For this week’s Tarot Talk, we chat with Casey Zabala—the brilliant mind behind the beautiful and deeply healing Wanderer’s Tarot—on the moment she first knew that she was a witch, her favorite herbal beauty allies, and why the Strength card is a feminist.
How were you first called to tarot? What was your experience like and how old were you?
I was given my first tarot deck by a dear friend of my mothers for my 13th birthday—it was the summer before I was entering high school and it could not have been a better gift to receive at that time. I remember opening the package and feeling something shift. The first card I drew from it was The Moon. In that moment, the tarot spoke to me in a way that nothing else had—I was a super shy, introverted girl—but it had accessed a part of me that I never shared with anyone else, the part of me that knew I was a witch. There was magick there, and it was also a deeply healing experience. I was finally feeling seen and heard, and it was Spirit who was holding space for me. Tarot became a major ally for me all throughout high school, and of course beyond that. It helped to connect me with my coven, it granted me moments of peace and clarity, and it was a way to find center through the chaos. I became interested in eastern religions, meditation, and shamanism at a young age, so these practices all informed my understanding of tarot and its magical symbolic world.
How did this experience lead you to creating the Wanderer’s Tarot?
My study of the tarot heavily informed my own art practice. Connecting with and learning basic symbolic languages opened up a rich, spiritual, and creative world for me. I dreamed of creating my own deck almost as soon as I had started my own tarot practice. By the time I had worked up enough courage to approach the task of illustrating my own deck—which was about 3 years ago—I was fortunately surrounded by a very supportive and empowering group of people who effectively convinced me to see it through.
How long did it take you to create the deck from start to finish?
Wanderer’s Tarot is my first full tarot deck, although I have been playing with tarot symbolism in my artwork for nearly a decade. To illustrate all 78 cards, it took me 3 months of extremely focused work. Once I had completed the drawings, I took a year to sit with the deck, and figure out how to go about producing and publishing a tarot deck that could be shared with others.
What is the difference between the Midnight Edition and the Solar Edition decks you created?
The Wanderer’s Tarot was originally illustrated with black ink on white paper—but when I reversed the images, the symbols seemed to jump out of the black unknown, giving them an even more magical quality. The Midnight Edition, with white illustrations and a black background, has a seductive quality that I love. The symbols seem to be etched out of a night sky and the matte finish on the cards is slightly unusual—I really love their tactile quality. The Solar Edition, however, is more faithful to my original drawings. This deck, with silver gilded edges and black illustrations on a white background, has more of an illuminating quality. I find that when I work with the Solar deck, I’m more inspired towards seeking solution, and while I’m working with the Midnight deck, I’m drawn to the depths—to the root cause of an issue—and am able to look into the more difficult to understand parts of the psyche.
Your illustrations are amazing! How long have you been illustrating and what inspired you when creating each of these decks?
Thank you! I have been drawing since I can remember. I’ve always known myself as an artist—during my childhood, the Sundays I was forced into a church pew I spent drawing the Virgin Mary on the back of the church program. When I started creating my deck, I wanted to create a deck that was deeply connected with natural magic, so I decided to use the tools from my own magical practice as the suits: the moons as cups; the knives as swords; the feathers as wands; and the crystals or stones as pentacles. I really connect to these objects in both magical and practical ways. The goddess was ever present in my drawing process as well—I knew that I was creating a feminist deck, but it wasn’t until I started to draw the court cards that naked female figures began to emerge from the page—it was a deeply channeled drawing moment.
Let’s talk about the Wanderer’s Tarot Guidebook! What inspired you to do a bigger, separate guidebook?
I was taking the backbone of tarot philosophy and giving it a feminist twist, I felt it was important to create a more in-depth Wanderer’s Tarot Guidebook that would aid both the seasoned reader and the tarot beginner to navigate the Wanderer’s Tarot. I’m also a writer by training, so I felt compelled to share tarot interpretations and the deck’s story in my own voice.
What about the Bandana and Spirit Cloth you created—how can this be used with the deck?
The Bandana and Spirit Cloth idea came to me as I was deciding to call my deck Wanderer’s Tarot. Inspired by The Fool’s rucksack on traditional tarot cards, the bandana was a way to give the Wanderer’s Tarot deck a home—you can bundle your cards inside the bandana—and also to give the seeker a sense of home no matter where they are. The bandana is illustrated with the Compass Spread, which can be found in my guidebook, and is meant to give us a sense of direction and clarity as we walk along our path.
