Deck creator forum — Tarot of the Crone
The following is a new entry in my “Deck Creator Forum.” I occasionally do deck reviews on this blog, but in this feature I have asked various deck creators to say a few words (or paragraphs, actually) about their Tarot deck.
By the way, you too can contribute to this discussion. If you have this deck and have experience using it, please leave comments about your use of it. (Note that I will be moderating the comments.)
Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s Tarot of the Crone is a unique and original deck inspired by Ellen’s study and exploration of the Crone. The dream-like images of the cards are vividly colored and are arresting in their simplicity. To help people understand the Major Arcana in this deck, Ellen provides her own special write-up of “The Crone’s Journey” on her website. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the following interview in which she shares some wonderful stories about the cards in this deck. (See, for instance, her stories about her Fool and Magician cards.)
James: What inspired you to create this deck?
Ellen: I’ve been inspired by the Crone all my life, beginning with my wise and wonderful grandmothers, but the catalyst for the deck was a conversation on the online group Tarot-L in 1997. People were discussing where the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone might be found in the Major Arcana. I replied with a post giving six possibilities for the Crone off the top of my head, followed by the rash statement, “I could do a whole deck for the Crone.” Someone wrote back and said, “Let’s see it then.” Of course I could have brushed off that challenge, but the idea rang in me like an iron bell, and I could not ignore it.
I hear that often from deck creators — that it’s like you had a real calling to create your deck. In fact, that was also the case for me when I created my Tarot of the Masters deck.
Most modern Tarot decks fall into one of three “camps” — Marseille, RiderWaiteSmith, or Thoth. With which of those is your deck most closely aligned, and why did you choose that “type” of deck?
The Majors are ordered like the Thoth or Marseilles deck, with Justice as 8 and Strength as 11. I chose this because it follows the pattern of my first tarot deck, the Motherpeace Tarot, but also from my further study of the Thoth and ancient tarots, this progression makes the most sense to me.
Is there a theme for it … and what would you like to say about that theme?
The theme is the Crone, the wisewoman, she who sees and speaks the truth one needs to hear. She helps the seeker face shadows, transform fear and understand power.
How do you feel it does that – help us face our shadow issues, transform our fears, and understand power – in its own special way? Is it the symbolism you put into the cards, the meanings you intended for the cards, or what?
I feel interaction with the Crone does those things, and I only hope that the tarot inspired by her can do the same. But I’ve tried to make it direct, personal, and introspective, so you can’t help but see what you need to see, cutting through illusions to get to the heart of the matter. I believe honest awareness of your inner world is the basis of personal growth and transformation. This is why on most of the cards focus on a single figure, and using color and symbol, depict the energies the individual must understand, process or claim.
I’ve also added Shadow cards to the deck, so when those cards come up, they are there in front of your face for you to deal with. And I’ve not beautified or held back on the cards that are meant to shake you out of complacency, like Death or the Devil.
I know that the creation of The Tarot of the Crone includes your understanding of the maiden/mother/crone archetype and your earth centered spirituality. How do you think all that is reflected in your deck? Can you give a few specific examples of how you have incorporated your philosophy into the cards?
That first question is so encompassing, I’ll go straight to some examples. In the Priestess card, the standing stones are magical beings communing with both the Earth and the Heavens, creating a channel between the two through their physical selves and spiritual abilities. This both grounds the energy of the Priestess, and shows that the Earth beneath our feet is as important a power to understand and honor as the celestial.
Standing stones are easy to see as having spiritual purpose. In contrast to that is the Hermit, a bag lady walking on a city street. The bag lady is someone that society does not see as having value or wisdom. Part of the Crone’s teachings is to see beyond appearances and delve more deeply into what has been overlooked. The urban landscape can be alienating to the spirit; it shows her strength that she continues to seek her truth despite it. She continues her quest everyday, everywhere she goes, not only when she has the opportunity for a special spiritual retreat.
In the Minor Arcana, there are specifically pagan symbols in the Three of Wands (a cauldron) and the Five of Cups (a pentacle). To me the pentacle is a magical talisman, the integration of the power of elements and spirit, so it wasn’t a symbol I chose to represent Earth alone.
