Archives For Chesca Potter

Mark RyanWhen we left off yesterdayMark Ryan was discussing his experience creating the Greenwood Tarot.  This wildly popular deck was published in 1996 after five long years of work by himself and artist Chesca Potter. Eventually, Mark moved on to other projects. He made guest appearances on a number of American T.V. shows and movies such as: Frasier, AliasJ.A.G., and Charlie’s Angels (film).  He was hired as a sword coach for Richard Gere during the filming of First Night.  And, he toured with Eric Idle in a British comedy theatrical special entitled, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python.”  The list seems endless.

However, by 2002, the Greenwood deck was out-of-print. Over the next few years, unopened copies were being sold online for upwards of $2-3,000.  Would Mark re-publish the deck?  Or, was his Tarot journey over?

Part 2:  A Conversation with Mark Ryan, October 4, 2012

Heather: How did you go from The Greenwood to The Wildwood?

Wildwood TarotMark:  I [was] approached to re-publish the [Greenwood Tarot] by several people including the original publishers. Chesca, I believe, changed her spiritual belief path and decided her artwork was not viable. So, I said [to the publishers], “Well, I don’t even know where Chesca is and don’t know how we would sit down and think about it.”  John Matthews, later, approached me and said, “Have you thought about redoing [Greenwood]?”  And I said, “Yes, I’ve been approached. But Chesca’s artwork is in copyright and nobody knows where she is. So we’d have to get a new artist.”

If we could get an artist that was going to bring an extra dimension to this [project], it was definitely worth looking at. Because John had been involved in the development of Greenwood and has written over 100 books on mythological things and because we’d been friends for a long time, I said, “Let’s do it together.”

We got Will Worthington as an artist. As soon as I saw his stuff, I said, “This is going to be a different dimension.” Chesca’s artwork, while being very esoteric and primal, wasn’t easily accessible. I make no apologies for saying, “I like stuff to be accessible.” Once Will started turning out the artwork, I knew we had something quite special.

H: That’s true. The Wildwood Tarot has been just as popular.  It’s changing people’s lives.

M: That’s the point. When you talk about “celebrity,” [it’s] just a vehicle to pull out those ideas that affect people’s lives. If [I am] going to leave anything behind in this world, and we all will, then I want to leave something where people say, “That affected my life.” [Like] Robin of Sherwood, I’ve had more people around the world who have said, “That show changed my life.”

H:  It’s very impressive how you’ve managed to balance your career with such a diverse set of projects from authoring Tarot books, performing on stage and screen as well as being as a master swordsman. 

Nasir

Mark Ryan as Nasir

M: Yes, and, I was also in the Military. That’s the other side of all of this: finding the balance between the discipline and the spirituality of the sword, the relationship to that symbol and the concept of being a warrior. Then, bringing that into your psyche and applying it.

I’ve got my dog tags here. They’ve got Atheist on them because they didn’t want to put Pagan. If I had been caught anywhere, in a strange place, it would have been quite disastrous. I did try to explain quantum physics, human psychology and the concept of talking to mountain streams or the ocean. But soldiers don’t tend to have those conversations with their senior officers, so I just put Atheist on there.

H: Today, you don’t hide the fact that you Pagan. You talk about it publicly on L.A.’s Combat Radio. Do you every worry about being harassed by fans or industry people?

M: No. [laugh] This is California. L.A. stands for lunatic asylum. I fit in. I’m a member of the loony bin. [laugh] People are much more open and forgiving about any belief systems [here.] They have a go at me more about my interest in Unidentified Flying Objects than they do about the esoteric.

Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone that I know to have an alternative religious view be persecuted. When we did First Knight, Richard Gere used to chant every morning. And, he was very calm, very focused, very nice, and a very generous person.

Only once in my life, I can honestly say, have I actually had my interest in the esoteric used negatively. It was a family matter. It was brought up that I had been writing books about Tarot and that I had written something for DC comics. It was an attempt to blacken my character. Even the judge, who was a staunch Christian, threw the whole thing out and said, “This is crazy. We are talking about DC Comics. We are talking about Tarot cards. This is not devil worshiping lunacy. The guy is quite erudite about it and can explain the symbolism, the functionality and the science of it.” Desperate people do desperate things.

H:  It seems that your spiritual path has helped your career, integrating into your life’s journey.

