Prism Tarot by Dirk Gillabel      Review by Paula Gibby

Vector-based illustrations, image editing, content layers, raster graphics, rollover effects…this is basic terminology for cutting edge, web-based graphic designs. Graphic artists practically have to be technical geniuses to navigate their way through the latest software packages like those put out by Adobe and Corel. The instruction manuals alone can run up to 1500 pages of densely-written techno-speak that make the eyes of the more technically challenged among us glaze over completely, approaching something akin to a comatose state.

One wonders therefore, why the use of software packages that can do almost everything except cook your breakfast (I’ll buy that one when it comes out!) have been used to create some fairly lifeless tarot art. You know which decks I’m talking about. The ones that you look at once and then toss on your shelf, NOT because you disagree with their philosophical interpretations or what they have to say (because as you evolve, your viewpoint can change) but because, deep down, you have a sneaking suspicion that they really don’t have much of anything to say at all.

To me, this just emphasizes what we already know. Technical wizardry cannot be confused with true artistic magic. The whole magic of the artist rests in his or her ability to take the simplest of tools and transform them into visual/written/musical episodes bordering on the sublime. Sure, it’s great for a gifted artist to have sophisticated tools and there’s no question that those tools can significantly affect the caliber of the finished product; however, the emphasis is still on the root essence of an artistic creation…the talent of the artist.

In short, the artist can transform the tools, but the tools cannot create an artist.

The radiant Prism Tarot is a perfect example of this point.

When Dirk Gillabel came to the U.S. and finally met (after an intense correspondence) the special woman in his life, talented artist, Carol Herzer, he became fascinated with computers and spent hours playing around with various paint programs installed on an old computer belonging to Carol’s son.

Now, before we go on, I should give you a little background. Dirk Gillabel has created a great many tarot decks. He views every medium (some more conventional than others) as an opportunity to express his artistic talents -- eggshells, pieces of oak, tile, canvas, paper, paint, pencil, you name it. Like some intrepid sea navigator of old, he has explored them all.

We are fortunate that, as he was playing with this old computer, he became inspired to create the set of tarot images that evolved into the Prism Tarot.

One reason why Dirk’s art is so exuberant and refreshing is that he brings his entire philosophical attitude into his art. For him, each tool, even its limitations, presents a series of exciting challenges. Dirk, like a modern-day Walt Whitman, takes to the open road…takes the long path leading wherever he goes and travels with the wide world before him, taking one path that leads him to the next…and to the next. For Dirk, it is the journey itself that contains the magic – not just the final destination.

I can just imagine Dirk sitting at the computer using one of those old paint programs from almost 10 years ago. When the rest of us would be pulling our hair out in utter frustration, I can almost hear Dirk saying "Well, how about that…that makes a great effect!…I’ll use that…perfect!"

Another aspect of Dirk’s tarot art that makes it interesting and, many times, utterly endearing, is his deft sense of humor. With all of his talent, Dirk always takes time out to have fun with his art. That does not mean his tarot images are frivolous…quite the opposite. His images are fresh and quite insightful. The fact that, in the Prism Tarot, those images are imbued with a light touch of humor and a heavy dose of originality are additional blessings that we, the viewers, are fortunate enough to experience and enjoy.

For Dirk, his delight in the journey itself has flowed into his tarot images. One additional piece of information that you should keep in mind as you experience this deck, which is, as Dirk sat at the computer, he created these images spontaneously, without prior planning, using his intuition and spiritual muse to guide him as the images took shape under his fingers.

Ok…on to the deck.

First, the basic description. The Prism Tarot is a handmade deck of the 22 Major Arcana. Laminated on one side, the cards measure 5 ¾" x 4", an interesting feature being that the cards are rendered in "landscape" format, meaning that the cards are wider than they are tall. The deck arrives to you packaged in a moiré fabric pocket tote with an extended length that folds over. No need for ties, buttons or snaps. Another very thoughtful feature is the inclusion of two pieces of thick gold cardboard which protect the cards and keep them from becoming bent. Included with the cards is a small, softcover book which includes a brief introduction and then proceeds to describe each card, giving divinatory meanings for both upright and reversed positions.

As he discusses in his little book, Dirk named this deck the Prism Tarot because a prism refracts light into many colors. He goes on to say: "In the same way the source of Life refracts into multiple life experiences, each tarot card is such a life experience."

