Monday, 18 July 2016

The Intuitive Tarot Deck Review (Deck Author/Artist: Cilla Conway)

We have been promising to feature here some of the reviews written for various outlets over the years, so that more people can access them. From the vaults, then... (drumroll, please!):

The Intuitive Tarot Deck & Book Set
Created by: Cilla Conway
Reviewed by: Diana McMahon-Collis

(This review first appeared in the Yule 2004 edition of The Tarot Reader (formerly TABI News Quarterly), the journal of the Tarot Association of the British Isles).

The Intuitive Tarot Deck & Book Set
Author: Cilla Conway
Publisher: Connections Publishing
RRP £19.99

Purple is such a popular colour choice for tarotists and so you may be instantly attracted by the purple box that these cards arrive in. On the other hand if you are a chocolate lover you may keep thinking they are a box of Milk Tray and develop designs on eating them! Seriously, once you open the box containing the Intuitive Tarot set it is quite obvious what is inside. This is a set that follows a similar but by no means identical format and design to some of the other sets reviewed from Connections, previously in TABI News, such as the Beginner’s Tarot and Tarot de Paris.

With the Intuitive Tarot you receive a lidded box with, inside, a paperback bound book with pages that have very attractive printing and backgrounds - and of course the all important deck of cards itself. From the sets that I have seen from Connections so far, I would say that each one has a unique style even if it does in some ways bear similarities to other sets from the same publisher – which is pretty much what you would expect. In this instance the containing box is of soft, almost matte card. The colouring of the book cover and the backs of the cards keeps up with the purple theme. The card backs seem somewhat similar to the aforementioned Beginner’s Tarot as they have one main, strong colour with a contrasting design in silver which, here, is an oval frame in the centre of the card (which has a special significance, as you will see later). Importantly then, these cards are fine for working with reversals; that is, for choosing “blindly” and not knowing ahead if the card’s face will be reversed.

Continuing with the purely cosmetic factors of the set, Cilla Conway’s Intuitive Tarot is an altogether larger sized set than the Beginner’s Tarot and also smaller than the Tarot de Paris. The Intuitive cards measure approximately 3” x 4¼”. The card stock itself is similar to other Connections cards in being not overly glossy and, compared with some of the other tarot cards that I have generally handled, I think it is fair to say that they seem less resilient to the touch. This is a very subtle difference that gives them perhaps a slightly papery feel, which, if you are used to handling a lot of tarot cards you too may be aware of.

Generally much more significant than these exterior factors, though, is the depth of the artwork and the special messages of the cards – plus of course what the book’s text has to offer. I do very much like the way that Connections produce their books. The inner pages of the Intuitive book are very attractive, with not only an image of each tarot card by the main text, but also a blown-up version of the card’s core image in close-up, as a background “wash” on the final page of each card section. This page (or half-page for the minor cards) is given over to you, as the reader, for “intuitive notes”, which you may like to jot down as you carry out your readings. I think is it a very nice touch that you have the interior of the image right in front of you on the text page. This is what I mean about Connections focussing in on the unique qualities for each set of cards and books that they produce. I believe they work very closely with their authors and designers to present products that have an inner coherence. So, for example, you do not generally get the sense that the deck was created by one person and the book thrown in later, maybe by someone else. It is far more of a cohesive whole with the Intuitive Tarot set. Maybe this is because the cards have been “an integral part of the author’s self-development for the last twenty years”.

With that in mind I should explain now that the oval symbol on the backs of the cards is there for a meaningful reason, it is not just a decoration. Cilla Conway has an oval theme running through all of the card images because she is interested in early Goddess cultures and the Divine Feminine. From what she says in the book, I get the impression that she sees the oval image as being one of the most mentally creative of symbols. The reference back to the egg and the way that growth takes place in this dark, nourishing place, might be intertwined in some way with her ideas about how intuition and the tarot work together.

Indeed, the set is not called the The Intuitive Tarot without a very good reason! The author clearly wants this deck to be one that you can work with on a deep level, bringing your intuition into the fullest play as you look for meaning in the cards. I must say that I have found them very powerful to work with, in terms of having graphic, “telling” dreams the night after using the cards. In fact I found that, although at the time of carrying out my reading I was a little unsure immediately of what the cards were saying, I clearly had had some response to their images and reached some insights by morning, after “sleeping on them” – so to speak.

So what is it exactly about these images that is so powerful? Well it is actually hard to put one’s finger on it. Maybe Cilla Conway really does have something with this oval frame that she's’ using to encase the scenes. But I can certainly say that the colours employed in the artwork are quite striking. There is a wide palette range here. We are not confined to primary blues, reds and yellows or anything of such a simplistic nature. I think, in fact, this set might be one of the closest that I have seen in a while to the Crowley Thoth deck, in terms of complexity of colours. I don’t want to stretch that comparison too far, but there are at times when I am sure I can some similarities in the two decks’ designs, even though the Intuitive Tarot obviously has a uniqueness all of its own.

