Creating the Star Tarot – An Interview with Cathy McClelland
In a previous post I listed my top 3 Tarot decks to look forward to in 2017. The Star Tarot was one of them and because I liked the imagery and the colours of this deck so much, I decided to get in touch with the artist behind it: Cathy McClelland. I wanted to know why she decided to create a new deck, what was her relation to Tarot and what were the challenges she faced as an artist while bringing these cards to life.
The Star Tarot takes one on a magical journey of spiritual self discovery. The deck brings the traditional 78 cards into a new light through multicultural symbolism, nature and the cosmos. – Cathy McClelland
Louise: First of all, congratulations on this new deck. It looks amazing and I really hope to have it in my hands soon! But first things first: what brought you to designing a Tarot deck? There are already so many out there, did you feel something was missing?
Cathy McClelland: I didn’t feel that there was anything missing from the present tarot decks. My attraction to the tarot was the symbolism and mystery it held. In the early 90’s I got the idea to paint the Majors only, as there were only 22 images. I thought it would be a fun and doable project. I wasn’t thinking about where it was all going. Just liked the idea of exploring each card and seeing what I could come up with. As I got more involved with the process my goal was to create the Majors in a less patriarchal theme and to embrace Mother Earth and the feminine, keeping both masculine and feminine energies in balance. Also, multi-cultural symbolism was a big theme for me.
L: How would you describe this deck in a few words?
CMC: The Star Tarot takes one on a magical journey of spiritual self discovery. The deck brings the traditional 78 cards into a new light through multicultural symbolism, nature and the cosmos. Its signature The Star, is a theme that weaves itself through each card opening up one’s mind to the infinite possibilities of creation, spirituality, personal development and evolution. Each individual is part of the collective. How one understands and lives this concept spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally dictates how rich their inner and outer life is. The interpretations combine older meanings with a new insights bringing a deeper level of spiritualism and connection to the cosmos and mother earth.
L: What is your personal relation with Tarot? Have you been using the decks for long? Is it mostly a guidance or a prediction tool for you?
CMC: I believe I got my first tarot deck when I was 12 or 13. I don’t remember what drew me to the tarot other than the mystery of it, the symbols and illustrations. I began reading cards for my family and friends for the fun and started collecting decks in my late teens. I used the cards for both guidance and prediction.
L: Can you tell us a bit about you as an artist? Where are you based and how did you get to painting?
CMC:I have been painting and drawing since I was a small child. I grew up in Northern California, playing out in nature and painting my experiences. My parents encouraged my career in art and I went to the Academy of Art in San Francisco to study illustration. After school I moved to Lake Tahoe. Its beauty is a constant inspiration.
L: The deck is full of mixed spiritual symbols and figures. From Native American to European and Indian spirituality and figures. Do you see them as all part of one and the same story?
CMC:Yes, I see all humanity as a collective. A major theme of the Star Tarot is to weave and integrate multicultural symbolism into awakening each of us to our spiritual path with responsibility for the individual and collective evolution.
L: Tell me about some of the specific changes and additions you’ve made. For example, the Fool has no dog following him, but a crocodile is lying in front of him. Where do such changes come from and how hard do you find to decide to cut something off and/or add something new?
CMC:When I decided to do the majors, my process was to study as many tarot books and authors as I could find at the time. So with each card I would take in all the different approaches and ideas. I then meditated on the info. At that point certain themes and imagery emerge for me and I would sketch them. I wanted to keep open to the inspirations that would come to me without judgement. I followed my intuition and what I felt spoke true for me. That is how the imagery came about.
L: The Hierophant is literally mind-blowing. Could you tell me about some of the symbols on this card? Who is the Hierophant for you?
CMC:The Hierophant to me speaks of the divine flame within each of us that holds all the knowledge to our destinies. He is our personal mediator between the Divine and our soul self .
The Hierophant represents both traditional and nontraditional spiritual faith and symbolizes seeing life from all viewpoints. His right hand touches his heart, symbolizing seeking one’s spiritual wisdom from a open, loving and peaceful heart. His crown has a five pointed crystal star, that represents man on his spiritual path. The crystals on top of the crown serve as conduits for incoming divine intelligence, represented by the sea of stars descending down to his crown. The Hierophant wears eagle feathers in his hair, symbolizing the spirit rising to the divine, while remaining connected to the realm of the earth. The rainbow robe represents all peoples and beliefs working together. The mountains behind symbolize the spiritual calling and the difficulties that one has to conquer as he ascends to the heights of spiritual understanding. The Hierophant is pointing to the entrance of the labyrinth. The labyrinth represents the journey of going within and communing with your divine, then returning to the outside world with new insights to live by. The Hierophant’s number is five. He rules the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
L: Was there a card, which was more problematic for you to draw or to imagine? Any challenging symbolism or messages that required more work?
CMC:The Devil was one of the more difficult images to paint, because the traditional imagery was so uncomfortable for me. I tried making my image not so uncomfortable and kept coming up empty of ideas. I finally realized that there was no way around this disturbing image and I had to embrace its shadow. I had to look deep inside myself to really understand the true meaning and message of this Key. Like The Devil Key, it then turned out to be an alluring, beautiful and transformative experience.
L: What is your favorite card in Tarot? Is it also your favorite in the Star Tarot? (if not, what makes the difference?)
CMC: It’s hard to pin down to just one. My first choice overall would be The Sun as it brings much joy and happiness, speaking to the inner child in each of us to open our eyes to the good in our world.
L: Your work is full of light and life, which is really wonderful. But does this make it more difficult for you to approach cards that are often feared (or misunderstood) such as Death, the Tower or the 10 of Swords? How do you approach
CMC: In general, my approach is to try and understand what these images are trying to tell you. As in life, there are challenges that sometimes go beyond what one ever expected. I believe the idea behind these Keys are to gather enough strength to move through the oppressiveness, try and learn what lessons are being presented and begin healing. if you can work through these card they always take you to a new path and a deeper understanding of the self. The experience of these cards can lead you to get transformation.
L: How much importance do you give to the “originals” such as the Marseille Tarot and the Rider Waite deck? Do you follow one more than the other or do you freely adapt following your own instincts?
CMC: I follow my instances. Not sure what you mean by the importance of my originals. Each original has its own beauty and is full of the energy that flowed from my imagination and hand.
L: What’s the best place for someone to order your deck and is it possible to get special editions or signed prints?
CMC: Right now Amazon and Schiffer Publishing LTD. are offering pre-order. It looks like the proposed release date is May 2017. At that point I will have them available on my website for sale and personalization of the deck and book set. I also have selected prints available of some of the Star Tarot images as well as, originals for sale. One can check out my website at cathymcclelland.com
Also, if anyone is interested in receiving The Star Tarot monthly newsletter, which gives updates and features a card for the month, please email me to be added to the list.
L: Thanks a lot Cathy for taking the time to tell us more about your deck and work!
As for me, I leave you with some of the wonderful cards you’ll find in this deck if you pre-order it. More to see on Cathy’ website.