And experience these cards you will, because they explode with color and pattern. Your senses become ever more stimulated as you proceed through the cards. Each one is a visionary delight and, by the end, you will find yourself smiling …this is one of the happiest sets of cards I have ever experienced.

Let us begin our journey through some of the images.

How could we begin a journey without first looking at the Fool? He has emerged from the pure, unfathomable energy of the cosmos and begins his trek towards the world of formation. He has proceeded but a little distance and already the energy from which he was wrought has begun to change. That pure energy is just beginning to coalesce, forming the indistinct rounded patterns surrounding this newly-born traveler. Still radiant with the white, unrefracted light, he strides eagerly forward, his walking stick and pack slung across his shoulder.

Next comes the Magician. One hand upraised, tapping into that white light of the universe, the Magician stands within the center of a huge energy web. He is the conduit whereby the pure, white light becomes refracted into the brilliance of a hundred different colors. The use of a complex, interconnected web of life energy is a favorite symbol of mine and used quite imaginatively in this card. I like the way in which this web of energy resembles a fireworks display on a galactic scale.

I especially like the High Priestess. The oval in which she stands, the colors of blue and purple surrounding her, the crescent moon perched upon her head…all these images emphasize the feminine archetype of receptivity and the subconscious. Even more perfect is the vast, unending floor…the black and white checkered pattern symbolizing duality. Her book of secret knowledge lies open before you, but ah! You cannot access the true secrets of the High Priestess without first finding the key. Notice that, in the floor to the left of the High Priestess, there is a small keyhole. Find the key within your own Higher Self and you will unlock her secrets.

The most difficult thing about writing this review is choosing the cards to discuss. We move past the Empress, Emperor and High Priest (which are all wonderful cards) and meet the Lovers. Drifting romantically above a nocturnal sea, with only the glow of the moon to witness, our Lovers stand on a magical flying carpet, clasped in each other’s arms. Their embrace is passionate, yet tender.

The Chariot is absolutely charming. An astronaut navigates his flying saucer through the black night of the universe, leaving a trail of stardust in his wake. He epitomizes that courageous life journey into the unknown. It is a physical journey we all must take and careful navigation is the key. The goal? To move ever forward…evolve, grow.

Strength is a very interesting portrayal. Its imagery emphasizes that true strength is control over the lower, baser instincts – that true strength is a strength of the mind and spirit, not the body. In this card, Spirit stands within the jaws of a vast, dark beast, frustrating its blood lust by preventing those sharp, yellowed teeth from closing down upon him.

Still another wonderful card is the Devil. In this card, the Devil is Pan and he appears to have his victim deftly wrapped around his little finger. Pan’s grinning visage looms from his huge energy field, which takes the form of a vast cage. This is another piece of imagery that I am particularly drawn to. How easy it is to be ensnared by the Devil’s charms…and how hard it is to escape.

And I couldn’t end this review without giving you a peek at the Moon. Dirk’s humor and imagination combine to produce a charming "first encounter of the third kind". Here, we see our astronaut has landed safely upon the Moon, only to find that someone else has gotten there ahead of him! A friendly alien waves happily at the newcomer. The interesting question being…is this piquant, deep green being real or merely a hallucination brought on by a long, solitary voyage? This is the Moon card, after all. What do you think?

I would like nothing better than to treat you to the rest of the wonderful cards in this deck. The imagery of each one is interesting and thought-provoking. Each card brings a stimulating array of intense color and myriad shapes to the eye of the beholder. None of the archetypes have facial expressions, but you will not find yourself missing more detailed features. There is more than enough lush imagery and spiritual food for thought to more than satisfy you.

It is no secret that I have an intense fondness for handmade decks. They come to you imbued with the essence of the artist. To me, there is no substitute for the intensely personal craftsmanship…that sense of the deck just having left the hands of the very artist that gave birth to it.

Unlike many of the decks I review, the Prism Tarot is available from the artist. To order, you can simply go to Carol and Dirk’s website. While I won’t quote price in this review, I can assure you that this deck is very reasonably priced. Carol and Dirk are both utter perfectionists when it comes to their art; therefore, rest assured that the Prism Tarot, from initial concept straight through to final packaging, is of excellent quality.

Very highly recommended.


Prism Tarot
Dirk Gillabel
Self-published, handmade Major Arcana deck - book included (1994)

Art © 1994 Dirk Gillabel
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes



Click Here!