I am very rarely an Oracle deck reader, and I most certainly am never an Angel deck reader, but this deck was one I had my eye on from the moment I heard about it being scheduled for release. I bought it as soon as it was available and – as so often happens, fickle as I am – when it arrived, the time wasn’t quite right to use it, or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind – so I packed it away and continued using whatever I happened to be using at the time. But now the days begin to get shorter, the light at sunset is distinctly autumnal and All Hallow’s Eve is almost upon us. I think about dark nights, Samhain, graveyards on chill afternoons, the distant croak of rooks, and this deck beckons because it is darkness I want.
The deck is actually called Fallen Angel Oracle Cards but that juxtaposition of Angel and Oracle makes me think of the worst excesses of feel-good pseudo-psychological healing decks, and the author Nigel Suckling, in his book, often refers to them as Fortune Cards which I quite like. It makes me think of something older and witchier; cards which are not pre-programmed merely to tell us how wonderful we are. This weekend I reached for this deck and book set and plan to give it more of my attention in the forthcoming weeks. It is published by Cico Books (who have done some truly terrible decks), but this one stands out as being one which hangs together well and seems to me, among the current flurry of dark decks, to actually be one of the best.
There are 72 borderless cards (just over 13cm x 8 cm), each one named after a different angel or demon taken from an occult treatise published in 1563 by the free thinking Netherlandish doctor, Johann Weyer. He had used as his source material a volume on demonology clumsily titled Liber officiorum spirituum, seu Liber dictus Empto. Salomonis, de principibus et regibus daemoniorum (“Book of the offices and spirits or the book called Empto Salomonis concerning the princes and kings of the demons.”). His own volume entitled Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (“False Kingdom of the Demons”) had an appendix at the end of the book which listed fallen angels and their attributes and was subsequently drawn on as a source of inspiration and magical thinking by many famous esotericists and translated by S.L McGregor Mathers and also edited by Aleister Crowley. Suckling argues that the qualities of these angels are not explicitly evil but are essentially Jungian archetypes, neutral or even benign, and have distinct traits which can be used in a similar way to the traditional tarot archetypes. Perhaps this is why I like these cards; they don’t bend over backwards trying not to be tarot cards. He makes a point of telling us to use our tarot spreads with this deck. The book even contains a reiteration of the Celtic Cross spread for readings and on the outer box we are told they can be read “just like tarot.”
These angels were believed to have been enslaved by Solomon to build his temple and then sealed up in a magical brass vessel. The Babylonians heard about this stoppered vessel and assumed it contained treasures thus opened it and unleashed the spirits out into the world. As a basis for a deck, it’s a good one and I think Suckling is onto something. We can shuffle the cards and unleash our consciousness of these aspects of ourselves. I like to think of it as an antidote to the sickly angel decks though these images do not convey evil archetypes in any shape or form. They are more like non-Catholic energies that one feels could be harnessed or invoked or identified and isolated. The artwork by Sarah Perkins is moody and predictably morbid. I suspect that historic engravings of these entities are difficult to find and so each card feels more like an invocation of that angel’s atmosphere rather than an attempt to dwell on the angel’s physicality.
The technique works. Almost all the images contain tombstones and gothic cemetery sculpture, with manipulations, collaging and various added details to give a feel for that angel’s energy. What the images do successfully is to create a mood as if that angel were about to manifest itself, as if it were moments away from materialising; gloomy skies, ravens homing, looming shadows, wings flapping, as if the entities are about to appear or are being summoned. I like that feeling and it fires the imagination much more than an explicit depiction. Each card contains a black strip across the image (which may bother some) and on that black strip is written the card number and a keyword associated with the angel. Oddly, there are three cards with the keyword “Honesty” which seems a bit excessive, and also three with the keyword “Upheaval” and two titled “Transformation.” I have never seen that duplication in decks before. Upon consulting the book, you see that the cards have different meanings, illustrate different aspects of that quality, but it isn’t always clear from the image. Having said that, I do feel that with the given keyword and the vivid imagery, these cards are easy to read, which is a huge plus for anyone drawn to oracle decks but put off by the whole effort required to take on board and internalise a new system. There are enough details and symbols in the cards to stimulate the intuition.
There are also planetary and elemental attributes which are laid out in the book and can be incorporated into readings. I am forever defeated by anything planetary but there are pages dedicated to explaining how the cards can be given an extra planetary or elemental spin if required, and each card – in the divinatory meanings summary – is listed alongside these attributes. There are a number of spreads with a distinctly tarot flavour which the user might find either comforting or lazy, depending on your perspective. There is a seven card Solomon’s Seal spread (based on the elements) and also a seven card pyramid spread. The deck works well with one card draws but I think the cards have to be forced into a distinct position otherwise the meaning might be a little vague if it was just a “card of the day” type draw. Compare “card of the day”; “Honesty” with “what attitude should I take?” “Honesty”. This is the kind of deck I like to ask specific question of, shuffle and cut. What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? Why are things not going as I expected? What approach is going to spoil things? What are his (or her) intentions?
The deck is perfect for this time of year, when the urge comes upon me to sit under yew trees in graveyards and ponder life’s mysteries. The cards are glossy and quite thin but would stand up to use. Overall this is a good quality set and very accessibly priced. Some of the cards are stunning. I love the way animals are morphed into graveyard sculptures so we see gothic stone statuary with an owl’s or kestrel’s or wolf’s head. There are skulls tossed in the graveside undergrowth, creeping shadows, offerings, superimposed engravings, statues of weeping angels (stone stained with black tears) all fused together to give an eerie vibe. Stormclouds gather, flames shoot. It is a beautifully executed deck, but then loving Victorian cemetery sculpture and photographic manipulation of gothic atmospheres, I’m biased. There are many cards I like. Perhaps my favourite is card 30, Furfur, (“Evaluation”) which shows a monolithic sculpture of an undraped urn with a braying stag at its base. “A storm threatens but help or advice comes from an unexpected quarter.” The totem beast of Furfur is the stag – “proud, strong and graceful” – a king among his kind, a king whose inspiration may cause upheaval. But this is just one of many cards of note. On reflection there isn’t any card I dislike, maybe a couple don’t seem to evoke as much power and darkness as the others but overall the deck is consistant in its artwork and it doesn’t have that aspect which so tires me in many oracle decks, that you have to put in hours of study before you can even begin to think about spreads, by which time you feel paralysed by how much background reading you really ought to do in order to do full justice to the deck. If you like your decks dark, you’ll want to lay this out immediately and listen for the distant sound of thunderous flapping wings.