What you will see here for certain is a mix of vibrant oranges and yellows, but also some olive shades, muted teal green blues and some graduated pinks and crimson, together with lilac, aubergine and violet. Rather more than your average rainbow, then! I feel compelled to say that I really like the variety of colours; it is quite refreshing. Maybe it has been made possible because some of the images are relatively abstract. For example the Three of Discs shows three cogs working together, with a background that looks somewhere between an industrial factory and a Moorish hotel in the Middle East (to my eye). This is also a good point at which to mention that Suit-wise, the definitions here are Discs, Swords, Rods and Cups - and the Courts are Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings. The Major Arcana have the conventional names that you will be used to from decks like the RWS. However, Justice is numbered VIII and Strength is XI – plus the Wheel of Fortune is simply called “The Wheel”.

In terms of image design, many of the cards have an interesting fluidity, especially where Cilla is dealing with human figures. The eyes and other facial features are not clearly defined; there is more of a ghost-like, or semi-alien, quality. The bodies are almost like some of those in the work of the artist Klimt, in the way that they entwine or become quite fluid with the designs around them, on clothing and artefacts. Temperance is the card used to give the book cover its design and this is quite stunning, with a person who seems to be a wizard or alchemist, pouring liquid from one jug to another. His coat almost has feathers, so there is a suggestion of the peacock about him. Again, I need to emphasise that this is very much my own personal response, but I hope it offers some idea of the richness of the imagery that you will find in this deck - and how it somehow does “play” on the mind.

There are also cards over which I have drawn a slight blank at first. But then, like me, you may find that the closer you look at them, the more they start to throw up images that you didn’t realise were there! I can’t pretend that these card images are all comfortable or inherently attractive to my eye; what seems more important is that they stir something up in me. There seem to be memories of films I have seen, people I have known or experiences I have had. A crystal ball suspended almost as though within an egg timer in the Four of Rods is filled with an idyllic image of a house in the mountains. There is a figure in the foreground: is this Heidi from the childhood story? Or am I reminded, overall, of the snow globe and Orson Welles’ reference to Rosebud, the child’s sledge, in his film Citizen Kane? I am really not sure, but the card imagery certainly conjures up a lot at once. To my way of viewing cards some of the images are even a little scary at times. The Knight of Swords looks particularly daunting! Maybe it is because he is faceless, behind the mask of his armour plating. Yet it is a card that I feel I want and need to work with in this deck! I suppose what I am getting at is this: if you want something pretty-pretty and light-hearted to work with, this is probably not the deck for you. But if you are open to a challenge - and want to explore hidden depths – I believe this is the sort of deck that will allow you such access, in a safe way.

Although Cilla Conway makes it clear that she is influenced by Goddess culture, this seems to me to be a deck that has a strong mix of both feminine and masculine qualities within it. So I think it will be perfectly accessible for both genders of reader. Although the set is recommended for all levels, I personally feel it could have the most appeal for the advanced reader. I am not suggesting that a novice would be unable to find any meaning in the cards but that it might be better to begin with a more traditional deck if you were just starting with the tarot. But then I am bound to say that because we work with the Rider Waite deck with beginning students at TABI! To be fair, this is the Intuitive Tarot set, so I suspect it is a deck that is bound to “speak” to your intuition, no matter what level you have reached with your tarot reading.

Focussing in specifically on the value of the Intuitive Tarot set, what exactly does the book’s text have to offer? Well, firstly, there is a description of the card alongside its image. This is followed by traditional meanings for the card and then with an idea of how to work with it intuitively, together with the space to write down your own responses. In the book’s introduction the author shares her technique of "dialoguing" with the card and also covers issues such as difficult cards, negative reactions, random falls and reversals. There are also explanations of how intuition and the tarot work. Plus, at the back of the book, some sample readings (very helpful, I found) together with a nice selection of spreads to experiment with.

I should clarify that the images on the interior pages of the book are not in full colour but neither are they purely black and white. I do not know enough about printing terms to describe the process, but the effect is rather like two-tone when using just two colours, though it is more subtle than that, in terms of gradation of shades. It is a very pleasing effect anyway and I think this approach lends something special to the book and set as a whole. It becomes not just another tarot text book but an item that is fun and fascinating to read, explore and work with. That is very much how I am approaching the Intuitive Tarot deck at the moment. I would like to thank Cilla, for being courageous enough to share something so personal with us! I look forward to working with the Intuitive Tarot some more.

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