Take the Sacred Pause: Talking Tarot with Laura Dawe

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs tarot deck 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

By EA Douglas

In early 2018, a blocky mauve building with green eaves appeared on my Explore feed and brought Laura Dawe and her work into my life. A painter, a filmmaker, an occasional tattooist, the host of BUMP TV’s Valentine’s MATCHtacular, Dawe released her Pack of Dogs Tarot Cards in 2019. We got on the phone to discuss her process of making the deck and the rituals surrounding her readings and creative practice.

EA Douglas: Let’s start with your own history with the Tarot. When did you first start engaging with Tarot? When did you decide to make your own deck?

Laura Dawe: I decided to make my own deck and I started engaging with Tarot at the exact same time, which was when I was a 14-year-old goth and I knew nothing about it. I didn’t own a deck, I didn’t know anyone who did, I had never had my cards read or anything. But obviously the mystical depictions, I was just like “this is the coolest thing ever” and I started to make a deck.

Then I went to Newfoundland for my grandfather’s funeral, and my Uncle was there, and he’s actually an artist as well. He’s pretty deeply religious. We went for a walk to the Ocean and I was telling him excitedly about this thing I was making, thinking that he would think it was cool, and he basically had an intervention. He was like, “These are tools of the Devil, if you open the door for the Devil to come into your life you may never be able to close it.” I abandoned the project and then didn’t really start doing the Tarot thing until my ex-boyfriend bought me a deck close to 10 years ago. I used that deck to make some very major decisions in my life, that still resonate until this day, and slowly I started learning the cards.

While I was doing my Master’s, it occurred to me that I might make a deck. I was making a lot of art about archetypes and studying Carl Jung who made his own Tarot deck. Then I’m writing this movie and in the movie, the girl has a Tarot deck, they live in a very resource scare apocalyptic world. I knew the aesthetics of the movie; I knew how she would make a deck and so that’s how I ended up making mine. Basically, pretending I was her.

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs, tarot deck 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD:  I have a quote here, that each Tarot deck “tends to have its own voice and story written in the images.”[1] I know it’s called Pack of Dogs, and the large black dog almost prances from one card to another. What’s the source behind the dog?

LD: The dog has been in my paintings for a long time, kind of representing our shadow selves. I have a painting that I made when I was having a very serious shame-over called Bad Dog Wants to Be Good. It’s a black dog smoking a cigarette with a white dog in its mind, surrounded by empty wine bottles and there’s a full moon outside.

It’s sort of that idea, it’s different for all of us, as an extrovert (like) me, sometimes I will leave a social situation and feel this incredible shame that I dominated the conversation or neglected people. I would think about that and (know) I can’t control it. I think we all have these things, some people have anger issues, some people binge eat, some people have all three or seven.

We all have these little black dogs running around inside of us and I feel sometimes they’re definitely deeply tied to our unconscious; sometimes we’re aware of them, sometimes we’re not, sometimes we’re aware of them and we still can’t control them.

For example, the Lovers card we think about like “Oh! It’s definitely a good omen for romance!” While that is true, there’s also a lot of guilt linked to the Lovers card for a lot of readers. RuPaul said it best “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” So, in my version, it’s a woman embracing a black dog and they’re embracing equally. I see that as a kind of a self-union.

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs, Lovers card. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Loving yourself first?

LD: Loving and accepting your shittiness. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t all be trying to make sure our shittiness doesn’t spill into the world, but we also need to not punish ourselves for being human. Accepting because there’s no other way to make sure it’s accepted.

EAD: That’s super cool. The black dog stood out to me.

LD: They kind of represent our anxiety, (when) I say shadow self I mean that in the Jungian sense.

EAD: The things we don’t want to admit about ourselves.

LD: Even when we’re looking for it in analysis we sometimes can’t find (it) because of how much of our personality is a fortress that we build to protect ourselves from our humanity.

Someone offered me the tip of like if you want to get in touch with your shadow self, think about someone who sets your teeth on edge. Someone who stresses you out so much you find them so offensive and guaranteed the qualities you find so appalling in them are your shadow characteristics.

EAD: Oof, yes. The Tarot deck consists of 78 cards, each one containing an image or archetype. Did you approach each card with an idea in mind?

LD: The way that I did it was imagining I was this woman and she would have been travelling, so she would’ve been making one card at a time. I made most of the deck where I would be doing a reading for myself or someone else and then whatever cards I would pull I would then make those cards for my deck. It made it easier to remember the meanings because it was tied to a reading.

Also, it helped me try and communicate the meanings because I was applying it to a situation; I would find a way to express it to myself to make sense.

Like most Tarot decks it is based in many ways off of the Rider-Waite. There’s some of the cards that are pretty closely Rider-Waite and those are the earlier ones. I started to understand how to use my own voice the more that I made, some of them I would go back later and remake them so they’re much more my own thing.

