Review by Bonnie Cehovet
I don’t have a clue why, but things that have come to me lately in differing areas of my life all seem to be connected, in some way, to the UK. So it is with the “Tarot of the Vampyres” – author/illustrator Ian Daniels hails from the UK. Happy to say that all of the UK connections in my life seem to be working out extremely well, and this deck set is no exception!
Daniels set out to create a deck based on the Vampyre mythos, emphasizing the possession, exchange, and drawing in of different kinds of energy. He works within the traditional structure of the Rider-Waite Tarot, framing it against a Gothic background. His companion book, “Phantasmagoria”, is absolutely outstanding! I rate this deck set right up there with Robert M. Place’s “Vampire Tarot”, in quality of illustration, as well as research and presentation.
In his introduction, Daniels talks about the derivation of the title “Phantasmgoria”, coming from stage magician Etienne-Gaspard Robert’s “phantasmagoria”. Robert’s work had to do with a type of magic lantern show with silhouetted puppets acting out macabre drama. (Sends chills up your spine before you even get to the deck!) Shadows and apparitions would appear out of nowhere to scare the audience “literally out of their seats”!
Daniels goes on to talk about fear, and the Jungian concept of shadow. He feels that acknowledging our fears, and facing them, helps us to understand and overcome them. Often these fears reside in the shadow, or dark side of human psychological nature. Daniels notes that shadow issues are not always negative in nature, that positive traits can also be repressed if they are unacceptable within a family or social milieu.
While the Vampyre myth is a tale of gothic horror and romance, Daniels feels that it also illustrates “an encounter with the higher self on a personal level, with the eternal promise of self-realization and the eventual curse turned joy”. He goes on to talk about the need for times of hibernation and stillness, so that we can regenerate and realign ourselves with the essence of Spirit that pervades all nature.
The Major Arcana follows traditional titles, with Justice at VIII and Strength at XI. The four suits are Scepters. Grails, Knives and Skulls. The Court Cards are Lords, Queens, Princes and Daughters.
Daniels relates the Major Arcana to the Tree of Life, and the pathways between the ten Sephiroth. In this manner, the cards act as the secret laws of creation, forces and cycles that express the natural development of life. They are the “binding and reflective laws of the energies they connect.”
He further divides the Major Arcana into three main types:
1. Elemental Trumps – The Fool, The Hanged Man, Judgment These three cards are associated with the three mother letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
2. Planetary Trumps – The Magician, The Priestess, The Empress, Fortune, The Tower, The Sun, The World These seven cards represent the double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
3. Zodiacal Trumps – The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Justice, The Hermit, Strength, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Star, The Moon These twelve cards are connected to the simple letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The four suits are set up to represent a four-stage process:
The Seed – Fire – Scepters – Lords
The Womb – Water – Grails – Queens
Conception – Air – Knives – Princes
Birth – Earth – Skulls – Daughters
The cards are presented as text only, the Major Arcana and Pips (numbered cards) listing Alchemy, Kindred Spirits, Essence, Message, Analysis and Symbolism, and Shadow, with the Court Cards listing Alchemy, Kindred Spirits, Essence, Message and Quality, and Shadow.
In his section on card spreads and exercises, Daniels discusses the Shadow and Light aspects of the cards, along with the following spreads: Soothsayer, Dark Mirror, Blood Trail, Book of Shadows, Elemental Cross, Trespass, Forbidden Fruit, The Prophecy, and The Labyrinth. Exercises include The Manuscript (journaling), The Dreaming (taking the Tarot into dreamtime for inspiration), The Vision (working with the key card in a spread), The Shroud (working with a single card in meditation), and Darkspell (creating verses or poems for each card in a reading).
The cards themselves are 2 ¾” by 4 5/8”, of good quality, glossy card stock. The card back (reversible) shows a blood red rose, set against a black background and briar stems. Daniels associates the red rose with fertility, regeneration, energy and passion. The thorns represent suffering and sacrifice. In esoteric circles, the rose is also a sign of silence and secrecy. The red rose on a cross is a symbol connected with various Rosicrucian groups.
The card face is outlined with a ¼” black border. At the bottom of the card is listed the card title (for the Major Arcana), the number and suit (for the Pips), and the title and suit (for the Court Cards). The illustrations are dark and Gothic in nature, with recurring images of candles, skulls, crosses, red roses, snakes and the moon.
Note: My one issue with the imagery is that the figures in the deck all seem to be thirty-somethings. (The Hierophant and the Hermit are seen in shadow, and the Lords are seen on horseback, so one cannot tell their age.)
It is very hard to choose which cards to talk about with this deck – they are all intriguing! The Fool is shown emerging from a tomb, with arms thrown wide open. He holds a white rose in his right hand, the Holy Grail in his left hand. The Priestess is seated, wearing an all white dress. The full moon is behind her, an open book suspended in mid air over her lap. This is the Book of Tarot, upon which is to be written the Will of the Magician. A serpent bracelet encircles her upper right arm.
The Lovers shows a male and a female figure against a background of white roses (indicating pure devotion). The female wears a red heart necklace, representing the interchanging that the Emperor and Empress exchange. The male figure wears an inverted green heart necklace, representing the Empress. The red rose over the shoulder of the female figure represents passion, and the unification of fire and water.
Fortune shows a wheel with five roses over it, and five roses under it, their colors corresponding to the four elements, Spirit and Earth. Daniels reminds us to take note that the center of the wheel is static, while the three Vampyre creatures on the outside of the wheel are what keeps it in motion.
The Hanged Man is bound to a cross by the roots of the tree that have grown up around him, representing old beliefs and emotions. Another cross is visible in the background. Temperance shows a female figure in a dark dress, dancing as she works a ritual. She merges fire with water, creating a vapor that becomes a new power.
I found this to be a compelling deck, drawing you in by image and story. The companion book covers the esoteric side of the deck without frightening people away, and has a great deal to offer in the way of spreads and exercises. Being someone who appreciates charts, I tip my hat to Daniels for his concise presentation.
This deck would appeal to anyone with an interest in Vampyre mythos, Gothic art, or the esoteric side of the Tarot. With the use of the companion book, any level of Tarot student would be able to read with this deck. One word of caution – there is (albeit limited) nudity in this deck, which might limit its appeal, depending on the client’s acceptance of such.
© August 2010, Bonnie Cehovet
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.