Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The "Necronomicon Tarot" marks the completion of author Donald Tyson's trilogy honoring H.P. Lovecraft, a highly innovative occult writer. The first two parts of this trilogy consisted of "Necronomicon - The Wanderings of Alhazred" and "Alhazred".
Note: Abdul Alhazred is portrayed as a mad scientist who is off on many magical adventures. The deck itself is populated by gruesome gods, sinister monsters, and all seven rulers of the Old Ones (from the book "Necronomicon"). The symbolism presented here reflects astrological and elemental associations, as well as the structure of the Golden Dawn. I want to make note here that illustrator Anne Stokes has done an excellent job of bringing together the essence of H.P. Lovecraft's work, along with the storyline presented by Donald Tyson, into a stunning deck.
The kit includes a box that opens the long way (for easy access to the deck and book), a 78 card deck, a black organdy bag for the deck, and two extra cards … one listing the elemental associations for the Court Cards, and one listing the elemental associations for the Major Arcana, along with a companion book (Secrets of the Necronomicon).
The companion book is a book - approximately 5 ¼" by 8", 213 pages, with a full color cover (the front cover showing scans from the deck, the back cover carrying text discussing the background of the companion book, and what is contained within it). Short bios are included for both the author and the artist.
In his introduction, Tyson notes that some of the creatures found within this book come from H.P. Lovecraft's writing, and some from his own series on Alhazred. He also mentions that the first time some of these creatures have ever been describes are within the pages of this companion book. Effort has been made to make this a fully functioning Tarot deck, with attention paid to astrological associations and the sequence of the trumps (which follows the Golden Dawn tradition).
There is no getting away from the fact that this is a dark deck. If it were read with what Tyson terms a "direct" interpretation of the cards, the readings might tend to be a bit unforgiving. His suggestion, his way around this, is to compensate by looking for the most optimistic interpretation possible. There are readers who will insist that the cards "are what they are", and should be interpreted as such. My personal feeling is more aligned with that of Mr. Tyson … that the Seeker needs to walk away with an optimistic view of his or her issues. This is not to say that the readings end up being "fluffy bunny" … that helps no one in any way.
Tyson goes on to say that at times the images in the deck will be in discord with the meaning of the card, which tends towards the conventional esoteric meaning. This will hold especially true for the Court Cards. The suggestion is made that the reader can either use conventional meanings, or they can develop their own meanings for the cards, more aligned with their images.
The twenty-two trumps are composed of gods, devils, and monsters that appear in his own writings of the "Necronomicon". The Court Cards are distinct classes of human beings that might be found in the same writings. The pips (number cards) of the Minor Arcana present story lines that are individual to each of the suits. It is noted that the meanings for the numbers are not exactly the same as those in traditional Tarot decks, but that the foundation is very much the same.
The storyline for the suit of Wands is that of the arrogant and aristocratic Atlanteans with the Deep Ones, and the resulting civil war. The storyline for the suit of Cups is that of an acolyte who experiences the dual side of the Egyptian cult of Bast when he becomes a member of that faith. The storyline for the suit of Swords takes place in old Damascus, and speaks of jealousy, violence, and revenge. The storyline for the suit of Disks is that of a necromancer, and his dark ritual as he tries to compel the spirit of a dead woman to reveal the burial place of a strongbox containing a potent mystery.
Background is included on H.P. Lovecraft, and his writing. An interesting comment is made on the "Necronomicon", on the possibility of different version of the book contained in an "astral library". Its contents fall into two broad categories: descriptions of the nature and history of the Old Ones, and the ancient Elder Things, as well as the warlike meegoh, and a discussion of practical magic, with an emphasis on necromancy.
Tyson touches on Lovecraft's system of mythology, which stemmed from over two decades worth of nightmares, and which is described in his tales of horror, gathered together under the collective title of "Cthulhu Mythos". Here we see described a series of powerful and highly intelligent alien races, that traveled across space, or through dimensional portals to colonize earth in distant times.
A short section is devoted to the astrological and elemental correspondences for the Major Arcana, the suits, and the Court Cards. The Major Arcana are listed as follows:
0 Fool - Azothoth (Air)
1 Magician Nyarlathotep (Mercury)
2 High Priestess - Bast (Moon)
3 Empress - Shug-Niggurath (Venus)
4 Emperor - Amun (Aries)
5 Hierophant - Dagon (Taurus)
6 Lovers - Deep One & Bride (Gemini)
7 Chariot - Beast of Babylon (Cancer)
8 Strength - Shoggoth (Leo)
9 Hermit - I'thakuah (Virog)
10 Wheel - Yog Sothoth (Jupiter)
11 Justice - Spawn in Sphere (Libra)
12 Hanged Man - Well of the Seraph (Water)
13 Death - Tsathoggua (Scorpio)
14 Temperance - Reanimators (Sagittarius)
15 Devil - Cthulhu (Capricorn)
16 Tower - Great Ziggurat (Mars)
17 Star - Ishtar (Aquarius)
18 Moon - Hounds of Leng (Pisces)
19 Sun - The Empty Space (Sun)
20 Judgement - Guardian of Eden (Fire)
21 World - Yig (Saturn)
Each of the Major Arcana cards are presented with a black and white scan, a description of the figure on the card, the energy of the card, upright and reversed meanings.
The Pips are presented with a black and white scan, a description of the card, upright and reversed meanings.
The Court Cards are presented with a black and white scan, a description of the card, and the personality depicted on the card, upright and reversed meanings.
At the end of the companion book is a short section on divination, which presents the Necronomicon Spread, an eleven-card layout specifically developed for this deck. In preparation for this spread, the deck is divided into Major and Minor Arcana, with each being shuffled separately. Again, Tyson reminds the reader not to give the cards too dark an aspect in their readings. The suggestion is made that by giving too much importance to reversals, the meanings would become even darker. He also suggests that reversals weaken the purity or forcefulness of the cards.
The cards themselves as of sturdy, glossy, good quality cardstock. They are slick, which takes a bit of careful handling. The backs show a dark gray background, with multiple green snakes in the middle (what we see are the bodies and tails of several snakes, but no heads. In the middle of this is one open eye looking out at the reader.
The faces show a ¼" black border, surrounding a finer dark gold border, with the illustration in the middle. For the Major Arcana, the number (in Roman numerals) and the traditional card title are printed on the bottom of the card, in small gray print. The Necronomicon title is printed across the top of the card, in small gray print. The Pips (numbered cards) show the card number and suit in small gray text across the bottom of the card. The Court Cards show the title and suit across the bottom of the card in small gray print. If I have any complaints about this deck, it is that at my age, reading this small gray print, against a dark background, is somewhat difficult!
Some of the Major Arcana cards are relatively true to what a traditional card would show. We see the Hermit (with eerie long fingers … this is fantasy after all!) looking into a campfire, with a magnifying glass in his left hand, and skulls behind him. The Star shows a female figure, standing under the night sky, with a canine "guard". The Tower is a stunning card, showing a pyramid like structure, with lightening striking the top, and figures fleeing. Justice shows a fantasy animal suspended in a cage … how apropos! The High Priestess shows an Egyptian theme, with one black cat and one white cat at her feet. The Chariot shows an octopus type creature, with a human head at the end of each tentacle. While this may not work for some, how often do we feel torn like this when attempting to keep our lives together! The Wheel show a nude body laying on an open slab, with a priest-like figure standing over it, arms raised to the sky. In the background we see Stonehenge type structures. I think this works very well for t his card. The World shows a snake wrapped around a large black egg, holding a glowing ball in its mouth. While unnerving, this is a great image!
Then there are the images that do not work (for me, anyway). The Devil is shown as an octopus headed creature that to me says nothing. Likewise the Hierophant, a creature rising out of the sea, with a fish-type head, and the body of a human. There is a full moon in the night sky, and light shining from a lighthouse in the background. Strength is shown as an octopus-type creature holding a gold strongbox. The Emperor is shown as an almost Mardi Gras type figure in gold, with ram type horns on his head. The Empress hold a noose in her left hand, and a skull in her right hand. She also appears as an almost Mardi Gras type figure, with small "devils" at her feet. The Magician shows a skeleton in the foreground, and a warrior-type illusionary figure in the background. This looks more like a representation of Death than the Magician! My least favorite card? The Fool who is shown as an enormous figure in dreadlocks, playing a reed flute. Does it make a difference when you read the story from the companion book? Yes, it does. But if you were doing a reading for someone with these cards, what you were telling them would not resonate with the energy that they were picking up from the cards!
One last note on the Pips … each suit, as noted above, follows a specific storyline. Each suit also has a base color scheme: red for Wands, gray-white for Cups, gold-brown for Swords, and green for Disks.
This is very much a theme deck, and a collectors deck. With care, it can be used in a reading, but it is not one that I would offer as a deck of choice without thoroughly taking the Seeker into consideration. Its use in meditation and visualization, or in ritual or ceremonial work, would be limited by the understanding and mindset of the individual doing the work. I certainly would not recommend this as a beginners deck. Where it does come in is perhaps with shadow work, or very specifically with work done on Halloween (All Hallows Eve).
© August 2007
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.