“The Dark Grimoire Tarots are therefore a true Clavicula due to their intrinsic nature and genesis: a key that can open forgotten doors in the darkest corners of the psyche, those doors hidden in the shadows and engulfed in spider webs. Opening those doors can mean gaining knowledge of our own fears and recognising our own dark side, learning how it can balance our whole being.” – From the L(ittle) W(hite) B(ook)
Tales of “black books”, heretical priests, forbidden rituals and dark magic weave through horror literature and films. Supposedly a mere literary device to awaken fears, reflect existential dread or “entertain” through vicarious catharsis, some individuals theorize that these types of stories—especially those of H.P. Lovecraft and The Necronomicon—contain couched truths of esoteric practices.
In this spirit of these occult mythologies, the Dark Grimoire Tarot unfurls the arresting artistic depictions by Michele Penco. Illustrated with a minimal color palette—mostly sepia tones, silvery purples, blue-gray and a smattering of green—Penco manages to capture the threatening, chaotic and maddening world of the “Great Old Ones, Cthulhu, Dagon and company. Not being familiar with the works of Lovecraft, I wondered if the Dark Grimoire Tarot would be a dense mystery, only to be understood and appreciated by the “initiated”. However, Panco’s stark yet evocative images pulled me in, begging to reveal their secrets.
Many of the images are close enough to Rider-Waite renderings to be accessible to a wide audience. Some of the Minor Arcana evoke the situations and emotion imbedded within common interpretations, but those that don’t are animated enough to stimulate intuition, invite speculation and encourage contemplation.
In some cases, the LWB to the Dark Grimoire Tarot conveys interesting observations but, unfortunately, it falls short as a guide—even for LWB standards. For example, there is NO description of the Minor Arcana cards other than a general guide to numerological and court meanings, and even those don’t correlate with the actual imagery.
In addition to Panco’s awe-inspiring, dramatic artwork, I was pleasantly surprised at how such a supposedly “dark” deck conveyed (to me) very practical perspectives on the Tarot. For example, in the Two of Swords, a blindfolded man stands fiddling atop a tree stump as demons encircle him on the ground. This brought to mind the proverbial “fiddling while Rome burns”, a phrase often used to describe someone oblivious or apathetic to the destruction around them (even if set in motion by their own actions).
The Four of Pentacles shows a shriveled man clutching a book (presumably a dark grimoire) that almost looks to have his mouth sewn shut. This image suggests to me that hording possessions that may benefit others—even if it’s something as seemingly innocuous as information—brings soul-rot, causing everyone to be poorer in the end.
As with most Lo Scarabeo decks, the Dark Grimoire Tarot cards measure approximately 4 ¾ x 2 ½ inches with an intriguing—but non-reversible—backing. The front images feature a slate gray border (I love the look of dark borders on decks like this!) with a parchment scroll banner at the bottom noting the card/suit in four languages.
A small suit emblem hovers above the numbers in the Minor Arcana (a sword, a chalice, a brass coin, etc.), and in this deck, Justice is Trump 8 and Strength is Trump 11. The court cards follow the Knave, Knight, Queen and King designation.
Because I’m not familiar with The Necronomicon, I can’t say with any certainty if fans of Lovecraft will love this deck. However, I think that those who appreciate striking artwork will want to add the Dark Grimoire Tarot to their collection, as will those who enjoy horror books, zombies, and tales of evil unleashed on the world as a result of consulting a secret tome. It’s a very readable deck, but those disconcerted by images of monsters, “black magic” and demonic entities might want to pass on this one.
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