The Intuitive Tarot edition 2

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Many people want a deck of The Intuitive Tarot but it’s out of print and the publishers aren’t interested in reprinting. In the end I decided that I would self-publish a 2nd edition. I’m getting quotes now, but will have to crowd fund it … I’ll put a link on here when I start the process. The new cards will be the same size as the Devas of Creation ( 88 x 126 cm) with a dark blue title border at the bottom of the card. There’ll be a 96 page booklet and a link to the original .pdf on my tarot website – and possibly on here too – for those who buy the new deck and want the original book as well.


However, just a heads-up to keep an eye out as next year I may amalgamate this blog into my CillaConway website. If so, I’ll let you know.


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Recently I’ve begun a new tarot, the Crystal Lattice Tarot. It’s a very painterly deck and will use the elements for the suits, so I don’t envisage it being a beginner’s deck. It’s still early days, so I don’t expect it to be finished before the end of the year.


This, you may gather, is the Devil. It’s an image I painted when I was 18, and it scared me so much I never showed it. I’ve made a few changes to the original oil painting – the two figures in the foreground and the Devil’s hand on the left, and I’ll post a couple more below: The Tower and the Hanged Man.



All the images are copyright to Cilla Conway, 2018.



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BYZANTINE box lid v8

This is my second tarot deck, published a few weeks ago. I have been using it (and the majority of people I read for have been choosing it) for the last week, and have been very pleased with how it reads. Because it’s much more illustrative than my Intuitive Tarot, I wasn’t sure how I would work with it once it came out – and the deck certainly does challenge my understanding of the established interpretations – but relaxing into the readings has allowed the deck to flower, as it were. For instance, the Tower (illustrated below) gives a very different take on the card – at least at first glance.


However, as the deck is based on Byzantine concepts and imagery, The Tower illustrates one of the Empire’s legendary figures, Simeon Stylites. As a very Christian society, a withdrawal from society was not only acceptable, it was lauded. Simeon chose a very definite withdrawal, to a tall pillar in the wilderness. However, people kept on following him and asking for advice and healing, so he chose a taller pillar … and so on. He spent 40 years on different pillars, his followers keeping him fed and sustained. So the meaning here, as in most decks, is of illumination and power, but it also speaks of human temptation and frailty (the serpent). Simeon chose his pillar after a divine revelation and then found he could not avoid his destiny, or the power that others ascribed to him.

A more conventional tarot image is The Hermit.



This is based on an icon from St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai which originally depicted Elijah. When I saw the image I immediately saw it as the tarot Hermit, even though the original did not have a lantern or staff. But without this icon, I would never have contemplated painting another tarot, so you might say he inspired me – or called me. John Matthews, who wrote the book, had also been called to produce a Byzantine Tarot some years previously, and it was the idea of collaborating on this deck that gave it the impetus it needed. But in a way, it was the Fool who really got it off the ground, at least for me.

The Holy Fool has always had a special resonance for me ever since 1973, when he appeared on my drawing pad when I was idly doodling one evening. That first image opened up a channel for me into the Otherworld, the rich archetypal place of dreams and imagination, and I have journeyed there ever since. So as soon as John and I had agreed we would collaborate, I keyed ‘Holy Fool’ into Google – and found, to my astonishment, that the Holy Fool was an established figure in Byzantine times. There are even books written about the Holy Fools of Byzantium (and Russia, which took over the mantle of orthodoxy after the Empire fell in 1453). That was all the confirmation I needed, and the Fool and the Hermit were the first figures I painted in this deck.

0-fool f2 Step sm

Three years later, the deck was complete, and I’d had the time of my life painting it! It’s now published by Red Wheel Weiser and Connections Publishing UK, and getting very favourable feedback.

I’ll post more about the historic Byzantine aspects of this deck shortly, as well as giving the spread I developed for the cards.



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I am designing a new deck which – though still under wraps – has occupied me for 18 months The Majors are now complete and look really good, though I say it myself; now I’ve started on the Minors.

A friend recently asked whether, when designing a deck, do I work with a particular type of person in mind? Or turning the question round: when designing, say, my latest deck, do I bear in mind what sort of people would buy it/ not buy it / love it/ not want to work with it?

