Intuitive Tarot by Cilla Conway
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

I find this deck rather intriguing--anyone familiar with the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) Tarot will be able to read with it without a great deal of adjustment, yet the energy of the deck reminds me more of Thoth than the RWS. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's the artwork itself, which is nothing like Lady Frieda Harris'...but both decks have a swirling, moving nature that is almost the opposite of the more static RWS. Another deck the Intuititve reminds me of is the Aquarian, with its pale people and art deco sensibility.

Conway, who is the artist and author of this tarot book/deck set, has chosen to paint every scene within the construct of an egg, which is then bordered by a complementary color (or colors). For the artist, the oval shape reflects the Divine Feminine, an area she was drawn to early in her studies.

In one of those strokes of synchronicity the tarot thrives upon, The Fool was the first card the artist created, and it originally appeared as while she was "doodling idly" on a sketch pad. He was to be her companion on an unexpected journey, one that took almost 20 years to complete. (So the next time The Fool appears to you, be aware that the paths he or she may take you down can have unforeseen results.) The Intuitive Fool is a sharp and subtle harlequin, whose movements in the blazing sun could be a dance or a pre-jump crouch.

Many of the people on the cards are slim and somewhat bony, which gives this deck a stylized gloss, yet there is nothing superficial about the Intuitive Tarot. I did a fascinating meditation involving the High Priestess the night before I had to attend an event I dreaded, and I modeled my persona and behavior on her air of aloof openness. Her severe face shows a strength that allows her to literally "go naked." My work with this card helped to make the day slightly more bearable, and served as a reminder to trust my inner wisdom throughout the day. The Empress suckles a baby, but she too has an angular face (one at odds with her outsized breasts and my vision of a nurturer). Her spouse, The Emperor, is equally chiseled, but where the Empress gives off an aura of expansion (how Venusian!) the red-clad Emperor is about enclosure and rigidity. I am not sure how good a couple they are (or how he even impregnated her!). We are told in the book that the phallic winged animal flying above the sun is a symbol of potency, but he looks more likely to be the father of the Empress' child than the man in the picture. When one looks closely at this card, one notes the background is not a combination of colors, but an Egyptian set of hieroglyphics. This detail, along with the amulet, affords us an understanding of The Emperor in terms of dynasty, and enriches our view of this card.

The Lovers is interesting because it has many potential meanings, imagistically speaking. Conway focuses on choice in her written interpretation--primarily the choice of separation and growth from any restrictive relationships. A man and woman stand naked in all their bony glory in the light of a full moon. A black-cloaked man lifts an arm--is it to beckon or cast off? Is he about to unite the couple in marriage or some ungodly ritual? Or does he represent something else entirely? You get to choose...and isn't that the point of this card, after all?

The Chariot and the Sun card are particularly akin to their Thoth counterparts. The Wheel is a swirling mandala and, if you look closely, you can see the yin and yang of people arriving and departing within the oval container. The Hanged Man is a particular favorite of mine--he seems to be held aloft by universal waves, waves he has learned to flow into and with, not ride.

The Tower shows a buckling building that has been hit by lightning--it could represent the tragedy of 9/11--or not. It's a powerful image any way you look at it. Judgment is another swirling card-in-motion--three bodies in the center of an eddy, reaching up to the heavens. The World (at top) truly shows someone celebrating existence--she and her filmy white construct flow together in perfect harmony.

The Minor Arcana are illustrated, and though the borders of all of the suits are a mixture of colors, the suit of Discs are rather yellow and orange. As stated earlier in the review, the fully illustrated Minors will be accessible to anyone familiar with the RWS, though there is a connection to the Thoth with quite a few of them, as well. Sometimes I wish Conway had color-coded to some degree with the suits--the One of Rods looks like it would drown any fire that came near it; the picture looks like waves of water and bubbles to me, but it is described in the book as a tree. It's a very white tree--and the amount of red is minimal, whereas blue washes all over the card.

Even though the Minors are similar to the RWS, they are certainly not clones, and some will involve some stretching of the reader's boundaries.

Some of the more involved stretches? The Four of Rods shows a world suspended in a structure like an hourglass, but with four wooden planks surrounding it. This enclosed world is a safe and welcoming space, the promise of a secure structure. The Seven of Rods shows a figure doing some kind of fire walk. The Seven of Cups doesn't have a different symbol in each of its vessels, but instead shows a battle between dark and light. The Nine of Cups shows a figure melding completely with flowing waters that fill some of the cups nearby. The Four of Swords shows a man in a Yogic position--the Five, a man in the shadows standing over a woman curled up into a fetal position. It's a truly powerful image, one of the strongest Five of Swords I've ever seen.

The Seven of Swords is probably the most unique. A man stands on a an odd hillock in a strange land next to a large, swirling puff of smoke. Behind the taffy-pull of a cloud is a cache of swords. It's an odd situation, one that demands ingenuity, a new way of looking at things. This haunting card reminds me more of Thoth's Futility than the man sneaking off with the Swords in the RWS. Another card that reminds me of Thoth in this deck is the Three of Discs, with its grinding machinery as pure Works.

While I find this deck intriguing, I am not overly fond of the Courts. There is a sameness to them that makes them less evocative than the other cards--I suspect because they are headshots, as opposed to full body images. The Page of Rods is a masculine looking youth with flowing blonde locks--quite the androgyne, though the book insists she is a she. Rupaul makes the same claim. The Queen of Rods is worse--she is so elongated that she looks like someone pulled her by the top of her scalp and stretched her completely out of shape. Combine that with the breast harness/choker she sports and it makes me think of some icky sadistic male fantasy. The book calls this the "full body jewellry of the pythoness" but it doesn't work for me a little.

I do like some of the Court Cards. The Queen of Cups has quite a bit of backbone and even her bared breasts aren't an emblem of submission. The King of Swords' angularity works well with his icy aura of intellect and the King of Discs has a warm and earthy groundedness.

The companion book is wonderful. Conway has an image-based therapeutic approach to the cards that I really like, and all of her descriptions include an exercise for working with the card, along with basic upright and reversed interpretations. The author is particularly strong on her suggestions for dialoguing with the cards. She also provides several sample readings, some with unique spreads. There is also some tarot history that includes mention of the Knights Templar and the Gringonneur Tarot, but since they have no real bearing on the deck itself, we'll leave that alone. The book also includes a wide-ranging bibliography.

I find this deck oddly intriguing--though occasionally a bit cool for my tastes. It is also an excellent reading deck (you can peruse a sample reading here). Because the book offers a lot of food for thought for those with a psychological bent, I recommend the Intuitive Tarot set to those who are attracted to such decks (like me!) and also to those who are drawn to the unique art.

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Discs) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions Rods--Air; Swords--Fire   X
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                   X X
Smaller than standard                                           X
Larger than standard                                               X

Intuitive Tarot by Cilla Conway
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN#: 0312329725

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

Images 2004 St. Martin's Press
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes