed in my VIII Roses card
in the Mysteries of Mary tarot deck
a silver coloured St Terese small statue 
a sterling silver tiny highly detailed St Terese charm
all put together in a special St Terese tin with extra rosary and bag.

I will be adding a few more special sets soon.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Using the Mary amulets with the deck

Mysteries of Mary healing amulet set

The Spring and Autumn layouts

 I have always been drawn to the tarot because of its beautiful art and the archetypal interpretation thereof and of myths and legends.  It seemed a perfect vehicle to bring the hidden story of Mary and the goddess to our consciousness and thus afford us the insight and clarity into our own behaviour
and responses.

My second big love has been charms and amulets.  And through the years I have uncovered the many meanings and traditions related to charms.  I also found it fascinating that there are holy medals for every church, every saint and every archetypal event in the church history and theology.  Through an instagram friend I discovered Benedicaria and this led to the Amulets of Mary charm oracles.

As I created these I realised that each and every card in the Mysteries deck contain many charms and that these two streams are intertwined.  So I have been playing with my charm oracle in tandem with my cards and I would like to share some of the ways in which I use it with you.  You will obviously create your own and that is half the joy and the insights gained are priceless.

Two of my favourite spreads are the Spring and Autumn spreads.

For Spring I use II of Vessels/Cups and the II of Holyrood/Wands and for Autumn I use the II of Distaff/Swords and II of Roses/Pentacles. 

These are the four annunciation and birth cards so they give you a good indication of where and what is being presented and what is being born and how to midwife the birth.
As without so within
As above so below

We see the cycles of the seasons reflected in our own psyches and our external world and understanding the impetus of rebirth during summer and pregnancy in the Underworld of winter (especially in the northern hemisphere) can be key points on your journey.

Then I empty my pouch of amulets and pick the ones that match the cards.  (I have collected new amulets on my recent pilgrimage and am working on putting these new sets together - one or two will be available in the shop soon, hopefully)

For the two annunciation cards I matched the following amulets :
blessed Mary, heart with wings, archangel and the chalice

In the annunciation of Anne I have the bee, the blue bird, the sparrow, the red yarn, the palm trees and the scissors.  You can also add the needle, the archangel, and thread should you wish to. 

In the Southern Hemisphere we are entering Spring and there is a sense of regeneration, hope and optimism within oneself.  We have been through a long and severe drought and this has brought water restrictions and a change in lifestyle for many of us.  (I wrote this post in the spring) Living consciously and with introspection one is confronted with the drought within your inner landscape and the pockets of lack of joy or happiness in the garden of your soul.  
I am therefore doing the Spring reading for myself.

Spring :
II of Vessels 
and II of  Holy Rood 
and I would expand this with the card of the Sun which is XIX Holy Child

So the questions would be :

- where specifically am I lacking in the living waters of Life in my inner landscape?
- what can I do to facilitate change and transformation?
-what can I expect to change?
-how can I cooperate with these changes?
-what do I need to let go of?
-what should I encourage into my outer life?
-whom should I welcome into my inner world?

as a few examples.

 If you have the time and you want to do a really in-depth reading, you study these three cards and their meanings in the guide book; you pack their amulets out and study their meanings in the small handbook; take a few minutes to ponder the picture that is being revealed.
then put it all back,
shuffle the cards,
and draw your three cards which you will put into these three positions :

Position 1 =  annunciation
Position 2 =  birth
Position 3 = fulfillment

The Annunciation

Birth of the Golden Child

Celebration, joy

then proceed to add the amulets that matches up with them to these three cards
and together they will tell the story.

The annunciation asks your consent and willingness.  By putting a card down in this position of the spread, you are opening the door and welcoming change and transformation in.  You are declaring yourself as Handmaiden of your soul and its goals of growth.  This is an act of unity and a sacred marriage as you are opening your mind in acceptance and you are stepping up to the altar of your life.

The card that you drew plus the amulets, will show in which area of your life
you can expect the announcement to be made.  

In the second position of birth you will be shown what you are expected to give birth to;
it may show the area of potential growth;  sudden and unexpected good fortune;  a major change;
a new beginning; a new cycle or an event

In the third position is celebration and joy
The card and amulets that you place here will show you in what form and in which area of your
life you can  expect the manifestation to turn up. 

or else if you want to a quick reading. you can put the three cards down and draw
the three cards for the reading and place them on top with their amulets. 

