Cilla Conway

The Old Gods Tarot

The Old Gods Tarot is complete … at last. I thought they were finished in the New Year, and they were, sort of. But after my best critic, Jamie, went through them with a fine toothcomb, it began to feel as if I’d never get to the end of them. But it’s done now, to both our satisfactions (if that’s proper grammar). 

As the deck is being painted in Photoshop –  (not in oils as all my previous decks with the exception of The Intuitive Tarot), it has a more graphic feel. Now I’m used to creating digitally, I’m enjoying it. I like the fact that you can add (or delete, or revise) layer upon layer until the finished image is done. And the pip cards, which I thought would be a nightmare as I’ve never worked with a pip deck previously, turned out to be far more interesting than I expected.

Why did I decide on this deck, and why this medium? Years ago I read a book entitled ‘The Old Gods Laugh’. It wasn’t particularly wonderful (it was really chauvinist, even for the era), but the phrase stayed with me. I could see these massive beings, their laughs echoing through the heavens, as they decided whether to inflict the world with fire, a drought or a pandemic (they have been busy recently, haven’t they). As for working in Photoshop? I felt like a change, and a more precise set of images – I decided to have at least three gods in each Major Arcana, from very different areas of the world. Some have more than three, if I found interesting deities to include. The Empress, for instance has five – The Great Goddess, Nut and Isis, Cybele, Demeter and Persephone. You’ll find her below, together with a few of the Major Arcana.

There are twenty-two Major Arcana in this deck – rather like the Shimmering Veil, I’ve included two Fools.  Unlike the Shimmering Veil, though, there’s an extra, eightieth card, which I added more for myself than anything else – the Wild card. You’ll have to wait to see that one, as I’m not including it here.

The Major Arcana

Creating a pip deck instead of my normal basic symbolic imagery is quite different. Numbers have their own magic which I almost managed to intuit in my teens, but I never managed to make the jump to calculus or esoteric mathematics. I have been researching the magic of numbers and the way of reading a pip deck (mostly from two authors – Iva Kenaz’s Sacred Geometry and Magical Symbols (she also has a brilliant website), and  Caitlin Matthew’s equally unmissable book, The Untold Tarot), while I painted, and it has been a fascinating journey.

As far as I’m concerned there are no Old Gods – humans created them all, appalling families and all. Although, admittedly, I might exclude one or two from that overall judgement. Years ago my family went on a cruise round the Greek Islands, and we were able to land on Sunion (Poseidon’s island) at dusk. It was the most magical experience . Then, later, as we were sailing around Naxos, I heard Pan’s pipes. Of course, it was ‘only’ wind in the rigging, but it didn’t feel like that. (Unfortunately I chose not to go to Hera’s island, Samos, which I regret now.) Finally, another link with Poseidon. My father said he would offer a libation to Poseidon, but chose not to offer the best wine. I thought that was a mistake. It was. The next day we were sailing along and were caught by the Meltemi, the hot wind that can suddenly blow up in the Mediterranean. The yacht heeled over, my mother broke a rib, and my father lost his favourite pipe lighter. I, on the other hand, found a waterproof jacket in the sea. Not a very good one, but hey – I still have a soft spot for Poseidon and, of course, Pan, who was in the first draft of 0 The Fool, but had to be removed as he didn’t fit the design (hey-ho, the trials and tribulations of a tarot card designer). 

The Minor Arcana

The face or court cards are fully pictorial, as you see above, but the pips are historical symbols – for instance, in the Six of Discs, you’ll six paleolithic discs – used presumably for weighing, counting or even for exchange.  All the pip symbols are sourced from the internet (with the exception of a couple of Discs which are my own pen drawings) and I found it quite sad that so many of these wonderful items (medicine sticks, but Tibetan staffs, Egyptian cups, Chinese discs, etc.) are being sold on ebay or etsy.

The face cards – like the Major Arcana – depict more than one deity – usually three (the Majors may have more), and I have changed their order – the normal ‘pages’ are the Warriors, followed by the Princesses, then the gods, and at the top of each suit, the Goddesses. This was a very interesting switch to make, as it entailed thinking about how this Old Gods tarot society would work. The Goddesses obviously would make the final decision on any suit question, assisted by the Gods. The Priestesses would be in charge of the spiritual wellbeing of the people, while the Warriors would deal with any incursion into their territory.  Oh that we could reorder our society to match. 

The Blades suit show knives and swords from various periods of history, and different places. They are coloured in shades of greys and pale blues. The Staves have fiery, hot colours, with sticks, as shown in the Eight above, which shows North American tribal medicine sticks and ‘coup’ sticks, a method to hit their enemies in battle as a sign of courage. Discs are mostly green, and Cups are turquoise and blue. I’ve used sacred geometry to identify the pip cards, and have also included a large half-tone number in the background. Today’s tarot convention is usually that Blades/Swords are connected with air, the mind and intellect; determination, the ability to visualise abstract concepts, while Staves (Batons) have been linked with fire, and thus creativity, passion, intuition, inner vision. The Discs are linked with earth, so are grounded, practical, down-to-earth, elemental. The Cups suit has come to symbolise water and all the emotions of the psyche, empathy, and self-awareness, so they are turquoise and deep blues – though if you look at the Warrior of Cups above, the prevailing colour is green. This card amused me greatly. Nethuns, the Etruscan Warrior (though he doesn’t look very warrior-like here), seems to have been off to talk to Orpheus when he was waylaid by Eros. The lascivious look on Eros’s face brings a whole new dimension to the myth of Eros and Psyche and the list of impossible demands he told poor Psyche to resolve before he would forgive her for dropping candle wax on his face. Perhaps Eros was never into Psyche at all, as we were told in the myth? Well, you’ll find all that information in the book of the deck!

Below, is the whole deck in thumbnail format. The book is currently being proof-read, and the whole deck is just about ready to go off to the printers (mid-end May 2022). I hope that it will be ready to mail out in November, though don’t quote me on that.

I am also producing a Powerpoint presentation about the creation of the deck which I will post at the bottom when it’s finished. I’ve been asked so many times about how I create my decks and it probably doesn’t help anyone to say ‘with lots of work and help from friends…’

Below are links to all of my decks currently available or in production.

The Intuitive Tarot

The Byzantine Tarot

The Shimmering Veil Tarot

The Old Gods Tarot

Devas of Creation

The Multi-Dimensional Devas

The Book of the Dead