Tarot Review: The Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince

As you know, I collect tarot decks, you may also know that I have a sub-collection of goddess decks, so when I heard about the Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince (the same lady behind the Tarot of the Crone) and saw the Moon card, I knew I had to add this one to my collection.

First, a little clarification as to what is meant by the phrase “dark goddess”, by, “dark goddess” Lorenzi-Prince means goddesses and mythical figures who are “beautiful or horrible, loving or wicked. What they share are powers that are disturbing, or considered disturbing when in female hands. These are the powers of suffering and shadow, of sex and sovereignty, of magic and mystery, of death, violence, and transformation”  (p. 4). As you can see, this definition is pretty broad and not all the goddesses in this deck are what most people would think of when they hear the term “dark goddess”, but I suppose there are more than a few “goddess tarot” decks and this is a good way to differentiate from those even if I don’t think the label “dark goddess” applies to every goddess in this deck.

As usual, some more technical details. The deck is in the RWS tradition.  The cards measure 5.5 x 3 inches (just large enough to make shuffling difficult for my small hands) and are glossy. They come in a sturdy box with a 27 page full colour LWB. The cards themselves have a gray border with the card title at the top and the name of the goddess depicted in the image at the bottom. The backs are a blue “fish scale” pattern that is non-reversible. Some of the majors have been renamed: The Emperor is Sovereignty, Temperance is Alchemy, the Devil is Corruption, the Tower is Destruction, and Judgement is Liberation. Strength is VIII and Justice is XI. The suits are Fire (Wands), Earth (Pentacles), Air (Swords), and Water (Cups), and the court cards are Amazon, Siren, Witch, and Hag.

One thing I really like about this deck is how Lorenzi-Prince tried to depict the goddess in the style of her home culture. Ishtar, for instance, wouldn’t look out of place on a Babylonian temple relief, whereas Gaea is depicted in the same sort of style and pose that resembles one I’ve seen on a Greek vase (and yes, some of you will be delighted to hear that Hekate is depicted as a young women, not a crone). While many of the cards are stylistically different, the artwork is still very consistent. It’s also a very colourful deck, but the colours definitely aren’t as bright as, say, a deck like the Mythical Goddess Tarot). They’re a bit more muted.

Perhaps surprising for a deck that includes a wide variety of goddesses. the LWB doesn’t contain a whole lot of information, just where the goddess is from and a short phrase that I’ve taken to be the “message” of the card. (Note that there is apparently a full companion book in the works.) The LWB includes two spreads, a two-card “Substance and Shadow” and a five card “Goddess Be With You” spread as well as some more general information on the deck itself.

It’s actually a shame that this deck didn’t come with a more informative book, because this is definitely one of those decks where you need to know a bit about the goddesses in order to see how each one corresponds to the traditional meaning. For instance, the Banshee is appropriate for the Nine of Air, as the Banshee’s scream, which heralds death, is certainly the cause of much anxiety! But others might definitely throw you for a loop if you aren’t familiar with that goddess. The other problem is that the images tend towards simplistic, just the goddess and maybe some symbols or a simple landscape, pretty as the art is, I don’t really get a sense of movement from this deck (with a couple of exceptions) although, as I said, the art is very pretty. The fact that this deck does require some knowledge of the goddesses in order to really see how they “fit” the RWS meaning probably means it wouldn’t be the best fit for beginners.

However, when used as a non-tarot oracle deck, this deck is fantastic.

To test this deck, I decided to enlist the help of my followers on tumblr. I did a series of readings using the simple “Substance and Shadow” spread. I would choose two cards, make a note of the phrase accompanying each card in the LWB, and interpret using the phrases as a jumping off point for my intuition. I did occasionally refer to the goddess’s story when I was familiar with it, but I was much less reliant on traditional tarot meanings.

The result? Well, I’d originally thought this was just going to be an “art” deck, but it’s been so scarily accurate that it’s now earned a place as a reading deck. All of the responses I received back ranged from “pretty accurate” to “wow that’s so accurate how did you do that?” The individual cards seemed to take on personalities. Lethe, the figure on the Four of Water became a card associated with lethargy and being stuck in the past, whereas Thyone (Semele), the Ten of Fire, became a “check” for desires that were expressed in other cards, not really a “burden” which is the most common interpretation of the Ten of Wands. I usually don’t have that much interest in my “tarocle” type decks, but this one does such a good job as an oracle that I feel the need to keep reading with it. For those of you who are looking to use this as an actual tarot deck, though, remember what I said above. I would say it’s definitely possible, but I’ve had amazing success using it as if it were just a regular oracle deck.

I’ve already touched on some of the issues I have with this deck, but I would have loved to see more goddesses who are actually “dark” as opposed to the very broad definition that the creator uses. What about more goddesses associated with the night, like Nott or Nyx, or, since the deck includes “monstrous” women as well as goddesses, what about Angrboda or Gullveig? What about depicting Hellenic deities in their chthonic aspects?  For instance, depicting Persephone as Queen of the Underworld instead of showing her more popular transition from the underworld to above ground). Certainly, they wouldn’t fit as well into traditional tarot archetypes, but I’m actually a bit disappointed that the deck emphasized more “popular” aspects of certain goddesses.

For those who are concerned about such things, the deck does contain some nudity. A particular offender in this case is the Fool, Sheela Na Gig, who has a disembodied vulva, it definitely wasn’t the first card I was expecting to be staring up at me when I opened the box! While I do like that this deck is very diverse, those of you who are sensitive to cultural appropriation might wish to give this one a pass on principle (although the art itself does not appear to be problematic, but some may take issue with a goddess like Oya as the Witch of Air (as I’ve seen similar complaints in the past).

Overall, as a tarot deck, I would say the Dark Goddess Tarot definitely requires further study to be useful in that capacity, as an oracle deck, however, it worked fantastically for me and it really is a lovely set of cards even if there’s not a lot of information in the LWB and the images are a bit static. This is definitely not a deck I’d recommend to everyone, but if you like goddess-y things and you’re okay with the criticisms I mentioned above, this deck might be of interest to you. You can buy it and view some of the art here.

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