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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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…)

Hermann Haindl

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I’ve just seen on Rachel Pollack’s Facebook page that Hermann Haindl, the creator of the Haindl tarot, has died. He gave a talk at a UK Tarot Conference a few years ago, and made an unforgettable impression to all lucky enough to be there. Safe journey, Hermann.


The Passing of a Giant.
Our beloved Hermann Haindl has returned to the Earth. I am writing this in an Australian hotel room at 5 in the morning so will make it short. Of all the original tarot decks created in the second half of the 20th century, only one in my opinion reaches the stature on Waite-Smith or Crowley-Harris. That, of course, is the Haindl Tarot. Hermann’s deck came out of his spirituality and his life, for the two were inseparable. He was also one of the finest painters ever to create a tarot deck.
I will say more when I return.




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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.

The Art of Tarot

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I gave a talk at the College of Psychic Studies recently on the art of tarot, which barely scratched the surface of what is a fascinating subject. Who was the first tarot artist? Who came up with the concept of the Major Arcana or triomfi (triumphs) first?

Where did the artist get his inspiration, the one who first produced the Triumphs (the Majors)? The medieval mind had no problems thinking symbolically. Mystery plays were performed regularly, immense tableaux with music and floats. The plays could last for days and usually featured biblical scenes or morality plays. They were staged by various guilds and the morality plays, particularly, would have featured allegorical, moral characters; like the Emperor, the Chariot, Justice, Death and so on. Perhaps one of the artists involved with these mystery plays have produced a series of symbolic images to trump the suits, in the new card game of tarocchi being played. Perhaps it took shape in a conversation in a tavern one evening. Or, perhaps, one of the city-state princes had been brought a pack from the Moorish lands and commissioned his court artist to add to it. However it happened, the triomfi appeared, beautiful, exotic, and powerful, and took the population by storm.

In the records of Charles VI’s treasurer in 1392, we find this intriguing reference: ‘paid to Jacquemin Gringonneur, painter, for three packs of cards, gilded, coloured, and ornamented with various designs, for the amusement of our lord the king, 56 sols of Paris’. Were these a beautiful set of what we now think of as the Minor Arcana, painted for Charles VI, or did they include the Majors? Unfortunately – as usual with the tarot, we’ll never know unless someone invents a time machine, as none of the cards survive. If these were the triomfi, was Gringonneur the inventor of the Major Arcana?

Scholars now consider that playing cards were brought into Europe, probably through Venice, from the Mamluk empire. There was a long tradition of card-making in Egypt (cards have been found dating to the late 12th century), but this does not mean that the images of the tarot Majors originated in the Egyptian Book of the Death (one of the myths of tarot created by Court de Gébelin, a French Mason and occultist, in the late 18th century). However, in medieval times there were direct trade links with Muslim countries, and an inventory of the Duke of Orleans’ possessions (1408) details a ‘Saracen card deck’. Juzzo da Coveluzzo specifically refers to the cards as a ‘Saracen invention’.

The images of the Major Arcana, which are thought to have appeared separately and a little later than the Minors, clearly derive from the European medieval mind-set, although with a few interesting touches. The Papess, for example, was based on the story of a female pope (Pope Joan). The Hanged Man is now seen as a pagan reference to Odin gaining wisdom by hanging himself on the world tree, or gods such as Attis, sacrificed each year to ensure fertility. However, in medieval times thieves or traitors were sometimes hung upside down, and one or two decks show money falling from his pockets. Here we see the Hanged Man grasping two money-bags which are presumably his ill-gotten gains. An alternative suggestion is that this represents Judas.

The Wheel of Fortune was a favourite medieval reference. You could be a king one day and a pauper the next: medieval people tended to have a healthy respect for fate, given that they were often at the receiving end of power-hungry princes. Internecine wars were frequent, and the princes might ride high for a while and then lose their war with a consequent loss of prosperity for the population.

