WRITTEN BY: CILLA CONWAY
Cilla Conway is an intuitive artist who explores archetypical energy and authored The Intuitive Tarot, The Devas of Creation and Byzantine Tarot. Cilla has kindly offered her thoughts on her new working project The Crystal Lattice Tarot.
All my decks begin with some sort of a muse, an inspiration. The Fool was the first and greatest, I suppose: greatest because of the inspiration and connections he has inspired in me for nearly 50 years. He appeared one evening on my sketch pad, without any conscious volition on my part. His eyes, compelling and otherworldly, were an insistent summons to join him in his world. I had never painted anything worthwhile before so it was a bit of a surprise when an amazing tarot began to develop before my eyes. I began the deck in 1973 and completed it in 1981. The cards were a dream to use, and I thought of getting them published, but that was easier said than done. It took 33 years before it happened!
In 2002, my annus mirabilis (said, believe me, with a grin) I left my 9-5 job, the tarot was accepted for publication, and I began work on the Devas of Creation. The Devas were inspired by a talk on angels where I said that ‘someone’ should paint angels as they really are, where an encounter with one would have you shaking for a week, whereas in most decks we see sweetly saccharine angels who would pat us on the head and tell us we’re lovely. Again, the images began to flow without much effort on my part. It turned into an oracle deck of exceptional power, as feedback testifies. My original concept of angels expanded rapidly, transforming into the story of the Universe, and how each energy fitted within the next: quantum particles, atoms, earth, the solar system, and then all the unmanifested energies like courage, inspiration – and finally, the angelic hosts themselves contained within the ultimate Mystery. The concept of a conscious, holographic Universe was beginning to find favour with scientists and as these enormous energies appeared on my canvas, I could see them fitting like petals, within the all-encompassing flower of divine Intelligence. Again, the deck was a dream to use and I self-published it in 2014.
Around the same time, The Byzantine Tarot emerged out of a conversation with John Matthews. It was a throw-away comment, really: I mentioned that I was thinking of painting a Byzantine deck, inspired by a postcard from St Catherine’s Monastery, of Elijah, the Tarot Hermit to the life. It transpired that John had also wanted for some years to do a Byzantine deck. A collaboration was on the cards (well, of course!): I painted, John wrote the book.
The deck is very different to both The Intuitive Tarot and the Devas. Painted in egg tempera and utilising actual Byzantine iconography, it was much more illustrative, whereas both the Intuitive Tarot and the Devas of Creation were somehow ‘channeled’. I dislike this term intensely, but it does explain the profound difference between illustration and inspiration. In illustration, the artist uses their cognition – it’s thought out and designed, whereas the images of the Devas and the Intuitive were much more instinctive – they ‘just happened’. It felt like these figures exist in a parallel dimension, and the images came through me. This is something I have experienced again and again in my best artwork – where the beings represented ‘come through’, as if they were just waiting to be called. Their dimension is as real as ours, if not more so – the imaginal world is just another of the multiple dimensions in our universe and, as Plato suggested, it contains the only Reality. (Maybe this is the dimension of Reality that Jung delved into, the archetypal realm.)
By 2016 it was time for a change, and I made the life-changing decision to move to Italy. I found the most beautiful place I could ever have imagined. My intention was to connect with the energies of the place and to paint – though I had dismissed out of hand the idea of another tarot. However, I had become ever more interested in the idea of a central Consciousness in the universe, a kind of eight- or more dimensional mega energy. Our 3-dimensional world is somehow a hologram within the 8-dimensional lattice of Consciousness. Before leaving the UK I’d begun a painting I called Tree of Life, or Weaver, and after the renovations on my Italian house were complete, I returned to it. The figure needed something to hold – a globe or infant were too hackneyed – so a friend suggested an eight-dimensional crystal lattice, as he knew of my interests.
Then came a casual remark: ‘The Tarot Fool might hold a lattice’, and the idea of a Crystal Lattice Tarot exploded, fully fledged, into my brain. I decided I would have Weaver as the High Priestess, and include as many of my other paintings as possible. The deck would be painted in oils or acrylics (although it’s not prescriptive – I’ll use oil pastels, pastels, reliefs, anything that fits). The deck – needless to say – focuses on the concept of Universal Consciousness underpinning the Universe, so Weaver holds her 8-dimensional crystal lattice; a very old Devil (who’d scared me so much he stayed face down in the attice for 50 years) emerged finally into the light
of day’ and a strange self-portrait that had began conventionally and then transformed itself into something very odd, became The Hierophant. I found other images in old sketch books, outtakes of the Deva cards, and unfinished sketches, so I began working on new ideas. The images are coming thick and fast, and it is very satisfying to slot each one into my tarot template. I still have a few more Majors to ‘capture’, though the elemental Minors will definitely be a challenge.
The synchronicities that have emerged after I decided to move to Italy have been extraordinary, not least the inspiration to paint this Tarot. I am always astonished by how creativity and inspiration works. Materialist science can never explain any of it, so today scientists are beginning to look into experimental areas that would have been called philosophy or even mysticism some years back (e.g. the 8-dimensional lattice). I’m hoping for a major breakthrough soon, where Consciousness becomes the still point round which the whole universe revolves – not just the Crystal Lattice Tarot!