Recently I had an opportunity to sit down with the creator of the Arcane Bullshit Oracle deck, Evan Doherty. I was drawn to this interview like the nameless masses are drawn to Daniel Sand, a hole, or to the discomfiting consideration of bird feet. As we all know, thoughts are just ghosts from space and so, determined to make sense of the senseless, I dove in.
Why arcane bullshit? Are you an occultist or practitioner yourself?
It’s been weird. I started this project probably ten years ago and I didn’t used to say, wear tee shirts with skulls on them, but a lot of things have changed for me. When I started this, admittedly, I just wanted to poke fun at things. There was very little intention behind it, although, I always loved the imagery and mystery of tarot and the occult. At first, I wanted to make something ridiculous, a sort of parody, and so I didn’t delve into the meanings and origins. After ten years, I can’t ignore that it’s been gradually seeping into my consciousness. To answer the question, on the surface, I would say no – but I suppose part of that is about being busy. When do I have time to work with a higher power? If I had to pin it down with a label? I don’t know. When I got started I felt like the occult just seemed sort of silly to me, but the more I do this, the more I’m sort of genuinely curious, while keeping it at arm’s length.
My own coven is filled with a lot of skeptical people who probably think occultism looks and feels just as silly as you, and while people out there might think we’re in hooded robes with Flava-Flav sized pentagrams chanting, maybe having orgies with a goat, we’re probably just eating smores and drinking. But somewhere along the way, you accidentally find something of yourself in it. And if nothing else it becomes this sort of tribe where you bond together, and make yourselves better people.
I’ve never been a person who seeks out community, I don’t really feel like I have community at all in my own life, but it’s fascinating to me.
When I was in art school we had an assignment where we were to design playing cards. Being the sort of person that I am, I found this boring and asked if I might create tarot instead, thinking that the imagery would give me more to work with. They said yes, and the project was something that I had so much fun with that I never really stopped playing around with it. I can see how that one-off experience sort of affected where I am now. It compounds until it’s made you different and weirder somehow.
For me it’s been like, I had no idea that anyone would give a (BEEP!) about it, and they don’t really, but I’m always surprised when people care about what I’m doing. Every tiny bit of encouragement has just sent me further and further down that rabbit hole.
I have a dear friend who reads Tarot and they plan Arcane Bullshit parties and readings, friends message me weekly for “Demon Drop Thursday” to share whatever silly thing you’ve created. It seems like in the circles I run in, it’s important to people, and bringing joy.
Yeah, it’s not really something I thought about until recently, that it’s actually a tool for people – it’s not just a novelty item that somebody buys and it sits on a shelf, it’s something that they’re actually engaging with, sometimes every day. For some it’s their livelihood, it’s how they’ve made income.
Have you ever read for anyone?
I need to loosen up, I’m kind of uptight about all my ideas, they come out stubbornly and I’m not that great on my feet, but I have done it a couple of times. I’ve never done it super seriously, but I’ve found some tricks that make it work for me. The one or two times where I have tried, the wild thing is how much people want to open up. Like if they take it seriously, or want it to, they project a lot of things onto it and it always becomes really serious and heavy.
So, the real question. Inquiring minds want to know where the hole is.
Oh man. In my mind I was like, this is going to come together, but I think I’ve given up on the hole. If a pattern emerges for someone, that’s good, but like – it’s not one specific hole. I think there’s a whole network of holes.
Ah – so it’s like, a meta-hole. String theory, universes.
Some of them are metaphors, some of them are real.
After chatting for another hour about life, B movies, and mistakes we all make as artists, Evan came around to mentioning how when Arcane Bullshit was barely an idea, he self published the deck. In preparing them for shipment, he hand cut each of the cards, placed them lovingly in hand-sewn bags, and assembled the boxes one at a time for shipping. Hundreds of decks, with a pair of scissors. The idea that someone would clutch a pair of scissors till they had calluses and carpal tunnel to make a thing exist, amazed me. We forget all too often that creators are individuals with day jobs, struggling in the quiet of their spaces to make real what we might take out into the world.
Life, says Evan, so much of the time, is just doing the thing because you’ve already said you can. “I look back on it now and think, if someone asked me today, do you want to send out 1500 boxes all around the world and do that work by hand, I’d say – no way, I don’t want to do that. We just do it in steps until there’s no turning back.” I felt as we spoke that this was truly the big takeaway from Arcane Bullshit. It’s that anyone can do something daunting if it’s broken into small enough pieces, that we can all succeed, and that even something not taken seriously, sometimes, becomes magic.
“It’s really kind-of the complete opposite of what we think magic is. It’s not doing something and getting what you want, it’s just doing the same hard stuff over and over until you’re in a place to make what you want exist.”
You should probably definitely not follow Arcane Bullshit on Instagram, or buy their deck as a holiday gift, but if you did, you won’t regret it. Probably because of the brainwashing. Evan encourages you to check out two of his favorite charities to work with, BLM Canada, and Encampment Support Network Toronto.