The Aces highlight different aspects of a living person; this is because I believe magic lies within our being and not in external devices, however lovely or meaningful they may be.
What would you say makes your deck special?
What makes Tarot of the Crone special to me is its deeply experiential nature. I created this deck for myself as an expression of my own spiritual journey and understanding, and there are stories behind every card.
Can you relate an interesting story that lies behind a card or two?
The story of the Fool card is hopefully interesting. 🙂
I just couldn’t see painting a carefree youth for a Crone deck. So instead I thought of the cliff’s edge, and of the fall into the unknown. I wanted to accentuate instead that from which all else comes, the mystery of emptiness and nothingness. And I pulled the image from my past experience.
In 1988 I’d been working with Hekate for a couple of years. In my trance journeys I’d seen her as a kindly crone, a hideous hag, a giant crow, a beautiful queen, a shadow and more. One night I laid in bed and opened my channel to her. She came to me in her default appearance, which is a cloaked, hidden figure. I wanted to know her on a deeper level; I asked her to show me her true face. She opened her cloak and I fell in, into the void. It swallowed me up.
I lost awareness of my body and the bed beneath me. I lost awareness of my history, of my family, of my self. I lost awareness of everything except for a minute spark of awareness itself. Then I lost that too.
I came to myself after some timeless time, still lying on the bed, but my hands were clenched and twisted in the bedclothes and tears were streaming down my face. But I felt the power of potential in every cell of my body.
Are there any non-traditional elements of this deck, such as a 79th card, unusual suit names, an extra suit, or something like that? Why did you make that change and what is its importance or significance?
A few Majors have been renamed to better fit with the theme, but the biggest difference is in the court cards, which are not just renamed, but revisioned as the Faces of the Crone: Beast, Witch, Grandmother and Shadow.
Yes, that’s an interesting change. Can you tell us why you decided to make that change and say a little about what it means?
As I was designing the deck, I wondered what I’d do with these. I knew I couldn’t call them “courts” because a hierarchy of rule and servitude is not at all Crone. So I went back to what I called such when all I knew were playing cards: face cards.
I asked myself how the Crone might represent herself within a suit, what are the faces she might show? Immediately I thought of the Witch and the Grandmother. I saw both of these as being powerful, but having a different focus: one works for herself, pursuing her own goals, while the other works for her family or community. The Witch corresponds somewhat to the Knight and the Grandmother with the Queen.
So what else should be in a Crone deck? There would have to be Shadows. Understanding Shadow was such a big part of my teachings from the Crone–I couldn’t have just one card (the Devil) hold all that weight. The Shadows are not at all a good correspondence to the King, unless you’ve read Choice Centered Tarot by Gail Fairfield, where she does emphasize the Kings as being the final possible card of the suit. So I put the Shadows in that position, as the element’s overdone, overstressed, destructive power.
I had one more Face to go. The Page position. The earthy, the innocent. But not the immature (not in a Crone deck). The primal ones, who have their own kind of wisdom: the Beasts. Not exotic beasts either, but everyday ones. The familiars. The magic in the mundane.
You made a lot of imagery changes to the Majors also. Of course we can’t talk about all of them here, but let me pick out one: the Magician. To me, this card appears to be a wolf mask emerging from a cave. Can you tell us why you created this card in that way?
Part of this idea came from the void in the Fool card, and building upon that. The Magician is the force that can make something out of nothing, the force that can manifest itself out of the void and out into the world, coming out of the cave. The Magician holds the power of originality, but the mask also signifies illusion.
In the Magician is the idea of Hermes/Mercury as the psychopomp and trickster, the one who crosses between the material and the spiritual worlds, and the one who plays with the border between reality and illusion. The animal face evokes the trickster as Coyote, jackal-headed Anubis as Conductor of Souls, as well as the witch’s familiar, the Crone’s aide in the making of magic.
