Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince

Review by Eric K. Lerner

“Is there a goddess out there who can answer my prayer?” underpins Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince and published by Arnell's Art. The question is asked through images of dark goddesses portrayed in a 78-card tarot. The accompanying instruction book describes a dark goddess as one who “may be beautiful or horrible, loving or wicked. What they share are powers that are disturbing, or considered disturbing in female hands…” They are depicted in the place of actors and figures that populate a traditional tarot. It is a well thought out and provocative deck.

One of the first things that came to mind when studying Lorenzi-Prince’s work is that it underscores that most of the innovations in tarot in the English speaking world have come about through the visions of women artists. Certainly the two most influential models for modern tarots were the handiworks of Pamela Colman-Smith and Frieda Harris. * Throughout the Twentieth Century there were numerous aesthetic innovators in tarot by female artists and writers. For instance, Arnell Ando, the creative force behind Arnell's Art, popularized the concept of using personal narrative via Jungian analysis using collage art and eventually Photoshop art, mediums that at the time did not enjoy serious attention among art world intelligentsia. Female artists favored Ando’s techniques at the time she first employed them. They have through current times had mediums they employed considered craft and not fine art. Now collage, personal narrative and self analysis are well-established parts in the lexicon of tarot (look at any group collaborative deck and also note the preponderance of female artists).

There have been many examples of tarots developed along female-centered viewpoints (like Motherpeace, Daughters of the Moon, and Lorenzi-Prince’s Tarot of the Crone to name but a few.) One challenge faced in creating such a deck is how to reflect a balance between positive and negative forces when dispensing with a male female gender dynamic. (Albeit, many early tarots did not feature significant numbers of female actors.) The artist takes a risk that her tarot will become so focused on one particular type of energy that it denies a querant access to a full range of life possibilities and answers when using the deck for a reading. Lorenzi-Prince conquers the task by introducing the good mother-wicked mother duality implicit in many traditional forms of goddess worship. She emphasizes the multivalent qualities of goddesses. She also assigns Amazon, Siren, Witch and Hag to the court roles of the minor arcana. This realizes diversity in the energetic flow of the cards, narrative and divinatory meanings. She has created a reading deck and not just a portfolio of goddess images!

It should be noted that she renames a few of the major arcana, such as “Sovereignty” for “Emperor” and “Destruction” for Tower, etc, and the suits are described elementally as Fire, Air, Water and Earth rather than Wands, Swords, Cups and Pentacles/Disks. That approach to minor arcana implies that the deck might be best read elementally rather than according to reversals. No statement about this is made in the instruction book and perhaps Lorenzi-Prince wishes to leave that decision to the reader. Indeed the instruction book does not preach set interpretations but offers elegant proverbs, such as “The deeper you go, the harder your heart beats” for Two of Water – Lorelei, for each card. The deck corresponds largely with Golden Dawn derived divinatory meanings popular among most experienced readers. Her assignations of goddesses to particular cards make sense. There were only a few instances when I found myself questioning her selections, and that may well reflect my own lack of knowledge about those goddesses. Also, it should be pointed out that Lorenzi-Prince is a thoughtful and deliberate artist. Most readers have subjective interpretations attached to certain cards often developed through years of actually doing readings. That necessarily finds valid realization in how she depicts that card. There is consistency in her exploration of goddesses in Dark Goddess Tarot along pre-established tarot methodology. She makes it clear that we are dealing with the fruits of a dedicated labor, and her unique interpretations merit consideration.

The goddesses in Dark Goddess Tarot come from a variety of cultures, historical epochs and religions. (Women artists seem more inclined than men to adopt multiculturalism. This may reflect socio-economic disparities still plagued by women in virtually all nations, and therefore women may better be able to see themselves as joined to the world as a whole rather than specific national identity). Lorenzi-Prince has done her research to ensure that each goddess is portrayed along the lines of traditional depictions and mythological elements. What helps the deck work as a whole is that she consistently employs a direct clean illustration style to achieve consistency between the images. This does not come at the expense of artistic impact or dexterity. For instance, her Amazon of Water – Scylla features a very deft transparency effect in the merging of Scylla’s fish-like lower extremities and the water. The artwork is deceptively simple in that it does not shout, “look at all the fancy effects I can do.” The integration of artistic skill, subtlety and meaning make the cards quite pleasurable to behold and can enable them to serve as meditative foci because they become multi-layered upon contemplation.

Also, this deck is handsomely presented. The packaging by Arnell's Art exceeds that of most contemporary American tarot publishers. The box has real weight to it, and the graphics in the packaging, instruction book and cards themselves are well executed. This imparts on Dark Goddess Tarot a gravity that it merits. Ellen Lorenzi-Prince has created a beautiful, substantive deck that is a worthy addition to any tarot or art collection.

Footnote *
I’m always annoyed that their decks – Rider-Waite and Thoth – are typically assigned to the male authors who wrote the accompanying books. But this is not a phenomena limited to the paradigm of anti-female bias. The Motherpeace Tarot is usually described as the work of author Vicki Nobel when Karen Vogel and Lilly Hillwomyn created the artwork. Even contemporary Italians, who’ve recently excelled in the production of artistic tarots, generally bill the author of an instruction book over the artist. This disregards that tarot primarily communicates visually – most readers I know don’t necessarily read the instruction book – and that there are many fine tarot images that merit serious attention as fine art.

Review by Eric K. Lerner, artist, writer &
creator of RADIANT SPLEEN Tarot © 2013

Dark Goddess Tarot is copyright protected. Card images may be used on blogs/websites as 'Card of the Day' endeavors or for review purposes but must contain the website along with Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince. The images are not to form part of written teaching materials or otherwise be used without prior consent from the artist.  

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