The answer is that when I start designing a new deck I do it because it calls to me, and then somehow uses me to design it. I began my first deck, The Intuitive Tarot, one evening when the Fool drew himself onto my pad (don’t ask me how that happened, I just know it did: I was doodling; I looked down at the drawing pad and found the Fool there … I’m sure I’ve told the full story in another part of the blog, so won’t repeat it). In the new deck it was the Hermit who called me in. I work in an esoteric bookshop in the centre of London and one day I noticed a post card with an image that stopped me in my tracks. It was actually an icon of Elijah:

Elijah Sinai

but to me it was clearly The Hermit. I borrowed the postcard and placed it in a ‘would like to do’ folder in my mind, and there it would have stayed, except that one night I was invited by an American friend to the launch of a new tarot – the Nostradamus Tarot by John Matthews and Wil Kinghan. I wouldn’t have gone to the launch normally, but I hadn’t seen the friend for a long while, so I went. Chatting to John Matthews after the presentation, I mentioned my interest in this icon, only to find that he had wanted to do a deck based on these sorts of images for a long time. ‘But if you’re going to do it, I guess I had better give up the idea’, he said slightly wistfully. But John is a writer and I’m an artist – it wasn’t a problem in my book. We could work together on it. He wrote a proposal and I started researching the imagery, and found that it all fell into place, like magic. Those synchronicities – those meaningful coincidences that keep on coming until you take notice! – are usually a green light from the universe, so I began to paint.

So … back to the questions. Do I paint a deck with any particular type of person in mind? Yes, someone who’ll appreciate the work. Someone who wants a bog-standard empty deck to play with isn’t going to like my tarot – I don’t use Rider Waite imagery, I often change the elemental correspondences, and it has a few extra (historical /cultural) dimensions I discovered while painting it. Those will of course be included in the book when it’s published (2015).

When I design, do I bear in mind who will buy it? Yes, obviously, when it’s published we want lots of people to buy it – they will probably be collectors, people who have been working with tarot for a while, professional readers (I hope), and anyone interested in an iconic style of art and culture, as stated above. But in actuality, I paint the deck I want to use.

Do I bear in mind who will not like it? Yes, I bear it in mind – though I don’t worry about it. As an artist, I know that some folks really get my work and love it, and others probably think it’s a load of baloney. The Intuitive Tarot has passionate fans, but there are a lot of people who don’t like it at all. It doesn’t bother me – I still love reading with it, and still get fan mail. And the people who love it are impressive – they look deeply into life, are knowledgeable and insightful, and have usually done quite a bit of self-awareness work. What else can I say?

And the latest deck – I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, bar none, and a few detractors or critical words are hardly going to worry me. The only criticisms have come from people who know little about tarot or the culture that birthed this particular deck, and they have been interested enough to research what I told them about it. So the deck is already doing its job, and I am really looking forward to being able to post images of it! (Watch this space…)


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For those of us lucky enough to be in London at the moment, it has really been our year. The Queen’s Jubilee was a pageant on the grandest scale; the Olympics have been stunning and inclusive, making us proud to be part of this great city; and, just before autumn begins to draw in, we have the icing on the cake, in the form of the UK Tarot Conference at the Thistle Barbican Hotel on the 12-13th October.

Rachel Pollack, a well-known and highly-respected visitor from the US kicks off with a talk on what tarot is, what it does, and how it does it (I wish all clients could come to this one), goes on to look at multi-diimensional readings; and finishes with all the different books she’s had published this year. Juliet Sharman-Burke investigates The Hermit (a subject dear to my heart right now, as I’ve just started painting a new tarot, the inspiration for it being The Hermit – I’ll be posting the images as I complete them, so keep checking). Tiffany Crosara speaks about ‘Bringing the Tarot Alive’ and – a real treat this – Alfred Douglas is attending to have an informal talk about the tarot and magical orders.

Also, in the afternoon on Saturday I’m talking about the Tarot and the Shadow. We all enjoy getting the ‘good’ cards, and cringe when the difficult, awkward, shadow images turn up. Why, though, do we try to avoid them? One of the great things about the Tarot is that we are actually encouraged to explore the shadow sides of ourselves through cards like The Moon, The Devil, 5 and 7 of Swords, etc. Working through these unpleasant aspects of ourselves is one way – indeed, the only way – to reach the state of integration depicted in The World. This integration is, I believe, what the Mystery religions were all about, and their many initiatory levels are reflected in the different stages of understanding depicted in the Major Arcana.

Intrigued? Come along to the Conference – we’d love to see you there.


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I went to the launch of the Nostradamus Tarot (The Lost Tarot of Nostradamus) last night at Watkins Bookshop (Cecil Court, London). Compiled by John Matthews and Wil Kingham, it’s a very interesting deck using images that were probably drawn by Nostradamus’s son using concepts of the man himself.

The basic artwork was taken from a book found only recently in the Central National Library of Rome. In this volume were 80 watercolour images, with arcane and sometimes heretical imagery (popes and cardinals doing strange things, often to monsters). The men who discovered the volume were excited to find the name ‘Michel de Nostredame’ on the title page, and published their findings as The Nostradamus Code (Destiny Books, 1998), and in 2007 a History Channel documentary was made on The Lost Book of Nostradamus.

