In this blog, I explore the Hermetic Tarot, how it was created, its influence and its relevance today. I also examine its relation to the Tarot de Marseille, which is an important part of the history of the Tarot de Marseille. I also explore the Hermetic Tarot, how it was created, its influence and its relevance today.
This is the blog of Robert M. Smith, a Hermeticist, astrologer, philosopher, and occultist (and formerly an academic). I have been studying the Hermetic Tradition for many years and have taught Hermetic philosophy, Theurgy and Magic, as well as Hermetic Tarot in the past. My goal is to investigate and explore the Hermetic Tradition as far as I can, in the ways I may be able to without actually learning Hermeticism myself.
In recent years, I have become fascinated with the Hermetic Tarot, the deck that was first published by the Englishman Godfrey Dowson in 1887. This is a deck that you can see the influence of many different predecessors, but it has a unique style of its own, in particular in the way it deals with the Major Arcana. One of the very best items I have found on the deck is another deck that tries to interpret it. The Green Tarot, by the Hermetic Tarot Project, is inspired by the Golden Dawn, and is the second project of the Hermetic Tarot Project.
Godfrey Dowson’s Hermetic Tarot was one of my first deck reviews on this site, back in 2013. It wasn’t even a deck review, to be honest. I’m not sure what it was, but it made me shudder a little too much to attempt to reread it right now. Anyway, let’s go through the deck again and add this to our growing collection of Golden Dawn deck debates.
Considering the extent and depth of their impact on Western occultism, particularly in the realm of tarot, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active for just approximately fifteen years. Even joyful, fanciful, non-occult mass-produced pop tarot cards are inspired by the Golden Dawn inadvertently.
In 1912, Crowley published a description of the Order’s card designs in The Equinox, infuriating MacGregor Mathers to the point of filing a lawsuit to prevent Crowley’s publishing. Around the time of World War II, Israel Regardie republished the Golden Dawn card descriptions, and supervised Robert Wang and the Ciceros’ following GD decks. Since the Order disbanded, the LWB presents Dowson’s deck as another Golden Dawn-based tarot deck in the line of succession.
Dowson created the pen and ink illustrations for the Hermetic Tarot between 1975 and 1977, with U.S. Games publishing the deck in 1980. The LWB that comes with the cards was co-written by Stuart Kaplan. The Hermetic Tarot is a “compelling rebuilt version of the tarot that will definitely take its position as one of the most significant esoteric tarot decks produced during the twentieth century,” according to Kaplan.
Aleph is allocated to Key 0, the Spirit of Ether, which Dowson connects to the current planet Pluto, much as the Golden Dawn decks before it (whereas the majority view today assigns Uranus to The Fool card). Key 0: The Fool relates astrologically to either Pluto or Uranus in the LWB, whereas Key XX: The Last Judgment corresponds to either Pluto or Uranus.
Key 6: The Lovers, like Wang and the Ciceros, shows Andromedia trapped to a rock and assaulted by a dragon emerging from the seas. Perseus, sword in hand, rushes to her aid. Children of the Divine Voice is the secondary main title here. Although “it is essential to examine this card in conjunction with Key XIV: Temperance (Sagittarius)…”, Gemini is given Key 6. The Lovers are also associated with Sagittarius, the Archer, as shown by the bow and arrow in the top right corner.”
Dowson’s depiction of The Chariot card is based heavily on the Thoth. The Holy Grail is shown in the middle of the card. The chariot of Heremes, pulled by two sphinxes, is shown on the card. Love is symbolized by Jachin, while strength is shown by Boaz.”
In this deck, Key 8 is Strength (or Fortitude), while Key 11 is Justice. The Daughter of the Flaming Sword is the embodiment of fortitude. The Higher Self’s victory over the Lower Self is symbolized by the female figure standing over the lion. In contrast to the maiden and the lion, the shield represents an uncontrollable lion, according to the LWB annotations. This is the indestructible energy shield.
The inverted pentagram is a sign of dark powers, and the Devil card represents Pan. The old is destroyed to make room for the new in Lord of the Hosts of the Mighty’s Blasted Tower. On each side of the blasted Tower, an outline of the Tree of Life emerges.
The ankh, like the human figure in The Hanged Man, is inverted, and since both are aligned, it is the spectator who is “upside down,” even if we assume we are right side up. The snake portrayed on the thigh of the condemned man symbolizes both the Creator and the Destruction. The snake theme appears again in the Death card, representing both Creator and Destroyer.
Dowson, like DuQuette’s Tarot of Ceremonial Magick, is strongly inspired by Crowley’s works, as shown by Key 12. The arms are extended to create an equilateral triangle, forming the Triangle topped by the Cross, a symbol of light descending into darkness to redeem the shadow. (See Crowley’s Thoth Book.) For Key 12, Crowley mentions a Rose and a Cross, and you can see the Rosy Cross here.
