One night, eleven years ago, I was in a room in a hotel in Chicago with 8-10 other people, all attending the third (and last) congress
under the auspices of ‘The International Tarot Society’. One of those present, a young, healthy looking blond woman, handed a
stack of tarot cards to me, asking me to select a card to take home to Denmark. I looked through the stack a
couple of times and decided on the ‘Two of Cups’. The woman was Ellen Lorenzi-Prince and the deck was a prototype of her forthcoming
Tarot of the Crone'.
She was one of the artists, who at that time wanted to self-publish her own deck to make it available. Shortly afterwards, the deck actually was
for sale in a hand-crafted limited edition of 100 decks. The surface of the cards was an agreeable matte and the images
to the edges. The deck became much in demand and another print-run came into being in 2007, with smaller cards and titles and a
narrow white border had been added.
Right now I am in my studio in Roskilde, Denmark, with Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s latest and just published tarot deck ‘Dark Goddess Tarot’ in front of me. It comes in a shiny, sturdy two-part box. The all-over colour of the box is dark grey, a colour emphasizing the already strong colours of the tarot major arcana XIII ‘Santa Muerte’ - the Mexican Goddess of Death - printed on the lid. It is good to see that much effort has been made to create a worthy box for the many Goddesses. Even though, by and by, we have gotten rid of the sloppy plastic containers and horrible so-called ‘presentation boxes’, which so many tarot decks came in for a long time; there are still too many publishers, who do not put much care into the boxes, but just go for a cheap solution.
Lifting the lid, a little booklet of 28 pages comes up first, followed by a title card. The booklet gives a 3-4 line, short description of each Goddess and a few keywords. The first card that shows up in the 78 card series of goddesses is ‘The Fool’, here represented by ‘She-la-na-gig’. The borders around the images are the same grey colour as the box, the card number/title is printed in negative type within the grey border on the top of the card. At the bottom edge is the name of the Goddess. The titles of some cards have been changed and the suits are called Fire, Water, Air and Earth. The court cards are Amazon, Siren, Witch and Hag. .... Otherwise the tarot structure is followed.
I’ve pondered a bit over the name of the ‘Dark Goddess’. The 78 figures are not all goddesses, (what is a goddess?), but are rather mythological characters from various pantheons, from legends or from history. An example being the Shela-na-gig, who is modeled after the stone figures placed over the Medieval church doors in Ireland and some parts of Britain, with the purpose to scare away evil forces (some say that their purpose was to invite men into the church, but that’s another story). Also, what does ‘dark’ actually mean in this context? It is not the skin colour; as so many dark skinned goddesses would be hard to find; but actually there are all possible skin colours depicted throughout the deck. Is it ‘dark’ in the sense of ‘sinister’? Evidently, some of the goddesses are sinister, but hopefully only a minority (and, again, what does ‘sinister’ actually mean? Some US-reviewers even call Elisabetta Cassari’s excellent tarot decks ‘sinister’!) Are the Goddesses ‘dark’ in the sense, that they represent the dark = negative forces working in all human beings? No, there are really many goddesses included in the deck, whom it is difficult to attach anything negative to. Then, are they ‘dark’ in the sense that they are working in the ‘hidden’ = in our personal unconscious world, where they from time to time manifest in a dream, or even as archetypes in the Jungian defined ‘collective unconscious’, where we have to make some effort to integrate them in our personal conscious world? That could be.
What is the definition of a Goddess? In the opinion of a rabid feminist from the 1980’s, Barbara Walker, who also made a tarot deck, the Universe was created by one Almighty Female God, a cosmic parent figure ruling over everything. According to Walker, male writers did, in their attempts to cling to their own superiority, over centuries break this almighty female god figure down into innumerable goddesses, with their characteristics and names intact, depending on which culture and pantheon they appeared in. If we shall take Walker serious, we have here a compilation of aspects of the One and Only Almighty Female God. Is this then a feministic tarot deck? Obviously, it will appeal more to a female than to a male audience, but considering that 90% of the tarot concept during the last 30 years has been taken over by women, that makes sense and, anyway, it is not feministic in the sense of the feministic tarotist groups, who in the 1980’s created one circular deck after the other. One of them even denied to sell me a deck for my collection, because they did not want to sell to men (that era and story still remains to be told...)
As a male, and not as a tarot reader, (which I am not), I asked myself when I turned over all these colourful goddesses: ‘Did I ever have a personal relation to any of these women’? As much as it is possible to have a personal relationship to a Goddess, of course. Doesn’t that question sound reasonable? In contrast to the usual reply, the answer is ‘yes’. I selected immediately eight of the Goddess cards and looked in vain for a few more.
Back to the Shelanagig. In the period of 1975-80 I made a number of oil paintings. One series of maybe 15 or 16 Shelanagig-paintings, based upon a recently accepted dissertation for a degree of philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. The title page carried this sentence by Irish James Joyce from Ulysses: : ‘without a stitch on her, exposing her person, open to all comers, fair field and no favour’. Ten of these paintings hung in two rows over my bed for some years, discussed by some, neglected by a few and with indignation for others. There were other Goddesses, who manifested in my paintings at that time: a series of huge overfed Megalitic Maltesian Goddesses with tiny hands and feet, excavated from subterranean temples. Another series of paintings were based upon the Mesopotamian ‘Eye-Goddesses’ figures, flat and a few inches tall, found in hundreds during excavations. Unfortunately I looked in vain for the latter two among the Dark Goddesses, even if the Eye Goddesses most likely have some connection to Isthar.
The ‘Lady of the Lake’ was an important issue during my research in King Arthur country; and I also followed the Black Madonna’s route through France and ending by meeting her statue in the church in ‘Santa Maria de la Mer’ near ancient Mediterranean Templar harbour of disembarcation, Aigue de Morte. Goddesses from the Norse mythology relate to my book on runes and Nu(i)t to the world of magicians and in particular to Aleister Crowley. I have to admit, they are all over, these Goddesses; we can’t escape them. I looked in vain for my alter ego and steady anima figure, Astarte, but realized that the Greeks actually call her Aphrodite. Which Goddess is it working right now, dragging and tempting me into writing all this? Loreley, the two of cups, most likely... of course.
Could a similar deck named ‘Dark Gods’ be made? Probably not without including dictators, warlords, corrupt politicians, sport heroes, economic scoundrels... so until further notice, you have to let the Goddesses kick you; they are inside you.. all the time. But beware of Kali, for she is there too!
‘Dark Goddess Tarot’ is a self published deck, made of only 1000 copies and available for a very reasonable price. Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s line art illustrations and clear colours fit well with the theme. I like those grey borders instead of the white ones you find in most commercial tarot products and the box is gorgeous. This is an example that not all self-publishing enterprises need to end up as a disaster. That Ellen L-P decided to let Arnell Ando take care of practicalities around the production, couldn’t have been a better choice. The only negative remark I have is that I could have used more text material with descriptions of the endless number of goddesses. Personally, I have a large reference library to go to. Otherwise there is the Internet, but a book at hand is a lot better than the endless sites out there.*
K.Frank Jensen © 2013 September
*Note - Ellen Lorenzi-Prince is working on a full length book available Spring, 2014.
This review can also be found on Mr. Jensen's site in an interesting compilation article entitled, The Esoteric Tarot Scene at the Beginning of the 21st Century.
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