Cilla Conway: Journeys into the OtherWorlds
How does an artist create two-dimensional images of the OtherWorlds’ multiple dimensions and beings who inhabit it? I believe the connection happens when an artist gets out of the way and lets the creative process take us where it wants to go. When we tap into the zone and flow of Universal Consciousness, magic happens. Cilla Conway’s creative journey is an example of what can be manifested, in art and in life, when we willingly give ourselves over to those generative energies.
Cilla is inspired by the connection between this world and the OtherWorld, the dimensions we can sense if we rest our minds and open our hearts. Wandering through the polarities of what we call consciousness and unconsciousness, she delves into the mysteries of the multi-dimensional universe, including the unknown, darker kinetic energies of the shadow, acknowledging that within the holy darkness lie the missing ingredients we humans need.
Cilla encountered her invitation to what she called the OtherWorld one night in 1973 while doodling in her sketchbook as she watched TV. Looking down, she found she had drawn the tarot’s Fool, but such a Fool! His crazy eyes and enigmatic half-smile, accompanied by the intoxicating smells of Mediterranean herbs and the heat of a blazing sun, were a summons she could not resist, and – rather like the Fool himself – she leapt off the cliff into his world.
At the time she had little confidence in her ability to produce 78 consistent designs. However, the Magician was equally potent, so she carried on. The deck took eight years to finish. Getting it published was more difficult. Cilla recalls, ‘Stuart Kaplan of US Games said he would take the deck with ½ % royalties, if I put fig leaves on the men so he could sell the deck at Disneyland. Oh, and he wanted the originals as well.’ She passed, and spent the next twenty-odd years working in an office, painting in her free time.
What I personally find so enchanting about her journey can be found in the images of The Intuitive Tarot. The figures in the card images have always evoked a sense of Other- Worldliness for me: not quite human, not alien, not faery; but rather beings that seem to evoke the elements themselves. Are these beings the first appearance of the Devas? For me they are, and I will always accept their invitation to step through that portal every time I pick up the deck …when I seek the truth past my own desires, they never fail to show the path – clear and bright.
The Intuitive Tarot was done in watercolour, with small originals (3½” x 5”). Now, Cilla began using oils, and in 1988 produced a large painting she called Night Dancers. The beings in it were evidence that she had retained her portal into the OtherWorld. At the time she called these beings Eldils (spirits of planets, from C.S. Lewis’s sci-fi series). She now sees them as Devas – natural universal energies, based on the Sanskrit concept of elemental gods, like Shiva or Vayu (air) – which can be both creative and destructive. They are whole – a concept which our split-brains have difficulty embracing. Cilla never engaged in what she considers ‘the sentimentality of saccharine angels or the oversimplification of the New Age Channelling craze’. Rather, she has the unusual ability to let the life force flowing through her have space and voice. Consequently, the Devas were able to emerge through her art as beings inhabiting their own dimension, which she sees as far more real than our own.
From 1999 Cilla’s life was highlighted by a series of strange synchronicities. They began as she found an advertisement for a part-time fine art degree – something she’d been seeking for many years – and four years later, degree in hand, she finally located a publisher for her tarot deck. At the same time, she began a series of paintings that (like Night Dancers) were an epiphany, as they demonstrated that the OtherWorlds were full of light- as well as shadow-beings – and that she could bring both through into this world.
The Intuitive Tarot was published in 2004, and, with the Devas of Creation well on its way, Cilla began to read tarot at Watkins Bookshop. In 2012 she and John Matthews collaborated to produce The Byzantine Tarot, which Cilla thoroughly enjoyed (research included two trips to Istanbul). The Byzantine Tarot was a more illustrative deck than the Devas, and she wondered what would follow. It turned out to be a major life-change: in 2015 she decided to move to Italy and put her house on the market the day Brexit was announced.
In Italy, without encumbrances like mortgages, children, etc, she could paint every day, and a piece she called Weaver sparked off a new tarot deck, The Shimmering Veil Tarot, based on the concept of an eight-dimensional universe. The very painterly, textural Shimmering Veil is beloved by many; it sold out months after the first publication, and is now moving into its third reprint. Cilla followed the publication of the Shimmering Veil Tarot with two 48-card oracles, The Multi-Dimensional Devas, and TheBook of the Dead Oracle – which was painted in a few short months at the beginning of the pandemic – and The Old Gods Tarot, due out towards the end of 2022.
The Multi-Dimensional Devas expands the concept of the eight-dimensional universe of The Shimmering Veil Tarot into the eleven dimensions of Cosmic Consciousness: here she explores the different dimensions, as well as different energies (angelic, magic, trust, life force) as well as drilling down into shadow energies and the serious health and environmental crises facing Earth. Her imagery is lush, vibrant, and luminous.
The Book of the Dead is a vision of yet another dimension, the AfterLife, which allows the bereaved to sense how their loved ones are feeling at the time. Her hope is that the deck can give the bereft a little solace.
The Old Gods Tarot reverts to the sense of other dimensions, other beings. It is the most complex of Cilla’s decks, with at least three deities per Major Arcana and Minor Arcana court cards. The numbered Minors are pips, a new venture for Cilla. The 170-page companion book has full colour illustrations of all the cards, a section on sacred geometry and numerology, a list of deities used in the deck, and citations and bibliography for further study.
With her wry wit and homage to the Feminine, we are in for a treat! Here, ancient Gods and Goddesses speak of elemental energies, but with a twist: ‘In the Minor Arcana Goddess and God work in tandem, but if any final arbitration is needed, it is the Goddess who provides it. The Goddess holds the highest authority in each suit’. A slide presentation presentation of the deck is currently in production and will be available on her website soon.
The Old Gods Tarot has been a journey of discovery, the culmination of two years of intense research and artmaking. Apart from a holiday, Cilla can’t say what the future holds, and is happy to sit in the unknown for now. I look forward to joining her on her next adventure when the Devas call.
Jamie Madison-Boyd, M.F.A.
*Jamie can be reached for private readings and creative consultations at jamie123210@alanadavenport
Cilla’s decks and artwork can be purchased on her website: https://www.cillaconway.com
Reviews – the reviews of all Cilla’s decks can be found on YouTube.
Various talks –
Cilla Conway and the Devas of Creation: https://youtu.be/MSGrKCL_rvk
Communicating with the Devas (and manifesting): https://youtu.be/3pt70AQlWF0
Introduction to the Book of the Dead Oracle: https://youtu.be/oN5cADmsihc