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50th Anniversary Edition of The Green Arrow: The Black Alchemist

M: It’s about being able to articulate a belief system. I come at it from a scientific standpoint – sub-atomic particle physics. Every time they find something new, like the Higgs boson, it opens up a new area of spiritual discussion. I believe that we can, consciously and sub-consciously, communicate with that universe. We don’t need a person or a belief structure. We can do it directly – whether you see it as the “old guy in the sky with the beard” or the Goddess. Somehow we have an intrinsic and instinctive connection on a subatomic particle level to our reality. We can affect our reality by the way we think.

The real magic is in taking that elusive idea, that concept that comes out of the back of your head, and changing it into a material thing. That’s magic – manifesting that idea and turning it into reality.

And, [then there’s] synchronicity. I believe that the way you view the particle, changes the particle [Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.] I try, on a daily basis, to practice changing the particles around me by putting them the way that I want them to go; instead of feeling that I’m a victim being dragged along some path. I don’t believe in fate.

H: Is that what you attribute your success to? Not waiting around. You are changing the particles. 

H: That’s a great story. Very inspiring.  Was it pure luck or synchronicity?

M: I [sometimes] think to myself, “Well, you’ve been lucky.” Ray Winstone, a good friend of mine, said, “It’s not luck. You make your luck. You are willing to go that far on the journey to find it. Consider all the barriers that are in people’s way. We didn’t see the barriers, because we didn’t know they were there. So for us, the barriers didn’t exist.”

When I look back at my career and life, I think, “That’s true.” I don’t know whether the universe helps the ignorant. But I’ve never been afraid of the unknown, of saying, “let’s push it and see how far we can go with this.” I’m not a particularly talented person. But every bit of talent I’ve got, I’ve pushed as far as I can make it go.

Mark RyanH: That’s a very positive message – both a spiritual and philosophical one.

M: I believe if you walk forward positively and creatively, you attract positive, creative. If you’re negative, destructive, selfish, and closed, that’s what you get.

H: That sounds like magick to me. Before we end, would you like to leave the readers with any other message from your own journey? Something you might share in your Tarot workshops.

M: Yes. My father’s advice to me, when he wanted me to go into the construction business but knew I was destined for some theatrical career, was, “Son, I don’t care what you do as long as whatever you try, you give 110% effort. That way you’ll never lose.” You can’t fail even if something doesn’t work out. You can’t fail if you take something away that you can apply somewhere else.  So when I’ve done things that haven’t worked out, I take some experience from that and apply it to the next project. Yes, there are negative elements in life, of course. But you can’t get bogged down by them so you don’t evolve.

Life is a learning process.

H:  Thank you very much, Mark.

While there may not be many mainstream entertainment celebrities that we can definitively pinpoint as being practicing Pagans, they do, in fact, exist.  As for Mark Ryan, his journey still continues.  In November, Mark will be hosting two Wildwood Tarot Workshops with long-time friend John Matthews.  The first is in Atlanta and the second in Seattle.  Beyond that, Mark continues his work on the Transformers Movie franchise as the voice of “Bumblebee.”  And, he is currently in the process of writing several books. You can listen to Mark weekly on Combat Radio and or follow him on Twitter @markryan243.

[Note: This was Part 2 of a two part series. Part 1 can be found here.]

 

This fall, Stevie Nicks released “In Your Dreams,” a personal documentary examining her life and career.  Announcing the release, Ultimate Classic Rock remarked that the documentary’s release is “the most exciting news for the year for Wiccan candle…enthusiasts.”  After all these years, the media still clings to the myth that Stevie Nicks is Pagan. In a 1998 online Yahoo interview, she was quoted as saying, “I’m not a witch. Get a life!”

Are there Pagan celebrities?  Madonna, Demi Moore and others reportedly have studied the Kabbalah.  Julia Roberts has openly converted to Hinduism.  Although not mainstream, those spiritual paths are not necessarily Pagan. Neither Amy Ray, who loosely uses the word Pagan as a descriptive, nor Dar Williams, whose interfaith song “The Christians and the Pagans” has captured many an imagination, has openly professed to being Pagan.

When it comes down to it, there are very few entertainment celebrities who openly practice a Pagan spiritual path.  There’s Sully Erma, Godsmack’s lead singer, and Teo Bishop, who revealed himself to be recording artist Matt Morris.  Truthfully, we could probably count them on one hand.   Fortunately, just this month, I had the opportunity to speak to one of these rare individuals – actor and writer, Mark Ryan.

Mark RyanYou might know Mark better as Nasir the Saracen from the popular British Television series Robin of Sherwood. However, that’s just one very small part of this his life’s journey.  Mark, a true Renaissance man, has been combining his theatrical and writing talents in a successful career spanning more than 30 years.  He has appeared in dozens of film, theater, and television productions both in the US and UK.  He’s an accomplished swordsman and action director.  As a writer, he has contributed to DC Comics and has produced two Tarot decks; the Greenwood Tarot and, the newly-released, Wildwood deck.  Currently, he is co-hosting Combat Radio on internet-based LA Talk Radio.

