The Necronomicon Tarot was designed by Donald Tyson, using the characters of H. P. Lovecraft (and others) as a means of exploring the deck. The deck assumes that the works of Mr. Lovecraft were inspired by a sort of astral projection that the man did in his dreams, and so actually represent glimpses into a real reality beyond our own. The deck is based on the Necronomicon that Tyson wrote, based in turn off of Lovecraft’s own fictional grimoire. The deck is then incredibly dark and gives a bleak outlook on things, and the cards all represent some aspect of a hidden reality that lies just behind the veil, out of our sight. The illustrations were done by Anne Stokes on a computer, and all of the cards are incredibly detailed.
This deck is most useful when you are trying to find some secret, forbidden knowledge that perhaps you should not know. This is not a deck completely of looking inwards and meditation, but also of revelation and dark secrets; this is a deck to use when you are looking to uncover things that you should not know, or secrets best left alone. Its dark artwork inspires pessimistic readings, and so this is not a deck for those unable to face the dark truths that lurk within us all.
The Minor Arcana
The Suits of the Minor Arcana are the four standard ones found throughout most Tarot decks: Wands for Fire and energy, Cups for Water and emotion, Swords for Air and abstraction, and Disks for Earth and practicality.
In addition to the Suits, each of the Minor Arcana has an associated number from one through ten, as is standard. What is not standard, however, is that the ten cards, when put in order, tell a very clear story from beginning to end, exploring the highs and lows of each suit (similar to the journeys undertaken by the energies in the Thoth deck through the Tree of Life). The meanings of most of the cards are similar to the standard ones. Each story uses characters seen in the suit’s Court Cards to get across the themes of each suit.
The story told in the Suit of Wands is one of power, domination, clashes of wills, and energy. It tells the tale of the union – and then war – between the Atlanteans and the Deep Ones, an inuman race that dwells deep below the waves. The Ace of Wands is called the Matrix of Fire, and represents this energy in its pure form, and the matrix from which the energy of the story comes from: it is the origin of the story. The tale starts with the Exaltation of Fire, and reflects the Atlanteans dominance over the world and seas, and the ideals that go with dominion and dominannce. The Deep Ones then make themselves known to the Atlanteans as seen in the Establishment of Fire, and a noblewoman meets a male Deep One and reaches an understanding with him, establishing an optimistic future. The Manifestation of Fire follows then, and the Deep One and the noblewoman are due to be married in an act of union and completion. The Bitterness of Fire makes itself known then as the Atlantean Empire expands, both strengthened and cursed by intermingling with the Deep Ones, and they conquer lesser races and enslave them, experiencing war and strife on a scale not before seen. The Atlantean Empire reaches its full height with the Rule of Fire, and now most of the Atlanteans have been mixed with the Deep Ones. Atlantis has worked hard and achieved its place in the sun. But divisions occur, and the last pureblood humans are scorned by the Deep Ones and the half-breeds, and the empire begins to fracture as Atlantis suffers the Ordeal of Fire. A sudden war begins then, as the Energy of Fire reaches it height, and competing willpowers clash in an outburst of fiery energies. But the Stability of Fire is restored as the Atlanteans use their knowledge to push back the half-breeds and Deep Ones, providing some measure of safety. In the end, however, the war is destructive for both sides, and Atlantis falls prey to its own struggle, and the Deep Ones take over what remains of Atlantis, leaving the dead Atlanteans to rot, having experienced the Burden of Fire, never having let themselves back down when it could have been for the best.
The Tale of Fire is a tale of excessive energy and fanatical energy. It is a tale of the extremes of war and union, of passion, love, hatred, and death. It is a tale of competitive relationships.
The story told in the Suit of Cups is one of acceptance, emotions, and inner discovery. The tale is set against the backdrop of a young man seeking initiation into the cult of the cat goddess Bast. It begins with the Matrix of Water, representing the web from which the tale is spun, and represents the energy of the Suit in its purest form. The tale begins with the Devotion of Water, as the High Priestess of Bast initiates the young man into the cult. It moves on then to the Abundance of Water, as the young man enjoys his new status and position among the cult, spending some quality dancing time with his new priestess companions, enjoying the good things in life. The Indulgence of Water follows, as the young man has had enough of his excesses, and has become dissatisfied, hungering after something more. He then experiences the Frustration of Water as his three companions – the priestesses and another young man – lie asleep drunk, content with what they had, while he feels dejected and alone, unable to fully enjoy what he has. The whole experience had not been what he had been expecting. The next day, he returns to the temple, shaven and clad in the linens of an acolyte, the initiation overwith, ready to start his new duties as a servant of Bast. The High Priestess accepts his service and gives him an empty silver chalice as a sign of his service beginning. He experiences then the Satisfaction of Water and a renewed hope. The acolyte then steps into the temple, and is shocked when Bast herself appears before him. Awed, he holds his chalice forth to be filled, but Bast denies him her milk, and though the acolyte yearns for her blessing he does not receive it. Angered at her refusal, the acolyte turns about and does not accept her denial turn into a welcome, and experiences then the Stagnation of Water. He shows disrespect to the goddess and throws away his success. Eventually the acolyte realizes his mistake and turns and accepts the Benediction of Water and of Bast, who in her wisdom forgives him. He has achieved that which he sought to. The Fulfillment of Water is the last step in the acolyte’s journey, and he finally comes to terms with himself and his relationship the Priestess (and Bast herself). bast has helped him realize who he is, and he is able to finally be content with his life.
