Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal by Roberto Negrini, artwork by Andrea Serio
Review by Joan Cole

In a nutshell, this deck is so close a variant of the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck as to almost justify the term “clone” in its treatment of the Major Arcana and Court Cards.  The addition of decan images to the Thoth pip arrangements make this a deck worth acquiring for those interested in the stew of influences that created the Golden Dawn tarot structure.  

The artistic style essentially simplifies the corresponding Thoth image.  Previous reviews have commented extensively on this deck from this standpoint, and I have little to add.  It is worth mentioning, however, that Serio’s artistic reinterpretation has lost some of the symbolism in the Thoth images, especially the Golden Dawn color scale correspondences.  This is true for the Major and Minor Arcana both.  For instance, the Empress is key 14 in the color scales: Emerald green, Sky blue, Early spring green, and Bright rose or cerise, rayed pale green.  These colors are not found in Serio’s reinterpretation.

But you are probably not interested in this deck for the Major Arcana anyhow.  This is not where its innovation lies.

Ever since I first encountered the Thoth deck and began my attempt to comprehend the text of Crowley’s Book of Thoth, I’ve wanted to understand the structure that lay beneath it.  From my earliest viewings of it, I’ve wondered why certain of its cards were so different from most of the other decks I had seen (which at that time were all based on the Rider Waite). Perhaps I’m very strange in the world of Tarot, but the Minor Arcana were more mysterious to me on this point than the Majors. Learning about Qabalah helped, as this gave a sense of what the various numbers and elements meant.  Learning about astrology helped, as this adds much rationale for why an eight can be good in one suit and bad in another.  Lon Milo DuQuette’s book Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot takes you through the deck explaining a simple formulaic approach for the “small cards”: (n of s) + (p in zs) = sc (number of suit + planet in zodiac sign = small card).  This goes very far, but still doesn’t completely explain the meaning sometimes, because in fact, there are even more influences that sometimes impact the Golden Dawn’s meaning structure for the small cards, which Crowley is fairly faithful to in the small cards.  One of these influences are renaissance images of the decans, as found in Picatrix and Agrippa.  Originating in ancient Egypt, the decans were used in astrological magic, such as the production of astrological talismans and amulets.

Other reviewers have lamented the lack of a book accompanying the deck, a lamentation to which I will add my voice.   However, the diligent student can piece some of the material together for her/himself.  (Some, but not all – there are still image elements that I cannot yet explain shown on these cards – I’m obviously missing some of the sources that were used in developing this deck.  For instance, apparently Gundel, W., Dekane und Dekansternbilder: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Sternbilder der Kulturvölker (1936) lists these images from several manuscripts, but I don’t know German).

Here is clue given in the little white booklet (LWB), “The scenes… come from the an esoteric and artistic reworking of the various magical images of the Decans coming to us through: The Sublime Books and the Liber Hermetis of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Indian astrological tradition, the Latin manuscripts of the Arab text Picatrix, the renaissance writings of Cornelio Agrippa and Giordano Bruno, and the iconography of Hermetic historical monuments such as the “Hall of the Months” in Plazzo Schifanoia in Ferrar, frescoed with the Decans in 1470 by Francesco Cossa and Cosme Tura as requested by Borso d’Este, based on the ideas of the learned hermetist Pellegrino Prisciani.”

In the rest of this review I’ll take you along with me as I explore some of the sources I have found for a few of the cards, and leave you with websites you can look into for more information.  There is much more historical information about the decans is at the end of this review.

