Interview with Kris Waldherr
Conducted by Diane Wilkes
The aestheically exquisite Goddess Tarot is one of the most popular "new" tarot decks (it was released in 1998). Kris Waldherr is the artist of the deck and author of several books, including a workbook and a companion book for the Goddess Tarot. US Games recently released a small version of the Goddess Tarot, and Waldherr is at present working on a new deck and book set, The Lover's Path Tarot. She was kind enough to answer some questions pertaining to her tarot books and artwork with Tarot Passages' readers.
Diane: Your website is called "Art and Words"
because they are the two things you value most. I know you attended the School
of Visual Arts (SVA) in NYC, which speaks to your passion and gift for art.
Which passion came first--art or words?
Kris: Both have been intertwined for as long as I can remember. As a child, I read voraciously as soon as I could make out words on a page. I was fond of everything I could get out from our local library, especially fairy tales and mythology, along with long, thick novels like Jane Eyre or Little Women. I also drew for as long as I can recall, and loved elaborately illustrated books. I still own the first one given to me by a cousin when I was four, a volume of King Arthur illustrated by Gustaf Tengren.
In terms of focus, it was a toss up which way I would go. But when I reached high school age, I discovered a three year intensive program which prepared teenagers to be professional artists -- similar to NYC's Art and Design High School. Since there were no similar programs for writers, I guess you could say that fate intervened. From there, I received my full scholarship to SVA. But I always took writing and poetry courses while working on my BFA, since I knew I wanted to create illustrated books.
Diane: You wrote the Book of Goddesses for
children, and many of your illustrations later became images for the Goddess
Tarot. How and when did you first get involved in tarot? When and how did you
decide to do the Goddess Tarot?
Kris: Actually, The Book of Goddesses was created as a crossover book for adults and children; while I was careful to keep the text accessible for kids, I really wanted it to be appealing for their moms as well. One of my main goals when I illustrate a book is to try to get the text and illustrations to work on different levels for different people. I always compare a good illustrated book to a banquet: you may not eat everything available at one sitting, but you can go back at a later date for different things to feed your appetite.
I've been fascinated by tarot ever since I saw my first deck at age five -- the same cousin who had given me the King Arthur had one lying around her room. Though I didn't understand how the cards were used, there was something powerful and mysterious about the images. Later, when I was at SVA, I began working with tarot, mainly reading for myself and close friends. I first used the Aquarian deck, which was designed by one of my professors, David Palladini; I liked the art nouveau design, though I found the art a bit intense and uneven. After I graduated, I worked with the Predictive and Rider Waite. Though it may sound a bit strange, I liked how the Predictive reduced tarot to what I felt was the most essential visual elements; I felt it gave me leave to work with the symbolism on a more conceptual level. While I also was attracted to the calm serenity of the art, I quickly felt its limitations. I continued working with the Rider Waite, but I wasn't fully satisfied by it, or other decks that I saw.
It was around this time that I began to fantasize about creating my own deck -- one which would contain the elements that I wanted in a tarot deck: beauty, feminine strength, creative empowerment. I did make four drawings -- The Moon, The Sun, The Star and The High Priestess -- but became deterred by the amount of work involved. Later, when I created The Book of Goddesses in the mid 1990's, I noticed that each of the goddesses I painted seemed to correspond to a tarot trump. From there, The Goddess Tarot came into being in a very organic way.
Diane: The Minors in that deck are very RWS-influenced, and each suit shows the process of one specific goddess in each adapted card. Why did you choose to create the pips in this way?
Kris: I really wanted the Goddess Tarot to be accessible out of the box to people who had previously worked with the Rider Waite. However, at the same time, I wanted the minors to illustrate the different lessons -- or "paths" -- represented by the goddesses (Venus, Lakshmi, Isis and Freyja) affiliated with each suit. So I looked upon this as an opportunity to concretely communicate the energy of these goddesses, by incorporating familiar tarot symbolism with mythology.
Diane: Later, you wrote two books on the Goddess Tarot, a companion book and a workbook...
