Those who love gloomy gothic decks filled with mystical and mysterious images will surely like Phantasmagoria Vampire Tarot, the review of which I have prepared for you today. To be honest, I myself am not a fan of vampire-themed cards, but I will try to talk about the deck fairly impartially. Especially for the review, I carefully examined all the Arcana and read the author’s book, so now I hasten to share my opinion with you.
In the foreword of the book that accompanies the deck, the author of this creation, Ian Daniels, explains the choice of the name Phantasmagoria. The fact is that this is exactly what the French translation called the German collection of chilling stories, which also included translated works from the “Book of Ghosts” – a five-volume collection of German stories about ghosts and spirits. It was this collection that prompted Mary Shelley (author of the famous Frankenstein), John Polidori (author of the Vampire story, which laid the foundation for the whole genre) and several other writers to write their own dark, gothic and scary stories and novels. The very word “Phantasmagoria” was taken by the French from the creative arsenal of Etienne-Gaspard Robert, the first master of theatrical performance, who played magical and terrible mysteries in front of the audience, called phantasmagoria.
What made the author of the Vampire Tarot turn to this particular topic? Why was the genre of some other “horror” not chosen? Ian Daniel himself notes that the deck was created to help a person face his fears in order to overcome them and harmoniously combine with all the other emotions that he experiences. The image of a vampire perfectly reflects not only the shadow side of our psyche, but also shows the idea of fear for oneself or a loved one with a frenzied delight from subordinating oneself to another, when the boundary between partners is blurred. The author compares the hunger that a vampire experiences with spiritual aspirations.
The original version of the deck was published in 2010 by Llewellyn, and the Russian version was published in 2012 by Phoenix. The size of the Phantasmagoria Vampire Tarot cards in the foreign version is 7 by 12 cm.
Key features of the deck
Despite the intimidating dark imagery, the deck could well be attributed to Waite’s classic tradition. The Minor Arcana are drawn, which allows you to determine the meaning of the card according to the plot. The names of the suits have been changed to “vampire” ones: Wands – Scepters, Cups – Grails, Swords – Knives, Pentacles – Skulls. The author explains the choice of these elements in his book. We will talk about this a little later, when we move on to getting to know the Minor Arcana. The numbering of the cards is also standard: Jester – 0, Strength – 8, Justice – 11. But the Court cards are still rather reminiscent of the tradition of Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn: instead of Pages we see Daughters, instead of Knights – Princes, and instead of Kings – Lords. Only the Queens remained in their rightful place.
Ian Daniels himself describes Kabbalistic and astrological bindings in his book, but in the illustrations you will find only the latter. On Phantasmagoria Vampire Tarot cards, phenomena, places and objects associated with the culture of bloodsuckers are almost everywhere. These are blood, roses, pentagrams, chains, candles, cups, daggers, a black raven, a snake, a panther. The action of the plots takes place in the best “vampire” traditions – most often in a cemetery or in a Gothic mansion. In general, for those who are fond of gothic and vampire themes, the deck will be very understandable.
If you look at the Phantasmagoria Vampire Tarot Gallery, you will see that the Major Arcana are almost classical, at least almost all but one retain their traditional names, although the illustrations themselves are made with a bias towards a dark, mystical theme. The name of the tenth Arcana has been changed – here it is called Fate. To make the review complete, I propose to consider a few Trumps in more detail.
Let’s look at the Jester opening the deck. As you can see, this is a vampire enjoying the moonlight, breaking out of his grave. In one hand is his Chalice (Grail), filled with blood, which he stretches to heaven, in the other – a white rose, oozing blood – a symbol of disclosure, a new beginning.
The Hierophant is a spiritual mentor and advisor. At his feet, a girl obediently sits, having tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. There is a blue rose on the floor in front of her. On the head of the Hierophant are horns – the symbol of the bull. The web that entangles his throne hints at ancient archaic traditions and his age. The sacred animal Wolf lies at his feet. In the illustration we see two pentagrams: one on the chest of the Hierophant, the other in the hand. The six-pointed symbol speaks of the balanced laws of the Universe, and the five-pointed symbol speaks of the unity of the five elements (water, earth, fire, air and spirit – the fifth magical element).
The tower in the Tarot of the Vampires is not yet collapsing, and no one falls out of its windows, but inside it is already blazing with might and main fire. But the black Rider in the foreground, as you can see, manages to gallop away, avoiding tragedy. The card means the destruction of the old life (look how old the building looks!) and the leap to new life.
As you can see, the meanings of the Major Arcana can be tied to the classics. Separately, I would like to mention a few cards that I especially liked. If you decide to purchase this deck, then, of course, study its symbolism on your own. Moreover, the author’s book is very detailed. In the meantime, look at the images – even for me, not a fan of the bloodsuckers theme, they delighted. These are Fate, the Hermit and the Hanged Man.
But, in addition to these Arcanas I liked, there are several in the deck that I personally lacked something. I’m used to looking at a map and immediately seeing its key idea without having to dig into a book and look for a description. With the Arcana Justice, Death, Moon and Judgment, I did not succeed.
In Justice, I did not find any familiar symbolism, except for two scales that dangle somewhere in the background. As the author writes in his book, in one bowl there is parity and impartiality of judgments, in the second – the sword of decision-making and the justice of the verdict. And how can you guess this without reading the description?
Death for a vampire is a rebirth from a human into a bloodsucker, a global transformation. The idea itself is certainly good, but personally, I can’t see from the image of the card whether this girl has already been reborn or is still in the process. It seems to me that this moment could be illustrated a little differently: for example, by drawing her rising from the coffin after the end of the human part of her existence.
The Moon in the Vampire Tarot is an incomprehensible card for me. Who is this transparent girl – the ghost of a vampire? Is this even possible? What is the sickle in her hand? I climb into the book and read that the bride’s outfit symbolizes fear rising from the depths of the subconscious. But what should she be afraid of, if it is a moonlit night and dawn is still very far away? The sickle is, it turns out, a symbol of dark intrigues. And the card itself means that the girl became the bride of death, passed through the underworld, and now she has a hope for the dawn. Maybe I’m just too little versed in vampire subjects, but it seems very strange to me that a bloodsucker who has passed through the rite of passage hoped for the dawn to come.
And one more Arcana that I don’t understand is Judgment. As explained in the book, this is a vampire who has escaped from captivity (the grave is a symbol of the former mode of action) and is filled with new energy. In fact, Arkan speaks of reincarnation. But personally, this image seemed to me too similar to the Fool, whom we considered a little earlier.
The Minor Arcana of the Gothic Vampire Tarot are divided into four elements. The scepters represent the energy, will, passion, creativity, and action associated with the element of Fire. Grails show the feelings, emotions, intuition and spiritual insight inherent in the elements of Water. Knives are the power of the intellect, reason, rational thinking, as well as internal struggle, intellectual searches, problems and anxiety – the element of Air. Skulls – the suit of the Earth – reveal material aspects: work, money, home, physical body.
Most of the Minor Arcana have something in common with Waite in one way or another, however, as you probably guessed, the very meaning of the cards is revealed through completely different, dark, gloomy, and sometimes very romantic plots. Let’s take one card of each suit as an example.
The Five of Sceptres. Card of struggle, trials, rivalry, challenge, confrontation. The plot is chosen by the author quite “speaking” – a girl fighting with a totem animal. At first I thought that she was holding a cross in her hand, however, after reading the description, I realized that it was a scepter. By the way, it is found on all cards of the suit.
The Three of Grails is Waite’s counterpart to the Three of Cups. On the map we see three characters, but they do not celebrate the holiday, but, apparently, they just enjoy each other’s company. The description of the card says that the Arcana symbolizes group interests, close friendship, support, but sometimes jealousy. By the way, it was about jealousy that I first of all thought when I looked at the faces of vampire girls – they have only one gentleman! But in general, we can say that the idea of the card is close to the classics.
The Ten of Knives shows us a vampire girl stabbed through the heart. But, looking into the book, I found out that she is actually not a bloodsucker, but a succubus, which, however, does not change the meaning of the card – this is the same tragic story of the classic Ten of Swords.
The Eight of Skulls appears before us in the form of a necromancer performing some kind of serious ritual. Agree, the meaning is again very close to the classics – the performance of the usual, and sometimes routine work with diligence and skill. Well, a magical ritual for such a character is quite a common thing, isn’t it?
Separately, I would like to show the Tarot Aces of Vampires Phantasmagoria. They are really insanely beautiful.
Court cards are very typical. In the book, the author of the deck describes their connection with Jung’s sixteen personality types. The only difference that I have already mentioned is the very structure of the court: first comes the Daughter, then the Prince, then the Queen and then the Lord. The images of the curly Vampire Tarot cards are associated with their suits. My personal opinion is that only the Lords and some Queens were 100% successful. By Daughters and Princes it is very difficult to describe the character, demeanor of a person – I personally lacked dynamics, details and a more elaborate background.
Peculiarities of card interpretation
Of course, the main theme of the deck implies a somewhat specific interpretation of the cards, although very close to the classics. It will be difficult to understand the interpretations of the Arcana from the illustrations for those who are not familiar with the dark world and vampire traditions. However, the deck can be quite successfully studied from the book by Ian Daniels. The cards are used both upright and upside down – the reverse meaning is described in the book as “shadow”.
Which questions is the deck suitable for?
Vampire Tarot cards are universal. You can work with them on any topic, but the deck is especially well “sharpened” for the study of fears, subconscious blocks, internal conflicts, psychological problems.
Who is this card suitable for?
Personally, I recommend the Vampire Tarot:
- For those who are into gothic novels and vampire stories
- For lovers of beautifully rendered dark decks
- Those who want to explore the shadow side of the human psyche and the traps of the subconscious
- Looking for an unusual deck to work in dark colors, but close to the classic values of Waite
Recommended reading for the deck
If you decide to buy Phantasmagoria Vampire Tarot, then the only really necessary and useful literature will be the book of the author himself – Ian Daniels with the same name. It not only describes the meaning and symbolism of each card in great detail, but also gives some very interesting layouts created specifically for this deck.