It is serendipitous that I’ve just received this deck to review right after devouring Paul Huson’s Mystical Origins of the Tarot.  For each of the Minor Arcana, Huson’s book quotes from the Picatrix and compares the meaning there with those of Etteilla, Mathers’ 1888 document (prior to Book T), Golden Dawn (Book T), and Waite (Pictorial Key to the Tarot).  This is one of the sources I’ll use, as I don’t have another translation of Picatrix at hand (and I recommend Huson’s book heartily – I will be reviewing it fully in the near future).  I also quote from Book II, Chapter 37 of Agripppa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (“Of the images of the faces, and of those images which are without the Zodiac”)

Four of Scepters – 3rd face of Aries (Venus)

    

leftmost image: detail from Francesco del Cossa “March”, full image of March  

“It is a decan of subtlety, beauty, etc.”  (Picatrix, quoted in Huson, who comments, “My own preferred translation of Picatrix here, as opposed to the Golden Dawn’s rather perfunctory version, would be “This is a decan of subtlety and subtle guidance and of new things and new equipment and so on.”  According to Etteilla’s cartomantic tradition, however, this card promises well for a social life and a sense of security.  Waite adds one of his personal intuitions involving a country getaway.”)

And in the third face of Aries there ascends a restless man, in his hand a golden bracelet and wearing red clothes, wishing to do good, without the power to. (Picatrix)

“[I]n the third face ariseth the figure of a white man, pale, with reddish hair, and clothed with a red garment, who is carrying on the one hand a golden bracelet, and holding forth a wooden staff, is restless, and like one in wrath, because he cannot perform the good he would.  This image bestoweth wit, meekness, joy and beauty.”  (p. 377 Three Books of Occult Philosophy written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim (translated by James Freake, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson)

“In the third face stands a man with reddish hair, wearing ruddy clothing; with a bridle in his left hand, wearing a bracelet and carrying a hardwood walking staff in his right hand. Restless and wrathful, his face shows a longing for wealth which he can neither obtain nor hang on to.”  (Giordano Bruno)

“A restless man in scarlet robes, with golden bracelets on his hands and arms” (Row 15 Column CLI. Magical Images of the Decans (Cadent) - 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley)

“The third Drekkana of Aries represents a yellow complexioned man, festooned in cruelty, with artistic skill, a workaholic, unscrupulous, with an irate temparament, with lifted-up stick, clad in purple clothes.   This is an armed decanate and human.” “A cruel man, yellowish, unscrupulous, angry, covered with purple clothes” (Vedic)

“Completion.  Realized action.”  (LWB)

As you can see, the image has lost the color scale symbolism of the original Thoth card, and there is still no explanation for the large woman or the snakes around the wheel she is holding.  Is she “subtle guidance”?  We do have the red man with the bracelet and staff though.

Six of Swords – 2nd Face of Aquarius (Mercury) 

 “It is a decan of beauty, dominance, conceit, good manners and self-esteem, yet not withstanding modest.”  (Picatrix, quoted in Huson, who comments, “Etteilla has nothing in common with Picatrix, which is drawn on only by the Golden Dawn here. Mathers [1888] and Waite concur with Etteilla’s impression of journeys and some kind of declaration.  Waite introduces the specific notion of a journey by water, Mathers the notion that the “declaration” in the card’s reversal can be a declaration of love.”)

“[I]n the second face ascendeth the form of a man with a long beard; and the signification of this belongeth to the understanding, meekness, modesty, liberty and good manners”  (p. 378 Three Books of Occult Philosophy written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim (translated by James Freake, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson)

“In the second face is a man wearing the clothes of a counsellor, seated and holding in his hand a small piece of paper with reminders on it. From his very long chin hangs a beard and he seems to have a severe countenance.”  (Giordano Bruno)

“A man, dark, yet delicious of countenance” (Row 22 Column CL. Magical Images of the Decans (Succedent) - 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley)

“Woman with dirty cloth in forest, bearing pots & dragging metals in burnt cart” (Vedic)

“Wish for knowledge.  Accomplished learning, journeys of the mind or existential travels.”  (LWB)

The faceless woman in the background remains completely mysterious, but we do have explanation of the bearded man.

Four of Cups – 3rd of Cancer (Moon)

 “It is a decan of running, hunting, pursuing, acquiring goods by war, and contention among men.” (Picatrix, quoted in Huson, who comments, “Mathers [1888] follows Etteilla here; the Golden Dawn combines Etteilla with Picatrix; Waite combines Etteilla with the Golden Dawn.”)