Kris: The companion book was written as I developed the The Goddess Tarot, though it was published after the deck. (You could say it's an example of how "art and words" are interconnected as I work.) Later, after The Goddess Tarot was published, I began receiving e-mails and letters from users who had questions, or wanted to take or give workshops featuring The Goddess Tarot. So The Goddess Tarot Workbook was written in response to this. It's intended as a private "workshop", which I hope encourages women to personalize the deck for themselves, and deepen their connection with the symbolism on a more intuitive level. It can also be used as a guide for women wanting to work through the deck in a workshop setting.
Diane: Now you have a smaller version of the
Goddess Tarot being released. What was the motivation behind that decision?
Kris: The decision to publish the Pocket Goddess Tarot was made by US Games, the publisher of the Goddess Tarot. Though I had nothing to do with it, I'm delighted -- I just received my first copies and am quite pleased with them. I suspect US Games might have been responding to the market: the card size for the Goddess Tarot is a little large for some people's hands. Plus I know that many women have told me that they like having a smaller deck to travel with.
Diane: You are presently working on a new deck plus a novel that connects the cards. Please tell us all about it...
Kris: I think the main
thing that's happened since The Goddess Tarot is that I got married. Even though
I was involved with my husband for seven years beforehand, I was amazed by how
marriage changed me. Accordingly, I began to feel the need to create a deck
which would reflect my life experiences. So my new tarot deck is about love
relationships, with others as well as within yourself -- and how these
relationships can be a path of wisdom. Entitled The Lover's Path Tarot, it
utilizes love stories (some taken from history, others from mythology) similar
to the way that The Goddess Tarot utilizes goddess stories.
As I'm sure everyone has experienced, love relationships can be incredibly rewarding as well as incredibly challenging. They really bring you face to face with whatever is going on within yourself, as projected or reflected by your partner. Even if you're not in a relationship, examining the ways we yearn to connect with another, what we do or don't desire in a partner, can illuminate many aspects of our psyche, if we work with them consciously. I sincerely hope that the Lover's Path Tarot can be used as a tool in this way.
Each Major Arcana trump is affiliated with a pair of archetypal lovers, ranging from Cupid and Psyche to Dante and Beatrice, and many others. The four minor suits are affiliated with the story of one couple, which serves to illustrate the lesson imparted by the suit. The images in this deck aren't quite as close to the Rider Waite as they were for The Goddess Tarot, but they are inspired by them. (Again, I'd like people familiar with the Rider Waite as well as The Goddess Tarot to be able to work with my new deck easily.) So I'd have to say that The Lover's Path Tarot is both traditional, yet not.
The art for the Lover's Path Tarot is inspired by the art, books, and maps of the Italian Renaissance -- in particular, the city of Venice, where I spent some time on vacation and doing research. I did want The Lover's Path Tarot to look more lush, richer than The Goddess Tarot, so I'm working in oil paints this time; the Goddess Tarot was created in watercolor and pencil.
The concept of The Lover's Path Tarot was inspired by The Lover's Path, an illustrated novel I've been developing in various forms since 1990. This novel started out as a collection of retellings of classic love stories, with a narrator who gradually took over with her own story, set in fifteenth century demimonde Venice. It also uses art and retellings of classic love stories as a framework. But from there the novel is quite different (though there is a scene where my narrator has an eventful tarot reading).
Diane: This is so exciting! I love when literature and tarot, my two great loves, coalesce. Could you talk about some of the specific cards?
Kris: Love (traditional card: The Lovers)...Isis and Osiris are the featured lovers upon this card, shown in a moment of overwhelming emotion. The hieroglyphs upon the painting's background are taken from an ancient Egyptian love poem. The use of gold in this painting is inspired by the paintings of Gustav Klimt.
Awakening (traditional card: The Sun) This image shows the moment when Psyche is awakened and reunited with her beloved Cupid, after all of her trials and tribulations. In the distant background lies the city of Venice --perhaps not historically accurate, but accurate to the Renaissance style of the deck. It serves as a reminder of civilization and its confining social structures which the lovers have successfully cast off.
