Interview with Jessica Godino & Lauren O'Leary

by Percy Balemans

Jessica Godino and Lauren O'Leary, the creators of the World Spirit Tarot, talk about how they started on their World Spirit Tarot and what influenced its creation.

About Tarot

How did you get to know each other, was it through tarot?

Lauren – Actually it was through the local food co-op! We both worked there and discovered that the tarot was a common interest for us.

How did you both get involved with tarot?

Lauren – I always thought it was very interesting, and ten years ago I was engaged in some occult training that required developing a relationship with a system of divination. It could have been any kind - cowrie shells, tea leaves, I Ching etc. But being a visual person and interested in iconography, it was tarot! The easiest way for me to learn it was by working with the images directly.

Jessica – When I was 18 I did an apprenticeship with herbalist Susun Weed. Since her apprenticeships are so intense and life changing, she offers a tarot reading at the beginning and at the end. I fell in love with the whole thing at first sight: the images, the atmosphere, the insight into my life and deepest being by someone who didn't know me at all. I decided right then to study and learn about tarot.

Which tarot decks did you start with?

Jessica – My first reading was with Daughters of the Moon. I soon also began to use Motherpeace and Shining Tribe a little, since I met Rachel Pollack while she was working on the latter deck and I was pretty impressed by her. It wasn't for years and years that I had any understanding of the more traditional tarot structure, in fact until Lauren and I started our study group and she showed me all of her decks.

Lauren – My first teacher used the Thoth deck for her personal readings and the Rider-Waite (Pixie Smith) deck for teaching and reading for clients. So my real foundation was in these more traditional decks: four people cards, all the usual European imagery etc. When Jessica and I started working together we just wanted to share info on what we each knew and have a system for learning more. So we met for years and every week shared what we had learned. Between us we had twelve decks or so and many books, so we studied each card from the perspective of each artist and author - a real comparative study where we searched for the kernel of truth common to each perspective. And this we decided was something like the true essence of the card.

Was creating the World Spirit Tarot the logical next step following your comparative study?

Jessica – Absolutely. All along Lauren had been slowly continuing on her process of creating her cards, and we were intensively studying them. She sent some slides to a few publishers, Llewellyn responded and said "we love it, but can you write a book". She asked me to head up that project, knowing she would have her hands full just to finish all the cards. Most of the text from the book came out of our mutual research of course.

Also, we never intended to go public with this project for years and years. We were doing the research and Lauren was creating her art simply for the love of doing it and learning. I think we were both a little shocked when we realised our project was going out to the world. We are pretty humble and don't really consider ourselves tarot experts, just people who love the tarot and have put considerable energy and thought into unravelling its many layers.

Lauren – Actually we really believe in the quality of the project - that it was a unique, special and downright important gift to the world. We just never set out to make it with that as our goal. We just wanted to make the greatest deck and book that we could. We had learned through our researches what we felt was lacking in much of what was already available. So it could be said that our effort was to meet our own needs: a tarot with images strong enough and informed enough, and text that was practical and mumbo-jumbo-free to suit a few practical people like ourselves!

Jessica – I found the white inserts that come with most decks pretty useless, and most books filled with lots of info but not much that was useful. So the book we wrote was a response to that, something that went right to the point. If I get this card in a reading what does it really mean? What should I look at or consider in my life? Neither of us really use the tarot for predicting the future, so it isn't really oriented that way.

What are the influences used in creating the deck?

Lauren – All the images have a strong foundation in the work of Pixie Smith with a touch of Lady Frieda Harris (from the Thoth deck). But I wanted to give them a modern sensibility, more diverse, multi-ethnic, authentic people of different ages, body types and all, more indicative of the real people that enrich our real lives! When I first considered doing this art project, I looked at what tarot art was already out there and with a few exceptions I felt that most of it was pretty cheesy - that is to say, not representative of what we really see reflected in our own lives. It felt like a sacred calling to re-envision the powerful archetypes in a new way to make them alive again and useful for a new generation of tarot folks!