“[I]n the third face ascendeth a man, a hunter with his lance and horn, bringing out dogs for to hunt; the signification of this is the contention of men, the pursuing of those who fly, the hunting and possessing of things by arms and brawlings.”  (p. 377 Three Books of Occult Philosophy written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim (translated by James Freake, edited and annotated by Donald Tyson)

In the third face is a sportsman with dogs running before and after him. He carries a horn and a sling, He is hunting birds and blowing his horn. (Giordano Bruno)

 “A swift-footed person, with a viper in his hand, leading dogs” (Row 18 Column CLI. Magical Images of the Decans (Cadent) - 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley)

“The third Drekkana of Cancer represents a man covered with serpents, adorned with many golden ornaments, with a face flattened, crossing the ocean in a boat in order to make his wife rich and adorned with  gold and jewellery.  This is a serpentine decanate, human & watery.”  “Man enveloped in serpents, flat-faced and crossing ocean for jewels. (Malefic)” (Vedic)

“Passive lust.  Overwhelming pleasure, erotic mania.” (LWB)

The image descriptions I’ve found do not explain the lustful giants in the background of the picture, and the hunter’s dogs are quite extraordinary – almost demonic.  The boat indicating the traditional cartomantic “journey by water” meaning has worked its way in as well – though perhaps it is referring to the Vedic imagery.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the imagery on this deck is even more astral/otherworldly than the Thoth deck itself.  Besides those interested in ancient astrology and Thoth variants, those tarotists with a shamanic bent may want to check this deck out as well.  The overall vibe is right in line with Navigator’s Tarot of the Mystic Sea and Crow's Magick.

Liber T: Tarot of Stars Etermal (ISBN 0-7387-0565-9) was published by Lo Scarabeo 2004, and distributed in the US by Llewellyn.

To learn more about topics mentioned in this review

Egyptian and Hellenistic Astrology - The Decans

Beginning with “star clocks” painted inside coffin lids, and proceeding through temple ceiling “zodiacs” (such as the famous example at the Temple of Hathor in Dendarah), the Egyptians gave astrology the concept of “decans”.  Their division of the year into 36 ten-day periods, each presided over by a different stellar deity, was known as “faces” in later medieval texts.  These “Gods of Time” are depicted riding in boats, on which they journey across the night sky, and for 70 days out of sight through the Underworld.  In the Hellenistic period (ancient Greece), we get actual explanatory writings about astrology. Around 150 BC the work bearing the names of the mythical Nechepso and Petosiris was produced in Alexandria, a treatise to which many astrological doctrines can be traced.  Nechepso and Petosiris, a legendary pharaoh and his priest, were the inventors of astrology, according to one Greek legend. The work published under their name popularized Hellenistic astrology.

·        Egypt: The Decans by Ian Bolton - This site introduces the topic of decans in Ancient Egypt and shows a series of images of named decan deities taken from the temple to Hathor at Denderah.

·        THE ROUND ZODIAC CEILING OF THE TEMPLE OF HATHOR AT DENDERAH by Joanne Conman

·         Time, the Egyptians and the Calendar by Deborah Houlding

·         The Books of the Sky by Roland Mastaff  - “Beginning with Ramesses IV, two of the Books of the Sky were usually placed next to each other on the ceilings of royal tombs. They depicted a double representation of Nut, back to back. … O. Neugebauer set out and coded the various captions within the depiction. … A list of decans that may originate in the Middle Kingdom are provided in Texts S through X. These captions tell us the decans work and their periodic invisibility, including their transit through the meridian.”

·       The Decans and the Ancient Egyptian Skylore: an Astronomical Approach by Juan Antonio Belmonte (abstract) “This work deals with the ancient Egyptian decans and constellations of various epochs since the Star Clocks painted inside the coffins of the 1st Intermediate period (c. 2100 BC) until the monumental "zodiacs" of the Ptolemaic temples including the marvellous representations on the ceilings of the New Kingdom tombs.”

