Review by Lillie
The Vampire Tarot of the Eternal Night by Lo Scarabeo contains a deck with art by Davide Corsi, a book by Barbara Moore and comes packaged in an elegant box that is both sturdy and a pleasure to use; showing the Lo Scarabeo attention to the small details that makes the container itself a useful and integral part of the whole. Opening like a dark tome of arcane mysteries it first reveals the 150 page companion book. Elegantly presented, clearly laid out and copiously illustrated this book devotes a double page to each of the majors and a single page to each of the minors. It also includes a number of spreads of varying complexity and numerous pages of insightful discussion of both the vampire mythos and the tarot.
Tucked safely into a well beneath the book are the 78 cards of the tarot deck itself. Structurally it follows the standard pattern, 22 majors wherein Strength is VIII and Justice is XI, and four suits each with ten numbered cards and four courts. There are no names upon these cards, although the usual titles and nomenclature can be found in the book, instead this deck uses the system of numbers and symbolic icons in the borders to identify the cards. This is, one supposes, Lo Scarabeo's reply to the criticism of their multi lingual titling and certainly give the cards a sleek minimalist look that allows the attention to be fully drawn to the image whilst still adequately identifying each card. The elaborately beautiful backs of these cards are almost but not quite reversible, however the book makes it clear that this is not a deck that was designed with reversals in mind.
The art that graces the faces of the cards is in a strange, possibly computer generated style that looks, on occasion, frighteningly realistic, but at the same time has a sense of something terribly other and unworldly, as though these human seeming figures are not human at all but something else; as indeed they are. All 78 cards are fully illustrated, the minor arcana no less than the major. Upon the numbered cards of the minor arcana a strange system is used that is possibly not a system at all but merely the effects of an artistic sensibility. Here it will be seen that some of the cards show the suit signifier, the Cup, the Sword, the Wand or the Pentacle in its correct numeric configuration, such as the two cups pictured in the 2 of Cups; whilst others show the suit signifier but not in the correct amount such as the multiplicity of useless pentacles upon the five of that suit and the singular wand upon the 7 of Wands; others do not show the suit signifier at all such as the woman upon the 7 of Swords who clutches a cross with not a sword in sight. Although this may sound strange when described like this, it is not so when looking at the cards themselves. The suit and the number are both clearly marked upon the architecturally gothic borders and, with such obvious identification, it begins to seem strange that a picture should need to be contrived to show ten swords or eight wands at the expense of the artistic merits of the image itself.
Perfectly illustrated by Davide Corsi's haunting images the cards show, as the title of the deck might suggest, images of vampires and their victims, of a night time world where the undead stalk their prey and live their hollow lives before creeping back into their coffins to hide from the light of day. In essence these cards are based upon the ubiquitous model of the Rider Waite. Although this is not immediately obvious it is revealed through small things, the numbering of Strength and Justice, the boat upon the 6 of Swords, the single combatant against a more numerous enemy upon the 7 of Wands and the celebrants upon the 3 of Cups. This is not to say that this deck is a mere reworking of the Rider Waite, it is not. The majority of the cards show a distinct novelty of image that indicates that Waite's deck has simply been used as a jumping off point to create something that is both new and original but still accessible to the tarot reading public. Examples of this originality of image would be the doomed couple on the 7 of Cups and the chained beast upon the 8 of Swords. Just as the images of the tarot have been reworked so have the meanings of the cards been reinterpreted to take account of the dark theme of the deck. Clearly, to a Vampire, the sun does not mean the same as it does to a human; and death, to the undead, must be something different indeed. In many cases it is clear that love, for vampires, is not love at all; desire is only for blood, love is a mask that conceals the desperation of thirst and freedom comes only from the destruction that ends the unlife of the vampire.
As the book so clearly states the vampire, its stories and its myths, have been current for many centuries, changing and evolving as the needs of the tellers and the listeners evolve. Indeed, the vampire has always been there, the shadow of the living, walking with them, often hidden, forever present. Changing through time from the ravenous medieval beasts to the elegant blood suckers of the Victorians. Finding, perhaps, its apotheosis in the stories of Anne Rice whose collection of beautiful demons and terrifying saints populate the world of her Vampire Chronicles seeking some kind of redemption and solace as they drink an eternity of blood and death. Currently it is hard to enter a book shop or turn on the television without encountering some species of the undead, though the current motif in this plethora of books and films appears to be one of the 'misunderstood boy from the wrong side of the tracks', an earlier incarnation of which was summed up so well in the Shangri Las kitsch classic 'Leader of the Pack'. “They told me he was bad, but I knew he was sad, that's why I fell for the leader of the pack”. An eternal boyfriend for a prepubescent girl who has not yet dared turn her mind to the crude realities of love for the living.
