The H.P. Lovecraft Tarot
Artwork by Daryl Hutchinson, Manual by Eric C. Friedman, Conceived by David Wynn
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a horror writer in the early twentieth century, whose work has influenced contemporary authors Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King, among others, and has directly inspired popular fiction, film, and games. Lovecraft portrayed a dark reality that had existed since the beginning of time, a chaos unfathomable to humanity, manifested through myriad strange beings. His stories became a sort of mythos, an examination of deity, history, and arcane lore. Many of his main characters acted as observers, who struggled to understand the terrors they had seen. They were often men of reason, accidentally getting involved in cases that defied logic, brought close to death or insanity. Lovecraft wrote of magnificent cities, tentacled gods, simple people, and witches. Striking, are the images of beauty in some of his stories, side-by-side with the revolting visions in others.
One might expect a tarot of such a strange cast to be difficult, ugly, or impossible to use. Surprise, this tarot is quite good-looking, and intelligent as well. The men who created the Lovecraft Tarot
did so with appreciation for Lovecraft, an understanding of tarot, and true artistry. They created a tarot set that works on several levels, and is a most unique offering. The artwork is beautiful, though its subjects may not be! Accomplished illustrator Daryl Hutchinson drew upon his familiarity with Lovecraft, and even visited places that would inspire an accurate portrayal. His rendering of buildings is exceptional, and his images of people and creatures, effective and detailed. Some of the images seem to be precisely as Lovecraft described, others demonstrate some artistic license. Any fan of Lovecraft's would enjoy this set, for its remarkable illustrations alone, which bring the characters uncannily to life.
The Major Arcana cards follow the Golden Dawn tradition. There are twenty-two cards, numbered zero to twenty-one; Strength is at number eight, and Justice number eleven. Many important figures from Lovecraft's stories are featured here. The Fool has become Azathoth, blind and idiotic, dancing to demonic flute playing. Shub Niggurath the All-Mother, or fertility deity, fittingly, is the Empress; and Cthulhu, the high priest of the Elder Gods, is appropriate as the Hierophant. Many of the Major Arcana choices seem natural, and when they aren't so obvious, Eric Friedman's articulate writing makes them immediately understandable. His writing throughout the booklet, especially in the section explaining the Major Arcana, shows an impressive knowledge of tarot concepts, that at times runs deeper than other books on tarot. In two or three paragraphs for each Major Arcana card, Friedman offers an explanation of the Lovecraft and tarot elements, tied together seamlessly, to provide one direct message of wisdom or insight. Card descriptions include passages from Lovecraft works (which are sourced in the back), that introduce deities, etc. and brief interpretations are also listed with each card.
The Minor Arcana consists of four suits, and this is where the set really veers from the traditional. The four suits don't seem to correspond to the traditional suits of Wands, Cups, Pentacles, and Swords; and each suit contains fourteen cards, numbered one to fourteen, with no court cards. The suit of Man represents people, relationships, and outside influences. The suit of Artifacts reveals possibilities, milestones, and objectives. In the suit of Tomes we see information, education, wisdom, and communication. The environment is shown in the suit of Sites, which also indicates time and place, or frame of mind. These suits work quite cohesively in readings, and prove to be interesting and meaningful as well. H.P. Lovecraft is the first card of the suit of Man. He represents genius, creativity, great vision, and going beyond the physical. Friedman reminds us "In a reading, the application of these guidelines & interpretations are very subjective, and should not be rigidly adhered to at the expense of intuition. The feelings the cards evoke are far more important than the literal meanings given for the suits in general, or individual cards in particular." So, when receiving the fourteenth card in the suit of Man, how might we apply Keziah Mason and her creepy familiar Brown Jenkin, to our question? With the appearance of her in my readings, I'd stick to Friedman's meanings, I think, rather than my own perception of this crone ... ! The suit of Artifacts includes such things as the Silver Key, the Yellow Sign, Pickman's Model, and the Bokrug. Tomes include the Necronomicon, the R'lyeh Texts, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and the Ponape Scriptures. In the suit of Sites we visit the Whateley Farmhouse, the Mountains of Madness, Innsmouth, and Arkham. Each Minor Arcana card is given a balanced range of positive and negative interpretations.
There is one quick sample reading provided, so Lovecraft fans with no familiarity of tarot can read with the cards, for purposes of divination or self-discovery. There is also a short bio on Lovecraft, and information in the back on learning more about Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos.
The H.P. Lovecraft Tarot
deftly blends horror with tarot, terror with insight, and the darkness of one tradition with the enlightened goals of another. To learn from this set requires an admission of shadow, a dropping away of ego, and a slow acceptance of the chaotic. Enjoy, it's a must-have set for tarot collectors and Lovecraft fans, alike.
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Card artwork by Daryl Hutchinson
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021