Aaron Welborn


Bob the Magician

With a broad grin and shining eyes, resembling no one so much as Apollo himself, Bob leads the sales meeting. In his right hand is a black Sharpie raised towards heaven, while the left hand points to a spreadsheet on the conference table in front of him. The suggestion of the pose seems to be the descent of light, knowledge, and virtue, drawn from things above and derived to things below. Here we see Bob the adept, the translator of ideas into actions, the resolver of difficulties. Behind him and slightly above his head, scribbled on an oversized white board, appears an emblem: the figure 8 lying on its side, like an endless cord winding back on itself. It's a familiar symbol of infinity, but here it indicates more especially the infinity of Bob in this moment, poised at the very achievement of Bob-ness. Liberated, penetrating, radiant, he is Bob on every level of his being. The embodiment of determination, effort, understanding, and the power of positive visualization. And just in case we have missed all this, Bob wears a braided leather belt about his waist, whose buckle, where it bites the leather, vaguely calls to mind the orobouros—the serpent swallowing its own tail, forming an eternal wheel of forces in balance.

The Lovers

Two Bobs gaze deeply into each other's eyes. Which is the real Bob and which is only the reflection in the mirror above the sink in the men's room? It is impossible to tell. These Bobs are one flesh, inseparable, unveiled before each other. In the background, a muted flower pattern can be seen on the wallpaper above the stalls. The suggestion is one of maturity: Bob is flowering spiritually through relating to his "other" side, whatever that may be. The twin faces, wet from having been splashed with reviving waters during a moment of privacy, suggest youth, innocence, love before it is contaminated by gross carnal desire. Yet to rename this card "Bob before the Fall" would be woefully simplistic and wrongheaded. No, this particular view of Bob must be grasped in a broader sense, to stand for the joining together of two opposing forces by a third force—in this case, the mirror. For the mirror is the original lover, the first object of earthly infatuation, and its claim to know us as no other lover possibly can will always remain indisputable. For the world, one wears a mask. For the truth, one looks in a mirror.

The High Priestess

There she sits, outside the office of the District Sales Manager. The door is closed, as ever, and there is only one way to gain access to the secrets on the other side, of which Jill is the first guardian and gatekeeper. Her expression is puzzling, as if she were on the verge of solving some riddle—or, perhaps, posing one of her own. Do you have an appointment, one half-expects her to ask. The telephone, clutched confidently as a scepter close to her ear, suggests that she is the summoner who calls Bob forth—for there is no message given to man so directly as that which is borne by woman. Her vestments are flowing and gauzy, though irreproachably professional, and the soft light of an open window spreading across the room lends a shimmering radiance to her whole appearance. But the radiance is only partly her own, for we are seeing Jill through the white-hot veil of Bob's dazzled eyes. It could be said that she is a queen of borrowed light, much like the waxing crescent moon mounted on the front of her desk—the company logo forged in plastic. To Bob's thinking, however, she is the light source. Held to her, the moon itself is sublunary.

The Emperor

An imposing sovereign who subjugates rivals with a glance, Gary the Vice President for Overseas Production will be observing the office for a few weeks. Seated as one who need not rise for any other, he personifies vigor, realization, the power of this world, and he is clothed in its finest, costliest raiment. A lordship by natural right, his attributes are likewise derived from nature. Hands the size of rams' heads, equine haunches, a lion's mane, goatee. In fine, he is virile, animalistic power, to which other animals instinctively respond. But note: like the desk before him, the planes of Gary's conquest are wholly external, not within himself. Any liberation he effects is destined to leave him only in knottier bondage. When he comes before that temple where the High Priestess sits, sphinx-like, he alone may know her riddle, but never what to do with her reward. He is not animus, nor anima. He is not empire, though he is a mode of its expression.

The Hierophant

Wes from Tech Services explains what went wrong with the copier. In his left hand he holds a stapler, by way of analogy, while his right makes a gesture of esoteric significance, distinguishing between the manifest and concealed workings of all mystic apparatus. On the table before him lay a pair of crossed keyboards, dropped here just now for this demonstration en route to Surplus. They occupy the visual center of the tableau, and Bob and Jill stand on either side of them, their backs to us: two I's flanking an X. It is an image of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. Possible readings abound. A conjunction that heals a divide. A knot about to be cinched, or unraveled. A meeting of equals. Road closed.

The Hanged Bob

Stoic-faced, back in his office, Bob props his feet up on his desk. We see him from above, inverted, the cord of his mouse tangled about his shoe, as if he were suspended upside-down from the top bar of a capital T; while Bob himself, from the position of his legs, forms a lower-case t. A power tie runs from his throat toward his base chakra, or towards the computer, dramatizing the distillation of sexual energy into higher, sublimated energy. His hands rest behind his neck and support his head, drawing attention to the quizzical expression on his face. It should be noted that (1) there is a faint nimbus about Bob's head, cast by the reflected glow of the monitor off his glasses; and (2) his face expresses deep entrancement or contemplation, though not suffering. The inversion of his figure points toward a reversal, perhaps a rejection of prior thinking. It's as if Bob has realized that if all roads lead to the same heights, he might as well choose the way of folly as the path of his own attainment. On the whole, however, all that can be said for certain is that the Hanged Bob suggests life in suspension—but life, not death.

Bob the Hermit

A somewhat haggard-looking Bob with a smudge of five-o'clock-shadow stands before his apartment door, having arrived home at the end of a long day. He holds an Indiglo® Armitron on his right wrist up to his eyes, and the glow of the dial casts a star-like radiance all around. It shines against the encroaching darkness, lighting the way for Bob to find the right key, and also casting a flare for others to find him, if he is the one they seek. His face is partially hidden by the raised arm, expressing withdrawal into secrecy and solitude. His pants, crumpled from the day's toils, hide the definitions of his body, further emphasizing his retreat from worldly pursuits. The cuffs and neckline of his shirt are cast in partial shadows by the glow of his watch, shadows that form long inverted triangles which, at a quick glance, create the illusion of mountaintops. All in all, the picture is not, as some have suggested, indicative of a wise man in search of truth or justice. Rather, here Bob stands as an example of experience, and his glowing beacon implies, "Where I am, you may also be."



Incongruity is inexhaustibly funny. So are men in suits. (Even this was known to the ancients.) The "Tarot of Bob" was partly an attempt to test those two propositions. But I also like to think it's dedicated to another proposition: that even the most prosaic of lives—like Bob's-—is profoundly mysterious. As a prosaic person myself, I'm obliged to believe such things.