Creating The Gaian Tarot
by Joanna Powell Colbert
The Gaian Tarot
emerged from the fertile ground of the archetypal imagery of the tarot
combined with my deep love for a small island in the Pacific Northwest.
This deck was a long time in the making. The seed for it was planted in
the 1980s when I was working with the Motherpeace
Tarot and comparing it to traditional decks like the Rider-Waite-Smith. I was drawing
pen-and-ink Goddess portraits in those days, and was intrigued by the
idea of creating a tarot deck. But the thought of making seventy-eight
separate pieces of artwork was daunting. I worked consistently with the
tarot as a teacher and reader until the late 1990s when I set it aside
for several years. During that time I moved to a small, rural island
and the focus of my spiritual practice changed.
I heard Starhawk say that the earth is our sacred text, like the Bible
or the Torah or the Koran, and that most of us are illiterate in it. I
took that to heart. I began to spend the bulk of my time outside,
observing the place where I lived and practicing wilderness-awareness
skills. Just like as I had thrown myself into Goddess studies and tarot
studies earlier, I became immersed in studying the native plants,
birds, and animals of my chosen home. I grew herbs, became involved in
the local community, and built a straw bale house with my husband. Even
though I had been walking the path of Goddess spirituality for many
years, my practice and relationship with the Great Mystery (whom I call
Mama Gaia) deepened. I began to seek wisdom directly from the woods,
the beach, and the meadows, without the intermediary of books or human
"Mama Gaia" is my name for Mother Earth, or the Great Mother Goddess.
In Greek mythology, Gaia is the name of the primal goddess who embodies
the earth. It is written that She gave birth to the sea, the sky, and
the rest of creation. The idea that the earth is our mother is found in
many indigenous cultures worldwide. Today, in part because of the
popularity of James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, the words Gaia or Gaian
are often used to refer to a worldview that honors the earth as sacred.
To practice a Gaian or earth-centered spirituality means to both give
and receive sustenance from the natural world. "The earth is our
mother, she will take care of us," the familiar chant goes. "The earth
is our mother, we must take care of her."
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with Joanna Powell Colbert, Creator of the Gaian Tarot
1. The art for the Gaian Tarot
is breathtakingly beautiful. From
where did you draw inspiration when creating this deck?
I moved to a small rural island in the
Pacific Northwest just before I started work on the deck. It was the
first time I had ever fallen completely and utterly in love with a
specific place. I was receiving so much spiritual nourishment from the
landscape that it just naturally found its way into my artwork. I was
also inspired by my spiritual community of people who live their lives
as best they can to honor the earth and hold it as sacred.
2. You already have a
following for your art; is most of your work similar to that of the
Yes and no. Yes, in that I have always
used real people as models for archetypal and mythological
characters. I love seeing the numinous expressed in the faces and
bodies of everyday women and men. It's as if our deepest, most wise
selves step up to be seen. I love facial expressions and hand gestures
in particular. But I used to work almost exclusively in pen-and-ink,
sometimes with a watercolor wash. In the late 1990s I studied a
technique called colored pencil painting, which is well-suited for
photorealism. The artwork in the Gaian Tarot is done in this
medium. I begin a piece by taking photos of models, then work out the
composition in Photoshop by adding the background and other elements. I
make a line drawing based on my photo collage, and then I start laying
down the color. The richness and depth of the artwork comes from
layering color over color, pencil stroke by pencil stroke.
3. Where did you get your
start as an artist?
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