Black Flame Tarot, by Jennifer Chen
Companion book: Guide to the Black Flame Tarot, Komodokat Productions, 78 (+2), 2005
“The Black Fire flames to life when we remember ourselves, and it charges forth when we cast our will into the universe. It burns away lies and illusions, and purifies that which is absolute within us”.1
The Black Flame Tarot derives its name from the Satanic movement of the 1960s, the ‘Black Flame’ denoting the ‘divine gift man gained from a rebellious cosmic figure’. It stands a symbol for ‘man’s highly evolved sense of self-awareness, and the possibility that consciousness being of a cosmic origin’.2
Jennifer Chen, a Priestess of the Temple of Set, began her designs for this Tarot deck in 2000. The images show clear influences from Pamela Colman Smith’s illustrations in the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck, and the geometrical forms of Frieda Harris’s artwork for the Thoth Deck, directed by Aleister Crowley, as well as drawing upon the symbolism of several different traditions, from the obvious Setian inspiration to alchemical, astrological and other occult influences.
The deck’s colours are dark, but vibrant, radiating a strength and authority behind the images, though unfortunately not all images are created equal. The style varies somewhat between cards, creating some schism in the fluidity of the design.
I have a few favourite cards, particularly the dark beauty of the Hierophant, traditionally so beatific, here is shown as a dark initiate robed in black, with an inverse pentagram upon his cloak, surrounded in Setian animal figures. The Sun, with its rich, gorgeous yellows, is surrounded by the figures of the zodiac, a charging bull at its feet. The Ace of Pentagrams depicts a hand with the inverted pentagram on a disk at its palm, burning with a red glow.
The rich symbolism extends to the minor arcana to a lesser extent, as the predominant images are the emblems of the suits against vivid backdrops.
The companion booklet, titled Guide to the Black Flame Tarot, is unusual in that the history and details of this deck are clearly explained and described in the introductory text, and also in the honesty of presentation of its topics. I was delighted to read Chen’s thoughts on abolishing so much of the superstition surrounding the care and use of Tarot cards as it’s something I’ve been writing against for years myself.
She also notes and explains deviations from the neo-traditional names of the cards of the major arcana, with inspiration noted as being drawn from Crowley, the Fourth Way, alchemy, and Setian influences, amongst others. This provides an excellent frame of reference which will be greatly appreciated by novices approaching this deck.
Chen describes the cards in terms of the elemental suits, numerical attributes of the minor arcana, court cards, and major arcana. Later she reiterates much of this when further correspondences are given again for elemental, Fourth Way, numerical, and colour correspondences.
The booklet goes through each of the cards of the major arcana explaining much of the symbolism and influences it draws upon, as well as ill-dignified interpretations. The court cards are treated to briefer descriptions, and ill-dignified meanings are also included, but the numbered, or ‘small’ cards, of the minor arcana are given brief descriptions of their meanings with no ill-dignified meanings.
Several spreads are depicted, most of which are less commonly found in your average introduction-to-Tarot book, which is greatly appreciated, as there are only so many descriptions of the Celtic Cross one can bear to read.
I received the companion booklet as a PDF, so please note the page numbers quoted here may not correspond in the final version, and the typographical and logical errors may be corrected (for example, the deck is referred to several times as being composed of seventy-two cards, whereas it actually contains seventy-eight in both the traditional and Black Flame Tarot, with an additional two, the title card and an information card).
The deck I received for review is also a prototype, on which the back of the cards show the heads of Set and Horus back to back, reflected opposites below, creating a symmetry of quarters against a black marbled backdrop. The revised rear image also looks quite spiffy, a more uniform design, twelve heads of Set. The cards I received are quite thin, and if the final version is similar, great care will be required in maintaining their shape, they may benefit from further lamination to increase their thickness and durability.
The deck is beautiful, and the book provides a worthy accompaniment, highly recommended for initiates of the Left-Hand Path, or the LHP-curious.