The Vampires of the Eternal Night are a combination of all these archetypes and in these cards will be found all species of vampire from those that pine for their lost humanity to those that have given themselves up entirely to the beast within, who luxuriate in their blood lust and in their thirst. Indeed it is their thirst, their hunger that ties them all together, for one thing that can be said about all the many undead that appear upon these cards is that they hunger. They have given up their human lives and their souls for eternal life and for never ending, never fulfilled thirst; an addiction so extreme it pervades every moment of their existence. From the Hierophant bathing in the blood that is the only thing in which he can now believe, to the Star who hopes for a miracle that can never take place, all are lost, all are damned, bound together by the night, by eternity and by their never ending thirst.
Within this deck the concept of the vampire is used as a metaphor for the darkness, the beast, that dwells within us all. The shadow side that we can either embrace or deny, the instinctive self that we can either repress or revel in. Picturing the vampire as a soulless, hopeless creature devoid of love and doomed to an empty eternity, the book that accompanies this deck explores the unfulfilled needs that lie within us all. In this way it allows an easy route to explore some of the most difficult and painful questions that plague the individual; questions of needs unfulfilled and hopes that are lost, of the loves that are denied us and the hates that feed the beast within. By approaching these difficult subjects at one remove, through the metaphor of the vampire, it is easier, even pleasurable to explore these questions and to delve deep into the darker side of the personality, to discover the beast within, what it desires and what it fears.
The book that accompanies this deck gives a number of accessible ways to undertake this exploration. Beginning with a basic introduction to the vampire's role in both history and modern culture it explores the concept of the vampire as both a Jungian archetype and as a dark mirror through which a reader may see themselves and their relationship with the world reflected back at them. Following this the book moves on to describe the cards and to assign meaning to the images. This is done both through a short passage, 'The Vampire's Story', that describes the thoughts and feelings of the vampires and victims upon the card, and also through a selection of interpretations suited for different readings and different types of exploration, including basic meanings suitable for divination and fortune telling. The parts of the book called 'The Vampire's story' are often the most telling as the author seems able to get into the minds of these damned creatures and lay bare their innermost selves to the reader. This is most effective in the pages assigned to the court cards where instead of a third person description of what the individual upon the card feels it is instead a first person narrative as the vampire speaks directly to the reader in their own words, their own tongue, creating strikingly personal cameos in just a few short sentences.
The section devoted to the cards makes up, of course, the meat of the book, Nevertheless it is followed by a short but important section covering the use of the cards. A number of spreads are included here, from the simple to the complex, and introduces vampiric themed spreads such as the 'Alive, Dead, Undead' spread and the 'Reversed Cross' lay out, as well as simple and familiar three card lay outs and the perennially popular 'Celtic Cross'. Lastly then the book includes a few pages on ways of interacting with the cards, ways to make the exploration of one's shadow side through the medium of the vampires both fun and productive. In this section it is suggested that the reader throws a vampire party, dresses up to get into character or tells stories of the supernatural using the cards as a device to form the structure of the tale. It is also suggested that the reader keep a journal of their adventures with this deck, a journal that in time could become their own vampire tale as they explore the archetypes upon the cards. Most importantly the book encourages the reader to step beyond its pages and delve deeper into the cards, to study them and contemplate them, to make up ones own vampire stories that illuminate the elegant and mysterious images.
Altogether this is a beautiful package from Lo Scarabeo, the elements of which harmonise with each other to give a whole and complete reading experience. That is not to say that the deck couldn't be used alone, it could. The art upon the cards is detailed and clear, perfect for allowing one's mind to explore intuitively. The people upon the cards are unique and full of character, their faces, their poses, their surroundings all coming together to make each card a complete and unified whole that allows the conciousness of the reader in to explore the deeper subtleties of meaning that lie beneath the surface. By the same token the book itself is an interesting addition to tarot literature. Many of the words in it could be applied to any number of decks should the reader wish to explore their shadow side, and its clever way of leading the reader by the hand as they enter the dark world of the Vampire and then setting them free to explore alone could be easily applied to other decks.
From the moment that one opens the box to greet the denizens of the Eternal Night to the moment the magnetic catch snicks shut again, this set is an unforgettable journey into a melancholy world that soothes, caresses and comprehends the darkness in ourselves, that gives us permission to confront the shadows that lie in all our hearts and to loose the inner beasts that in daylight we keep both chained and bound.