Cilla Conway is an intuitive artist who works primarily with the concepts of archetypal energies, alchemy and metamorphosis. 

In collaboration with John Matthews, she created The Byzantine Tarot, published in June 2015.

This is the first tarot deck inspired by the Byzantine Empire. This sumptuous and evocative package will appeal to all those with an interest in history, ancient kingdoms, iconography and history of art. Cilla Conway and John Matthews talk about how they came up with the idea for the deck and how their collaboration came about.

Cilla explains a few of the cards:

  • The Tower
  • Six of Swords
  • Knight of Staffs
  • Ace of Cups
  • Countess of Coins

Watch here!

Get to know the Knight of Staffs, the Countess of Coins and the Ace of Cups in this video. Grab a cup of tea and sit down with Cilla and Steve chatting about tarot.

Listen to Part 1 here- Steve Nobel with John Matthews

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Cilla Conway Interview transcript
for those who prefer to read:



Steve:   Hello and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel. Today I’m speaking with John Matthews and Cilla Conway on The Byzantine Tarot: Wisdom from an Ancient Empire.

Cilla Conway is an intuitive artist who works primarily with the concepts of archetypal energies, alchemy, and metamorphosis. She’s the co-author of The Byzantine Tarot, published in June 2015 in collaboration with John Matthews. And her website is

Steve:   Okay, so hi Cilla. Thank you for joining me. Can I ask you, what drew you to this project? Why Byzantine Empire?

Cilla:     It was quite a strange set of coincidences. One of the guys at Watkins where I used to work, had this postcard on the wall which was of Elijah, it was an icon. And I just though, my god, that’s the Tarot hermit. So I asked him if I could have a copy and he gave me the postcard. And I had this in my mind, you know, this is the start of a new Tarot deck, because projects do seem to address themselves to me like that.

And then when I met John at this launch, I said, “I’m thinking of doing a Byzantine Tarot,” and he said, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about that for ages! But if you’re doing it I can’t do it.” And I said, “Well why? Because I’m a painter and you’re a writer. Can’t we pool our resources?”

Steve:   Great. Was it challenging? I mean, just getting all the art from these images, or were they fairly easy? Is there a lot of art to draw upon?

Cilla:     There’s a huge amount of art to draw upon, and I went to Istanbul about two or three times, found this absolutely amazing church, which is now a museum. It’s off the beaten track, you really have to travel to get there. And they had a book, so I used the book a lot, and of course all the mosaics and stuff like that as well.

Steve:   I’ve been asking John about some of the images on the cards and I’ve picked these five cards. Now, the first one, the Tower card. Can you say something about the artwork there?

Cilla:     Yeah, that one I did a sort of conventional tower first, but I kept on seeing this little sculpture again and again and again, of this guy sitting in a pillar. He’s quite a fixture in Byzantine, not iconography but legend, because he wanted to withdraw. So he went along and he built himself a 10 foot pillar, but people then started coming and talking to him, and his tower would get higher and higher and higher and eventually ended up as 40 foot high. Don’t ask me what the snake is, I’m assuming the snake is temptation.

Steve:   Yeah. It’s a beautiful image. It looks like some ancient mage under the sun really there. It’s amazing.

Cilla:     Very striking image, that’s why I wanted to do it.

Steve:   Well the other card I’ve got is the Six of Swords. Now this one, I’m not sure if it’s been drawn of gained from some older piece of art. Well, John told me it was a soldier returning, but this looks like someone’s painted it from an older piece.

Cilla:     I copied, not completely straight, but I copied every single image in the whole deck-

Steve:   Right.

Cilla:     From the mosaics and from the other work that I found in this chapel. So if you know your Byzantine art, you’ll see the references everywhere.

Steve:   This is a beautiful image, and I love the kind of striking purply, lilac in the background. And the sky looks this kind of terracotta. It’s a beautiful colouring.

Cilla:     The funny thing is … you know, I live in Italy now. And I’ve just realised that the mountains that I pained in the background, are more or less, with poetic licence, very similar to the mountains that I look at every single day now, but I’d never seen them then.