But the image also comes from another trance journey I had, actually the first one where I deliberately sought out Hekate, back in 1985. I entered a cave and it was pitch black. I imagined waving my hand in front of my face and asking myself how many fingers was I holding up, it was so dark. Suddenly this terrifying canine face, scored with blood and bone came screaming out of the darkness. I fell, but I did not turn back. Eventually I got up and walked on. And I saw this being as the guardian at the gate, the first test of initiation, to continue seeking the knowledge I wanted despite strangeness or fear.
As for the Minor Arcana, I want to say that I like how the cards in your suit of swords seem more constructive and emotionally neutral (vs. sorrowful, as is the case in most decks). I get that impression partly due to their abstract imagery. I’d like to ask if this was a conscious decision on your part, or is that just the way it turned out.
Thank you, James. The Swords represent mental energies, and abstraction is one of the powers of the mind. But I don’t believe the mind is inherently a source of pain. As with any tool or power, its constructive or destructive quality depends upon the use of it and the context of its expression. My intention for the deck was for many of the cards to be able to embody a continuum of meaning, from the positive to the negative.
Also, in the Minor Arcana, the cards have associated keywords. Can you tell us how you came up with those?
The meanings and keywords of the Minor Arcana are based solely on the energies of element and number. My numerology is more classical, more Pythagorean than Kabalistic, and many of the divergences from the RWS deck are due to this. The Golden Dawn wanted to fit together differing esoteric systems into a beautiful, elaborate scheme, but I wanted to create a more primal deck, so astrological or Kabalistic correspondences were not considered.
For example, the Five of Wands combines the challenge of the Fives with the personal power of the Wands. But it’s not about competing with others as in the RWS deck, because the focus of the Crone is on the experience and transformation of the individual, so the challenge is in taking action to exert one’s personal power, in putting yourself forward, out there in the spotlight, so your self-expression is noticed and heard. The keyword of Drama for this card speaks to both the action and the results of that action, as the current dynamic gets shaken and rearranged. This can be a positive card when it appears in the context of a job interview, when one needs to wear the suit of power and stand out from the crowd. The card may be more difficult in the context of a relationship reading, because partnership is lost when one person feels the need for the lion’s share of attention, or feels he or she is not being heard.
One more question about the Minor Arcana. The cards there have a very specific and obvious color scheme, which is somewhat different from what is typically associated with the suits. (Wands: Red and Yellow; Cups: Red and Purple; Swords: Blue and Yellow; Disks: Green and Brown). Can you explain those choices?
Every color throughout the deck is used purposefully and has specific meaning. Black represents the source and the void. White is for truth and clarity. For each suit of the Minor Arcana I chose two colors to use with black and white, to emphasize the energies of the suit. For the Wands, I chose red and yellow for power and will. Cups have red and purple for passion and soul. Swords are blue and yellow, for mind and ability. Disks, green and brown, for life and flesh.
Yes, I’ve used red twice, though it’s not a common color to use for watery Cups. I thought more of the power of blood though, because emotion is not often pale or cool as water may be. Also, as linguists have discovered, aside from dark and light, red is the first color that is given a name. It is primal for us as humans, so it is included in both of the “parent” elements of Fire and Water.
What is your favorite card from your deck? Why is it your favorite?
The Empress is my favorite card in the deck; it reminds me of the loving strength of my grandmothers.
What is the most interesting discovery you made about your deck after it was done.?
Because the deck was so personal, what surprised me most was how it spoke to others as well. My proudest moment was when an eighty year old woman wrote to me saying that my images and words made her feel recognized for the first time in her life.
Is there a companion book for your deck? Who wrote it? Does it come with the deck or is it available some other way?
I wrote the Tarot of the Crone Companion, sold separately through the Tarot Connection. A downloadable LWB is available with the deck. I also lead a free online study group with additional exercises and insights into the cards.
First Edition: Handmade, self-published limited edition, 2002 — http://croneways.com/
Second Edition: Published by the Tarot Connection, 2007 — http://tarotconnection.net/
Addendum: Sadly, this deck is now out of print, but you can find out what else Ellen is working on here.
All images from the Tarot of the Crone deck are © Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.
NOTE: If you have a deck that you would like to have featured here, contact me about it.