The Vampire Tarot

The Vampire Tarot

by Robert Michael Place

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The Vampire Tarot ties the tales and mythic figures associated with the vampire legend to the equally iconographic figures and forms of the tarot. This book explores the history of the vampire starting with Bram Stoker's classic 1897 novel, Dracula, as well as those writings that inspired Stoker and the vampire lore that derived from it. Stoker and his most famous work were both closely tied to the classic Rider-Waite-Coleman tarot.

Now, author-illustrator Robert M. Place brings these two mythic traditions together with this extensively researched book that guides the reader through the subtleties and parallels within The Vampire Tarot, providing a guide for getting the most out of reading.

Sure to delight not only tarot devotees but the general fan of the vampire mythos as well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250102805
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

ROBERT M. PLACE is an artist and illustrator whose award winning works have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries and have appeared in numerous books and magazines. He is the illustrator and co-author of The Alchemical Tarot and The Angels Tarot, as well as the author-illustrator of The Tarot of the Saints and The Buddha Tarot. He lives in Saugerties, New York.

Read an Excerpt

The Vampire Tarot

By Robert M. Place

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Robert M. Place
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10280-5


The History and Philosophy of the Tarot

As we stated in the introduction, it may seem odd that a symbolic spiritual tool such as a Tarot can be created incorporating the vampire theme — a theme that is more at home in horror literature and movies than in the self-help or New Age section of the bookstore. It is the view of this deck and book, however, that the vampire of literature, which reached the height of development in Stoker's masterpiece, Dracula, incorporates a mythological theme that is related to the allegory expressed in the Tarot. The reason that this may not be self-evident is that the mystical allegorical aspect of Stoker's book has been lost in many of its reinterpretations in film, which is how most people are familiar with the story today. Likewise, the mystical allegory incorporated in the Tarot's symbolic images has been distorted by the occult reinterpretations of the deck that emerged four or five centuries after it was created. In this chapter, we will take a brief look at the actual history of the Tarot and at the symbolism that was likely to have been intended by its creators. We will save the discussion of the vampire theme in literature for the next chapter. The information in this chapter is based on The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination by the same author as The Vampire Tarot, and for a more detailed study it is recommended that one also reads that book.

Defining the Tarot

For those who are not familiar with the Tarot we will start by describing the deck. The standard Tarot is a set of playing cards, much like a regular poker deck, but instead of having just four suits, the Tarot also has a fifth, more powerful suit, composed of a procession of twenty-two enigmatic images. The Tarot also differs in that its four minor suits, which relate to the poker deck, feature the antique Spanish and Italian suit symbols — swords, cups, staffs, and coins — instead of spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. Like the poker deck, each suit has ten pip cards, from ace to ten. Traditionally, these are illustrated with a repetition of the suit symbol like the pips in a modern poker deck. The four minor suits in the Tarot also have four royal cards — the knave or squire (often mistakenly called a page in English decks), the knight, the queen, and the king — instead of three in each suit like a poker deck. This makes a total of seventy-eight cards in a Tarot. Today, the Tarot is primarily used for divination or spiritual exercises, particularly in English-speaking countries. Originally, however, its primary use was for gaming, and divination was secondary. Also, in the fifteenth century, the first century of its existence, the number of cards in the deck varied.

It is essentially the addition of the fifth suit with its mysterious figures that makes a deck a Tarot and transforms it into a spiritual tool. This fifth suit includes the unnumbered Fool and twenty-one numbered trumps arranged in a hierarchical order from the lowest to the highest. Some of the trumps depict humans, such as the Magician and the Pope, and other allegorical or religious figures, such as the Wheel of Fortune and the Last Judgement. The trumps have captured the modern imagination and account for the Tarot's popularity, and it is through the trumps that the Tarot expresses a timeless mystical quest, the hero's quest for immortality.

Here is a list of the twenty-two cards in the fifth suit based on the number and order of the French pattern known as the Tarot of Marseilles, which is considered the modern standard. It also contains a brief description of the image on the card.

