The Vitriolic Tarot is designed by Colman Stevenson and published by Dark Exact.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L. is an alchemical motto which stands for:
“Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem”*
And translates into:
Visit the interior of the earth, and by rectifying (correcting or purifying) what you find there, you will discover the hidden stone.
My first impression is that this feels very alien, but in a good way. It’s so different from all my other decks, and the only one that I can compare it to is the perhaps The Magic tarot by Frederic Lionel, and even that is a stretch, so maybe the similarities are more in spirit than anything else.
The red cardboard box, with the white stickers, as well as the design and layout of the cards themselves makes it seem like a long lost underground Tarot pack from an alternative 70s. I can just picture bespectacled intellectuals clad in black turtlenecks with crystal necklaces raving about the importance and artistic quality of this arcane artefact.
I keep finding myself staring at the symbol on the card back. It does leap out in a three-dimensional way to me, like sacred geometry. It suggests a series of Möbius strips, sort of tilting away, as if to remind us that time is not linear. And I can’t think of a more perfect representation of the tarot than this, as my work of the tarot as a tool through the years has taught me that our relationship with time is very misunderstood.
Now, it should be noted that since the image on the back isn’t mirrored, reversals might be a little tricky. It’s not a huge deal, as it’s perfectly fine to just use this without reading reversals, and since it’s only 23 cards, you could easily modify it by applying coloured contact paper on the backs anyway. And if you haven’t already started to modify your decks, I highly urge you to try it out as it’s an extremely potent way to connect to a deck. I’ve been reading the cards using only the upright meanings and I’ve been referring to the more specific “interpretations” in the LWB**, although the booklet does provide a small list of the more traditional interpretations.
The Great Work
This is an esoteric tarot, and more specifically, an alchemical tarot, which I guess all proper tarot decks really are (or at least should be), but here it’s clearly the intention.
Nigredo, blackness, that which many alchemists believe to be the first step towards the philosopher’s stone. A purification or a sort of decomposition. In a psychological context it’s a metaphor for when you confront your own shadow, aka “the dark night if the soul” or having an “existential crisis”. Also known as The Black Phase. This is followed Albedo, The White Phase, then Citrinitas and Rubedo, known as The Yellow and The Red Phase respectively.
As a side note, this always makes me think of the Fibonacci inspired lyrical pattern in Laterlaus by Tool:
Black then white are all I see
In my infancy.
Red and yellow then came to be,
Reaching out to me,
Lets me see.
Anyway, in this deck the Fool’s Journey in the Major Arcana is split up into these four phases. And in my opinion Colman has done a great job of linking the Major Arcana and Alchemy in a way that is both elegant and easy to understand.
This brings us to the ingenious colour coding of this deck. And this is done in two ways, or perhaps three, if you count the colours of the sigils, and the guidebook does say that the colours of these where chosen by the ideas they often represent, but we’ll focus on the two most obvious ways.
The first one is the four phases in the Magnum Opus (The Great Work), and this is done simply by a thin line going across the card in a colour corresponding to its respective phase. Fool (Alpha) to Death all have a black line for instance. Then Temperance to Moon has a white one and so on.
The second colour coding expands on the four stages already mentioned, and it goes into further detail about each stage, and this is clearly shown by a rectangle in the upper right corner. It starts with Calcination visualised as charcoal grey on the Fool (Alpha) and Magician card, moves on to Dissolution in violet on High Priestess, then onto red for Separation with Empress, Emperor and Hierophant and so on and so forth.
Sigils and Symbols
In addition to the name and number of the card, and the previously mentioned colour coding, each card has little symbol (referred to as “icon” in the LWB) attached to it, as well as a specially constructed sigil. The symbols are shown in black and white and its drawings lifted from The Personal Oracle, also available from Dark Exact. These are simple and effective, and serves as a visual hint to some of its cards meaning. I particularly like the upside down tree on the Hanged One card.
The largest part of the card is the space for the sigil. These vary in colour but are all done in a fairly similar style. This is perhaps the most mysterious, or “occult” part of the deck, and here I feel like I’ve yet to crack the proverbial code. And maybe there is isn’t much to crack here, but still, my gut tells me that over time these sigils will perhaps reveal some profound insights. I speculate that with some meditation or just quiet contemplation whilst looking at the cards, you surely should be able to scry these sigil gateways and come up with your own ideas about what they mean. An idea for the next edition of the LWB is to leave room so that you may write down your notes and own thoughts on these. Just a suggestion.
And also, although it’s not a big deal, the yellow sigil on the Magician card is a little hard to see, but except for that, the printing is exceptional and everything is clear and easy to read.
Oh, and here’s a crazy idea for the daredevils and alchemical adventures out there… How about if you use whiteout, or something else to cover the sigils, and then you make your own and put them on there instead? Now that sure would be an exercise worth investigating, and one that truly would make this your own unique journey. And I must say, I’m really tempted to do it myself some time in the future. Not because I don’t like the sigils already on the cards, but because I like the tarot, and magick in general, to be an interactive and personal experience.
The Tarot De/Re/constructed
In a way, The Vitriolic Tarot is a very minimalist deck, at least on the surface, and at first glance, and although first glances, and initial intuitions are important, every student of the occult knows that if we look deeper, the veil will be lifted, and hidden truths will be revealed.
One thing though, that seems to be a way of stripping the tarot down to its essence, is the removal of the “The” from the titles of the cards. It’s no “The Lovers, and it’s instead only “Lovers” and it’s just “Sun” and not “The Sun”. I like this. There’s also one name change, which I also really like, and that is instead of “The Hanged Man”, we get “Hanged One”.
It’s also worth mentioning that this deck includes a second Fool card, known as Fool (Omega). For those already familiar with The Dark Exact Tarot this will come as no surprise, but others might at first be a bit puzzled, but it really does work in context, and it fits with the whole theme and philosophy of the deck (the Fool’s journey loops and is a life long process).
My box came with a little note explaining that “The Booklet is sort of still a draft and I might add to it later”. Still, I’d say that this very good booklet, which does a good job of describing the thoughts and ideas behind the deck. It also provides us with a handful of spreads, and that’s always welcome.
I also, once again, have to applaud Coleman Stevenson to be so kind as to include a bibliography, presented as “Works Consulted” at the back of the booklet. And I know this might sound a little silly but trust me, rarely do the creators of tarot list their research and influences like this. And sure, the tarot is mainly visual, but we are sorely lacking the actual thoughts behind a lot of the work being produced these days, and it just goes to show that most decks on the market are just “art decks” lacking real esoteric depths.
For pure divinatory purposes I rarely use the Major Arcana only, and I’ll usually reserve that for special occasions and for special intents. But the Vitriolic Tarot have yielded g great results and have proven to be a potent tool in my ever-growing tarot toolbox. And I sure as hell feel like I’ve actually learned a thing or two just by using it. And I’ll continue using it, play with it, and learn from it.
* This motto apparently originated in the book L’Azoth des Philosophes by the 15th Century alchemist Basilius Valentinus.
** Little white book