Richard Avila Reviews
Azathoth Tarot Edition 2 by Nemo
It is 130am, and I am sitting in my living room listening to the Tallis Scholars interpretation of Ferrobosco’s Lamentations. It would be nice to drink wine right now, but there’s only one bottle in the house and I am saving it for a special occasion.
There is so very much wrapped up in 78 cards. Words, images, archetypes, feelings, history, magic, the past, the future – all of it is there to be seen, found, and learned, one card at a time. You start off with a deck and a book and if it strikes you just right you keep going. They are a mystery to be unraveled, but as soon as you master one thing, you look around and there is another, and another, and another. The telling of fortunes and simple prediction is the absolute least of their uses. There are people who read them for a lifetime – good, even excellent readers – and yet they never move past that, not once, nor can they even imagine something more.
It has been my great pleasure to have spent the last 17 years reading and studying and learning. The best part is not one moment of that time has been lost or wasted. All of it has been worthwhile and I only wish I had found the cards sooner or studied harder in the time I have worked with them. Seventeen years however, is nothing. When I look at Papus, or Eliphas Levi, or Arthur Edward Waite, or Aleister Crowley – these are men who spent the better part of their lives locked in a room with their decks; reading, laying out spreads, relating their cards to larger movements and themes, and ultimately doing their best to pluck out the heart of their mystery. People like that are not confined to the past though. We are lucky enough to have people like Mary Greer, James Wanless, Rachel Pollack, Robert Place, and Benebell Wen doing the same thing right here and now. All of them have written multiple books and all of them have added (and continue to add) something to the Tarot’s existing body of knowledge.
A few days ago I pulled the Hermetic Tarot out of the Star Wars boxes and talked about it at some length. I called it remarkable and said that it is much more than a divinatory deck. To understand a deck like that requires a very high level of knowledge; what’s more amazing to me is what it took to create it. Godfrey Dowson, wherever he is, has a body of knowledge in his head that I am both amazed by and jealous of. His deck is a work of art and better yet, a work of great scholarship. There are few out there who could pull that off.
Well, one of the few who can is a gentleman who calls himself Nemo. He is the artist and creator of the Book of Azathoth Tarot. I’m lucky enough to own an Azathoth 2nd edition, which of course is shown in the pictures. There’s so much to it that it’s hard to figure out where to start, but we’ll start with this: the Azathoth Tarot is set in the horror universe of H.P. Lovecraft. The deck uses only three colors: black for the background, gold for the images, and red for the backs. The cards are 3.5” x 5”. I had to divide the usual 4 card picture in half because four cards in a row wouldn’t fit in my scanner.
In Lovecraft’s universe, mankind is terribly small, inconsequential, and mostly unaware of the immeasurably old, more powerful races of beings sophisticated enough to have mastered travel between the stars. We are insignificant to them – sort of like ants – and they lie in the deep waters of the ocean, or well beyond the limits of our solar system. The main being in his universe is Cthulhu, a gigantic (think larger than the largest oil tanker) creature with green skin and tentacles on his face who lies both dead and asleep, in the ruins of an ancient city deep beneath the waters of the South Pacific. (In the deck by the way, Cthulhu is the Emperor. AS HE SHOULD BE. May his anger be swift and his mercy - absent.) Humanity is nothing to him and his alien companions, and we are forever in danger that they will awaken from their eons of slumber and (very easily) destroy us all and start over with creatures more to their liking than we are.
Lovecraft’s stories describe a world of fear, wonder, and despair. The humans who encounter the remnants and reminders of Cthulhu and the ancient races either bow down in worship to them or flee in dread. There’s no middle ground. This is the world we see in Nemo’s cards, and it’s both scary and awesome. Nemo happens to be a crazy good artist and every card is rich with detail. I was lucky enough to interview him via email and find out a little more about the deck. He spent 6 months drawing the images, and an average of 12 hours on each card. He’d draw the outlines in pencil so he’d have the basics, then when he switched to ink, he’d enter a trancelike state and draw automatically. (See? I did say AWESOME.)
Take a look at the Magician and High Priestess cards. On the bottom they’re encoded with kabbalistic and planetary attributions. Now look at the Four of Cups: planetary and astrological attributions. Also – each image is contained within a frame. See how detailed each frame is? Notice the skulls and eyes and severed heads?
Let’s refer back now to the Hermetic Magician. We established that he’s not a neophyte. The Magician in the Hermetic deck is a sophisticated dude with a great deal of magickal experience behind him, and he is busy doing some difficult and probably dangerous conjuration.
Now go back to the Azathoth Magician. He’s another sophisticated cat; no parlor tricks for him either. What’s even more interesting is how specific his magic is. He has a table with numbers behind him, and a low altar in front of him. The Azathoth Magician is replicating the work of John Dee and Edward Kelley, and the glow emanating from his wand tells me it’s probably working. Nemo told me he’s read much of both John Dee and Aleister Crowley’s work, and his deck reflects that. Again, we have a deck one can read with, but to really kick out the jams with it you need to be familiar with kabbalah and astrology. This is not the deck of a fortune teller. This is the deck of a magician, and I mean that in the best sense.
Nemo prints his decks in sets of 1,000, and is currently on his 4th edition. He’s also working on a companion book which is supposed to be out this fall. I for one am looking forward to reading it. This is a special deck and I want to know as much about it as I can. The deck is 29 bucks, but shipping within the US takes the price to $38. Still less than a Tarot of Prague deck !