Vampire Tarot by Nathalie Hertz Review by Diane Wilkes
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
While I am not a vampire scholar by any means, I've read Anne Rice's vampire trilogy and seen Dracula. I understand there is a whole vampire culture, with its own body of literature, symbolism, and rituals. I understand it's somewhat elaborate, certainly more complex than the trite and simplistic Vampire Tarot by Nathalie Hertz reflects.
Since I am not "into" vampires, I brought the deck to my friend Toni, who is more conversant with that culture--she is also somewhat familiar with tarot. She couldn't stop laughing at the Vampire Tarot's simplistic, non-tarot imagery, which made me feel more sanguine in my assessment of the deck.
The Fool, normally carefree and innocent, has become a bit of a sharp-tongued Satyr--he hones it on the knife he holds in his bloody hand. He would make a better Devil card, I think. The Magician's traditional lemniscate veers overhead, but the traditional Wand, Cup, Sword, and Pentacle aren't too be found on any table. You'd really think he would find value in at least two of those items. The High Priestess resembles a rat with plush Mickey Mouse ears. No hint of wisdom or mystery--just a pronounced overbite.
The Empress and Emperor are a perfect Goth duo, I suppose. The Empress holds a rose (dripping the requisite droplets of blood), her blonde locks adorned with a sleek tiara. Her mate has long flowing locks of brown, but both are dressed in rich, luxurious cloaks. Each stands in an archway of stone; his is a warm claret, hers a deathly green. Though they might be a cunning couple, they don't respectively exemplify creativity and abundance and structure and discipline to me; they are hardly archetypal.
A beautiful, stained-glass ceiling towers over the black-cloaked Hierophant. He is reading a book, and judging from the blood streaking from his mouth, he finds the material meaty.
The Chariot is actually kind of charming, in a Halloween-Tarot-esque way. Against a luminescent moon shining in a blue sky, a charioteer swings his lash at two yoked horses, one black, one dark grey. Dark birds fly above, eager for their share of carrion. There is a lantern on the outside of the coach, and a red curtain flares out behind, a la Isadora Duncan. If you look closely, you can also see a white claw of a hand limply leaning out of the carriage. Smoky clouds of dust add to the eerie quality of the evening, as does the patch of tangled tree branches on the underside of the card. But since there isn't the interminable splash of gratuitous blood, it isn't nearly as numbingly boring as most of the cards in this deck.
Strength is eight and Justice is 11 in this deck.
I guess altering the Death card to suit the Vampire Tarot wasn't a big leap; this card hews to the traditional. Needless to say, he carries a big scythe, and is surrounded by crackling red stars. This Death card is almost electrical...and nary a drop of blood leaks from his toothy mouth.
In vampire culture, the Sun is not a card of joy, but a dangerous enemy. The spin on this card is definitely unique and one of the few examples of successful integration between tarot and vampire symbolism.
Judgment and The World cards are so similar in their imagery that it is hard to distinguish the differences between them without consulting Hertz's commentary in the Little White Book (LWB). The LWB is 35 pages and made me laugh out loud several times--though I don't think the author means to be humorous. She describes the Fool card as representing "...the beginning and the end. This bat is extravagant, he represents eccentricity. He dislikes well-established principles such as biting his victims. Instead, he likes to kill them with his claws..." I find this take on The Fool quite amusing, in a macabre way.
The bulk of the LWB is the card description and interpretive meaning section, which includes reversals for both the Major and Minor Arcana. Three spreads are included, one being what Hertz refers to as the Celtic Draw. You may be more familiar with it as the Celtic Cross, but perhaps the vampires don't like that name, for obvious reasons.
The Minor Arcana are somewhat quirky. Some cards follow the R-W-S model, but many do not. The Ten of Wands looks like a pencil convention honoring Grandpa Munster, but Hertz says it's a "laughing bat who embodies celebration and accomplishment." The Nine of Swords "represents solitude; willingness to be alone." The Ace of Pentacles was one of the few cards my friend Toni liked; I can see why this card would represent wealth to a vampire. Forget gold--something bloody must be inside that cask! Hertz describes the Queen of Cups as "This sweet queen [who] symbolizes gentleness, sensibility, generosity, and beauty." I don't want Hertz choosing my friends, and that's all I have to say about that--this demon-infested Queen looks like Marianne Faithfull before she kicked the heroin habit.
What do I like about the deck? The reversible backs in requisite black and red (for you-know-what) are kinda funky (in a good way). Each card has a border of delicately-drawn grapes, leaves, and--of course--skulls, silvery-white on grey-black. The border is so tasteful--it reminds me a bit of Wedgwood, actually. And of course, the ever-fashionable basic-black borders the border.
The dark, jewel-tones of the cards appeal to me--too bad the drawings ruin my pleasure in the colors.
Um...I guess that's it in the positive-things-to-say department.
Ironically, Robert Place (Alchemical Tarot) started work on a black and white Vampire Tarot that is utterly exquisite, and speaks of the intensity, mystery, and depth Hertz's deck lacks. I asked Place about the deck, and he said, "I saw that the Vampire myth was the shadow version of the Alchemical quest. Instead of looking for immortality by transforming the psyche and identifying with all of creation verses of a limited ego and mortal body, the vampire looks for immortality in the body and ego and creates a horror story."
Place's Tarot of the Saints will be published by Llewellyn this year, and he has several other decks he is working on. Sadly, his Vampire Tarot is on the furthest of back burners.
You can see three cards from his deck, which may never see the light of day (pun intended), here.
Getting back to Nathalie Hertz's Vampire Tarot--well, it just seems ridiculous and silly to me. If you are into the Goth scene and dig Dracula, this might hold more appeal for you. Otherwise, I don't recommend this deck for tarot enthusiasts.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
The Vampire Tarot
Author and Artist: Nathalie Hertz
Publisher: US Games
Vampire Tarot Art and booklet text © 2000 Nathalie Hertz
Black and white Vampire Tarot Art © 1995 Robert M. Place
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes