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The Necronomicon Tarot
      Secrets of the Necronomicon
Donald Tyson; illustrations by Anne Stokes
      Donald Tyson
Llewellyn, 227 pages

Secrets of the Necronomicon / The Necronomicon Tarot
Donald Tyson
Donald Tyson is from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Early in life he was drawn to science by an intense fascination with astronomy, building a telescope by hand when he was eight. He began university seeking a science degree, but became disillusioned with the aridity and futility of a mechanistic view of the universe and shifted his major to English. After graduating with honors he has pursued a writing career. Now he devotes his life to the attainment of a complete gnosis of the art of magic in theory and practice.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

This dark Tarot completes a sort of "trilogy" of Lovecraft-inspired works by Donald Tyson, following the books Necronomicon, and Alhazred. (Tyson is also the creator of "Rune Dice," and has authored occult lore books such as Scrying for Beginners, and Ritual Magic.)

The Necronomicon Tarot uses images and themes from H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu" mythos. Lovecraft was a ground-breaking pulp horror writer from the 20s. No vampires or werewolves from him, no sir. Lovecraft's ultimate evil, Cthulhu, wasn't even technically evil, in the Manichean sense of "good" vs. "evil." Cthulhu was a space alien, cold, remote, extraordinarily powerful, and most of all, incomprehensible. Characters touched by Cthulhu or its minions weren't killed; they went insane. Reading the Necronomicon itself, a book of black magic rituals bound in human skin written by the sorcerer Alhazred, was also said to guarantee instant insanity.

Iconically, in Lovecraft's world, Cthulhu is the Dark. Cthulhu is deep space and moldy graveyards, the creak of floorboards upstairs in an empty house, the darkness under your bed: the scary things you can't quite make out -- and maybe don't want to -- in your subconscious. But if you really want to, this may just be the deck for you.

The Necronomicon Tarot is fairly standard sized. It's structured with the usual 22 Major Arcana cards (or 'Trumps') and Minor Arcana in four suits -- Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles -- each numbered one through ten, with four 'court' cards (King, Queen, Knight, Knave), as per the Golden Dawn interpretation. There are also two extra "cheat sheet" cards which list all the cards in the deck, along with their elemental or astrological links; these are bound to come in handy for those new to Tarot.

The cards are slick and thin, with a snappy feel that makes this a light, easy-to-shuffle deck; if the artwork reminds you of CCGs and RPG game manuals, you're right on target. U.K.-based illustrator Anne Stokes has created fantasy artwork for Wizards of the Coast, World of Warcraft, and others. The artwork itself is brightly rendered against a black background, as befitting a 'dark' Tarot. Those familiar with Lovecraft, or with Tyson's books, will recognize Azathoth as The Fool and Dagon as The Hierophant. Cthulhu rates The Devil card, Amun is The Emperor, and Shub-Niggurath the Empress.

Tyson drifts from standard Tarot interpretation in his assigning of Atlantis and the Deep Ones to Wands -- a suit typically associated with the element of Fire -- rather than Cups, the suit which deals in Water. He also limits the Cups cards (linked here to the Egyptian cat goddess Bast) to largely positive emotions, in opposition to standard Tarot interpretations of elemental Water as an unpredictable, mysterious power which can easily conceal hidden currents and dangerous depths.

Each run of cards within a suit tells a short story, a nice detail which adds to the narrative value of the deck. Cups follows an acolyte of Bast. Wands tells of the rise and fall of Atlantis. Pentacles (or Disks) shadows a necromancer determined to gain a powerful artifact, and Swords relates a passionate tale of double-edged revenge.

The accompanying book, Secrets of the Necronomicon, explains the structure of the deck and includes a black-and-white illustration of each card, as well as an explanation of its meaning. It also includes sections on the history of the Necronomicon, Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, and a unique layout for reading this particular Tarot deck.

Some of the cards, particularly within the Major Arcana, don't contain the standard iconic cues for interpretation, which may cause confusion for some readers. For example, The Magician, typically interpreted to represent a powerful person with mastery over the four elements, usually contains images of those elements. Here, however, The Magician ("Nyarlathotep") appears swathed in shredded robes, apparently commanding, or raising from the dead, a skeleton; beyond the wind blowing Nyarlathotep's robes about, the elements are not present. Some card images also deviate (for various artistic reasons, Tyson says) from the description offered in the book, so one must pay close attention when reading a layout.

Tarot decks, and their interpretation, are as personal as fingerprints. The images which evoke resonant responses for one person may leave another cold. In his book, Tyson warns that this deck typically offers "bleak and unforgiving" readings if the cards are interpreted directly, and suggests compensating by minimizing the darker meanings of the cards -- though this would seem to defeat the entire purpose of having a Necronomicon deck. It's safe to say, anyone steeped in Lovecraft's mythos, or curious to learn more, will find this Tarot and book set well worth the shiver or two it may invoke.

Copyright © 2007 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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