Jessica – I was influenced by the more feminist decks, Daughters of the Moon and Motherpeace, and Lauren by the traditional ones (Crowley, Waite). We also both loved the Light and Shadow Tarot, although we really didn't see that one until well into our project. One reviewer said we were deeply influenced by it, but that's not true, we co-evolved with it independently. Rachel Pollack was our biggest influence with info, we both also loved what Juliet Sharman-Burke had to say (although we didn't really relate to her Mythic Tarot). We both came to the conclusion that Pixie Smith was one of the most brilliant and underappreciated artists that ever lived. Most of the time we felt her scenarios could hardly be improved upon, as you can see by how many of them Lauren used as her inspiration. Mary Greer's work was also influential, and she was supportive of the project. Laurens early tarot studies with Kate Nordstrom gave us lots of ideas. We looked at lots of other sources, but I would say ultimately those are the ones we drew from the most.

Are there any religious influences, based on your own religious backgrounds?

Lauren – I came from a largely non-religious family myself, but even as a kid I always leaned to spiritual matters: I went to churches as a kid and sought out the profound and the ephemeral. It was the singing, the stained glass and the created sense of the sacred that appealed to me, a sense of holiness, of being welcome in a place that appealed to me as a kid. And as I got older I realised how little that had to do with the Christian god. Not to say that it is impossible to have that with the god we all knew growing up, of course many folks around the world do. I just found that I felt more connected to the divine in other ways: music, the forest, art... That is what made me such an enthusiast for religious history and iconography as well as more pagan influences.

Jessica – Well, this is a very interesting question. I have virtually no religion in my background, but have sought for spiritual understanding all my life. I think one of my main beliefs is that god is imminent, residing within every living thing. So ultimately, we each have that divineness within, accessible at any moment. I think that comes through in a lot of the writing, and is pretty empowering for people, at least that is the feedback I get from people who work with the text. I think that is part of the deck's broad appeal, especially combined with the multicultural images.

With all the thinking and studying that went into this deck, combined with the elaborate art method that Lauren used (each card is a hand-coloured linoleum block print), how long did it take you to finish the whole deck?

Jessica – Oh my gosh, hundreds and hundreds and thousands of hours. I can't even begin to count. We could never have done it without the incredible support of our partners, who allowed us to work all those unpaid hours. Lauren spent seven years on the art. Also, I wrote most of the text when my son was an infant, so I would get up at four or stay up until two to get it done. It was a pretty monumental effort on both our parts. A true labour of love, as they say.

A lot of people don't like the Sun card. Can you tell us more about it?

Lauren – Well actually it is a portrait of Emrys (Jessica's son) and at the time it looked quite a lot like him... It is a pity that folks don't know that. He was born while we were working on the project and his innocence so perfectly summed up for me the meanings of optimism and hope and benediction that this card brought up... We actually had someone tell us it looked like the "face of a lying politician". Ah well, we try not to let it bother us that it is so misunderstood - with 78 images it is inevitable that there will be a few that everybody doesn't love! It's just the odds!

Lauren – Speaking of misunderstood cards: someone once told us that they hated the card that looked like Laura Bush (that's the Seer of Cups) which actually is the card that represents Pamela Colman Smith, our hero! At the time I was like: who is Laura Bush?? If she sat in my lap I would not know what she looks like (I don't watch much tv and am no fan of the current egomaniacs that run the US). Again, all you can do is say, oh well, people see what they want to, they are after all cards for divination and act as a mirror for ourselves...

About the Ten of Pentacles: why does the man in the picture have no pants on?

Lauren – I have been waiting all these years for someone to ask that, you win the prize! It is to imply that the man in the Ten of Pentacles is at a state of luxury and liberty in a life of richness, emotional fulfillment and leisure; he doesn't have to wear pants! And he can wear earrings too if he wants to!
I was actually surprised that Llewellyn didn't ask us to put pants on him! They had an entirely hands-off attitude.

What about the "mouse in the bubble" that appears in both the Strength and Four of Cups card?

Lauren – He is the little voice within, sort of to the querent what Jiminy Cricket was to Pinocchio: a conscience embodied outside yourself reminding you to see the obvious...

How did you come up with the alternative names for the court cards: Seer, Seeker, Sibyl, Sage?

Jessica – We wanted something that embodied the spirit of the four groups of people cards, but that was non-hierarchical. None of them is supposed to be "better", they are just different stages in the life of the element embodied by the personality.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? Any upcoming decks maybe?

Jessica – Not right now, but we are certainly open to doing more in the future!

One final note: Lauren sells original prints of the cards, as well as high quality laser copies. I have three of them hanging over my computer and they inspire me every day. A great gift for tarot fans! People who are interested can visit our website or contact Lauren directly.

© Percy Balemans

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