As a student of occult sciences, I study tarot cards as a resource for understanding our place in the galaxy and for developing spiritual techniques. While tarot is a form of divination, it is also steeped in the Western tradition of occultism, which acknowledges the existence of systems of knowledge that can be taught and passed down through the generations.
This whole story started when I was just a little kid. I was living in a small town, and my parents were into the occult. I was fascinated, but wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking for. I found myself gravitating toward decks that I thought were more “magical”, which is to say more entertaining than those decks that were more analytical.
In the early 1900’s the Golden Dawn was a group of occultists who used tarot cards and astrology to develop their system of mysticism. They believed that there were ten Sephiroth (emanations of God) and that God was Anthropos (man). They also believed that the moon was the highest of the Sephiroth and that a person’s destiny was decided by the stars and their position in the astrological chart. Their system of occult tarot was based on a combination of the Golden Dawn and a system developed by the 17th century occultist Eliphas Levi. The Golden Dawn decks were based on the tarot deck originally created by the French occultist Jean Baptiste Philippe deMolay, which had been
This week, I published deck evaluations and companion guidebooks for the five occult decks listed above, as well as allusions to Regardie’s writings, Waite’s Pictorial Key, and Crowley’s Book of Thoth, which turned out to be more like debates. It took a long time and a lot of effort, but I figured, one-and-done, which meant I’d simply get each of them done and then have it recorded on my blog for future reference.
If you’re a tarot fan, I hope you found some nuggets of wisdom in those conversations that you’ll want to save in your own tarot notebook. Even though I’ve been studying the tarot for more than two decades, the process of consolidating study of these Golden Dawn-based cards in rapid succession synthesized a lot for me.
Even the majority of the recent light, fun, quick-and-easy beautiful decks are, at their core, based in the Golden Dawn system, whether intentionally or not.
Whatever one’s feelings regarding the Golden Dawn system of correspondences or the blending of a Christianized viewpoint of Kabbalah (or naming it Hermetic Qabalah to distinguish it), no tarot fan can dispute the Golden Dawn’s objective impact on today’s mainstream forms of tarot.
So I though, well, maybe someone out there would benefit from this in-depth examination of a few GD-based decks. I’m hoping that simply reading and scrolling through the five deck talks will give you a basic grasp of this Western esoteric tradition.
On Monday, we began with a reading of Robert Wang’s The Golden Dawn Tarot and the companion book An Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot.
Wednesday we covered The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot (or Golden Dawn Magical Tarot) by Chic and Tabatha Cicero, along with its companion text, The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot: Keys to the Rituals, Symbolism, Magic & Divination, building our study of that deck atop of what we gleaned from Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot.
Because both decks were created under Israel Regardie’s direct supervision, I planned these two deck evaluations side by side.
Friday, we looked at the basics of the B.O.T.A. Tarot by Paul Foster Case and Jessie Burns Parke, augmented with insights from Case’s works, in a nonlinear publication date chronology.
On Saturday, we looked at Lon Milo and Constance DuQuette’s Tarot of Ceremonial Magick, a Crowleyian-Thelemic influenced deck. This deck differs from the others in that it has significant Golden Dawn influences mixed in with a variety of mystical traditions in the spirit of the Golden Dawn correspondences. That is why it is important to include it in our week-long trip.
Then, on Sunday, we went through Godfrey Dowson’s The Hermetic Tarot again. You’ll notice strong inspirations from Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual, Israel Regardie, and aesthetic designs influenced by the Thoth deck. The Hermetic Tarot, like the Tarot of Ceremonial Magick, incorporates Regardie’s Enochian system of ceremonial magic, angelic tablets, and watch towers in The Golden Dawn.
Top to bottom: Eugene Vinitski’s Kabbalistic Tarot, Robert M. Place’s Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, and M. M. Meleen’s Tabula Mundi Tarot. Bottom row, from left to right: D. W. Prudence’s AlcheMystic Tarot, Eugene Vinitski’s Tarot of Magical Correspondences, and a prototype test print of the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, Revelation Ed.
The above selection of Lovers cards come from a few of the contemporary occult tarot decks (in terms of market genre) I had within my physical reach. So there are others I would have wished to share in that snapshot, but those decks just happen to be out of sight at the moment. Wait, crap, like immediately I can see I forgot Payne-Towler’s Tarot of the Holy Light. How the bleeping heck did I manage that?!! @#$%^&* Argh. Now after I finish typing this up I’m gonna have to figure out where my Tarot of the Holy Light decks are and why they’re not within reach! Grrr.
Anyway. I decided to highlight Key 6: The Lovers because I believe it is on this card that one of those exoteric vs. esoteric schisms occurs.
You may have noticed that I interjected SKT asides into the GD deck talks. I drew a lot of inspiration for the SKT from Eliphas Levi’s works, and Levi had a big impact on the Golden Dawn. As a result, there will be many parallels, not to mention that most (but not all) tarot readers with an interest in the occult are inspired in some way by the Golden Dawn system of correspondences.
One of my primary reasons for conducting this week’s GD deck research was just that. You may see where my ideas for the SKT originated from by looking through these antecedent decks. And I believe that anybody interested in learning more about the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot will also be interested in learning more about these GD decks.
Could you just do me a favor? Please? Please leave a comment to let me know if you like this Golden Dawn deck review series and would want to see more like it. This will be my method of determining where I should spend my time and what isn’t. Thanks!
As an example:
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I am a Golden Dawn systemist, which means I am interested in the Golden Dawn tradition, but not in the Golden Dawn system. I am intrigued by the Golden Dawn cards, but I do not think they are particularly important to the Western occult tradition, in the sense that they were never particularly central to Golden Dawn teachings. These cards are interesting to me mainly because they are the earliest tarot deck that we have. I am also interested in their similarity to early Hermetic magick.. Read more about golden dawn tarot book and let us know what you think.
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