Casey Zabala on creating Wanderer's Tarot
"Engaging with our creative nature is like building a home for one's soul self"
You could say it all started with the Five of Feathers, a card from Casey Zabala’s Wanderer’s Tarot deck. I pulled this card on May 13, 2021. I had been feeling depleted, as so many of us were a year into the pandemic. Feeling like I had outgrown my career and other pieces of my life — like I had outgrown myself. Professionally, I was contemplating leaving my job. Personally, I was craving connection, depth.
Surprisingly, despite inner turmoil and all of the world chaos, there were moments when I felt more creative than ever. I was evolving my spiritual practice and pulling tarot spreads daily. I was having wild dreams, wild ideas. I was writing poetry, something I hadn’t done since high school.
When I pulled the Five of Feathers, I thought about prehistoric cave paintings, of those very first artists. I had recently experienced a powerful dream about an open palm, and it seemed like hands were always on my mind. I thought about open palms, about how they’re associated with truth and honesty. How they can represent both offering and receiving. When I think of writing, I think of my hands — holding a pen, hovering over a keyboard, or (more realistically, these days), tapping out words one letter at a time on my phone.
Taschen’s Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images features a section on hands:
“As primary instruments of the creative, the hands of the homo faber imitate the mythic shaping of matter into discriminated being by deities who chisel, mold, sculpt, weave, and forge creation. Hands signify the sovereign, world-creating reach of consciousness; they embody effectiveness, industry, adaptation, invention, self-expression, and the possession of a will for creative and destructive ends. Hands are lightning rods for psychic energy.”
Back to the Five of Feathers. In her accompanying guidebook to Wanderer’s Tarot, Casey Zabala explains that feathers correspond to the traditional tarot suit of wands, and “remind us to reawaken and stoke our internal flame.” Reflecting on the Five of Feathers, Casey writes: “Know that you were given all the tools; it’s all about knowing how to put them to use.”
When I first saw this card, I thought the feathers looked like quills. It felt like a sign to share myself — my words, my thoughts — even if everything felt unfinished, a work in progress. So I wrote a poem. It became the first poem I shared publicly. Over the years, I posted so many details of my life online, but nothing that felt especially meaningful or vulnerable. The poem represented my current state of metamorphosis. It was uncomfortable to share something that felt so intimate in such a public setting, but it also felt good. Real. So I kept doing it.
One thing led to another. I decided to get a tattoo of that dream I had and asked Xaviera Lopez if she would design it for me. I had become mildly obsessed with her illustrations for Jessica Dore’s book Tarot for Change and decided to reach out to her on Instagram. We experienced a magical collaborative process (and I love that her artwork now lives on my body).
Months later, the idea for The Rebis struck: a publication devoted to tarot and creative expression. I had a strong intuition that I should ask Xaviera if she’d partner with me on the project. Gratefully, she agreed. A year and a half after pulling the Five of Feathers, The Rebis: Wheel of Fortune is available for preorder. (Copies will ship out in the next few weeks!)
Wanderer’s Tarot will forever be intertwined with this publication’s creation story — an initial catalyst, the first flame. The nudge from the universe that I needed to put myself out there. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Casey Zabala agreed to an interview for The Rebis.
Here, Casey opens up about her deck creation process, burnout recovery, founding the Modern Witches community, and making art with no agenda. It’s an honor to share her work with you, and I highly recommend both her Wanderer’s Tarot and Wyrd Sisters decks.
Thank you for reading! Until next time,
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An interview with Wanderer’s Tarot deck creator and Modern Witches founder Casey Zabala
When were you first introduced to tarot?
I was given a deck of cards for my thirteenth birthday by a friend of my mother’s. I was a shy and sensitive child, and the readings we did that night spoke to me so profoundly — I was shocked and simultaneously hooked. The experience of a deck of cards reflecting my soul so clearly back to me initiated a relationship with spirit which I have been developing ever since.
Let’s talk about tarot and creativity — how do you think about the two being in relationship with each other?
Tarot is a creative conception, co-created by humans, spirits, and our desire to make meaning out of the mysterious. The tarot of the 14th Century is vastly different from the decks we use today, yet much of the basic structure remains: a book of symbols and spirits that guide our ontological processes.
Unlike other divination systems, tarot was designed by humans with human-defined archetypes and challenges. Tarot’s history is full of revision and cultural syncretism, and it continues to be iterated on, challenged, and updated. The tarot’s creative process can teach us about flexibility, innovation, and structure.
Because Tarot is innately creative, it speaks fluidly to our creative potential. For creatives of all types, and for those hoping to tap into their innate creativity, tarot helps us flex the muscles in our being that generate novel connections and spark new ideas, helping us to see into new realities and birth facets of our being.
Can you share what it felt like to work on the Wanderer’s Tarot deck? What was your creative process like?
When I was working on the Wanderer’s Tarot, I had no intention of publishing the work. Rather, I was challenging myself to deepen my relationship with the tarot archetypes and the underlying occult philosophy of the tarot itself.
