The Lydia Tarot

Madam Lydia Wilhelmina’s Tarot of Monsters, the Macabre and Autumn Scenes, deck and companion book by Bethalynne Bajema

I first came across Madam Lydia Wilhelmina’s Tarot of Monsters, the Macabre and Autumn Scenes when I was active on Instagram last year. As an aside, I can never get truly comfortable with social media. It’s just not something I’m suited for – as an INFP I tend to be weirdly introverted at times. But, be that as it may, I did enjoy aspects of it – more so than many other social media sites. I found value in many of the posts. I met a few people on IG whose work I continue to follow, and discovered a few great websites. One of my favorite accounts at the time was Attic Cartomancy, an account of Bethalynne Bajema. I was very happy when I had the opportunity to purchase her highly creative, hauntingly beautiful tarot deck. Later, I purchased the companion guide book, or Grimoire.

There are plenty of decks that hope to create a creepy, eerie, dark, disturbing feeling. In many ways they accomplish this, at least initially, in appearance and first impressions. And I love many of these darker decks. The Lydia Tarot has a disarmingly quiet appearance, at first… One might approach it thinking it is somewhat muted and gentle or subtle, but there is a sharp precision to the eerie within it. That easy deception is in itself somewhat eerie. It adds a more disturbing quality to it that many other efforts don’t succeed at. Certain cards in this deck might creep you out, or spook you, or make you shudder or say “eww…” but at the same time, you can’t help but engage with the images, running your eyes over the artwork of the card and enjoying the alluring beauty that is also there… And in many cases, recognizing darker aspects of yourself within the images. From this perspective the cards may make you see them a bit differently than how other more traditional tarot artwork would, beckoning additional insights coming from this other, certainly unique perspective.

The Cards

There are a total of 79 cards in the deck. Card Eight in the Major Arcana is Strength, and card Eleven is Justice. There are, as is standard, twenty-two Major Arcana cards, from 0, The Fool, to XXI, The World. Following The World is a card called Deary Squirrel. It is described as a “mischief maker” and “light hearted trickster.” I had actually initially read the card title as Dreary Squirrel, not realizing that it was indeed what the author had intended – but there had been an overlooked typo in production, so the card remains Deary Squirrel. The author has a full blog post on this card that I would recommend checking out if you do acquire the deck. The blog post is an enjoyable explanation of the card’s creative background.

The four traditional suits of Cups, Swords, Coins, and Wands are all represented, and court cards for each suit include Page, Knight, Queen, and King.

I should of course mention that the card imagery is based on Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, for the most part. Looking through the Minor Arcana cards you can easily recognize the compositions. The illustrations have been very effectively, artfully, and thoughtfully adapted. The artwork is also highly consistent throughout the deck, with some subtle but suitable differences between the suits.

Another aspect I’d like to point out, is that there is form and presence in these images – and in many cases, the eyes of the figures (though it might sound painfully cliché) do very much feel like they are staring straight out at you, and following you. This is a collage deck, for which the artist used mostly paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, “to introduce the reader to dark characters and hidden scenes.” Of these choices, she says you’ll find “classic movie monsters like the Mummy, the Bride of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man. Those dark creatures from history like the blood countess and secret masquerades among eerie autumn scenes.”

The Grimoire

The Grimoire makes it clear – if the cards don’t exactly on their own, or if you haven’t read the artist’s social media posts or website – that this is a tarot deck created by a fictional character, a mysterious woman (with a mysterious past, full of mysterious family members and friends), named Madame Lydia. The Grimoire reads like a personal journal, in which Madame Lydia describes and explains each of her tarot cards. This is done very creatively, and quite beautifully. She shares her thoughts and feelings on each card, how they were inspired, and what their meanings are.

I’ve been a tarot enthusiast since I was about thirteen years old. That’s a fairly long time, considering I’m now fifty. I’ve read a lot of books about tarot, which have of course included many that explore the meanings, or interpretations, of the cards. Those undoubtedly have immense value and have obviously informed my own studies… But I don’t think we reach real depth until we have come to understand tarot in a unique, individual way within ourselves, until we realize the “meanings” are coming naturally from within ourselves. Traditional tarot meanings are clearly important (especially within certain contexts or practices), but I do not discount that meanings may be altered by each individual reader. In Bajema’s Grimoire, card meanings are explored through poetry, bits of literature, mythology, spirituality, and personal insight and vision. Choices for card representation might veer from the expected, and elements of card descriptions might sound different from much we have encountered before. Always excited to encounter the new, I celebrate this.

I think Bajema does a beautiful job in sharing what tarot is within herself, expressed through Lydia. We don’t always get that with tarot authors. The Grimoire is written much like a very personal, open scrapbook – or, like a grimoire, a book of shadows. Reflections, revelations, and invocations fill the pages alongside sketches, artwork, drawings of dried flowers and herbs, and skulls or bones. These intuitions bring the reader a sense of the card they may not have come to otherwise, through any other book. You’re not going to read these same explorations of the cards anywhere else, I promise. Cards are also very creatively provided with sub-titles of sorts, and I think these are usually pretty awesome. A few examples: the High Priestess is represented by the Bride of Frankenstein; the Moon, the Blood Countess; the King of Coins, the Royal Masquerade; the King of Cups, a Water Demon.

More traditional meanings are included, though usually very briefly. For the High Priestess, the rather traditional meaning is offered: “Upright the High Priestess represents secret wisdom or intuition: There may be hidden influences. Reversed, a lack of personal harmony or foresights.” But, a full additional page reflects on the bride of Frankenstein, as well as loose instructions on making an offering to the darker goddess Hekate, and other notes that enrich the meaning of the card.

This likely would not be the sole book a new reader would turn to in order to learn how to read tarot. But I think it would be a very valuable addition to any tarot bookshelf because of the unique and personal exploration of tarot.

More practical issues

As pictured above, the edition of the deck that I bought was packaged in a glossy, sturdy black box. Also included was a gold organza tarot bag. The cards are nice stock, and comfortable and easy to shuffle.

The Grimoire is pretty expensive (at least it was when I bought it), especially for being softcover. I think it’s deserving of hardcover, but if it costs that much to print in paperback, I imagine pricing for a hardcover would be prohibitive for most. I spent the money on it because I felt it was important to see how the artist intended her cards to be understood. I trusted that it would not be money wasted. I consider it to have been worth it. I would highly recommend buying the Grimoire (or putting it on your holiday wish list!) if you have the cards. It will enrich not only readings with the Lydia Tarot deck, but I believe will enrich one’s approach to reading tarot in general. Also, I feel that supporting artists, especially through such uncertain times, is important.

Where to find the Lydia Tarot

The author has a very nice website on this deck, complete with card images and page previews from the Grimoire. Please do visit here to learn more:

I purchased my copy of the deck when it was announced on Instagram that it was available. I bought it directly through the Attic Cartomancy website.

It might also be available from the excellent Haute Macabre.

I purchased my copy of the Grimoire at Amazon.