Tarot of the Crone by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince
Review by Tom Tadfor-Little

Tarot is often described as a spiritual or psychological medium: images through which we can connect with deep and challenging realities. This is certainly true, but sometimes it begins to feel more like a statement of faith than a living reality. With a little tarot knowledge under your belt, pulling a given card is likely to dunk you into your usual database of interpretations. We might gaze into a card for a bit and notice something deeper, something to weave into the interpretation. But we are unlikely to surrender to those deep stirrings, prefering to keep a skilled reader's balance between the surface and the depth.

Tarot of the Crone by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince is a deck made in courage: courage to open up the caverns of the soul and record what is there to be seen. For example, have a look at the Fool card, which is the beginning of any tarot deck. The Fool, we know, has spiritual meanings associated with complete potential, complete openness, innocence, life waiting to happen. In most decks, we can find such perceptions through the image of a person prancing freely into the unknown. But these images also allow us to bypass the psychological force of such concepts and try on less challenging interpretations: a reckless person about to fall off a cliff, a carefree personality, a nonconformist. In the Tarot of the Crone, a hooded figure opens her cloak to reveal - nothing. Emptiness. The void at the center of the soul. In the midst of that dark, infinite space, a tiny star of light swirls. We fall into the vacuum, become the point of consciousness at its center, and feel the full emptiness, bareness, and possibility of being spirit stripped of form.

And so it goes, through all 78 cards. Every card works on two levels.

Intellectually, they are masterful and confident re-visionings of tarot wisdom. These are not arbitrary personal images, they are knowledgeable and focused questions directed at the traditional tarot structure. The startling Ace of Cups, for example, shows us the pure root of emotional connection. The old woman's face is in direct contact with the Water of Life. She doesn't care what you think of her wrinkles, her open mouth, her expression. She is alive at this very moment. And we, gazing on the card, if we dare to know this face instead of reacting to it, become alive, here, now. Traditionally, the ace of cups signifies our heartfelt connection with our feeling selves, and with the loving aspect of the Divine. Rather than asking us to endorse this interpretation of the symbolism of a suspended chalice on the basis of loyalty to received tarot wisdom, Lorenzi-Prince has summoned up a human image of the core reality behind the card, titled it "Grace", and allowed us no way to bypass her intended meaning.

Viscerally, these images go down into the substrate of human consciousness, into the realm I call "paleopsychic". This is not something to be written about or talked about, it is something to be experienced. On this level, it matters not at all that a particular image is linked to some point in the matrix of the tarot structure. Lorenzi-Prince has decided, quite wisely, to leave titles off the cards. The consequences are remarkable. As one explores the deck, each card leaps out with an individual reality. Sure, in the Six of Cups, we might count symbols to draw us back to the structure of the tarot, but who cares? The three cloaked figures pouring their sacred offerings into their own reflections take us instantly diving down into a visceral reality, a gut-felt, primitive connection with the Divine through solemn, collaborative, ritualized action.

Because this deck plunges so deeply into the spiritual core of the human condition, it is inevitably Pagan. Behind all the world religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism - there is a naturalistic apprehension of the personalities of the Cosmos and their magical entanglement in our lives. In its very title, Tarot of the Crone identifies its alignment with Goddess spirituality and with the contemporary urge to rediscover the power of the divine feminine that has been denied for centuries in the official theology of the Western world. As a Pagan tarot user, I have long faced the deck offerings of major publishers with a sense of frustration and privation. There are Pagan-themed decks available, to be sure, but many strike me as pandering to me, rather than speaking to me. I can hardly fault the deck designers of most of these offerings. It is a hard requirement indeed, to convey the visceral spirituality of the Pagan path in an image intended for wide distribution. So, many decks content themselves with a hopeful application of Neopagan decals onto a tarot substrate established by the ceremonial magick traditions of the 19th century. My Pagan mind appreciates these efforts, but my Pagan heart is often unmoved.

Tarot of the Crone bypasses this whole tactical game of mingling Neopagan symbolism into a conventional tarot symbol system. Pull any card, and you are back 5000 years, before any such issues of categorization had emerged for debate and decision. This is the deck I clasp when I seek connection with my own Pagan identity, not Sacred Circle, not Old Path, not Robin Wood. (All of which I enjoy and converse with, by the way.)

This is not a deck I use lightly; it is too full of power and purpose for that. This is one for single-card pulls, to find the energies of life at work behind your personal world, echoing on for months, years, or a lifetime.

This deck, naturally, does not conform to commercial notions of marketability, and is presently available in limited edition from the deck creator. The deck is packaged handsomely in a lovingly hand-made pouch, with an elegant spiral-bound book that provides card interpretations in verse form. Lorenzi-Prince's poetry paces the deck in depth and power. Eventually, this deck will find its way into mainstream publication, and doubtless a larger cloud of words will surround it on that occasion.

For those who drink this world freshly distilled and unwatered, though, the limited edition is the one to have.

NOTE: The deck described here is out of print, but you can purchase a mass-produced version, along with a companion book (sold separately) here.

You can read another review of this deck here.

You can peruse a sample reading with this deck here.

You can see all of the cards on the artist/author's website here.

Review 2003 Tom Tadfor Little
Page 2003 Diane Wilkes