Eliza Swann is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York. And that “interdisciplinary” extends beyond the visual. For Swann, a certain breed of mysticism and spirituality is essential for her visual work to flourish. She reaches to the point of psychomagic–the tarot as a therapeutic arts-based practice–calling to mind work by the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky, etc.

Beautiful Savage’s Hillary Sproul sat down with Swann to discuss her impressive body of work and how she employs the tarot along her journey.

To connect with Eliza Swann head over to www.elizaswann.com

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BEAUTIFUL SAVAGE: How did The Tarot come into your life?

ELIZA SWANN:Struggle – that wonderful catalyst for transformation – lead me to the tarot. I was drawn to poetry very early in life and understood that one could create profound shifts in understanding with associative, non-linear, ecstatic thinking. I bought my first tarot deck when I was 14 after going through a heavy time – tarot has been in my life ever since.

It’s silly- but do you remember your first deck? Can you describe it? I’m visually curious.

I have a tendency to give gifts to people that I actually want for myself! I bought a black and white version of the Rider Waite deck when I was 14 and hand painted each card with black light paint. I gave the deck and a black light to my best witch friend at the time so that we could psychedelically enter the tarot picture plane together. She had zero interest in the tarot – I would go over to her house and play with the cards myself! Eventually she gave the deck back to me and so my first deck was a custom painted neon Rider Waite.


As a child, did you have a sense of a certain intuition available to you? Did you feel artistically inclined?

From birth I had a connection to the Mystery – I had “angels” all around me which I could communicate to for advice. These angels have now been correctly described by a Shaman to me as “guardians” – it’s the best word for them. My Mom and her friends would call me “The Oracle” when I was little, and ask me questions about lost items or loved ones. My father is an artist and took me to hundreds of art openings. We would have painting contests and watch Twin Peaks together – he was an enormous influence! Initially I had wanted to be a poet, and then branched into more visual forms of communicating as I seemed to have more of a natural aptitude for it. Art for me is channeled and generally very fluid – if I thought I were the one making things I would freak out! What a burden! I feel the same way about the tarot – it is all channelled information, which is why I have the audacity to say the things that I say to people who come to see me.

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There’s a certain brand of art-based therapy. Tarot reading can be often misunderstood and consequently dismissed as a kind of wacky, new age-y way to “forecast” the future. But to me, it’s an art-based therapy utilizing the power of intuition. Is that also how you see it?

Yes – I totally agree with you! The Tarot is a much more profound tool than divination: a tarot session at it’s best offers a pathway toward self-realization, creativity, and transformation. During a session we can utilize the dynamic archetypes for transformation within tarot symbolism as a tool to arrive at true presence and to demystify our intentions for clearer life progress. Each reading must engage the active spirit of metamorphosis and awakening as a process rather than a goal. Everything is ALWAYS in the process of completing itself. This is why I feel compelled to teach the Tarot – it is an effort to spread the understanding that the tarot is a profound tool for questioning and insight rather than forecasting. We are in charge of our destinies – a reading should empower both the reader and the read for.

You’re an artist as well, visually-speaking? How do art and tarot merge for you, aside from the obvious blending of symbolism as a way to study your life and your emotional plane?

As an artist I frequently muse on the purpose of art, and in particular the role of art as a healing tool. How can art function as an apparatus for psychic hygiene and planetary healing? For me, the tarot is a perfect triangulation between life, art, and health. It is an ancient system of symbolism that utilizes the sacred channels of the symbolic, the poetic, the psychic, the ineffable, the irrational, and the ecstatic for the purposes of reaching total consciousness and full responsibility in our lives. It is a tool for transformation, and in this way embodies pure creativity.

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There is no difference between art making and reading tarot for me at this stage. As soon as I sit down with someone to give a reading the spontaneous collaboration begins – I pull from my meditation training, Ericksonian hypnosis training, Hindu training, listening training, art training, life training. Besides examining the cards we can look in the chakra dictionary together, stand on our heads together, do cosmic tree visualizations together, do a lot of talking about family and childhood together. Everyone gets sent home with “homework” – as all transformations are instigated by action. This “homework” is art … it can be anything from performing Viking Funerals for aspects of life that no longer serve us to only wearing orange underwear as a reminder to strengthen and heal the creativity chakra. One querent was asked to take a photograph of his bliss and he made the most wonderful “Alice in Wonderland” series of prints! I am very lucky to get to make so much beautiful art with so many people.

This Summer I am teaching a workshop in the Redwood forest concerning bridging the gap between the Tarot and performance. I want to explore this edge with others.

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Can you tell me a little more about this project?

The Golden Dome (www.golden-dome.org) is an experimental nomadic school dedicated to investigating intentional living and art making as it relates to cultivating ideas for sustaining and optimizing life on Earth. Let’s thrive! It’s essentially a Mystery School for Art, where we examine the triangulation between art, science, and spirit. Our first program will take place at the end of July at a sustainable land art project in West Marin, CA. The program is called “Performing the Fool’s Planetary Rites” and is dedicated to the study of the Tarot and it’s relationship to action and installation. Through a a two week intensive of tarot study, meditation, ritual, and performance we will be examining the ways in which the tarot bridges the gap between healing and art. How can our art contribute to cultural and psychic hygiene for the benefit of our planet? How can environment be investigated through the practice of art making in such a way that these questions cannot only be asked, but be lived as well? I am working with just about the raddest artists, witches, and tarot healers to make this dream come true. A special shout out goes to my long time tarot and art collaborator Laura Zuspan (http://www.vice.com/read/a-month-in-a-rv-with-a-man-sized-rag-doll) who is my other hand in this project.

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