The Book of Chaos Tarot by Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule   
Review by Diane Wilkes

The Book of Chaos Tarot is not for the faint of heart.  The artist/author of this black and white self-published deck is clearly a student of Aleister Crowley's works, for in its own way, the deck is quite Thoth-influenced, though definitely not a clone.  "Dark" would be the first word I'd use to describe this pen-and-ink drawn deck.  But "deep" would be the next one, so don't close the door on Chaos just yet.

Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule is no doubt the magickal name for Geoff Day, whose name goes on the money orders for this deck.  Forgive my mundanity, but I am going to refer to the artist by his non-magickal name throughout the review, because I get distracted every time I type Defenestrate-Bascule.  

This deck was initially published as The Bohemian Tarot in 1991; however, many of the Major Arcana and some of the Minors have been redrawn in the Book of Chaos Tarot to accommodate Day's "progressive understanding of the layers of symbology therein."  Based on that information and my perusal of the Chaos deck, I suspect that Day created the first deck based on the Rider-Waite Smith imagery and later came under the thrall of Crowley and Thelema.  The Majors are very Thoth-like; the Minors have people featured on the cards and echo Pixie's artistic tableaux.

Like Butch Cassidy, Day is always thinking, and his witty little-white-booklet (LWB) reflects this, as do his innovative design touches that echo the message of his cards.  The cards are bordered in black, yet certain images are turned on their head.  The Tower card image is placed on an angle, to indicate its movement and presaging of change.  The Hermit has no border and is all black, except for the small figure at the center of the card.  The Frog, Hecate's symbol, leaps off the Wheel card into the border.  The Strength card is a landscape, and is the only card done in this style.

If you are familiar with the Thoth deck, you'll immediately note the similarities between that deck's Tower and the Chaos version.  The Star is a distorted, cartoon-like version of the Thoth, and the Sun card is also very similar to the Crowley-Harris version.

Others are quite different.  I think the loveliest card in the deck is the High Priestess, and Day's text on this card is particularly interesting. He claims this card "is the archetype of Mystery, that elusive feminine mystique which can be seen as a wo-manifestation of the Holy Guardian Angel." Shades of Crowley again.

The Hermit is another of my favorite cards, but not because of the art, which is difficult to see because of the size of the drawing.  The image of the tiny white meditating man at the center of the black background makes the individual the personification of the Hermit's light.

The Minor Arcana are also thought-provoking.  The women in the Three of Cups seem to depict the maiden, mother, and crone, and the smoking vessels they hold contribute to making the scene quite magical.  The man in the Ten of Staves has dreadlocks that stream down his back instead of the proverbial sticks--the burden is one the man has taken on himself; consequently, they emanate from his head.  One of Day's kinkier twists is his take on the Six of Pentacles.  The scene is reminiscent of a Bacchanalian revel, but "here magic mushrooms are shown to represent transient treasures--they must be eaten when picked for full effect.  The finder distributes them amongst his friends."  This symbolizes, according to Day, generosity and impermanence. 

I'm very impressed with Day's understanding of the cards and his unusual approach to them.  I wish I were equally impressed with the physical quality of the cards.  The art is not the problem--it's often astonishingly fluid and complex, though certain cards show a heavy comic influence and others don't, which causes the deck to lack cohesion.  The far greater problem is that the cards look as if they were made on a dot-matrix printer, resulting in fuzzy and unclear images.  The cardstock is flimsy and will not hold up to repeated use.  Some of the cards' borders have white bleeding through the black, which I'm sure is unintentional.  The backs are plain white, obviously the natural back of the paper.  The author's concepts are fascinating, but the 32-page LWB isn't even stapled together.  On the other hand, the deck comes with a swath of deep burgundy satin, which is a nice touch.  The deck is $25, including shipping, which is extremely reasonable for a handmade, self-published deck. I suspect people would have preferred to pay slightly more for more durable cards and clearer images.

Strength/Lust is numbered XI, Adjustment/Justus (his spelling), VIII.  The suits are Staves, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.  The courts are Page, Knight, Queen, and King.  

Because this is a self-published effort, I judge it differently than I would a deck published by US Games or Llewellyn.  Would I prefer that the format be more aesthetically appealing and on sturdier cardstock?  Absolutely.  But I still recommend this deck for collectors, especially collectors who are interested in darker decks and/or beginning collectors who are looking for inexpensive decks to start their collections.  I received copy 46 of 111, and they were just released on Beltaine, 2001, so if this is a deck you're considering buying, I'd normally suggest moving on it sooner rather than later.  However, the email for Orryelle/Day was down for a period.  I would suggest waiting to purchase the deck until you have made contact with the author/artist.

You can see more cards on the artist/author's site.

Excerpt:

XV. The Devil

Goat-legged Pan is the primal pagan Horned God, )deer-antlered Cernunnos to the Celts).  His is the power of nature, physicality and sexuality, thus, He is the Lord of the Dance of the material world, the eternal lemniscate (infinity symbol) of animal instinct.

In their condemnation of the body and matter, the Christians turned this ancient archetype into the devil and present Him as a negative archetype; But it is only materialism out of balance with spirituality that creates problems.  Ultimately, they are one and the same, for Pan is the primal force of nature itself, the forms through which spirit plays.  He who plays forever melodies of Earth, His ancient music can bind (as in the traditional Atu 15 image of human figures chained to the devil) or uplift according to perspective.  The figures in this picture seem bound to the music, but it is the music of their own animal natures which leads them on to the dance of life.  Pan's seven-reed pipes play the seven tones of the seven chakras.

Another form of the Horned One is Baphomet, hermaphroditic God/dess of the Templars.

 

The Book of Chaos Tarot by Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule
Self-published

Images and excerpt 2001 Orryelle Defenstrate-Bascule
Review and page 2001 Diane Wilkes