Images from Google
With two vampire novels under my wooden-stake-decorated belt, it’s safe to say that I’m fairly interested in the mythical undead. So imagine my excitement on discovering The Vampire Tarot in a local bookshop- a neatly boxed set of 78 Tarot cards (based on the Rider-Waite system) and illustrated by Robert M. Plaice. For those not initiated into the great mysteries (woooo!) of the Rider-Waite Tarot, here’s a (rather basic, I’m afraid) crash course: the Tarot is a guide to predicting future events or experiences based around a question posed by a Seeker (i.e. the person asking the question/ wanting a Tarot reading) and the interpretation given by the Reader (the person dealing the cards.) They are divided into 4 suits (Wands/Staves, Pentacles, Swords, Cups) that correspond to one of the four elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire.) Included is the Minor Arcana, or ‘court’ suits, i.e. the King of Cups, the Queen of Cups, the Page of Cups, the Knight of Cups, and the Major Arcana which includes well-known cards such as The Empress, (usually interpreted as for fertility) The Fool (interpreted not as foolishness, ironically, but as a choice being offered) and The Star (for creative inspiration and renewal.) ‘Arcana’ literally means ‘fate’, and can suggest otherworldy forces at work. (Oooh!)
The suits can also signify aspects of the Seeker’s personality- for example, the Cups suit represents imagination and the emotions (as the Cups are to do with water, which represents the flow of the emotions.) Okay, still following? Phew! The Rider-Waite system was first devised around 1908, and illustrated by Pamela Colman-Smith. They are rich in symbolism and arcane imagery, something which I find fascinating to write about as I’m a very visual writer, and love to pick apart symbols and images. I’ve also used the Tarot in one scene from The Blood Witching, as symbols for what befalls Nerissa Naughton in the latter part of the novel.
The Vampire Tarot is interesting in that it takes the symbols from RW, and twists them on its head, as well as giving them a vampire interpretation. For example, the Cups become chalices of holy water, and the Wands become wooden stakes. It also features representations of Bram Stoker, Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker and Pamela Colman Smith herself.
The colours as well are suitably ‘Gothic’-muted browns, greys, blacks and vivid bloody reds. The lack of bright colour in the pack is a nice foil against the jewel-like tones of the RW pack, though it may not be to everyone’s taste, and I felt that all the browns and greys seemed a bit drab after a while. I would have liked a zing of colour, or perhaps a monochrome pack in the style of Aubrey Beardsley, with perhaps just a slash of red to act as a contrast. The wavy lines of each figure’s hair brings to mind old woodcuts or prints that one might find in ‘magick’ incunabula, and medical diagrams. The pack’s artwork as a whole clearly takes a lot of inspiration from Dracula and Le Fanu– think spooky castles, winding staircases, voluptuous nightgowns- rather than other more contemporary works and writers (e.g. Anne Rice) though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where I think it falls down for me is the quality of the pack itself- the cards felt uncomfortably plasticky, were rather large in my hand, and had an annoying tendency to actually stick together. (Although this just might be because it was a bargain pack.) Thus, far too much time was spent actually prising the darn things apart, than in decoding the mysteries of the Universe. (Sigh.) A lot of people are wary of the Tarot and link it to the occult- it doesn’t help that Aleister Crowley*- UGH!- devised his own pack- EEK!- and I would always advise caution, whatever pack you use. If you’re interested, it’s always important to read around the subject, and I had to study the cards in order to write what I felt would be an accurate Tarot reading-scene in The Blood Witching.
If you’re interested in finding out more, Biddy’s Tarot blog is particularly good for beginners, with forums and information- particularly in describing what each card means, and ways of purifying your cards of any negative energy (apparently the cards suck up negative energy like a sponge, and should always be wrapped in a scarf or placed in a small protective bag. Putting clear quartz in with your cards can also help keen them clean and serene :P) Some common myths about Tarot cards are that they can predict your death/or the death of someone you love- and that the ‘Death’ card means a literal, physical death. The card is a bit scary, but this is so NOT TRUE! It’s also not true that anything they may interpret is bound to come true- the future is never written in stone, after all, and it all depends on how you yourself interpret the cards. (Which is why any novices must always, ALWAYS use a guide and not take it as a game!) But, even if you decide not to use a Tarot pack at all, I still think they are interesting visually, and with so many packs available, the artwork is wide-ranging and sometimes beautiful to look at.
*Just for the record, I wouldn’t touch this guy’s stuff with a barge pole. Yuck.