The Book of Azathoth Tarot

The Book of Azathoth Tarot, 2nd Edition
Review by Richard Avila

What kept him from going with the throne of Chaos where the thin flutes pipe mindlessly was the fact that he had seen the name 'Azathoth' in the Necronomicon, and knew it stood for a primal horror too horrible for description.”  -- H.P. Lovecraft, ‘The Dreams In The Witch House'


Author/Illustrator: Nemo

Publisher: Nemo’s Locker

ISBN #: 978-0615704128
Price U.S.: $29 plus shipping

One of the great things about Tarot's popularity is that there is a deck for every taste and occasion.  There are even decks set in specific literary or artistic worlds, such as the Lord Of The Rings Tarot deck for Tolkien fans, and the Ring Cycle Tarot for lovers of Wagnerian opera.  Here we have another venture into a literary universe – one filled, however, with much more foreboding.  The universe is that of horror master H.P. Lovecraft, and the deck in question is The Book Of Azathoth Tarot.  The original edition was published in October of 2012, and the second edition in April of 2015.  The author/illustrator of the deck goes by the handy pseudonym ‘Nemo', and thus far has maintained a very low profile.  His deck, however, speaks for itself.

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 The cards are 3.5"x5", laminated, and black in color.  There is a red geometric design on the back, and the fronts are illustrated in gold. Despite the limited palette, the deck is striking and rich with detail.  According to Nemo (who was kind enough to answer a few questions for this article), the original illustrations were hand drawn with pen and ink on 8"x12" Bristol board.  The actual drawing of the 78 cards took six months, and he spent 12-24 hours on each image.

Nemo is a self-taught artist, and describes his creative process for the deck as follows:  “Some of the work was meticulously planned (usually the underlying geometry), but much came out in a completely automatic manner.”  When pressed for more details, he said, “I would begin each card with a small thumbnail, and then proceed to lay out the boundary on Bristol board.  At this time I might create an underlying geometry that would be embedded into the image.  I would also pencil in any figures and general outlines before proceeding to ink.  From here it is very easy to enter an automatic state and let the subconscious take over as I fill the page with ink.”


On the surface, the deck conforms very much to Rider-Waite norms.  The majors are numbered zero to 21, with zero being the Fool.  The Magician in this deck is called The Magus.  Suits are the usual Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.  Images on both majors/minors are clearly Rider-Waite based.  This is where the similarities end, though, and the Lovecraftian influence takes over.  The majority of the scenes on the cards take place on, near, or underwater.  Lovecraft was fascinated by the ocean, and frequently mentioned the sunken city of R'lyeh, where the great and ancient creature Cthulhu dwells – dead, but dreaming.  Lovecraft described the city as a "nightmare corpse-city . . . . built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults."  The world of the Azathoth Tarot reflects the city in all its lost and loathsome glory.  Cthulhu turns up in the deck as The Emperor – ruling in silence over his dark forgotten kingdom.  

 It must be said – this is not a deck for the faint hearted.  The medieval pleasantries of the Rider-Waite and colorful geometries of the Book of Thoth are gone, replaced by scenes of death, decay, and in some cases butchery.  There are also several cards featuring male and female nudity.  None of this, however, is done tastelessly, and the Azathoth deck is a fair reflection of the frequently nightmarish universe H.P. Lovecraft envisioned.

 As previously mentioned, the deck has the typical minors, but Nemo did make some changes to the court cards.  Pages and Knights have been replaced by Princesses and Princes.  Also, each set of minors has a border unique to that particular suit.  (While borders on the minors are standardized, each major card has a unique border.)  Within the deck, there are recurring geometric themes.  Circles, triangles, squares, and crosses figure prominently throughout.  There are also recurring images of tentacles, bones, and sea monsters.  Each minor card appears to take its title from the corresponding card in Crowley’s Thoth deck.  

The suits also have different sets of humanoid figures.  When asked, Nemo elaborated on them: “The four suits represent the traditional 4 elements - Fire /Wands, Water/Cups, Air/Swords and Earth/Pentacles.  The figures each represent the element for which they stand.  Lovecraft's 'Deep Ones' being a natural selection for the element of Water.  Fire demons, Air sprites and Earth men make up the remainder.”

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An even more interesting thing about The Book of Azathoth Tarot is the obvious inclusion of kabbalistic, astrological, and elemental information on every card.  This deck is – like the Thoth, Hermetic, or Holy Light decks – obviously geared towards the practice of magic.  If we look at Nemo’s Magus card, Waite’s Magician has been transformed into an Enochian conjurer, complete with numeric tablet and scrying table.  When asked about his system of astrological attributions, Nemo said the following: “They follow Crowley's Thoth.  However, they differ in that I dismiss Crowley's dogma regarding the Star, and merely change the positions of Strength and Justice to put the Astrological attributions (Strength = Leo, Justice = Libra) back in their proper order.   This restores the traditional order to all the cards associated with the zodiac.”

It should be noted that Azathoth – the deck’s namesake - is a fictional deity in the Lovecraft universe, described by him as “a blind idiot god . . . . encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute. . . "  Nemo took the name and suited it to his purpose:  " ‘The Book of Thoth' is an old name for the Tarot popular during the Egyptian Revival of early 1900's. It is also, of course, the title of Crowley's book on the Tarot. Therefore it seems natural enough in a Lovecraftian Universe that the Tarot should be called The Book of Azathoth.”

The deck comes in a very sturdy box, and each deck is numbered.  As of this writing, there are fewer than 150 decks left in the 2
nd edition; however, Nemo has confirmed that when the 2nd edition runs out he will be publishing the third edition with a new and different card back.  Also, while there is no LWB accompanying the deck, he is currently working on a companion book which he expects to complete in early 2017.

For those who want to relate the deck to Lovecraft’s stories, Nemo recommends the following:

  • The Call of Cthulhu 
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth
  • At The Mountains of Madness
  • The Haunter of the Dark
  • The Dunwitch Horror

For those of you who enjoy darker decks, The Book of Azathoth Tarot is a creepy, well executed, and very literary alternative.  For those of you using Tarot for magic, Book of Azathoth is a deck designed by and for those with an eye – and mind – for ritual.

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