The hour long talk developed into more of a in-depth conversation than a traditional interview. Mark was very open about his childhood, his spiritual journey, his career, his beliefs, and the nature of Paganism in celebrity culture.  An edited version of that interview, with video sound bites, will be published here in two parts.

Part I: A Conversation with Mark Ryan, October 4, 2012

Heather: You are openly Pagan. What type of Pagan spirituality do you follow? 

Mark: I describe myself as an eclectic, philosophical Pagan because I don’t really know how else to describe it.  I’m not a follower of any organized religion. I don’t accept the structure of the main three organized religions.  So, [I asked] what structure is there?  And that led me to this philosophical approach – to take the pieces that make sense to me philosophically, psychologically and scientifically and apply that in my life.

I have been in many [Pagan] circles.  In San Francisco, there was a Golden Dawn-type group.  They’ve all got their rules – the way that they do it. That just didn’t feel natural [to me.] It still doesn’t feel natural. A human being [can say], “This is what I’ve been told; therefore, this is the way you must do it.”  I’ve always looked at these people and said, “Well, what about this?”  I don’t care whether you walk your path by looking at crystals or reading tarot cards or reading tea leaves. To me, it’s all the same stuff. It’s your journey and it’s your path. So go do it. I respect everyone’s belief systems. As long as they don’t want to burn me at the stake because of mine, then I’m happy.

H: Which one came first, your Pagan journey or the entertainment career?

Conisburgh CastleM: I was born in a place called Doncaster, South Yorkshire, which was part of the Brigantian Celtic culture long before the Romans arrived. South of me was Sherwood Forest, which I played in as a child. We played Robin Hood surrounded by Conisbrough Castle – the castle used in Ivanhoe. And, York was up the road, which was a major Roman capital. There’s a whole history there of spiritual beliefs.

As a child, I somehow absorbed the Arthurian, Robin Hood, nature-based stuff into my psyche. It just sunk in. The imagery and iconic ideas of the Arthurian Legend and Robin Hood stayed with me as a guide and a way of looking at the world. The Lady of the Lake, the Sword and the Stone and the King – this spoke to me on a deep emotional level.  The Church did not. I had questions about the Bible. I would embarrass myself in religious instruction classes by asking awkward questions for which the teachers had no answer.

H: So, when you started performing, were you formally following this alternative spiritual path?

M: No. It was a long, strange and twisted path. I grew up with a lot of tragedy in my family. But that pushes you to think, “Okay, you are going to die.” How are you going to deal with death? How are you going to deal with life? That really colored my attitude to both life and achieving things in life.
After I got to London, [along] came Robin of Sherwood. [It] was such a natural fit.

H: Tell us the story behind the creation of The Greenwood Tarot.

Greenwood Tarot World TreeM: The artist, Chesca Potter, [and I] were sitting around one night talking about why Robin of Sherwood had had such an impact on the magical world. We were talking about that nature of why those characters speak to people to this day. To this day!  Out of that discussion came the concept of the major 22 arcana and 22 types of personality.  It started almost like an experiment. Chesca wanted to know if I wanted to do a Robin of Sherwood tarot. I said, “No, we’re too close to it.” I thought it was too narrow a vision, to be honest.

I bought my first Tarot deck in 1979. It was the Morgan Greer or Voyager Tarot. But it didn’t speak to me, because I don’t understand Kabbalah. It just does not resonate with me. As I was learning about the Wheel of the Year, [Chesca and I] started to lay out these archetypes around the Wheel. That made instantaneous visual, emotional, and practical sense.

I called John Matthews. I said, “John, we just laid out the tarot arcana in this wheel on the floor. Does this make any sense to you? Does it have validity?” He said, “I wish I had done that! It actually makes total sense. I don’t think anybody’s done that before. There have been other [decks] that have been based on the Wheel of the Year. But the way you’ve done it makes instantaneous, visual sense to me.”

H: Greenwood was very popular but it is now out of print, correct?

M: Yes. It is out of print. I have one copy, the original proof. I get asked if it’s me selling the Greenwood Tarot online for $2-3,000 a deck. No. I don’t get any money from those sales. I only have the original proof.

To Be Continued: Tomorrow, I’ll pick up the conversation with Mark as he takes us from the mysteries of the Greenwood into the depths of the Wildwood and beyond!

Mark Ryan