St Anne, Ten of Vessels
on the position of the Annunciation
with the amulets of St Anne, teapot, bowl

IV Vessels in the position of Birth
with the amulets of Mary, chalice and dove

The Queen of Holy Rood in the position of
celebration and joy with the amulets of rosy cross, 
flaming heart, Mary and the rose

If you combine the three 'foundation' cards and their matching amulets,
with the drawn cards and their amulets, you have a thorough and in-depth
picture of what to expect.

Marrying East and West

Sleeping Beauty
IV Distaff (traditionally Swords)
Mysteries of Mary Tarot Deck

The Mysteries of Mary Tarot deck is a marriage between
East and West. or more aptly,
between esoteric Shakty Tantra tradition that I was initiated into and
Christian mystical tradition that I have been studying.

In the spiritual journey which takes you back towards the
soul and unity consciousness, it is vital to make the 'two into one'.
In fact, this is the crux of both the Western and Eastern spiritual
traditions.  And in this deck, and on this path of wholeness,
the myth of the Western religious traditions are married to the
spiritual practices and understanding of Sacred Embodiment of
the Eastern religious traditions.  The Mysteries of Mary is the Divine Path of Love
and it takes you step by step through the three aspects of embodied soul,
the physical, mental and emotional and then culminates in the fourth suit
of Roses, in the marriage of heart and mind, Soul and Spirit,
and ultimately awakened embodied kundalini with Divine Source or God/All That Is.

The name of the deck tells you everything that is important to know about the cards.
The word 'mysteries' has more than one meaning and interpretation, all of which
describe the purpose of these 78 shrines and the stories that they tell.

Mysteries refer to myth, initiation, esoteric (inner), secret and hidden, and knowledge to be
revealed.  The Mysteries of Mary is a spiritual path to our highest spiritual potential,
to your own unique being
and its unfoldment in the details of your life.
It is a step by step path which unfolded to me and as my
own journey, over 40 years.  Obviously, in hindsight, it unfolded from the day I 
was born, but I consciously started working with it when I was older.
 This path I set out to share with others
as The Path of Love and then later as the Temple of Mary and then
eventually it called for a work of art, each shrine depicting a story,
your story.

If you work with the cards regularly and you immerse yourself in these
mysteries, you will find that the meaning of your own unique path is revealed and made obvious
 around these universal secrets.  Mysteries, amongst other meanings,  
refer to myths and myths are universal stories
of great importance and potency in our collective subconscious.  Fundamentalist
religious persons (and conversely those against religion as well) read the myths 
of religion as literal.  This is not the case on this spiritual path.  
There is much confusion about the religious stories and
the historic events and the facts around them.   You can lose yourself and the true
purpose of these stories and myths when you get involved in that way of thinking and
thus lose the profound Mystery of esoteric (hidden inner) religion or spirituality.

Joseph Campbell, and others, have done extensive research on worldwide myths 
and have shown how these are all connected despite culture and tradition.  All myths
have a universal thread and message.  It is obvious that our subconscious self knows and
understand what it is that we are living, and it births stories which reflect back to us
what is hidden in our inner depths.  We cannot make sense of ourselves, our reactions, our feelings
and their consequences, without a mirror reflecting Life (God) back at us.

The shrine of Sophia holding the mirror of existence
II Mary Sophia
The Mysteries of Mary Tarot

 When I started to work with my own dissatisfaction and resentment of life, 
I discovered a deep aversion
to any Christian story and especially to patriarchy and the way that all spiritual teaching
had been removed from religion.  I tried to eradicate the idea of the Christian-Judaeo
God from my mind and especially the story of Jesus.  I found wonderful revelations
in the works of Marion Woodman, Barbara Walker, Marina Warner and many other
powerful feminist authors and slowly but surely I started to see that there is a different
way of interpreting the world and that I do have the power to make my own choices.

I immersed myself in mystical Catholicism of contemplation and self-knowledge
and Thomas Merton and other great Catholic saints and mystics became my guides.
However, my search was still not over as I yearned for a deeper knowing and 
understanding of a Divine Woman and I continued to search for that mirror
of my own feminine nature.  Thus I discovered the new Goddess movement 
where I really came to understand the power of myth and how our myths have been
sanitized and changed and distorted in order to cut out the feminine and all things
'un-masculine'.  But once again I found the tendency to make things literal present here as well..
Feminine does not only refer to gender, but also to a way of being, an inner principle
that is alive in every human being.  It is a complex area which does not always
fit into a box of rational logical thinking and one which is often denied or avoided
for that very reason.  However, we need both principles, that of feminine and
masculine, to truly make inner and outer progress on the spiritual journey.

