Deck Review: Necronomicon Tarot

by Errol McLendon

Necronomicon Tarot by Donald Tyson, illustrated by Anne Stokes

I have to admit that my initial reaction to this deck was one of avoidance. The artwork seemed disturbing and the meanings of the cards, when trying to reconcile them with my basic Rider-Waite baseline, escaped me. Then I read the accompanying book and I fell in love with the design of the deck.

There are two strengths that put this deck at the top of my list of  innovative designs. First, Donald Tyson has tossed out the basic Court card structure of having a common design element among the Kings and Queens ( sitting on thrones), Knights (on horseback) and Knaves and taken a very logical step. Even though the usual names are imprinted on the cards, the depictions of the people on the cards range from Harlot to Priest, from Necromancer to Commander. One of my main complaints of Court card design is that many Tarot decks have members of the court who look like the same person wearing different wigs and clothing. This deck immediately overcomes one of the great obstacles in learning the Court card by giving each card a very strong personality and identity.

The second strength this deck possesses is a very strong color scheme when it comes to the four suits. Each card is bathed in the color of its suit, which makes an immediate subconscious spark within the mind. When laying out some spreads, the predominance of a certain color in the spread immediately gives a beautiful organic link to the overall meaning of the layout.

Unless you are a aficionado of H.P. Lovecraft and his work, read the wonderful accompanying book before breaking the cellophane off the deck. Mr. Tyson gives an intro to the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft and a short, but complete history of the mythic book, the Necronomicon. My only experience with Mr. Lovecraft’s work before opening this deck, was a couple of entertaining films, so I was totally unprepared for the depth and facets of the fantasy world he created. 

After reading the introductory material, I quickly devoured the descriptions of the cards and their meanings. Once I knew the story behind the cards images, I could usually see the correspondences to my Rider-Waite clone (Spiral Tarot). I forced myself not to open the deck, but to rely on the black-and-white images in the accompanying book. The details in the illustrations are amazing. As I read each card description, I would find myself constantly looking back at the book illustrations to find an item or image mentioned in the description. I consider this a great benefit to reading. If a deck is too simple in its illustrations, there is a tendency to “see the whole apartment when you enter.” Subtle symbolism allows different aspects of the cards to emerge every single reading.

Each suite of the Minor Arcana tells a complete story from the Ace to the 10. I find this helpful in learning the meanings of the cards; however,  I sometimes felt like either the meaning of the card was stretched to try and make the meaning fit a generally accepted definition of the card and still keep the story intact.

When I finally opened up the cards, their beauty took by breath away. The illustrations are gorgeous. As an art deck, this deck immediately became my new favorite. The combination of fantastic and photo-realistic is awe inspiring. One can almost believe these were created by a person who had actually seen Deep Ones and Atlanteans.

Here is a bit of a warning. Due to the subject matter depicted in these cards, many of the images are disturbing and frightening. This is not a deck for the faint of heart. If you decide to read with this deck for other people, be prepared to explain its background or you may find some very shocked clients. Severed limbs, monstrosities and disturbing situations are part of the cards limitations, and also their beauty and appeal.

The book ends with one of the most original spreads I have ever encountered. Mr. Tyson has found a way through this spread to honor the Major Arcana as the guiding force in five areas of a person’s life, with accompanying Minor cards to fill in the smaller brushstrokes of what to expect in these areas. I found it very accurate and revealing in the five spreads I did for friends and clients.

Take a moment to look at the dark mystery of this deck. The Star, Ace of Cups and the King of Cups are three of the most beautiful cards I have ever seen in any deck. The Necronomicon Tarot set (ISBN 978-0-7387-1086-0) draws you into its shadowy realm and lets you see its murky splendor. 

I leave you with one final warning. Be prepared, after having gone through the booklet that comes with this deck,  to have an overwhelming desire to read everything ever written by H.P. Lovecraft.

All articles remain the property of their respective authors. Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2007 

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