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Laura Dawe. Bad Dog Wants to be Good. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Were there any that were super hard to make?

LD: The Three of Wands, I do not know what that card means. Every single time I pull it I’m like “I’m going to look this up” which means I should really know. I really struggled to draw it because I don’t know. It’s a picture (of) a dog climbing some candles and there’s a chicken wing in front and it’s smiling. I feel like it’s a bit of meditation on the grass is greener mentality. When I say the grass is greener I kind of mean projections, the suit of Wands (is) a suit of manifestations, and so projection/manifestation (are) synonymous in some ways.

EAD: When you’re performing the Tarot readings does interacting with them bring them into your studio? You were making the cards after you read for someone, but now that the deck is completed and that’s what you’re using?

LD:  Oh, I never read in the way that I read now until this deck was made. I would (read) in the way that anyone would read with their friends at a party. It was never the way that it is now where I am off book. I didn’t do that until I went to Foire Papier in Montreal; that acted like my deadline to get the deck finished. I read for people there and I was really scared. Of course, people loved it because it’s all about them.

EAD: It’s also such a unique experience in the art world, I think that being the artist and then sitting there and providing an intimate moment…

LD: A service?

EAD: A service but also a chance for intimacy because Tarot readings are so intimate.

LD: They’re extremely intimate. You pass small talk and you zoom past medium talk right into, “My Dad is dying.” And then you’re like, “What was your name again?” You hold intense eye contact with people, you don’t know what the card is going to say, you don’t know what is going on with them. It’s a profound privilege to get to communicate so deeply, so quickly and to feel so trusted. 

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs The Sacred Pause 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Have any of the conversations you’ve had over the Tarot come back into your work?

LD: I guess everything does affect, who even knows what ways (things) manifest. I haven’t been painting really at all for a couple of months and I’m circling the studio, I need to make a bunch of paintings for the new year. I’ve been thinking about them, all the time, and prepping the studio. I’ll go in there, stare at the wall, build a canvas and then get freaked out and run away.

It’ll be interesting to see when these paintings start coming out, whether this kind of archetypal language (will appear). Those are the conversations you have with people, it’s the Major Arcana moments in their life. No one is rushing for Tarot reading if they don’t have big questions. The people who are first in line are heartbroken, they’re grieving, they’re moving, they’re falling in love, they’re stagnant in a way that feels unbearable, you know? I (am) curious to see.

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Pack of Dogs, Sun Card. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: I look forward to seeing it too! I have another friend who reads Tarot and between readings, they put their deck on a milky hunk of selenite, to clear the energy. Do you have any rituals around your readings?

LD: I have a cloth I use, a piece of canvas, that I read on. Each of the elements in the deck represents an element in nature. So, I’ll light a candle for fire, anything works for earth, a flower, a grapefruit, whatever. I have a baby goblet that I’ll put some water or wine in, and then for wind, if we’re near an open window it’s okay. Otherwise, I might light an incense (to) activate the air a bit. I feel like it’s grounding, it grounds the reading a bit. It sets the tone and invites things to enter in equal amounts. Although the cards really typically just reflect what is exactly going on and what the person already knows.

EAD: Sometimes you need someone else to spell it out. What sort of rituals are built into your creative practice? What rituals do you have in the studio?

LD: I wish I knew! I want to become a structured person because I am wildly not. I clean the studio usually. If I haven’t been in there in a while the big ritual is to go in and re-organize and clean, see what’s there.

If I am really struggling to get into a painting, I’ll put on This American Life. It really brings me back to my studio so many times over the years. Ideally, I’ll be zoned into the work by halfway through the episode, and if I can’t get into some kind of flow by the end of the episode then I may have to give up.

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Laura Dawe, Pack of Dogs, Devil Card. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

EAD: Okay, last question. Do you have a favourite card in the Tarot?

LD: Jeez, I mean if it’s something you want to pull, obviously, The Sun. Which is also the 19th card, which I am born on the 19th and 19 is lucky my number. I don’t know. I wouldn’t call it my favourite.

My first response was the Devil – it’s the card I pull the most. It has seen me through many different experiences [and] it has changed meaning for me many times. I think it has to do with addictive thinking and not being in control of our mental domain so it can be a reminder to me about checking in. If I pull the Devil then I need to personally pull a Hanged Man and take a bit of a spiritual step back and chill.
EAD: Put your head upside down and figure it out.

LD: Put my goddamn head upside down and take the Sacred Pause.

Pack Of Dogs Tarot Cards are available to purchase through the Likely General website.

[1] Jaymi Elford, Tarot Inspired Life (Woodbury: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2019), 9.

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