Wrap thy form in a mantle gray,
"To Night," Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Vampyre possess a supernatural sensitivity to whispers on the night breeze. This allows them to hear every ripple of sound in the darkness with deadly accuracy—distinguishing its source and quality. Much like the sonic artistry of bats—with which the Vampyre is often associated—this ability allows them to align themselves to the lightest of vibrations. By attuning themselves to such frequencies they can navigate the invisible web of sound around them, guiding them towards their prey, their sanctuary, and their ultimate destiny.
When asked to create a deck of Tarot cards inspired by the Vampyre myth my first thought was, "How can the Tarot and the myths be connected?" While researching the project it occurred to me that many concepts overlapped. Many of the themes from the Vampyre myth explore deep-rooted issues relating to human existence, which are also contained within the Tarot, themes such as the cycles of life and death, rebirth, love, hunger, longing, immortality, and eternal sleep. The exchanging, drawing, and releasing of energies through life-blood became a recurring metaphor, and is at the heart of the concept behind The Tarot of Vampyres. By taking the themes from the Vampyre myths and viewing them in a deeper, more universal or spiritual context, the cards began to evolve into a complete system, connecting with each other, forming pathways of symbolism, narrative, and meaning. For example, in The Tarot of Vampyres, the vampyres' supernatural ability to perceive subtle sonic vibrations on the air becomes a metaphor for attuning ourselves to the secret psychic ripples of different energies, and silent messages from within us. These represent our inner spiritual intuition, which can guide us to our ultimate destiny, and subtle energies that bring us deeper understanding of the world around us.
I employed recurring symbols related to both the Tarot and the Vampyre myths to form a framework of meaning that connects cards in a spread and creates a narrative throughout any combination of drawn cards. These include animals and objects for the different suits, recurring themes, and symbolism. The blood is also an indication of the type of energy represented in a card, and so how the flow of blood progresses within a sequence of cards helps illustrate the meaning of a card spread. I tried to characterize the emotion of the figures as keenly as possible, so that one might identify with the feelings and mood personified in each card. The theatric narrative played out on each card helps establish its meaning through symbolism. For example, the Five of Scepters shows a girl defending an attack from a vampyric panther (the totem animal of Scepters) holding back his energy with a Scepter (representing the element of fire). the Fivess are about "force"—creating opposing energies. If the Strength Card were to follow in a reading, then we would see that the panther has been tamed and the Grail (Emotions) elevated. The next card might be the Ace of Grails, revealing that the spirituality of the emotions are in play within the reading, or the Six of Grails—symbolizing that the Grail (emotion) is to be given as a gift and so forth.
The cards also feature the astrological signs related to them. These are explained in the accompanying book, along with details on how the cards relate to Qabala and the Tree of Life. These esotoric elements were included to give the reader a foundation on which to build their own research and insights should they choose to explore these aspects further. The section on astrology allows for the reader to create their owm Vampyre Profile based on their natal birth chart—providing information on which cards they will have most affinity. Each of the cards contain a particular alchemy based on their suit, number, and astrological elements, while Major Arcana cards represent spiritual energies at a cosmic level. With all the cards I have attempted to illustrate not just the energy contained, but also how or why that energy exists. For example, The Sun card shows two figures that represent the divine expression of the passive and active dynamics within the element of spirit. Here we encounter the marriage of heaven and earth. The female, who usually represents the earthly and inactive energy, has become the active principle of heaven; wearing the crown of Kether, she is related now to the element of air. The male has transformed into the inactive energy of earth—representing Malkuth and the material world. Their union brings together all the elements in perfect balance while at the same time infusing each with the others qualities. They feed from each other in pure harmony, becoming one by the sharing of life-blood. The image also symbolizes the reconciliation of our light and dark aspects and our reunification with our shadow, as well as a harmony between our spiritual and animalistic natures. The blazing sun both contains and expands the earth element (symbolized by the skull)—and embellishes it with solar splendor. This symbolizes the divine light drawn down and harnessed by the material world and the physical realm glorified by the spiritual. The secret alchemy of the sun is the continual contest between two forces—the active, which burns the sun's fuel to radiate energy outwards, and the passive gravitational force which draws into itself as the sun's own mass. The active force prevents the sun from collapsing in upon itself, while the passive allows the burning process remain stable and condensed, like the male and female the forces feed off each other to keep them balanced and eternally reborn.
When creating the cards I decided to vary the suit and court card titles to relate them to the Vampyre myth and instill them with a mysterious quality. The traditional Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks become Scepters, Grails, Knives, and Skulls, respectively, while the court cards are represented as Lords, Queens, Princes, and Daughters. I hope that these titles also capture some of the romance of the Vampyre myth, which for me was an important element to include in the cards. To counteract the aspect of horror intrinsic within the Vampyre theme I endeavored to give the images a feel of Gothic romance. By embellishing the imagery with beauty, adornment, and romance it gave the horror aspects a more darkly poetic mood, making the cards more approachable and appealing. I have always loved the work of the Symbolists and Pre-Raphaelites, so these were a great inspiration when creating The Tarot of Vampyres. The Pre-Raphaelites combined realism with a sense of enchantment in their paintings, which inspired the dreamlike quality, the ornate adornments, and costumes. I was further inspired by the Symbolists, whose visionary paintings encompass a mystical mood and a deep metaphysical aspect, exploring themes such as death, love, and isolation—subjects all related to the Vampyre myths.
The paintings for The Tarot of Vampyres were created in oil paints using traditional methods. A monotone underpainting was created as the foundation, onto which glazes of color were blended. When these stages were dry the tonal values were built up and fine details added. I decided to use a predominately Gothic color palette, but incorporating recurring colors for the Minor Arcana suits to represent the four elements. The colors of Major Arcana are related to the zodiacal, astrological, or planetary color symbolism following traditional Golden Dawn correspondences. While I appreciate the advancement of digital software to create imagery, I much prefer using the traditional techniques of paints and brushes. For me, the stroke of the brush and the scent of the oil paints are much more sensual and enjoyable to work with. They allow for any number of textural effects and can be built up in translucent glazes with illuminated effects. I feel also that the pigments themselves, produced from natural substances possess a magical quality of their own.
Included in the accompanying book, Phantasmagoria, are a number of creative exercises, especially designed to aid in the interpretation of card spreads and to delve deeper into the subconscious secrets hidden within. My hope is that readers will use The Tarot of Vampyres in a variety of ways, using the spreads explained in the book or devising their own by simply looking at a sequence of drawn card images or through visualization and creative exercises. Reading the cards for oneself, for others, or in a group can all be rewarding. Studying the astrological meanings of the cards or how they relate on the Tree of Life can bring more insight. Also, considering the narrative, objects, figures, and symbols purely from a personal view and what they mean to you is very effective. As the Tarot is a visual map of universal truths, whatever interpretation we project onto them from our personal perspective will be significant—revealing hidden secrets from our own subconscious. Above all, reading the cards should be both enjoyable and stimulating. I hope that The Tarot of Vampyres brings inspiration, insight, enchantment, wisdom, wonder, and delight.
Ian Daniels (United Kingdom) is a professional painter and illustrator. He has produced artwork for gallery exhibitions, book jackets, fully illustrated books, and numerous other projects whose themes include fairy tales, ...