Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The Dark Grimoire came to me in a very special manner – it was gifted to me at the Readers Studio 2009 by Amy Lamash (creator of the Tarot Calendar). We were sitting at the same table, and comparing decks from our Llewellyn gift bags. I remarked that I did not have that deck – and the rest is history! We also ended up having a wonderful discussion at our table about “dark decks”, and where their place might be in readings. Quite an interesting way to begin the Readers Studio experience!
The basis of this deck is the concept of Grimoires - the ancient texts of magic, witchcraft and rituals that over time many people have looked on as being books of Black Magic. In these texts students found the formulas for “doing the work”. These books were thought to be dangerous if used without precautions, and were condemned by the church without reservation.
Here the Tarot is presented as a possible book of magic – inspired by the dream worlds of fantasy literature, by grimoires (real and imaginary), by the nightmares that they may have generated and continue to generate in the depths of the subconscious. Just reading the author’s words scares me! However, without all of this, how boring would life be!
The Dark Grimoire is seen by the author as a key to opening forgotten doors hidden in the furthest corners of the psyche. In opening these doors, the author posits that we gain recognition and knowledge of our own fears, of our own “dark side”, and in the process bringing a sense of balance to our whole being.
The deck follows traditional structure – 22 Major Arcana, 40 Pips and 16 Court cards. Traditional card titles are used for the Major Arcana, with Justice at VIII and Strength at XI. The Minor Arcana suits are Wands, Chalices, Swords and Pentacles. The Court cards are King, Queen, Knight and Knave.
The accompanying LWB (Little White Book) is done in traditional Lo Scarabeo style, with the information presented in five languages: English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. There is a short introduction to the concept of what a Grimoire is (ancient texts of magic, witchcraft and rituals), followed by a discussion of Tarots as books of magic.
The cards are presented as text only, no scans. From the LWB:
“II The High Priestess – The wise woman holds the nocturnal knowledge of the “World of Dreams” and jealously guards the book of incantations. Every waterway sustains witches, who float even if bound.”
“XVIII La Moon – The Full Moon reflects on the ocean of the unconscious: the nocturnal light unveils some shadows where monsters lurk, ready to reawaken and ambush the mind.”
There is a template presented, in the form of a Pentagram, for performing a reading. It was interesting to note that according to the LWB, the form of the Pentagram was a symbol that grimoires advised be used for “fettering the demons of Air, the spirits of Fire, the spectre of Water, and the ghosts of the Earth.”
The five positions are defined as:
Position 1: The purpose of the query, the objective or desire of the Querent. Position 2: The past that led to the current situation. Position 3: The probable evolution of the current situation. Position 4: Obstacles and difficulties to be overcome. Position 5: The suggestions for overcoming the obstacles.
The suits are defined as follows:
Wands are seen as Lights, representing creativity and the element of Fire. Lights are seen as defeating darkness, dispersing fears, and releasing creativity.
Chalices are Dreams, representing emotions and the element of Water.
Swords are Demons, representing thought and the element of Air. If thoughts escape our control, they can become obsessions, taking the form of demons that enslave the mind.
Pentacles are shadows, representing matter and the element of Earth. “Amidst the Shadows grow attachments of men who identify themselves with their body and with the objects they possess.”
The deck itself is approximately 2 5/8” by 4 ¾”, of glossy, good quality cardstock. The card backs show a dark blue/gray border, followed by a black and gold inner border. Centered on the card is what appears to be a mirror, with an image of H. P. Lovecraft himself holding a book (grimoire?) and looking into the mirror. In the background we see the head of another individual behind his right shoulder, and a hooded figure standing a little further back behind his left shoulder. The backs are not reversible.
The card faces show the same blue/gray border. At the bottom of the Major Arcana is a gold scroll with the card number in Roman numerals. The card title in each of four languages is placed to the right and left of the Roman numeral. The Pips (numbered cards) show the same thing, using Arabic numerals, with the suit name replacing the card title. The Court Cards show the card title and suit in each of four languages across the bottom of the card.
The coloring is dark, but muted, which for some reason makes it less scary. The style is part reality, part fantasy. The Major Arcana draw their inspiration from the Necronomicon – a fictional book appearing in stories by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.
The Knight of Pentacles rides on a mythical demon, while the Ace of Wands is a Grimoire surrounded by lit candles, with a figure of light either coming from it or going into it (it is hard to tell). The Two of Wands shows a discussion going on by lamplight between two modern scholars, with rolled up scrolls and a skull in the foreground.
The Three of Wands shows two males in the foreground, watching a drama unfolding below them: several robed figures are seen approaching a lighted cauldron, with large pillars in the background. The Ace of Swords shows a book loosely open, with a pentagram on the front. Pages are escaping from it.
The Fool is seated, held immobile in a straightjacket. He has a light over his head, a devil in front of him, and robed figures behind him. The Magician shows a robed, turbaned figure, seated at a table, writing in his book with a quill pen. Behind him curtains flow in the breeze in an open window.
The High Priestess is seen standing, book in hand, lit from behind by an orange glow in the sky. The Empress is a standing figure, surrounded by several figures that are bowing down to her, and one that is raising his arms to her.
The Hanged Man is hanging from a chandelier in the middle of his study. Through an open window we can see the surrounding town.
I found this to be an intriguing deck – well thought out, and easy to read with. While the imagery and symbolism are not traditional, they do reflect the traditional qualities of the cards, meaning that it is not difficult to read with them. They are gentle by nature (if a dark deck can be termed gentle!), meaning that this is a deck that could be offered as a choice of reading deck for most clientele.
This is a deck that will, by its very nature, take the reader – and the Seeker – to the hidden places in their life. I did a short (three card) reading for a situation that I am facing, without defining the positions, and found that it very accurately depicted what has gone on to date – and gave me a heads up as to what may be a core issue. This is one deck that you don’t want to ask a question of if you don’t want the answer, or are not ready for it!
© May 2009
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.