Unfortunately these tiny images cannot display the artistry of the earliest extant cards, which were produced mainly for the Visconti family. There are 239 cards in total produced for the Viscontis, which may comprise eleven distinct groups of cards. The Cary-Yale Visconti tarot, from which I’ve drawn these images, is a particularly fine set which unusually has four extra female knights.

The first decks could have been roughly drawn on card, copied from the ‘Saracen’ examples. Later when the aristocracy discovered them, they would have been commissioned from artists like Bembo or Gringonneur. These first tarot artists were probably illuminators, rather than mural artists; used to working with miniatures and gilding. Most of them were probably Italian, and must have been craftsmen (or women) rather than monks. The early decks were used for gaming (which is presumably why the church objected, which it did, strenuously and regularly – and, ironically, these objections are the only evidence we have regarding the first appearance of the tarot).

(to be continued)

Origins of the Tarot – Dai Léon (Frog Books)

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Dai Léon’s Origins of the Tarot is a massive tome, the subtitle of which is ‘Cosmic Ordering and Principles of Immortality’. It is an academic book, and the reader may occasionally find the text confusing. Léon seems to wind round and round looking at the same issues from a different perspective each time. It is an engrossing read, as the Sufi/Neoplatonic influences behind the Tarot have not been so explicitly detailed previously and, as other reviewers have pointed out, it’s well overdue. In fact, once you’ve finished the book you may find you want to return to page 1 and begin again – and ‘know the place for the first time’

My biggest gripe with this book is the lack of paginated references. There is an index but none of it is related to a specific page, allowing Léon to make statements such as ‘Once rendered as Image-Exemplars and called Triumphant, those Attributes heralded a spiritual renaissance passed from Eastern Christian and Sufi societies to European spiritual orders. With that, a fourth-wave trans-rational, vision-logic age emerged. It advanced through its youth in centuries following and continues to mature in the twenty-first century.’ My mind immediately teemed with questions: Are we talking about the 15th century or before? Where can we find more about this trans-rational renaissance which passed from the Eastern Church to the West? How did it keep alive between the 15th Century and the 21st? etc. I’d prefer some specific sources – for example when he mentions the Caucasian mummies in the far west of China, which is one of my particular interests.

Having said that, it is a refreshing book, not least because Leon does not follow any of our previous accepted truths. In this way he forces us to step into the position of the Hanged Man, to question everything we’ve been told about the origins of the cards so many of us use day-in, day-out – without actually knowing much about them at all.

ISBN 978-1-58394-261-1

Kat Black’s Golden Tarot – More like a Blog!

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I have acquired a new tarot deck. Up to now I have only used The Intuitive Tarot, basically because I know it so well and it reads so easily for me, but having recently become fascinated by all things medieval (re-enactment, demonstrating medieval painting techniques, etc), I had a look at some medieval tarot – for example:

The Giotto Tarot - a stylised deck based on Giotto’s work.
The Medieval Scapini deck
The Golden Tarot of the Renaissance. A very attractive deck with gold leaf background.
The Mantegna tarot. Ostensibly based on the Sola Busca tarot, which contains the earliest illustrated minors (and utilised by Pamela Coleman Smith in the Rider-Waite tarot), this is an interesting pack but not strictly a tarot deck as it only has 50 cards.
The Old English Tarot
The Renaissance Tarot
The Golden Tarot, by Kat Black

and so on…. It was Kat Black’s Golden Tarot that finally captured me. This deck was obviously a labour of love, digitally collaged from medieval paintings and using the Rider Waite system. It’s been beautifully produced by US Games Inc. with gilt edges and a well-crafted booklet. Some people don’t like the fact that they recognise bits of paintings, separated from their original artwork. However, for me this is one of the attractions as I can use the booklet to source the different paintings. Most importantly, though, I can read with it. As soon as I started reading from it, the cards began to tell a coherent story.

Today, for example, I drew three cards for the presenting issue of the week, and got Queen of Swords and the High Priestess, both reversed. It was a clear warning not to start messing with someone else’s life (a temptation over the weekend!), as it would be a) unwise and b) a deviation of my own integrity as the High Priestess. So I’ll take the cards’ advice and stay upright …