What is your favorite card in the deck?
My favorite card is Strength, which is fairly cliche for a Leo, but I’m OK with that [laughs]! I love the courage the card emanates. It’s a reminder that any obstacle can be overcome and that fear is a challenge. I resonate with the fire inherent in the card, fire that can be handled so delicately that the maiden has her hands tenderly within the lion’s jaws. For me, it’s a card that is deeply feminist, because women are truly fierce and can display their strength however they damn well please. If we maintain connection with our spirit, and to greater spirit, we can accomplish anything. It also helps us identify the moments when we need to dig deep and overcome.
Where did the name Wanderer’s Tarot come from?
I’ve always resonated with the Wanderer archetype. At one point in my life, I was moving every six months fairly consistently. When we wander, whether inwardly or outwardly, we are expressing our desire to know, to be held, and to be understood. I’m touched by the longing expressed by the Wanderer—always moving along their path because they are never satiated. I think any good seeker knows that their quest is never over. The wanderer also reminds me of the Fool, the great catalyst of the tarot. The Fool is minimalist in appearance, but their inner lust for life cannot be beat. My aim was to create a tarot deck for those of us who are constantly growing, learning, seeking—and so the Wanderer’s Tarot came to be.
What kind of healing does tarot provide for you?
Tarot is a deeply healing practice for me, and for those who choose to receiving readings from me. I believe that tarot allows us to tap into messages from our higher self, from spirit, from helpful guides, and from the collective unconscious which might guide us to a deeper understanding of Self, and of our role in the cosmic collective. Personally, tarot has helped me cope with my own depression, allowing me to find meaning and magic through chaotic and lonely moments. Tarot can aid those who feel like their soul has been diminished over time by societal or familial pressures. I’ve found the tarot to be a very powerful tool for affirming that we are in control of our own destiny.
Any advice you could share for anyone out there just learning about tarot?
In the beginning, I think it’s wise to focus on the Major Arcana, because it’s the philosophical structure of the tarot. The concepts held within the 22 Major Keys foreshadow the dealings of the Minor Arcana. I would say, study and read with the Major Arcana for a while before introducing the 4 suits. As a self-taught tarot reader, I wholly believe in the power of research. Read as many books as you can find, follow your favorite tarot reader’s blogs, and listen to all the tarot podcasts that you can digest. I’m a total book nerd, and believe me, there is much fun to be had in the occult section of used bookstores. Engaging in a basic study of symbolism is a great help as well.
What is your beauty and self-care ritual like? Any favorite metaphysical beauty brands you love?
I’m all about the natural beauty products and herbal allies! I always take Sister Spinster’s Third Eye tincture on days when I am offering readings—it’s totally opening and nourishing at the same time. I love pretty much anything and everything by Fat and the Moon—their Lapis Eye Coal is incredibly dreamy, as is their Artemis at Dawn solid perfume. Additionally, Scarlet Sage’s Power Facial Serum has revolutionized my skin! My post-reading ritual often includes a cleansing bath with sea salt and essential oils to rebalance my energetic shields.
Besides tarot, what are some other spiritual practices you love?
I feel deeply connected to the world of crystals, and I use them daily to create energetic boundaries within my home and around my body when I’m out in the world. I’m lucky to have a home and private reading room at Crystal Way in San Francisco, with some of the most loving crystal whisperers in the city. I also work with my herbal allies to keep me feeling healthy, grounded, and sometimes stimulated. I grow yarrow, lavender, rose geranium, rosemary, and calendula in my backyard. My magical journey has included studying alchemy, astrology, herbalism, and generally how to be a good witch. I’m one of the most open witches in my lineage that I have uncovered to this date, and I find that the more skills and wisdom I learn, the more I feel at home in this current incarnation. Reclaiming my identity as a witch has uncovered a world rich in mythology, history, esotericism, and magic. I love knowing that there is so much to learn you can never run out of wisdom to turn to.
Any future projects you currently have in the works that we can look forward to?
Candle magic was one of the first forms of spell work that I fell in love with as a teenage witch, so I’m working on a project that is a basic guide to candle magic, as well as an artful one. I’m also currently working on an oracle deck that is in the incubation stages. It’s going to be totally magical and I can’t wait to share it with the world!