- Category: Reviews
Tarot of the Vampyres
IAN DANIELS, LEWELLYN, 2010
I am so damn sick of vampires.
Still, there’s much we can learn from these overplayed monsters. “Monster,” after all, translates in its Latin root to “portent, warning, revelation,” and it’s appropriate, therefore, to use the vampire archetype as a focus for Tarot-based divination. It’s rather cheesy, though… and The Tarot of the Vampyres is both enjoyably cheesy and surprisingly appropriate.
To be honest, I opened my review deck expecting to hate it. I didn’t open it, exactly — I unwrapped the plastic and the flimsy box fell apart in my hands.
Dear Llewellyn: If you’re going to charge people 30 bucks for a set of Tarot cards, please get your game up regarding your production quality. The shoddy packaging was inexcusable. Okay, so what about the set itself?
With gleeful surprise, I rather enjoyed this deck. Being an old-school Goth myself, I couldn’t resist Daniels’ approach. Embracing (pun intended) the undeniable kitsch-factor inherent in his concept, the author-artist goes wild. Capital-G GOTHIC in the most baroque connotations of that term, The Tarot of the Vampyres revels in dark-romantic overkill. I suspect that Mr. Daniels made a deliberate choice to go so far over the top that the top no longer exists. An innate (if often neglected) element of the Gothic aesthetic, after all, is a certain forked-tongue-in-cheek. The epic theatrics of Goth hold up a funhouse mirror on mortality’s innate joke, and the Introduction to the companion book, Phantasmagoria (itself the title of a classic Goth album by The Damned) implies that Daniels is in on the punchline. Decorated with a death’s-head moth, for crying out loud, the frontispiece quotes H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. “ That is not dead which can eternal lie/ and with strange aeons even death may die.” This set couldn’t be more GAWTH if it shat bats on a coffin lid. Whether or not this is a good thing depends entirely on your sense of morbid humor… and your willingness to see the truth behind it.
The Introduction recounts the origin of the modern vampire myth in the ghost-story competition between Lord Byron, Dr.
John Polidori, and Mary and Percy Shelley. Mr. Daniels brings Dr. Jung to the blood-spattered table too, explaining the ominous appeal of fear, the Shadow, and the revelations to be found within both. Tying the alltoo-human hunger for spiritual connection with the eternal hunger of the vampire, Daniels wraps them into an intriguing interpretation of traditional Tarot symbology. Purple as the writing is, Mr. Daniels has a point… and given the larger-than-life qualities of Tarot itself, his epic approach is not inappropriate. Hell, considering how damned dull most Tarot books can be, this is a fresh breath of bloody air from an all-too-musty crypt.
The cards themselves evoke a realm of constant bloody bacchanals. Although he has reworked their Victorian sexism (most notably in the substitution of “Daughters” for the “Pages” in the Minor Arcana) and reconstituted the usual suits into Scepters, Grails, Knives, and Skulls, the designer sticks largely with the Rider-Waite-Smith conceptions. That said, Mr. Daniels gives plenty of thought to color significance, employs resonant (if overused) symbolism, and prefers sexy gender-fluid vampires over awkward faux-medieval tableaus. The artwork is enjoyable, if cartoonish, and contains several marvelous images — my personal favorites being “The Sun,“ “Two of Knives,” “Justice,” and “Death.”
If nothing else, Tarot of the Vampyres provides a delightful antidote to stuﬀy New Age nonsense. Daniels employs the barbaric splendor of Morbius the living vampire tripping on a Melnibonian blood-high. For all its Black Metal frenzy, though, there’s genuine resonance in this Tarot.
As Romantics, Decadents, and Gothic legions know, life is a desperate pageant of mundanity occasionally lit by flashes of real or imaginary hell. Mr. Daniels goes for the angry adolescent jugular, and I appreciate his unapologetic gusto. Tarot of the Vampyres casts a dark romantic spell. I guess there’s still some lively blood left in those dusty old cards and vampires after all.