The Tale of Cups is one of intimacy, revelation, and acceptance. It tells the tale of emotional relationships and one’s role in the world.
The story told in the Suit of Swords is one of betrayal, conflict, thoughts, ill-conceived plans, and the principles of love. It is set in Damascus, with a young nobleman falling for a harlot. The Matrix of Air, representing victory, intellect, and ideology provides the basis for the tale, which starts with the Reconciliation of Air, as the harlot and nobleman cease fighting and make-up, restoring peace to their relationship. The harlot has other contenders for her affection, however, and she and the bearded nobleman find themselves standing over the corpse of one of these suitors, and experience the Regret of Air at having killed someone, and in a dishonorable fashion. The slain man had friends, who find him and hold a funeral service for him, carrying his coffin through the streets of Damascus, and allow themselves the Repose of Air before their hunt for vengeance begins, taking a moment to rest and plan. They soon find the nobleman responsible, and humiliate him, stopping just short of killing him due to his powerful family, and the nobleman experiences the Weakness of Air. Angered at his humiliation, the nobleman hires an assassin and schemes to kill the other four mercenaries, performing the act of the Scheming of Air. The harlot is angered as well, and steals a sword from a swordsmith with the intention of avenging her lover with it. She experiences the Instability of Air, as unlike her lover’s plan, she has not thought far ahead and is letting passion cloud her judgement. The harlot rushes to the barracks where the slain man’s friends sleep, and finds them all already dead, each with a dagger in their body. Her course of action has suffered the Constraint of Air, as she is unable to fulfill her plan, as unforeseen events have stopped her. The Despair of Air follows as she meets again with her lover. The nobleman is irritated as the woman despairs, for she realizes that her lover will have to face justice now. The two of them are fighting, and doom seems imminent. The story ends with the Abandonment of Air, as the nobleman faces execution, having ruined his life.
The Tale of Swords is one of sorrow, justice, and the truth coming out. It involves relationships as well, in the abstract fashion that suits the Suit of Swords.
The story told in the Suit of Disks is one of practicality, power, secrets, and forbidden knowledge, and perhaps best represents the dark themes of the deck. The tale is in the form of a clandestine deal made between a necromancer and a sorceress. The Matrix of Disks provides the basis for the story, representing practicality, wealth, and power. The tale begins with the Inversion of Earth, as a ghoul extracts a woman from her grave under the watchful eye of a necromancer, amused at the cycle of life and death and his mastery over it. Meanwhile, a young sorceress takes the severed arm from a criminal hanging in a gibbet, having the Purpose of Earth within her. She knows what she is doing, and good at what she does, able to produce great works. Back in her study, the sorceress coats the hand in wax to make a Hand of Glory, lighting the fingertips, causing a Generation of Earth, and reveling in her power. In a nearby town, the necromancer stalks through the streets, experiencing the Trouble of Earth as he is taunted and stones are thrown at him. He darkly promises vengeance in his mind. he had been on his way to meet the Sorceress, and he gives her a payment of a child’s heart – possibly the heart of one of the children who taunt him endlessly – while she hands him the Hand of Glory she had made. In this way, they both experience the Reception of Earth. The Squandering of Earth comes next as the Hand of Glory fails in its desired role, the resources going into it being wasted. He has raised the woman he took from the grave back from the dead in, in spirit-form, and attempts to send her spirit back into her corpse through use of the Hand, which has no effect. He feels betrayed by the sorceress and is also frustrated. Admitting failure, he then performs an Analysis of Earth, looking over the woman’s corpse in an attempt to understand what went wrong. He then experiences the Fulfillment of Earth as he conquers the dead woman’s ghost, and she leads him to where a strongbox filled with a source of power. He finally then comes into Possession of Earth as he uses his gains to summon forth a terrible spectre that he shall use to rule the world.
The Tale of Disks is one of gain, sorcery, the material, and the pursuit and achievement of power. It too has an element of relationships in it, and looks at the practical side of them, and how they benefit the individual.