From coming to know the Goddess tradition, it was but a short step to
the esoteric Hindu path of Shakty Tantra. The Eastern path of spirituality
has the most powerful practices essential to a path of truly waking up to
the True Self.  Nowhere in the Western world did I come across such depth
of understanding and embodiment of Spirit and such fearless pursuit of the depths
of thought and energy, as in India.  Here I came to know Kundalini Ma,
the divine feminine in her three aspects of Being, and the three aspects of
Being that is available to and present in us.  This was the final step for me as I could
completely surrender to the Eastern path of submitting to a guru combined
with my contemplative path of self-knowledge from the West.
But eventually I found that I do not have the deep seated understanding
and emotional connection to the Hindu stories and myths.  When I used
the word 'God' it still harped back to the figure in my children's Bible
and I still had a mental block against all the Bible Stories.  I could not
access a large part of my inner self and my subconscious because I could
not enter into the sacred heart of the christian myths.  And so I had to go back to
my roots and unpick the lies and distortions of the mind and enter
the heart of the myth of Mary and Mary Magdalene and Jesus and all
the other great characters of these stories.

The stories that Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Mary Magdalene
live are the stories that we live.  When we read these powerful
mysteries as myth, then we can enter the heart of God and understand
how God is our very Being and that our lives are the very unfolding
of Being.  When these mysteries are read as only literal, then all that power
which is available to us, is lost. Then it becomes a rigid, empty doctrine
filled with ritual which has to be repeated continuously to simulate real Power and
the word God becomes a stagnant idea and concept of a Being outside of ourselves.

Shrine of St Sara la Kali
V Vessels
Mysteries of Mary Tarot Deck

Let's take for instance the myth of Sara la Kali.  There are many different 
versions of the story of Sara la Kali.  Each story has different implications
and different outcomes.  When we accept that it is a myth, it opens up
a new world of possibilities for oneself.  It demonstrates that there are many
options and possible outcomes in life and that we are not limited to
one story and a perfect outcome.  When we can let go of the fearful and
limiting mind and rather 'keep an open mind' and a willingness to see
things differently, then we create the inner space to be with and
to hold the ultimate mystery of life.  When we do not hold on so tightly to
our own version of events and the meaning of events, then our life
stays fresh and alive, each moment alit with the potential and possibility of
new experiences and the amazing creativity of life and being alive.
When we try to throttle life and its many changes and cycles, into a
neat and tidy story with a specific message or lesson, then soon
everything stagnates and there is nothing new to be gained.  Powerful symbols
of deeper and ever-birthing realities become jaded and ignored and the
mind does not even register the true in-the-moment message any more.

Every symbol and every story has a new message for you, centred  in your being,
in this moment.  Thus you can use these cards over and over and everytime hear
a new message and receive new guidance and see in the mirror clearly.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sacral Tarot Decks

The Black Madonna of Tindari
Mysteries of Black Madonna Tarot deck

For the Mysteries of the Black Madonna tarot deck I am once again
creating sacred altars of the shrines and sanctuaries and stories
of the Dark Madonnas in a similar style to the Mysteries of Mary.
A part of my vision is that these two decks will work together and a
third deck will be born from their sacred union.

When I started with ritual pilgrimages to sacred sanctuaries
of Mary and other saints, I was struck by the aura of divine
otherworldliness of these places.  Whilst one is in that space
you are also transported to the Otherworld and filled with incredible
Light and Inspiration and a deep state of peace and fulfillment.
And you can see it in the faces of other pilgrims too.

It is also obvious that the art and iconography of the shrines,
sanctuaries and statues imbue a certain sensitivity which
connects with that most authentic, unveiled part of oneself.
It is not the merit of the art that is most evocative to the pilgim,
but rather the pure devotion and worship of the believers who created
the iconography and iconosphere of the shrine, that evokes a deep
sense of being 'at one' with the sacred in the beholder or visitor.

When you enter the iconosphere or space of the sanctuary, you enter
into a ritual relationship - at first you are transformed from tourist or visitor
into a pilgrim;  your visit becomes a ritual pilgrimage;  you enter into a
sacred relationship with those who have worshiped here before you
and you become a devotee, even if it is only for the duration of
your visit.  You are alchemically transformed from a passive
visitor, who came to see the shrine, into an active participant
in something far greater than ordinary life and its struggles.

Shrines and sanctuaries in their representation of the miraculous event,
apparation or sacred story that took place there, are an intrinsic part
of the ritual and relationship with the sacred.  The statues and other iconic
works of art that are created to embody the apparition or miracle of the sacred
being, are believed to be and has proved to be full of power.  Copies of these
icons and shrines are also believed to carry some of the same power
as they represent the sacred event and physical embodiment through
the iconography.  The small souvenirs which include holy medals, ex-votos and especially
the smaller replicas of the holy icon, are also an important part of the sacred
relationship and serves an important ritual function in the personal devotion
to the Mysteries.

The shrine of Cybele 
Mysteries of Black Madonna Tarot deck

Part of the power and worship of an icon and shrine of a holy being, is the aspect
of distance, or being removed from us who are behind the veil.  We see this in the
ritual coverings that are put over the statue; at times there are curtains that are
only opened during Mass.  During festivals of worship, the statue is brought out
into the streets and into among the people and everyone feels blessed and it
is an important part of worship to touch the statue.  Often  it is part of the ritual
to knock on the door of the sanctuary or to sing to the deity to be allowed 
into the sanctuary or chapel. This perceived distance in time and space
adds to the power of the icon.  Seldom are really powerful icons
found in the middle of a bustling city;  they are usually tucked away
in distant places and they require from one to undertake a physical
and psychic journey.  Different shrines have different attributes
and you will visit the one that you are most in need of.

The smaller reproductions that we take home and use on our daily altar
and for daily rites do not diminish its power.

With this understanding in mind, I created the Mysteries of Mary tarot
deck and now the Mysteries of the Black Madonna deck.
Each shrine and each card  is a representation, containing the aura
of the original sacred event, manifestation and its iconography.
Each shrine and card contains a small replica of the icon.
That in itself makes it powerful, but many of these icons have been
touched to the original icon or dipped into the healing waters or
touched to the rocks of the shrine or natural cave.  Each icon
was brought back from a personal pilgrimage which I attended
to with sacred ritual and intent and a willingness to enter through the
veil of my own mind and the mind of the collective.

My process of creating these altars include hours and hours of meditative
research.  I undertake pilgrimages to as many of the sites which are chosen
to be included in the deck, as I possible can.  I do not pick many of the
sites - they choose me.  As does the detail of the story that jumps out at 
me or the many synchronicities that guide me throughout the process and
to which I have to stay open and aware.

Miniature lemon tree brought back from Italy

During my pilgrimages I collect as much as I can.  I collect some of the
dirt which I keep in tiny labelled bottles.  I collect rose petals and other
bits of nature.  I still have a dead bee from the shrine of St Francis in Assisi.
I collect holy oil and samples of the water. 
In my studio I create many altars.  I have main ones that are seldom dismantles
and then I create altars for the theme of the week or month of the creative
process that I am immersed in.

Before I start working, I put frankincense and myrrh granules onto
smoldering charcoal.  I still use incense that I brought back from the Black Madonna
of Marseilles as well as the monks of San Luce in Bologna and a tiny bit
of rose incense from St Terese of Lisieux.  I always have fresh lemons and fresh
flowers on my work table.  I light candles and offer these to Blessed Mary
in her many aspects.  I eat one pastiche made from the holy waters of Lourdes
and I purify my own energy and the energy of the white board that I work on,
with the sacred water.  Then I anoint myself with a blend of rose and lemon oil.
At the end of the session, I close the energies by putting out the candles and
closing everything down and by closing the door to my studio.

Each deck is consecrated to Mary.  They are opened and wrapped in my studio
on pristine white tissue paper stamped with the Auspice Maria symbol that I use
for protection.  Once the decks and books and statues are wrapped, they are
sprinkled with the blend of healing waters, and blessed rose petal water from
St Terese's mass in Lisieux as well as rose and lemon oils.
Each deck is sent out to be used as a sacred altar and sacrament dedicated
to the sacred being in yourself and your personal relationship with That.

(the full post is available on

If you are interested in sponsoring my creative journey with the Mysteries of the Black Madonna
Tarot deck and read more about my personal experiences as I work on this deck, please
join me on 
I am undertaking a pilgrimage to the Black Madonnas in Belgium in a month's time
and you can undertake a virtual pilgrimage with me.