Obsession (traditional card: The Devil)...The story of Paolo and Francesca is taken from Dante's Inferno. Here the lovers are trapped within a swirling prison of winds, unable to free themselves. The composition for this painting is a homage to Dante Rossetti's watercolor of the same name, which I've always loved, especially in the treatment of Francesca's hair.
Ten of Cups -- The suit of cups in The Lover's Path is affiliated with the story of Tristan and Isolde. Here, two trees -- symbolizing Tristan and Isolde --intertwine and bloom with springtime. Beneath the tree is a couple with a new baby, who have been inspired to love by the example of Tristan and Isolde. The waters before them symbolize the healthy emotional life now offered them.
Princess of Coins...My princess of coins is the princess Danae, who was seduced by the god Zeus after he appeared to her within a cloud of gold coins. Here, Danae is looking within herself, satisfied with all the world offers her. She is also pregnant -- fecund with possibilities, if you will.
Diane: When do you expect the new
deck/novel to be available to the public? Is US Games publishing the novel, or
merely the deck and a companion book?
Kris: The Lover's Path Tarot will be published in mid-2004. US Games is publishing the deck and book. I'm not sure who'll be publishing the novel yet, though I know there's been some interest -- I should call my literary agent and see what's going on.
Diane: What do you now know about tarot
that you didn't know when you created the Goddess Tarot and how is it informing
your new deck?
Kris: Hmm, that's hard to say, since working with tarot is such an ongoing process -- I've been using tarot for over two decades now, and I'm always discovering something new. I think the main development which has happened since The Goddess Tarot is that I've become more intuitive as a reader. That might have been a result of creating The Goddess Tarot Workbook, but I also think you begin to trust yourself more as you get older. It's also been easier creating a second deck, since you've already been through the process once -- though it's just as much work!
Diane: The Goddess Tarot is a very popular deck. What do you perceive as its strengths and weaknesses?
Kris: First off, I'm very grateful that The Goddess Tarot has been so well received -- I honestly had no idea that it would be so popular when I created it. It's a wonderful feeling for an artist and writer to serve as a conduit for these myths and images, and see them go into the world where they can transform people in positive ways. I guess the main strength of the Goddess Tarot is that (I hope) it encourages creative action, and is nurturing to women. I know that some people have criticized the deck for being too "Pollyanna-ish", but that's how I am as a person -- I'd rather work hard to change a situation for the better than feel like a victim.
Now that I'm working on a new deck, in retrospect I wish I could have created
the art for The Goddess Tarot all at one time. From a creative standpoint, it's
a less disjointed process, as I'm finding with The Lover's Path Tarot.
Diane: Do you have a favorite spread or way of working with the tarot?
Kris: I know it's a bit of a cliche, but I work a lot with the Celtic Cross, though I do use other spreads for specific purposes, and often will pull a card for reflection purposes. The Celtic Cross is the first spread I learned, so I guess it feels like "home" to me.
Diane: What do you love about the tarot?
Kris: In terms of what I love most about the
tarot, I would have to say the potent
richness of the images. They always surprise me with new levels of unfolding, no
matter how long I've worked with them. Since I'm interested in how images and
story can serve and amplify each other, in a way, the tarot is the ultimate
book, with ever-shifting narratives. I also love the healing properties of
tarot, how it can offer a calm mirror to help us transform our lives.
Diane: What do you want the tarot community to know about you?
Kris: That I'm doing what I love to do: creating art and words which (hopefully) will inspire and empower people.
Both decks have websites. You can see the Goddess Tarot here and the Lover's Path Tarot here. The Lover's Path website is currently under development, but includes an online journal tracking the deck's creation, some of the artwork, and a developing online oracle. You can also send gorgeous postcards from the site.
I am sure I am not alone in looking forward to both the Pocket Goddess Tarot for my travels and the Lover's Path Tarot. More lush and richer than the Goddess Tarot? How is that possible? We all look forward to finding out.
Photograph and images from The Lover's Path © 2003 Kris Waldherr Art and
Words. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
Interview and page © 2003 Diane Wilkes