The Golden Dawn Tarot Deck Review byC.J. Rose
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traditional card titles
eight: Strength; eleven: Justice
suits are wands, cups, swords and pentacles
courts are princess, prince, queen and king
no illustrated pips, no captions
purpose: The Hierophant
Robert Wang addresses our intellects on his way to this intuitive assertion, The
Tarot is a system of enlightenment, a system whose ultimate aim is assisting the
individual in understanding his relationship to the Cosmos. He quotes Paul Foster
Case, who once considered himself the head of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,
a secret magical fraternity established in 1888, The Tarot is not a plaything, nor
is it only a pack of cards designed for purposes of fortune-telling, although this
use of it has preserved it for serious students through the vicissitudes of time and
Two main purposes are served by the Tarot. First, it preserves and transmits an
esoteric teaching. Secondly, it evokes specific intellectual and emotional responses
from the inner consciousness of the student who has been taught to look at it.
Wang concludes, We submit that this deck is the only published deck which includes
all of the correct attributions of a secret oral tradition, and that these materials
have been passed down for centuries. We believe that the Golden Dawn Tarot is the
result of MacGregor Mathers intensive research into the history of the Tarot,
correlated with, and affirmed by, his contacts with this secret oral tradition.
The occult society only lasted fifteen years but it continues to fertilize all
current Tarot study. Decks are either GD-based or notable for rebelling against the
standard. Claiming this deck as the most important Tarot of the modern era, Wang
differentiates between the more important concepts and the less secret images.
Reknown for its pageantry, costumes, flickering lights and temple-stage geared to
bridge two worlds, The Golden Dawn used ritual to heighten awareness. The chiefs of
the order were high-grade Masons, Rosicrucians and inveterate showmen who integrated
Tarot cards into rituals to etch their essence into the subconscious of the
initiates. The order incorporated study of Qabala, Enochian Tablets, astrology,
geomancy, Tattvas and other divinatory methods, viewing all symbol systems as spokes
of a great wheel of consciousness.
Evidently painted by Moina MacGregor Mathers, a classical London artist influenced by
the Gothic Revival, this deck includes imagery from Greek, Egyptian and Renaissance
traditions in a time of romantic notions about past cultures. Waite, Case and
Crowley created decks as part of their requirements as candidates in the order.
These decks were based on the truly esoteric cards of the Golden Dawn Tarot,
hand-painted by Regardie sixty years ago. Todays deck is a very careful
archaeological reconstruction, according to the attitude exporessed by Gérard
Encausse (Papus) in 1889: It is one characteristic of the study of true occult
science that it may be freely explained to all men. Like the parables, so dear to
the ancients, it appears to many as only the expression of a flight of a bold
imagination: we need, therefore, never be afraid of speaking too openly; the word
woill only reach those who should be touched thereby.
The suits are assigned to spirit, the unconscious, the subconscious, and
consciousness, and four complete color scales relating to paths and sephiroth on the
Tree of Life. The last six trumps, namely The Universe, Judgment, The Sun, The Moon,
The Star and The Tower figured in elaborate rituals before initiates were permitted
to see the full deck. Part of the reason for the secrecy is that the system works,
and those who approach it lightly, or with inadequate preparation, may suffer some
very uncomfortable, or even seriously damaging results. The publication of The
Golden Dawn Tarot marks the rending of the last veil on the Golden Dawn method, and
the cards must be issued with the same admonition of caution, relative to their use
under certain conditions, that has been attached to the previously published
materials. This is not to suggest that the cards be approached with apprehension or
timidity. On the contrary, aggressive experimentation has always been a keynote for
advancement in the Mysteries. But what is required here is the virtue of
thoroughness. The Golden Dawn method is one of sequential development, and with
almost foolproof protections if that sequence is followed to the letter. The trap is
in the apparent simplicity of the initial instructions, which may make the student
feel that he can skim them quickly, and move to more interesting advanced work.
This trap is seen graphically in the Golden Dawn Tarot, where the symbolic images
appear so simple that they might be described as childlike. Wang promises its
serious study leads to some inner roads paved by the Golden Dawn practitioners.
The decks final comment is The Hierophant, Divine Wisdom, Manifestation,
Explanation, Teaching. This card frequently indicates the hidden Guardianship of
See more cards from the Golden Dawn Tarot
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Published by: US Games Systems, 179 Ludlow St., Stamford, CT 06902, (800)544-2637, Fax (203)353-8431
Images Copyright 1978 Robert Wang
Review Copyright 1998 C.J. Rose