As I was creating each card, I would research the archetypes, symbols, numerology, and elemental associations. That research created an energetic vessel or field that incubated my creativity. Every card was a channeled transmission, through my own guides, but from the tarot archetypes themselves. Every card was drawn in one sitting, without revision (except two!), all within a ritual container.
It wasn't until two years after creating Wanderer’s Tarot (and having a few prototypes printed) that I felt ready to share the deck more widely. Those two years spent with the deck allowed me to forge a relationship with it, to better understand what I had created, and to allow others to experience the energy too. During that time, I gave readings and shared the deck with friends. Ultimately it was the lovely encouragement from a few special witches in my life that empowered my decision to publish Wanderer’s Tarot.
I’ve heard you refer to Wanderer’s Tarot as a “feminist deck” — can you expand on what that means to you?
At the time that I was creating Wanderer’s Tarot, I was deeply inspired by the work of Silvia Federici, and The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Moor. I was reading accounts of femme history that added so much texture and validation to my intuitions around femme power ways, and the gross psychic power imbalance we all are subject to, living under the patriarchy.
Part of my inspiration and motivation for creating Wanderer’s Tarot was to create a deck that evoked femme, or yin, wisdom. The stark black background of Wanderer’s Tarot is an homage to the void, to the source matter which we all spring from. I believe that feminism is about rebalancing power towards shared connection and equality. In order to rebalance power at this juncture in our evolution, a deep reverence for femme intelligence is required. My hope is that Wanderer’s Tarot contributes in some small way to that work.
(Editor’s note: Here’s a really good podcast interview with Casey, where she talks more about the Wanderer’s Tarot being a feminist deck.)
Your illustration style on the Wyrd Sisters Oracle deck is very different than the Wanderer’s Tarot — what inspired the artwork for Wyrd Sisters?
I began working with the Wyrd Sisters (also known as the Fates, or the Spinners) as part of my spiritual practice in 2019. They became an important energetic force in my work, and I received the idea in meditation to create an oracle deck to pay tribute to their psychic powers.
My artwork is always shifting, which I think is due to the nature of my work being spirit guided. One aspect of the deck that was deeply personal for me to share is my spirit language, which is the calligraphic script that adorns many of the cards in the Wyrd Sisters. I began writing in my spirit language more than 15 years ago, as part of my automatic writing practice. It insisted on being included in this deck project. So I listened!
Let’s talk about Modern Witches, the community you founded. Part of your mission statement is to cultivate a “radical, liberatory, diverse, and inclusive magical community of beings who believe in healing futures and in the crucial role witches play in healthy societies.” How did starting this community impact your creative practice?
Founding Modern Witches was a very intuitive and spirit-driven project. Think “The Fool” and “The High Priestess” having tea together and deciding to start a summer camp. I am continuously amazed at the response the organization has received and how generative Modern Witches has been for so many folks, including myself.
The day-to-day of running a business is very taxing, particularly while navigating a global pandemic. All business owners these days are suffering from pivot fatigue and burnout, and I stand among them! Modern Witches is a deeply intentional project that takes so much energy to hold and nurture.
In order to keep transforming with the world around us, Modern Witches is currently going into hibernation mode, which will allow me to focus more on my client work, writing, and creating. I’m deeply grateful for this space, and for all the grace I’ve received from the community thus far.
I’m so sorry you have been navigating burnout. It resonates deeply, I’ve been on a burnout recovery journey myself. If you’re willing to share, curious to hear about your experience and how it’s impacted you?
I’m sorry you’re also on the burnout recovery journey! As you know there are many stages of the burnout experience… and I find myself at the stage where I am perhaps rediscovering and also remembering who I am.
These days, I feel that I am able to rest without guilt, maintain a healthy routine, and give myself the spaciousness I have been craving. I’ve slowed down the tempo of my time dramatically, and am listening to what my body, mind, and spirit would like to do, rather than filling my time with what I “should” be doing.
I’m currently making art with no agenda, which has been filling my cups with the sweetness I had been missing.
Final question. Sounds like you are constantly creating: digital content, artwork, tarot readings. What do you do when you’re experiencing a creative rut?
Oh yes, creative stuckness is a chronic symptom of being an artist and an intuitive person! When I am trudging through a creative practice and struggling to find flow, I take it as a sign to shift my energy.
Do I need rest? Do I need to read a poem? Do I need to spend time in nature? Clear my altar space? It could be anything! Creative stuckness can feel treacherous, but what if we leaned into the stuckness and noticed what was tripping us up?
Being a creative person in late-stage capitalism is incredibly tough. The message is to constantly be creating, which is neither organic nor sustainable. Allowing moments of creative stuckness to lead to restorative and compassionate actions has been transformative for me — and a very difficult process to lean into through all the noise!
Editor’s note: Follow Casey on Instagram and book a reading if you’d like to work with her 1:1. You can also join the Modern Witches community for virtual gatherings and ongoing spiritual education, and subscribe to the Modern Witches podcast.