The Tarot of Vampyres is a vampire themed deck created by British illustrator, Ian Daniels. The gothic-style art in his 78-card deck is stunning - romantic, seductive, brooding and dark.
Tarot Deck - 78 Cards - Llewellyn 2010
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.
© Bonnie Cehovet
If you like vampire mythology, you’ll likely delight in this deck. The images are finely detailed; adeptly capturing the culture, characters and settings of the vampire milieu. The images are not surprising, uncomfortably gory or dare I say…original. This is not a deck I would reach for to do readings for clients unless they were especially fond of Goth culture and vampires in particular. Most Tarot clients struggle with nervousness already, so pulling out this deck would hardly settle their already fluttering hearts. Youthful, strikingly beautiful, ethereal vampires in various dramatized settings stir thoughts of soap opera rather than tarot in my imagination. Rather reminiscent of the whole Twilight movie series, the deck is one best suited to a younger audience.
I couldn’t help noticing that each card featured typically one, sometimes two, and rarely three characters which set me on a path to investigate the traditional family cards. The Ten of Grails (ten of cups) and the Ten of Skulls (ten of pentacles/disks) were my specific targets. What sort of family vampire images would the illustrator use, I eagerly wondered? Annoyingly, both cards depict a single, model-beautiful, adolescent female vampire. Where is her family or her connection to others in her life? The author has no excuse for this omission! Vampires, according to classic legend are fierce about their family relationships. Loyal, possessive and clannish, vampires have a strict hierarchal order determined by family bonds. The author failed on both counts; the meaning of the cards translated into appropriate imagery and the tradition of vampires which he obviously finds compelling.
In the accompanying book, “Phantasmagoria”, he does note that these cards point to family yet he fails to illustrate them in the cards. Why? Because this illustrator clearly prefers to illustrate beautiful young female vampires, that’s why. The classic meaning be damned. Excuse the pun! It’s disappointing when a tarot deck fails to reflect its grander, timeless mystery but rather the mundane and prurient preferences of its creator.
The true value of this vampire tarot set is in the accompanying book. This is a well written and thought-provoking book on both spiritual and psychological counts. It’s sophisticated, well rounded and succinct. It even stretches to explain why a tarotist would use vampire imagery to depict the meaning of the tarot, “A liking for horror and eeriness could be dismissed as morbid or unhealthy, but it could also be said that it’s unwholesome to deny the existence of our own darker shadows. If we face our fears, we can master them rather than project them out onto the world and onto others, which can reveal itself as irrational hatred, bullying, or illogical or delusional morality. Denying fear isn’t only emotionally unwise, it could be physically dangerous.”
Reading this however, failed to change my mind in terms of using this deck to do readings for clients but it certainly went far to redeem the creator of this set. I was star-struck realizing Ian Daniels is no intellectual lightweight which one might deduce from simply perusing his deck. He’s an illustrator by profession, not a tarotist, writer or academic (as far as I was able to determine) yet the magic of this vampire set lies predominantly in this aspect of the project. You must read his card descriptions and explanations to fully appreciate this body of work. His chapter on the Magician, Temperance, and Fortune are especially noteworthy but to be honest I would say the whole book is brilliantly done. Every time I pick up this book I find passages I want to quote.
I don’t know how long this project took Ian Daniels to complete but I’m sure it was years. Would I recommend it? As I sit here contemplating whether I would recommend it, I have to say yes. The book is so exceptionally good and you wouldn’t want to read the book without having the deck to peruse at the same time. They are indeed a set that must be explored together.
Although I might have been harsh about my reservations regarding the imagery of this deck, I have only admiration for Ian Daniel’s artistic gift. His images are creative, satisfyingly detailed, and hauntingly beautiful. If you are a young person quite enamoured with vampire culture, you would be enchanted by these images. If you are an older tarotist like myself, you will likely find these images somewhat annoyingly pornographic and adolescent. Not that I’m a prude or conservative by nature (is a tarotist ever?), but the overemphasis on young, beautiful, seductive vampires staring at the viewer at every turn gets old quickly.
confident this deck will attract a large number of fans and
I’m happy to ponder those who will find a treasure of
a book hidden behind this unoriginal vampire deck.
It’s likely that those who will be attracted to this
set will be just those who will benefit the
This was an impulse buy for me and I have found it a mixed bag. It has a limited audience and would not work as an ambassador for vampyres to those who dont normally like them. There are a couple of reasons for this, but they add up to the fact that this is a beautiful, mostly well thought out deck that succumbs to Daniels' weakness for eroticism. Most of the women are clad in see-through or tight clothing or else just not very much clothing at all. Several of the cards not traditionally associated with sex are erotic in this deck; the three of skulls, in which the craftswoman vampyre might as well not be wearing anything, and the unusually erotic nine of grails come to mind.