The Court Cards
The Court Cards of the Necronomicon Tarot are the standard four: the King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. They each represent powerful personalities emphasizing different aspects of the Suit’s energy: the King is a mature man, the Queen a mature woman, the Knight an immature male, and the Knave an immature female. The meanings roughly correspond to standard Rider-Waite meanings. The Necronomicon deck also names each Court Card:
King of Wands – Lord (willful, impulsive ruler)
Queen of Wands – Lady (strong, confident charmer)
Knight of Wands – Commander (fierce, rash officer)
Knave of Wands – Overseer (ambitious, courageous overlord)
King of Cups – Priest (sensitive, naive scholar)
Queen of Cups – Priestess (dreamy, calm introvert)
Knight of Cups – Monk (determined, scheming underling)
Knave of Cups – Scribe (gentle, loyal friend)
King of Swords – Assassin (clever, flighty dominator)
Queen of Swords – Harlot (graceful, perceptive dancer)
Knight of Swords – Mercenary (self-centered, intelligent problem-solver)
Knave of Swords – Thief (aggressive, reliable doer)
King of Disks – Necromancer (patient, industrious mechanic)
Queen of Disks – Sorceress (generous, reserved psychic)
Knight of Disks – Shaman (practical, humorless manager)
Knave of Disks – Auspex (caring, enduring decision-maker)
The Major Arcana
The twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana carry their traditional Rider-Waite meanings, albeit with a darker twist, but have all been assigned to an element of the Cthuylhu Mythos:
0 – Fool – Azathoth (Simplicity, Journey, Beginnings)
I – Magician – Nyarlathotep (Will, Manipulation, Skill)
II – High Priestess – Bast (Mystery, Wisdom, Guidance)
III – Empress – Shub-Niggurath (Fertility, Life, Sensuality)
IV – Emperor – Amun (Virility, Determination, Passion)
V – Hierophant – Dagon (Tradition, Religion, History)
VI – Lovers – Deep One & Bride (Love, Commitment, Trust)
VII – Chariot – Beast of Babylon (Conquest, Command, Glory)
VIII – Strength – Shoggoth (Perserverance, Defiance, Valour)
IX – The Hermit – I’thakuah (Discipline, Examination, Wisdom)
X – Wheel of Fortune – Yog-Sothoth (Change, Luck, Fate)
XI – Justice – Spawn in Sphere (Balance, Fairness, Rightness)
XII – Hanged Man – Well of the Seraph (Suspension, Delay, Sacrifice)
XIII – Death – Tsathoggua – (Transformation, Rebirth, Ordeal)
XIV – Temperance – Reanimators (Renewal, Health, Harmony)
XV – The Devil – Cthulhu (Rebellion, Arrogance, Animalism)
XVI – The Tower – Great Ziggurat (Monument, Disaster, Glory)
XVII – The Star – Ishtar (Hope, Cleansing, Renewal)
XVIII – The Moon – Hounds of Leng (Illusion, Danger, Deception)
XIX – The Sun – The Empty Space (Clarity, Purification, Vitality)
XX – Judgement – Guardian of Eden (Forgiveness, Restoration, Judgement)
XXI – The World – Yig (Completion, Conclusion, Fulfillment)
The major difference in meaning is the Tower, which Tyson interprets as either being a great monument or having a great monument topple, depending on its inversion. He also takes the common beginner’s approach of interpreting a reversed card as negative and an upright one as positive, which limits interpretations.
The Rider-Waite Tarot is the most popular deck in use today. The deck was designed by Arthur Edward Waite, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (who had a fierce rivalry with Thoth deck designer Aleister Crowley), and consists of the Order’s imagery, drawn mainly from Renaissance European symbols, though the structure of the deck itself is Kabbalistic in origin. The symbolism present in the deck is a watered-down version of that used by the Order itself, in order to not give away its secrets. Pamela Coleman Smith, another member of the Golden Dawn, illustrated the deck.
The Minor Arcana
The Rider-Waite Tarot has the four suits standard to Tarot decks: Wands representing Fire, will, and drive, Cups representing Water, emotion, and intuition, Swords representing Air, reason, and justice, and Pentacles representing Earth, practicality, and the material. Each numbered card represents a different aspect of the energy of the suit. Unlike many other previous decks, the Rider-Waite’s Minor Arcana are fully illustrated, with almost the same attention to detail given to them as to the Major Arcana. The cards depict human figures, as well as a number of the suit’s item equal to the card’s number, in such a way that the card’s meaning is clearly shown in the scene.
The Court Cards
The Rider-Waite deck uses the traditional Court Card setup: a King, Queen, Knight, and Page are the four cards. These four cards in each suit represent different personalities influenced by that suit’s energies: the King’s represent the wise, ruling figure in control of his suit’s energy, and acts as a sort of father-figure. He is also bold, and represents the Suit’s qualities outwardly. The Queen represents a mother-figure, also having mastered the Suit’s energies, but in a different way; her Suit-like qualities are displayed inwardly, through passive qualities. The Knights are courageous and active, not yet in control of their Suited impulses, and represent unbalanced applications of the Suit’s energy. The Pages represent personalities who have the desire to go out and do things in the way of their Suit, but are not yet ready, and so serve to urge the reader on to become more like the appropriate Suit.
The Major Arcana
The Rider-Waite deck, being the quintessential deck, has the standard Major Arcana set-up; twenty-two cards that focus around the theme of the Fool’s Journey, telling the story of life as an adventure, from the journey’s beginning as a young, naive child to becoming one with the world, and everything else in between. Each card represents one stage on this journey, and represent the experiences one goes through during their life.