The Gothic Tarot
by Joseph Vargo and Christine Filipak
Read with these cards on a black velvet cloth or a slab of grey marble, and descend into a realm of vampires, gargoyles, wolves, ravens, slinky spirits, and warrior ghouls. Draw any card and be treated to the wisdom of the shadow. These are images from horror stories and dark fantasy, executed beautifully, and combined together into an effectively complete tarot set. Joseph Vargo's tarot consists of artwork he has done over the past ten years, that he has embellished or altered in some cases, and new pieces created specifically for this deck. Vargo conducted research in order to create an authentic tarot, and his cards respectfully draw upon the designs of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, while of course veering from traditional symbolism and focus.
The deck is standard format, with no changes in card titles, consisting of the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana and the four suits of Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, each with four court cards of Knave, Knight, Queen, and King. The very first card of the deck, numbered 0, leads us on our journey from a crumbling stone wall. The Fool, hovering, and cloaked in black, bids us through this ruined archway. He is accompanied by a black wolf with glowing eyes, and three ravens watch from above. Skulls on the ground before him warn of possible perils through this journey. Beyond, we see vague possibilities under the dark night sky. This Fool is far from traditional, but shares the message of a new adventure, an entrance into the unknown. An unusual take on the Emperor is the addition of several female figures, vamps who fawn over the man in his red throne. The Hermit, an imposing Nosferatu, stands alone in a high, gothic bell tower. He seems to be showing the way with his outstretched arm, with bats flying into the darkness beyond him. In the card of Strength, a woman gives herself to the night beside a growling gargoyle. Her serenity and graceful strength are shown in her flowing white dress, and the confidence she exhibits. Death stands beneath a red sky, crow on arm, and scythe in hand. Another dark vamp pours from one goblet into another, over a fiery cauldron, in Temperance. In Judgement, a shimmering waif seeks her spiritual rebirth from a stone angel in a graveyard.
In the Minor Arcana, each suit's first three cards show only the number of their instrument. So, for example, in the Cups, the Ace of Cups shows one ornate goblet against a red scrollwork design, the Two of Cups two goblets upon a stone shelf, and the Three of Cups a stack of three goblets within a stone niche. After these first three cards, which are imaginative and nicely done, all of the cards do have scenes. Through the Minor Arcana we see brooding young men, women in gossamer, vamps, ghouls, cemeteries, skeletons, and stone angels. For the most part, imagery reflects interpretative meaning quite well. Among my favorites are the Six of Pentacles, for its simple forlorn feel, the Knight of Pentacles for his three black wolves, the Four of Swords, in which a lady bends over her lost love (who happens to be a skeleton), the Five of Wands with its terrifically ghoulish ensemble, and the Queen of Cups with her sharp dagger and filmy black gown. There are just a couple cards I'm not as crazy about . the Five of Swords shows a sinister jester holding a bloody head upon a stake. The image doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the cards. The Knight of Wands is a little different too, offering a brightness not seen elsewhere in the cards.
The little white booklet, by Christine Filipak, is well written, with an insightful, calm voice. Positive and negative meanings are given for each card. Reversals are sometimes opposite their upright meanings, sometimes simply a variation or intensified meaning. Filipak does a very good job introducing tarot and offering ideas for working with the cards, emphasizing intuition and self-reflection. Two spreads, the Mystic Seven and the Celtic Cross, are explained.
For anyone who likes their tarot cards a little dark, the Gothic Tarot
should be quite exciting, a wonderfully shadowy addition to their collection. For vampire lovers and horror fans, the Gothic Tarot
is a must-have.
* Note: The copyright notice on these images is required by the publisher, and is of course absent from the cards themselves!
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The Gothic Tarot
Card artwork by Joseph Vargo; Monolith Graphics
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2019