Drawn to the gorgeous box art, Ian Daniels’ The Tarot of Vampyres turned out to be a terrible deck for learning to read tarot cards, but was a wonderful purchase in other respects. The artwork is incredibly sexy, but as one can see from the sample spread below, does not clearly resemble the Rider-Waite archetypes. Some of the symbolism is there, but it’s obtuse.
Fortunately, the companion book, Phantasmagoria, provides in-depth discussions of the illustrations and thorough, uplifting guidance and interpretations for each card, borrowing heavily from Kabbalistic associations and pathworking concepts. For Daniels, vampires are not a symbol of evil, but rather are representative of humanity’s spiritual thirst for communion with the Divine and the Eternal. I recommend reserving readings with this deck for those times in which one has spare time to read the commentary for each card drawn, even if one is an experienced tarot reader.
Not many tarot decks in my collection fit this month’s apocalypse theme, aside from the Zombie Tarot (reviewed last November) and the Necronomicon Tarot by Donald Tyson. And boy, is this one bleak.
In case you aren’t familiar with Tyson, he has written a series of books (Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred, Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon, Grimoire of the Necronomicon, and The 13 Gates of the Necronomicon: A Workbook of Magic) outlining a system of occult practice based on H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction and the various Elder Gods, monsters, and aliens of Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos.” That Lovecraft indirectly spawned an occult system and a tarot deck is ironic, considering that he was vocal about his atheism and that he worked with Harry Houdini to debunk fortune-telling and spiritism. Authors such as Tyson would argue that Lovecraft was an unwitting prophet with insights into the malign forces at work in the universe.
Tyson’s Necronomicon Tarot is intended as a companion piece to the aforementioned books, and follows the Rider-Waite format. It is not a beginner-friendly deck, however, and those used to working with Rider-Waite images may not see the resemblance. (It’s there, but obtuse and twisted.)
Despite Lovecraft’s dislike of religion and fortune-telling, the art of the Necronomicon Tarot does, for the most part, faithfully convey concepts and themes present in H.P.L.’s fiction. But…if you know Lovecraft’s fiction, you can guess this makes for some pretty depressing readings. Between the often grisly art and Tyson’s dark interpretations of even the most positive cards, you will end up with a cold and unforgiving answer to any query, reminding you of your insignificant place in the universe and of all of the indifferent forces influencing your meaningless life.
For this month’s Disturbed Divination feature, I wanted to cover a Christmas or Yule-themed tarot deck. But since I have none in my collection, I’m opting instead to review The Mary-el Tarot: Landscapes of the Abyss, in which Biblical and apocalyptic imagery abounds. This is one of my favorite decks in my collection. Marie White’s cards are simply stunning, and come with an in-depth guidebook detailing each card’s symbolism.
She draws upon the Rider-Waite, Thoth, and Marseille decks with results simultaneously sacred and devilish. My favorite variation in this deck compared to other decks is that the Aces (beginnings) are represented by the Four Heavenly Creatures of the Bible and the 10’s (ending or completion of cycles) are represented by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s a morbid, yet appropriate, touch. The guidebook finds connections between Biblical, Pagan, Qabalistic, mythological, and pop culture concepts. Although somewhat unconventional, this deck is appropriate for beginners and for any tarot-lover.
The first Wednesday of each month is Disturbed Divination Day here at My Horrific Life. In honor of the new season premier of The Walking Dead, I’m reviewing The Zombie Tarot: An Oracle of the Undead with Deck and Instructions, which is one of the two decks I use most often when doing readings for others. (The other is Deviant Moon Tarot Deck, another twisted favorite with relatively mainstream appeal.)
I love everything about the Zombie Tarot, including the box, which when opened looks like a case of ammunition.The cards themselves present an alternate-reality zombie apocalypse set in the 1950s, starting with the initial outbreak (The Fool) and culminating in humanity attempting a fresh start after the zombies are eradicated by nuclear bombing (The World). Like most Tarot decks, this one is firmly based on the Rider-Waite model. Needless to say, it’s a twisted, pop-culture-savvy re-interpretation. For example, The Tower card seems reminiscent of George Romero’s Land of the Dead, in which unsuspecting revelers in a high-rise apartment complex will experience a sudden downturn of fortune. The Six of (Bio)Hazards (i.e. Pentacles) card depicts a trained zombie completing household chores, and seemed reminiscent of the horror-comedy Fido. A random selection of cards are shown below.
The faux-antique guidebook is compact with a bare-bones (pun intended) interpretation of each card, and fake ads in the back resembling those from a 1950s catalogue. If you want a twisted deck that will bring a smile to your querants’ faces, this is a great choice!
Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932)
We want to wish all of our friends and readers a safe and happy Halloween. Our favorite holiday may be drawing to a close, but we will keep it alive all year with coverage of all things dark and horrific.
November is a big month for us, as Dr. Todd Fleischer and I will be recording our first podcast, topic to be announced soon. In the meantime, be sure to check out the latest episode of Todd’s psychology-oriented podcast, KitchenShrinks, in which he and Dr. Jerry Bockoven interview my dear friend and one of my favorite professors, Dr. Carole Levin.
On the blog, I will be introducing two new monthly features: Disturbed Divination Day and Scary Scholarly Saturday. In celebration of Boris Karloff’s birthday on November 23, I’ll honor his memory with posts about lesser-knows aspects of his life and work. And, maybe, because this election season is horrific, I’ll cover a few books and films that are appropriate for the occasion.