The Fool — a jester wearing motley, with a pole over his shoulder with a bag on the end, walks to our right while a dog rips his pants.

I. The Bateleur, or The Magician — a street performer holding a wand stands behind a table.

II. The Papesse, or High Priestess — a woman on a throne wearing a triple tiara sits between two pillars.

III. The Empress — the Holy Roman Empress sits on a throne and has an eagle emblem on her shield.

IV. The Emperor — the Holy Roman Emperor sits on a throne and has an eagle emblem on his shield.

V. The Pope, or Hierophant — the pope on a throne, wearing a triple tiara, sits between two pillars, with two priests before him with their backs to the viewer.

VI. The Lovers — a man standing between two women, with Cupid above.

VII. The Chariot — an armored warrior stands in a chariot facing the viewer.

VIII. Justice — a crowned woman sitting on a throne holds scales and a sword.

IX. The Hermit — a man in profile and in a hooded robe holds a lantern before him.

X. The Wheel of Fortune — a wheel has three foolish monkeys ascending, surmounting, and descending it.

XI. Force, or Strength — a standing woman, wearing a wide brimmed hat, controls the mouth of a lion.

XII. The Hanged Man — a man hangs head-down by one foot from a scaffold.

XIII. Death — a skeleton with a scythe stands in a field with severed heads and limbs.

XIV. Temperance — a standing winged woman pours water from one cup to another.

XV. The Devil — a beast stands on a pillar with two minions chained below; he has a human body but bat's wings, eagle's talons, and antlers.

XVI. The Tower — a tower is struck by lightning as two figures fall from it.

XVII. The Star — a large star in the sky is surrounded by seven smaller ones; below, a nude woman pours water from two pitchers, one on the land and one on the sea.

XVIII. The Moon — the moon, with a face in profile, hangs in the sky between two towers; below, two dogs howl and a crayfish emerges from a pond.

XIX. The Sun — the sun, with a face, hangs in the sky; below, two youths stand in a walled enclosure.

XX. Judgement — an angel blows a trumpet in the sky; below, two nude men and one woman emerge from graves.

XXI. The World — a beautiful nude woman dances in the center of an oval wreath; outside the wreath in the four corners are placed the symbols of the four evangelists: an angel, an eagle, a lion, and a bull.

Early Tarot History

Since the late eighteenth century, occultists have been drawn to the Tarot and have considered it an indispensable part of their magical equipment. To provide it with, what they considered, a suitable ancient pedigree, occultists have made up numerous spurious histories and associations for the deck. Most commonly, it was given an origin in ancient Egypt and said to be the creation of ancient Kabalists or of Egyptian priests under the guidance of the mythical sage Hermes Trismegistus, a Hellenized version of the Egyptian god Thoth. The twenty-two cards in the fifth suit were said to derive from Egyptian hieroglyphs but, strangely, also represent the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet as well as celestial and elemental symbols associated with each letter. Not all the insights of the occultists were wrong, but these assertions are false. At their worst, the occultists' associations have become a wall of confusion that blocks one from appreciating the mystical heritage that is preserved in the deck. The first step in understanding the symbolism and allegory presented in the Tarot, therefore, is to become familiar with the facts of its history.


Historic evidence indicates that the Tarot began in Renaissance Italy some time between 1410 and 1442 when a set of trumps was added to the four-suit deck that had existed in Western Europe since the late fourteenth century. The birthplace of the Tarot is most likely Milan but possibly Ferrara or Bologna. The trumps or trionfi, as they were called in Italian, were added to the deck to play a trick-taking game that is the ancestor of bridge. Unlike modern bridge, played with a four-suit deck, the Tarot has a natural trump suit that outranks the other minor suits. Game-playing was the Tarot's main purpose, but, as stated previously, there is evidence that it was also used for divination. Because the Tarot was created primarily to play a game, we may think that the allegory told in its pictures is trivial or meaningless and not worth all the attention that it has been given, but, in the Renaissance, it was expected that works of art should have an intended symbolic meaning and even a game was considered a suitable place to express a profound mystical allegory.

In a letter he had written in 1449 to Queen Isabelle of Lorraine, her agent described two decks that he was acquiring for the queen but were originally created for Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan (1392–1447). Here we find a description of what may be the oldest Tarot deck. We also find that the question of profundity in a game was addressed. Of the two decks, the oldest was designed for the duke by his astrologer, Marziano of Tortona, sometime between 1412 and 1425. The deck consisted of four suits, each with a type of bird as its suit symbol: eagles, phoenixes, turtledoves, and doves. Each suit has seven pips and one royal card, the king. To this, Marziano added a fifth suit of trumps consisting of a hierarchy of sixteen classical gods meant to represent higher powers. The letter quotes Marziano's description of the deck, but, before he described the deck, Marziano asked if it is fitting for a serious and virtuous man such as the duke to spend time playing a card game. His answer was that it is fitting if the game is equally serious and virtuous in the philosophy that it presents, and he felt that his game met that standard.

In 2003, Tarot historian Ross Gregory Caldwell discovered another early Renaissance document that seems to mention a Tarot. This one was found in an account book from Milan's southeastern neighbor, the city-state of Ferrara. The document recorded the fact that in January of 1441 the painter Sagramoro was hired to paint fourteen cards, most likely trumps, which seem to have been added to a regular card deck consisting of the four suits common at the time: coins, cups, swords, and staffs, each suit also consisting of fourteen cards: ten pips and four royals. This deck was created as a gift for Bianca (1425–1468), the daughter of the duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, mentioned earlier. She was then fifteen, the same age that she was to be married, and the deck was presented at a party given in her honor, perhaps a birthday party.

Unfortunately, no cards have survived from either of these decks. The oldest Tarot deck still in existence, however, again seems to have been created for Filippo Maria Visconti, who was a great lover of card games. The deck, which is now housed in the Yale University Library, is known as the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot. It contains sixty-seven cards but must have originally had more. These are sumptuous miniature works of art painted with gold leaf backgrounds on heavy paper rectangles by the artist Bonifacio Bembo in approximately 1445. The four minor suits are the same as the regular four suit decks of the time, with coins, cups, swords, and staffs as symbols. The only difference is that there are six royal cards instead of four in each of the suits: a male and female knave, a male and female knight, and the king and queen.

In the eleven remaining trumps in the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot, we find the Empress, the Emperor, the Lovers, the Chariot, Strength, Death, Judgement, the World, and three cards representing the three Christian virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity. The Christian virtues are not represented in the standard Marseilles pattern listed above and their inclusion suggests that originally the deck included all seven virtues that were common in lists from the Medieval and Renaissance periods: the four cardinal virtues, Temperance, Strength, Justice, and Prudence; and the three Christian virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity. As in all the early painted decks, none of the trumps are titled or numbered and it is impossible to know for certain how many were originally included or in what order.

* * *

As an interesting side note, historian Ross Gregory Caldwell informs us that when John VIII Paleologus (1390–1448), the acting emperor of Constantinople, visited northern Italy in 1424 in an effort to make an alliance with fellow Christians and drum up military and financial support for his struggle against the invading Islamic Turks, the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund (1368–1437), who was likely the model for the first Emperor card in the Tarot, sent his vassal Vlad Dracul (died 1447) to receive him in Venice and ultimately be his guide. After their time in Venice, Vlad, Paleologus, and his entourage spent three months in Milan as the guests of Filippo Maria Visconti. No doubt he entertained them with games of Tarot among other pleasures. Vlad Dracul was the father of Vlad Tepes Dracula (born 1428 to 1431, died 1476), who in 1447 inherited his father's title, Prince of Wallachia, and his father's mission as the defender of Transylvania from the Turks. According to Italian historian Maria Grazia Tolfo, the Emperor Sigismund's wife, the Empress Barbara von Cilli, who was the model for the oldest Empress card, was said to have a close relationship with Dracula and rumored to have become a vampire herself, perhaps the first vampire. In 1897, in an effort to ground the vampire of his novel in real history, Bram Stoker borrowed the prince's name as the name of his villain. However, before Stoker wrote Dracula there were no stories connecting the historic Dracula with vampirism and it is not clear when the rumors about the Empress originated.

* * *

Most of the known fifteenth-century Tarot cards are hand-painted works of art created for royal patrons. Some were created for the rulers of Ferrara and possibly Venice, or other city-states, but the majority in existence, 271 cards from fifteen different fragmented decks, were created for the rulers of Milan. The most complete deck is one created circa 1450 for Francesco Sforza (1401–1466), who became the heir to Filippo Maria Visconti after he married Filippo's daughter, Bianca. This deck, known as the Visconti-Sforza Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo, consists of seventy-four cards, four less than standard, beautifully painted and gilded by Bembo and another unknown artist. The minor suits are the same as a four-suit deck with the Italian suit symbols, except that the Three of Swords and the Knight of Coins are obviously missing from the deck. The two other cards that would make it a complete standard deck are trumps, the Devil and the Tower. Because, once again, the trumps are not numbered, and because there is no Devil or Tower card found in any of the fifteen existing Milanese decks, we cannot be sure that these cards were ever included. The Fool and the nineteen trumps that are included, however, are related to the ones found in the Tarot of Marseilles.

The oldest example of the Tower card can be found in the so-called Gringonneur deck, which at one time was mistakenly believed to have been created in 1392 by the artist Jacquemin Gringonneur for King Charles VI of France (1368–1442). However, the text, which the theory was based on, indicated that Gringonneur painted decks of cards for the king but not a Tarot deck. The Tarot did not yet exist in 1392 and no Tarots appeared in France until the sixteenth century. Scholars now accept that this deck was created by a Ferrarese artist working circa 1480.

We have fewer printed decks from the 1400s, but at least one engraved deck and some examples of woodcut decks exist from the end of the century. In these decks and in the lists of trumps found in literary sources from the end of that century, we find that the list of trumps included the Tower and the Devil as well as trumps corresponding to the others in the Marseilles Tarot. The printed decks also introduced the addition of numbers on the trumps, and we can see that the standard number has become twenty-one with the addition of an unnumbered Fool in the fifth suit. When a deck was created in Florence in the early 1500s that deviated from this pattern by incorporating forty trumps and a Fool, it was given a new name, the Minchiate.


Although the number of cards in the fifth suit had become standardized by the end of the 1400s, the order of the trumps did not, at least not throughout Italy. The Tarot had been developing in separate independent Italian city-states, and each city-state tended to develop its own order. From lists of trumps in sermons and other literature, and from the earliest numbered cards, we find that in the first 150 years of the Tarot's existence there were twelve different known orders, which Tarot historian Michael Dummett has pointed out fall into three distinct groups with minor anomalies within each group. Dummett labeled the groups A, B, and C. As there were three city-states that were the primary users of the cards, it is not surprising that there are three main orders that can be associated with each city-state and its area of influence. Order A was found in Bologna, Ferrara, and Florence; order B in Venice and Ferrara; and order C in Milan and later in the Marseilles decks in France and Switzerland.


Excerpted from The Vampire Tarot by Robert M. Place. Copyright © 2009 Robert M. Place. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. The History and Philosophy of the Tarot,
2. The Vampire in Legend and Art,
3. The Vampire Tarot Trumps,
4. The Minor Suits and the Tools of the Slayer,
5. Using the Cards,
About the Author,

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Vampire Tarot 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Nicolas-Flamel More than 1 year ago
Given the current fascination with all things vampire, the extravagance of Bram Stoker's imagination and the tarot's links to history and myth, this is an excellent combination of vampire lore and the ancient tarot. Mining Stoker's interest in the tarot (Stoker was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn and friend of Pamela Coleman Smith, creator of the most used tarot in history), Place explores the images of Stoker's darkly romantic Dracula on his cards, each a superb depiction in gothic shades of black, purple and red, whether a pulpy heart impaled with three daggers or the pale-skinned Mina, two puncture marks on her delicate neck. Here is rendered life and myth, King of Knives (Lord Byron), or King of Garlic Flowers (Bram Stoker). The cards are high-quality, heavy-coated cardstock with square edges. The matching book offers a tour of vampire and Tarot particularities: "The History and Philosophy of the Tarot"; "The Vampire in Legend and Art"; "The Vampire Tarot Trumps"; "The Minor Suits and the Tools of the Slayer"; and a guide to using the cards. The author cautions those who are familiar with his previous sets- based on alchemical, Christian and Buddhist symbolism and mystical philosophy- that he has not crossed over to the dark side. Death, rebirth and eternal life are the constant themes of myth. The Vampire Tarot celebrates the literary vampire as an ancient mythological creature focusing on mortality and the nature of the soul. These are no clumsy, frightening monsters from village folklore; rather, "the literary vampire is an esthetic creation of romantic poets... influenced by the gods of mythology". If you are a tarot aficionado, the cards speak for themselves. If you are a neophyte, consider The Vampire Tarot a challenge, an opportunity to expand the mind and embrace the great themes of rebirth and immortality, an archetype of the unconscious on a journey of transformation. Luan Gaines/2009.
ThalaRaptor More than 1 year ago
Robert Place has created yet another splendid contribution to Tarot in The Vampire Tarot, his most recent opus. Place's artistic style lends itself beautifully to a darkly elegant interpretation of the Tarot images filtered through the scrim of vampire mythology, and his scholarship makes for some unique takes on the Tarot. Thematically, the deck is primarily focused on Bram Stoker's Dracula, the quintessential Vampire novel, although he draws on the lore and traditions of vampires dating back to the Greeks. The glossy, sharp-edged (a nice touch!) cards are drawn from a variety of of other Gothic, Romantic (the movement, not the sentiment, which is why Lord Byron, Franz Liszt and other, possibly unexpected, people appear in the Court cards) and vampire imagery. The images are arrestingly beautiful and frequently disturbing, dancing along the themes of death and resurrection, blood and salvation, madness and creativity. Place uses the alchemical quest for enlightenment, the desire for immortality that informs the vampire mythos and the Tarot facility for mapping the progress of the soul to craft a timely and satisfyingly coherent themed deck. The book is a fascinating exploration of the history of Tarot and the evolution of the accoutrements of the Vampire legend, pulling from a wide research base, and a valuable contribution in itself to Tarot literature. Place brings the earlier versions of Tarot from the early Renaissance to the development of the Marseilles style decks back into descriptions of the Tarot, which enriches the descriptions of the cards and their meanings. Between the information on vampires and the elaboration of Tarot imagery and history, the book gives one a lot to chew on. The production values are very high - good quality card stock, a densely packed book and a handsome storage box.
aleeper More than 1 year ago
i love the pictures and ideas behind this set. I use it often and feel as if this purchase was a great buy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Evelyn-Agnes-Rae More than 1 year ago
IT was okay, but really it is more for the seasoned tarot reader, I would not recommand for a novice. There is a lot of info about why they choice the picture for the card, and little info on what the card could mean. It doesn't let the person know that if the card is upside down in the reading it means something completely different then if it is right side up. I have been reading tarot for about ten years now, and this is good for a gift maybe, or maybe to appease a vampire fan. But as far as keeping for your normal tarot deck I would say no, it is good for fun and entertainment.
Lexi_Moonlite More than 1 year ago
Their pictures are beautiful and although I am a beginner what I read in them is accurate but usually it is confirming situations like past events.
Vincent_T_Valentine More than 1 year ago
The only reason I got this deck is because I couldn't find the other Vampire Tarot set by Hertz in store, and boy, do I regret it. The only thing I found interesting about this deck is that it gives plenty of room for intuitive interpretation, and it doesn't stick by the traditional Pentacles/Wands/Swords/Cups, though for a beginner the correspondences could get a bit tedious, then cards Ace-10 are only marked by picture and color, and the user has to remember whether what exact type it is. The pictures use many figues from vampire fiction, and that art isn't very amazing enough to trigger the imagination. I wouldn't really suggest getting this deck for divination use, only if you're a real hard fan of vampires, it can be a fun collectible.