Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tarot of Vampyres in Review

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Tarot of Vampyres (Ian Daniels)

By Viv Dulac

Vampire-themed Tarot decks have been cropping up like weeds for the past decade or so. It would be easy to attribute that to the popularity of recent works of fiction such as Vampire Chronicles, Twilight, or True Blood, but I think the allure and the terror of the bloodsucker myth goes much, much further back—to times before Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Bram Stoker, and John Polidori. British painter and illustrator Ian Daniels offers some interesting insights about this in Phantasmagoria, the companion book to his Tarot of Vampyres.

Most vampire decks are blessed with good to outstanding art, no matter what their other merits are, and the Tarot of Vampyres is no exception; in fact, it is one of the more outstanding ones –perhaps my favorite in that respect. It is a sumptuous, sensuous nightmare of a deck, where pale model-like undead beings of both sexes (none of whom seem older than twenty-five) writhe in tortured poses and Celtic jewelry under ominous skies. There is something lurid and overripe about the sheer fulsomeness of such decadence (as if it were the impossible love child of H.P. Lovecraft and Aubrey Beardsley), to the point that, after buying it on impulse, I found it frankly, unreadable.

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Paradoxically enough, it was the book that rekindled my interest. At over three hundred pages, Phantasmagoria is not your regular LWB or companion booklet, but a full-fledged book, well-written and surprisingly meaty. One can find in its pages everything and the kitchen sink, from Kabbalah to astrology to Jungian psychology; and yet there is nothing haphazard about such accumulation. Daniels is no mere dabbler; he has obviously done his homework, and the result is an excellent tome, good for both pleasurable reading and useful reference. I would go as far as to say that, for a person new to Tarot (especially if that person likes all things Gothic, of course), this could be a good first deck and book.

So pleased I was with the book, that I decided to give the cards another chance. And, boy, am I glad I did! Thanks to the book, I was able to get pass the encroaching vines and curlicues and the overt sexiness of all those pretty young things (coiffed, bejeweled and tattooed within an inch of their lives) and could appreciate its veritable cornucopia of detail, more rewarding now that I could see that none of it was gratuitous. Moreover, the sheer splendor of the cards can entrance you and pull you into a different dimension. One can easily get lost among the folds of the Priestess’s luminous lace dress, or in the soulful, bottomless eyes of the Emperor.

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The suits of the Tarot of Vampyres have kept their Golden Dawn correspondences, and have been renamed as Scepters (Wands, fire), Grails (Cups, water), Knifes (Swords, air) and Skulls (Pentacles, earth). The court cards are named after the Thoth’s: Lord, Queen, Prince and Daughter. Justice is VIII, Strength is XI.

The Tarot of Vampyres is perhaps not for everyone; but its merits, I think, are undeniable. And, even if the cards are not to your taste, Daniels' book will prove itself worth your time.

It is published by Llewellyn; the cardstock is lightweight and shuffles easily. Unfortunately the thin white box that holds the cards within the set isn't good for carrying them, it broke down quickly.

Copyrights to deck images belong to the holder, more often than not that's the publisher. Images may not be reproduced elsewhere without written permission from site owner.

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