Steve:   Oh right. Northwest Tuscany aren’t you?

Cilla:     Yeah.

Steve:   I’ve been there’s, it’s a beautiful place.

Cilla:     Absolutely gorgeous.

Steve:   Now the Knight of Staffs, there’s a kind of very Grecian look about this one. This guy … I said it’s mini harp, but John reminded me it’s a lyre. It looks like something out of ancient Greece this one.

Cilla:     Yeah. This is probably me doing poetic licence. The figure would have been drawn from Byzantine art, but I wanted a slightly creative figure for the Knight of Staffs. This is just one of my things. And so I put the lyre in and I have no idea if they had lyres, I’m hoping they had lyres, but you’re right it does look Grecian.

Steve:   It looks like snowdrops by his right foot, is that significant? Or creative licence again?

Cilla:     Creative licence.

Steve:   Okay, okay. I don’t know, it looks like something … compared to the whole image, the snowdrops are quite striking I think.

Now the chalice, the Ace of Cups, now this is absolutely beautiful and it looks kind of very, I guess Byzantine or Orthodox Christianity.

Cilla:     Orthodox. Yeah definitely.

Steve:   Where did you get this image from?

Cilla:     Big book on Byzantine art. They had a couple of huge exhibitions in London, and I got the books on both of them, and I found this image in there, just thought it’s so beautiful, I’ve got to use it for the one of Cups. And then John said that it was the image that he always imagines the Grail to be, so that was quite a nice sort of coincidence.

Steve:   The last one, the Countess of Coins. This one is really beautiful, I really love this image. It looks almost like slightly mediaeval as well, doesn’t it?
Cilla:     Yeah. But again, Byzantine woman, I probably changed the background to the buildings because I wanted it to fit in there. But she would have been taken straight from Byzantine art. Oh, I know who she is, she’s Catherine, Saint Catherine, she had a big wheel. So you know, you don’t really want to put that in there.

Steve:   Oh right. She’s holding a … well kind of holding a large coin, so I suppose there’s kind of a similar sort of thing.

Cilla:     Yeah.

Steve:   How did the two of you work? There was one other Tarot deck where there was a very famous one, the Crowley one, where you had Crowley with all the meaning and then you had the artist and they went backwards and forwards for about five years I think. Was this kind of bouncing backwards and forwards with imagery and meaning?

Cilla:     It did bounce back and forward, but poor old John more or less had to put up with what I did, because I would look at it and I’d get some ideas, then I’d draw it up and I’d send it to him. He’d say, “Yeah, yeah, great. This is what the meaning could be.” There were a couple that he said to me, “Really, you can’t do that.” The Knight of Swords, yes, I copied from an icon, and he said, “You just couldn’t kill a dragon like that. The staff just doesn’t work or the sword doesn’t work.” And I was like, “Okay, but fine, that’s where it is.” So poor old John had to more or less put up with what I did.

Steve:   No, it’s amazing. Just looking through the book, there’s some amazing images here. And if anybody’s drawn to this piece of history, as John said it’s very good for dealing with complicated issues because it draws upon the Byzantine imagery and worldview.

Cilla, thank you so much, and thank you John for joining us. And all the best with this project. I’m going to be using this deck and playing with it for sure. So thank you so much. All the best.

Cilla:     It’s a pleasure, thank you very much.

The Byzantine Tarot

John Matthews and Cilla Conway

The first tarot deck inspired by the Byzantine Empire, this sumptuous and evocative package will appeal to all those with an interest in history, ancient kingdoms, iconography and history of art.

The Byzantine world, which lasted from 330 to 1453 CE, combined the elegance and power of Rome with the opulence and splendor of the Orient. This combination brought about richness in the world of art, literature, and spirituality that has seldom been equaled. Yet it also has a mysterious resonance, and it is to this world of emperors and empresses, saints and sinners, faith and miracles that the creators of this dazzling new tarot have turned, capturing the Byzantine vision, magic, and enchantment.



ISBN: 9781859063910