That said, this deck has grown on me a lot. The companion book, Phantasmagoria, is detailed and intelligent and shows the depth of thought that went into the cards. Most of the cards do a decent to excellent job of bringing up their traditional meanings. And did I mention that a whole lot of thought went into these cards?
Daniels is to be commended for the unity he imposes on the deck. The colour scheme, which matches the suits to colours of candles, roses, and other accoutrements in the cards, borders on the cheesy but gives life and variety to what would otherwise be a visually bland deck and makes it easier to associate the cards with their suits. All of the aces are similar to each other, as are the sixes, princes (knights), and lords (kings), while other minor cards differ widely. Since astrological symbols are placed on many of the cards, making astrological links between cards is easy.
Daniels also deserves credit for the number of cards that use a vivid and non-traditional image to show the traditional tarot image. Though all of the human vampyres are white and young, there are at least some non-human figures, such as a Medusa on the seven of grails and a demon in the five of swords. I've noted down some of my favourite cards from the major arcana each suit; they tend to be the ones that dont closely match what I would expect from them.
The Fool depicts a male vampyre kneeling with arms outspread, so that his pose mirrors the crow flying overhead. The dynamism of the pose sets this aside from most fool cards.
The Lovers is close to the traditional image of the heterosexual couple embracing, but here you can see that both have bloody necks and lips. Their expressions are blissful. This card captures very well the timelessness of a romantic moment. A deaths head moth is perched on the womans arm.
The four of scepters shows a mostly naked female vampyre sitting in a circle of blood. Red candles burn and there is a red wreath. While not the usual joyful imagery of this card, the picture of a sacred rite works well to show celebration and harmony.
The eight of grails shows a hooded and masked figure on the path away from a palace. The figures hands are chained together and they hold an empty cup. The card emanates dissatisfaction.
The eight of knives is, as far as I can tell, the only time the sun appears in the deck except for the Sun card, where it is more of a golden skull than an actual sun. Here a demon vampyre is chained to a stake in a swamp. Other vampyres have become skeletons. The sun shines oppressively down through the greenish fog. This card does a good job of inverting the usual meaning of the sunfor vampyres it is a source of not joy but despair.
The seven of skulls pictures a wolfish female vampyre holding to an apple and clinging to a sundial in a courtyard.
Cards that suit me less are the princes, because I do not get any sense of differentiation between them; the Fortune card, because the rainbow rose motif it uses seems garish to me; and the nine of pentacles, which looks posed to me.
This deck works best when it doesn't get carried away with the beauty of patterns or by the sexual potential of its young female subjects. It occasionally dips into mediocrity but is rescued by the love Daniels had of his theme, the detail of the art, and the cards that take the tarot reader somewhere unexpected.
would highly recommend this deck for those who are
interested in gothic subjects or those who are looking for an
unusual romantic deck. Based on my experiences with it, I
think it would work best for romantic readings or
readings about spiritual health.
I saw this deck sitting on the shelf and had to have it. I got home and opened it. Wow! This deck is absolutely amazing. The first thing that cought my eye was the back. It is a blood red rose growing out of darker thorn vines. Simply amazing. Then I flipped the deck over and it took my breath away. They have black borders, and the title of the card is at the bottom incased in a stone like smaller border with vines all around it. These cards are a little gory, with the blood mostly.
In this deck the Minor suits have been changed. Wands are now Scepters, Cups are Grails, Swords are Knives and Pentacles are Skulls. Each with a different rose color correspondence. The courts have also been changed, Kings are Lords, Queens stayed Queens, Knights are Princes, and Pages are Daughters.
The imagery takes a bit to get used to. They are portrayed in different ways, but are still effective in readings. It does have a Gothic feel to it, but can be used and loved by any - I am Wiccan and love it. It puts a whole new angle on tarot. My favorite card in the pack it the Priestess. She is in a white dress and her book is floating in front of her with a black candle and rose. Behind her is the full moon and a dead tree.
The book, instead of using reversals, calls it the Shadow. It talks about everyones shadow that they must overcome and how this tarot can help with that. The book goes in great detail on how to read the tarot. From numbers, planetary influences, astrological influences, and Sun signs. It gives a chart on how to determine your personal cards and how you can use them for self progress.
Overall the deck
is amazing, so vibrant yet dark and mysterious. There
is not much nudity (just some cleavage and half naked
men vampyres). This deck has hit my top decks of all
time list - if you're thinking on buying this deck,
you won't be disappointed. If you love vampyres,
gothic, or darker images this deck is for you.