This is where John Matthews and Wil Kingham came in. Neither the book nor the documentary had pointed out the similarity of the imagery to tarot symbolism. John Matthews, however, an acknowledged expert on the tarot, picked it up immediately, and began to collect the eighty images. He was not permitted to photograph the original volume, still held in the National Library of Rome, so piecing the deck together took some time. Indeed, one might call it a labour of love, as John slowly collated the images to fit with the Majors, facecards and suits, and Wil Kingham began to produce the collaged backgrounds, as well as bring the original sketchy watercolours into a fit state for publication. However, the more they worked on it, the more the whole thing fell into place, and the end result is a fitting tribute to the seer, as well as an excellent addition to the tarot.

What makes the deck sing for me, though, are the quatrains produced by Nostradamus – his prophecies or ‘Centuries’ as they are called – and translated  by Caitlin Matthews. These add an extra dimension to the tarot meanings for each card.

Doubt and trust: back-up from the universe

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When I have difficult readings I often question whether (as all the sceptics say) this is complete happenchance. How can 78 scrappy pieces of card give valid answers to the really vital questions of life?

Well, today I’ve just done an email reading for someone who wanted to know if he had chosen the right site for a spiritual centre. To my surprise the cards drawn were all reversed – the Seven of Rods (Wands), Page of Swords, and The Tower. If they’d been the right way up it would have been acceptable (though The Tower would still have indicated that the idea would eventually fall apart); as it was, I interpreted it that it was not the right site, probably because he was thinking too small – playing it safe, following what made sense rather than what he dreamed.

The idea of expansion reminded me of the Jupiter card in my Devas of Creation deck, so I drew a card from it. To my amazement and delight, this was exactly the card which appeared.

(Jupiter, from the Devas of Creation)

This happens again and again, but usually I don’t make a note of it. This time I decided to record it.

So, why belabour the point? Well, after 40 years reading tarot I’ve been given hundreds of instances of the synchronicities (or coincidences, if you’re a sceptic [not that you’d be reading this article if you are, of course]) that happen with the cards – but I’m still sceptical! However, the synchronicities are doubled if I use both tarot and oracle decks, and that tells me it’s not just blind chance, there is a purposefulness and a consciousness that permeates the universe. It gives me a sense of the connection and meaning behind everything.

Oracles vs Tarot

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There seems to be a feeling that you must either use a tarot deck or an oracle deck in your readings. But why is it either/or? Why not both?

Since I completed the Devas of Creation – an oracle deck of higher-level energies (Devas are the Shining Ones of Sanskrit tradition, like angelics but more primordial) – I use the tarot for the basic spread as usual, and every now and again I draw a Deva card to look at the higher-level energies around the person, or what will be coming in to help or challenge. It helps that I’m using two decks I painted myself – The Intuitive Tarot and Devas of Creation, because I know them so well, but at the College of Psychic Studies tarot seminar in July, Emily Carding used her Transparent Tarot and Transparent Oracle in a similar way; I’ve also used the Mirror Cards and the Intuitive Tarot together.

The information / clarification that comes from this multi-dimensional approach is usually very helpful – sometimes astonishingly so. For instance, a client drew the 3 Swords which I see as confusion or being split.

She was disinclined to admit she was running away from the problem – until she drew the Deva card I call Storm Crow, which is about splitting / denial.

Another example: the tarot Moon appeared for the client’s son. I sometimes see the Moon as crossing over from sanity to insanity and it certainly is about the deep unconscious intruding into everyday life. I said that it looked like her son was wandering into the Otherworld of the unconscious.

But when I asked for the Devas to clarify what was going on for him, the Moon of the Devas also appeared.

This double whammy indicated to me that he had made a choice to stay in that realm. (Most people see this realm as insanity. I personally think if we had a more enlightened approach to the conscious and unconscious mind, we would be able to help many return from ‘insanity’. The so-called primitive shamans can move at will between these realms; but we have no idea how this works. We say it’s all mumbo-jumbo, and leave the lost souls to wander around between the worlds, never mind that the world needs their insights.)

Still, this is way off the subject, so let’s return to using an oracle deck in tandem with the tarot.

In readings for people who are psychic or very self-aware, I often switch the emphasis to use the Devas as the main deck, with the tarot as clarification. Here the tarot gives the more mundane focus of every-day issues as counterpoint to the spiritual level of the Devas. Obviously, other Oracle decks might have a different focus – the Mirror Cards I mentioned above would concentrate more on relationship issues. And of course it’s possible to do full readings just with an Oracle deck, though you need to know the meanings well in order to do it.

Try it out. Any oracle will work with your tarot deck, it’s really what works for you and what you feel comfortable with. If you have any questions, post them and I’ll do my best to answer.