Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot was the deck I read with in college at sorority houses and Greek mixer events. It would be this deck, pulled out of my messenger bag. The room would hush, because people still get a little nervous around tarot cards, and I’d have the querent shuffle the cards while focusing on her question, and then when she was ready, to cut the cards in three, restore to a single pile, and hand back to me. Then I’d lay out the Celtic Cross.
Back then I found that some people could get antsy around the RWS, so I couldn’t use the yellow box RWS without a risk of someone freaking out. Whereas no one ever freaked out when I read with the Goddess Tarot. The artwork is soft, with low contrast and low saturation, light values, and if I had to speculate on the medium used, I would guess watercolors and maybe some colored pencil.
The only male representation in this deck are in the Princes and Kings, and that was done intentionally by the artist. The Goddess Tarot is a “celebration of the Divine Feminine” (quoted from its LWB) with drawings of goddesses from around the world. Writes Waldherr, “My intention in creating the art and design for The Goddess Tarot was to create a tarot deck that would speak directly to women using our stories, while incorporating the archetypal power and symbols of the tarot.”
The LWB says the copyright is 1997, but the Internet says the date of first publication for this deck is 1998, so… I’m not sure. And I didn’t do any further digging to confirm. Main point here is this was a late 90s early 2000s deck. I myself purchased the deck in… I want to say 2000, which would be the spring semester of my freshman year.
I won’t comment on the goddess to tarot card Major correspondences, because that’s personal. Your associations with a divinity and how you connect to that goddess energy is not something another person can validly critique.
Don’t quote me on this and do double-check my statement here, but I think I read somewhere once upon a time that Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot was intended to blend the RWS and the Thoth, that there is some inspiration here from the Thoth deck, not just RWS. You’ll see here that Key 8 is Justice and Key 11 is Strength.
In the close-up single card photos, pay attention to the texture. Something I admire so much about the illustration work here is the depiction of texture. If you can zoom in close, even the sandy brown border conveys texture. As for the border, I think that can be a point of debate. Personally, I like the many borders or frames, and how detailed each one is. Others might prefer a more direct focus on the tarot artwork.
You can see a bit of glare on the cards in these photos because the finish is glossy. Art-wise, the Minor Arcana could get a little inconsistent. Some cards in the pips are painstakingly illustrated with incredible detail while others feel like they were done in a rush. Like compare that Ten of Swords in the above photo spread with the Eight of Pentacles or even the Two of Staves.
Yet there is so much I love about the artwork. Waldherr’s style reminds me a bit of Lisa Hunt (The Fairy Tale Tarot; Fairy Tale Lenormand). I love the illustrated framing around the tarot card image, where in the Majors, that illustrated frame reflects the culture that the goddess is from or give you insights into the goddess’s primary associations. Then there are four detailed scenes for the four suits. It’s got a bit of an illuminated manuscript aesthetic, which is really pronounced in the above Key XX: Judgement, Gwenhwyfar.
There are a few architectural design details to this deck that diverge from canon, and for me, that’s totally fine, but it may be something to be mindful of going in. There are Four Paths of the goddesses that this deck facilitates your work with, and they correspond to the four elements and four suits in the Minor Arcana. The Suit of Cups is the Path of Venus; Suit of Staves is the Path of Freyja; Suit of Swords is the Path of Isis; and Suit of Pentacles is the Path of Lakshmi.
These Four Paths are led by four selected Major Arcana cards– the four cards featuring these goddesses. That would be Key I. Magic: Isis, which is associated with the Suit of Swords. Key IV. Power: Freyja is associated with the Suit of Staves (Wands). Key VI. Love: Venus is associated with the Suit of Cups and Key X. Fortune: Lakshmi is associated with the Suit of Pentacles. So if you’re indoctrinated by the Golden Dawn elemental correspondence system, then there’s a bit of mental gymnastics you’ll need to do before working with the Goddess Tarot.
With the Goddess Tarot, I read with reversals, but for the purpose of these photos, I turned all the upside down cards right side up, just for the photo op. The LWB gives the card meanings for both upright and reversed, and I still remember studying that LWB and trying to memorize as much as I could about the goddesses, since many of them were unfamiliar to be back then.
This isn’t a deck review and I wasn’t intending on it being one. This was just you accompanying me on a walk down memory lane. =) By the way, look at the detailing, even in the illustrated frames around the card image!
These last few walk-throughs featuring decks from the late 90s and early 2000s in comparison to the tarot decks that are being published today in 2021 feel spiritually like they’re coming from two very different places, doesn’t it?
Another reason I’d choose the Goddess Tarot for public readings in college was because I had a multicultural group of friends, and this was one of the few decks I could readily buy at Barnes & Noble that was multicultural.
Cultural-interest sororities often held mixer events with each other, and these social events were diverse. I found that a deck like the Goddess Tarot was received better in those settings than, say, your RWS replica. So even back then, this wasn’t necessarily my personal go-to or favorite deck, but I knew it was the deck that sorority life querents were most likely to resonate with, at that time, so I’d use this deck for them.
Once upon a time I knew this deck by heart. Name any card in the tarot and I could picture what that card looks like in the Goddess Tarot. I could mentally compare it side by side with the yellow box 1971 RWS. If you love multicultural goddess-themed tarot or oracle decks, you’re going to love Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot. To me, it’s just very iconic of where the goddess movement and intersectional third wave feminism was at in the late 90s, early 2000s.