The Seal of Ezekiel is the white center seal in the Wheel, and it is an indication of good fortune when it appears upright in a reading; when it looks ill-dignified or in reverse, it is a portent of bad luck.
Doesn’t the art style remind you of M.M. Meleen? There’s no denying that the artwork on this deck is outstanding, and it’s among the finest of the Golden Dawn lineup. I’m also reminded of Nemo’s Book of Azathoth Tarot’s visual style. To put it another way, it’s fantastic.
The Minor Arcana cards here have a higher degree of intricacy and decoration than some of the previous Golden Dawn decks we looked at. However, I wouldn’t call them picturesque in the same sense that the RWS Minors are scenic.
The works are abstract and philosophical, straddling the lines between optical art and surrealism, with decorative aspects that harken back to Art Nouveau.
The courts are ranked as follows: Knights (Fire), Queens (Water), Kings (Air), and Princesses (Earth), with the Knights representing the Tetragrammaton’s Yod power. They are the Fathers, according to the LWB.
My brain is now mush from talking about so many different GD decks in such close proximity to one another, so I can’t recall the exact source (but I believe I mentioned it in the review I’m referring to, so if you’ve been following this series, you’ll be able to identify the author)– the RWS King (Fire), Queen (Water), Knight (Air), and Page (Earth) court rankings were allegedly a blind that was allegedly based on the R After Waite, Crowley and others removed the blind to reveal the real identity of these heavenly creatures.
You can do anything you want with it. I believe I’m simply so brainwashed from working with King, Queen, Knight, and Page for so long that I’m going to have to operate the tarot with Waite’s blinds on for the rest of my life. shrug…
Following the Knights come the Queens, who symbolize the Tetragrammaton YHVH’s first Heh power and represent the Mothers.
I like it when a Queen of Swords exudes powerful Judith vibes, and we have enough of that here.
The Queens, who symbolize YHVH’s Vau power, and the sons of the knights and queens, are subservient to the Kings. They are known as Kings (or Princes in Thoth) because they are the actual successors to the throne.
After that, there are the Princesses, who correlate to the Pages, and the Tetragrammaton’s second Heh force. “This is primal energy in its fullness and crystallization,” Dowson says of the Princesses, echoing Crowley in his Book of Thoth.
The 72 pip cards (Twos through Tens) include the 72 Shem HaMephorash, or heavenly secret names of the Divine, and I tried to figure out the English translations of the names using a translation table to check whether they corresponded to Regardie’s tables, but I admit I had some difficulty. It was a big difficulty for me to understand since it was handwritten in a language I was unfamiliar with.
If you have the Hermetic Tarot and want to test it out, there’s a table on Uri Raz’s Tarot Site that lists the First and Second Angel Names in Hebrew that correlate to the tarot pips.
In the LWB, there are English translations for the angel names. For example, the Five of Swords summons Aniel and Chaamiah. All of the art’s details are symbolic. The decan ruler Venus in Aquarius is represented by the Five of Swords. The swan and dove are associated with Venus, whereas the pheasant and hawk are associated with Aquarius. The spirit of defeat is symbolized by the torn rose with its petals falling.
Take a look at the disks in the Pentacles Suit. They nearly seem to be an optical illusion to me, and I believe I can see them rotating. Then I read the LWB, which said that Dowson wanted the disks to seem to be rotating. “The pentacles are slowly rotating, indicating the eventual depletion of the initial whirling energy,” he says about the Nine of Pentacles. Those disks, however, do not move in the Ten of Pentacles. “Even if the pentacles [in the Ten of Pentacles, Lord of Wealth] are not rotating, they nevertheless represent the vast and ultimate solidification of energy.”
As far as I know, there is currently no in-depth guidebook for the Hermetic Tarot, but any of the guidebooks we discussed– Wang’s Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot or Chic and Tabatha Ciceros’ The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot: Keys to the Rituals, Symbolism, Magic & Divination would be great companion guides for working with Dowson’s deck. M. M. Meleen’s Book M: Liber Mundi would be great, too. Sure, the card descriptions aren’t going to transfer, because the artists have gone in different stylistic and symbolic directions, but the interpretative approach is aligned enough for any of these texts to be instructive. And of course, there’s Crowley’s Book of Thoth.
As an example:
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The Tarot is an ancient, mysterious and complex tool used for divination. The Tarot deck that I teach is based on Hermetic symbolism and the information that Hermeticism has been passed down through the ages. I personally believe that we are all connected to a higher plan and, that this plan is a whole truth that cannot be found in any single book, but only in all books.. Read more about hermetic tarot wiki and let us know what you think.
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