·      KV 9, the tomb of Ramesses VI

·       Dendera Zodiacs

·       A Predynastic Egyptian Star Clock by J.D. Degreef

·         Neugebauer Otto, and Parker, Richard A. Egyptian Astronomical Texts, III. Decans, Planets, Constellations and Zodiacs.

·       THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN FOUNDATIONS OF WESTERN ASTROLOGY By Amir Bey

·       CATALOGUE OF HELLENISTIC ASTROLOGERS AND THEIR WRITINGS  - “Among the writings explicitly attributed to Hermes are a number of meteorological texts, works on astrological medicine called "iatromathematical", some of which employ the decans … some material in the so-called Liber Hermetis may also derive from Hermetic writings, particularly a listing of the decans, their images, and the planets associated with them as their "faces". The twelve-topic house system is also attributed to him.”

·      Astrologer's Edition of the Hellenistic Astrological Texts - “The Astrologer's Edition is centered around four astrological treatises: the Anthology of Vettius Valens, the Mathesis of Firmicus Maternus, the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, and the Apotelesmatics of Hephaistio of Thebes. These are the most substantial and coherent of the Hellenistic treatises that have survived relatively intact in their original languages.“

·      Project Hindsight Phase I Greek Track Translations - “VOL. VI: HEPHAESTIO OF THEBES. COMPENDIUM, Bk I. 380 A.D. Treats of general principles of astrology & universal astrology, blending Ptolemy with Dorotheus and others. Highly interesting delineations of the decans.”

·     Review of The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West By Erik Hornung

·   Historians of Astrology by Lester Ness  - An overview of modern writers on this subject

Renaissance Astrology

·      The Astral Magic of the Renaissance

·     Secrets of the Grimoires by C. "Aaron Jason" Leitch

The Corpus Hermeticum, in general

·     Hermetic Fellowship’s Hermetic Virtual Library

Liber Hermetis

The Liber Hermetis lists the illnesses associated with each decan - the scheme is zodiacal, starting with Aries at the head of the body.

·      Project Hindsight: Medieval Track Translations: Liber Hermetis contents

·     The Corpus Hermetica -  “Around 200 CE the Christian writer Clement of Alexandria knew of "forty-two books of Hermes" considered indispensable for the rituals of Egyptian priests; the list, four of whose items he calls "the astrological books of Hermes," somewhat resembles a description of sacred writings inscribed in the second century BCE on the wall of an Egyptian temple in Edfu. … The most important of the astrological Hermetica known to us is the Liber Hermetis, a Latin text whose Greek original contained elements traceable to the third century BCE. This Book of Hermes describes the decans....”

·      The Prestigious Planets  - “In the 5th century AD; a Latin text, Liber Hermetis, translated from the Greek, gives a muddled mixture of theory about the decans, conjunctions, the meanings of certain planets in certain signs, and advice on personal matters - how to predict the day of death, useful or difficult days, marriage, duration of life - which seems to derive from a very early original. It pays special attention to the decans: the third decan of Gemini is responsible for muscular pains, the first of Virgo controls the stomach, the first of Cancer the heart, and so on.”

Picatrix (The Aim of the Sage)

The Ghâyat al-Hakîm fi'l-sihr, or Picatrix, as it is known in the West, is an important Arabic magical text.  Attributed to Maslamati ibn Ahmad al-Majriti, and translated to Latin in 1256, it had a huge impact on Renaissance magic, including the works of Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Peter Abano and Cornelius AgrippaBook II, Chapter 11 contains a detailed enumeration of the thirty-six decans (here called wujûh, facies), the images ascending in them, and the names of the planets with which they are connected, beginning from Aries, with Mars, the Sun and Venus and ending in Pisces with Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.

·       English translation available from Ouroboros Press

·         Summary of contents, and available translations (Twilit Grotto Esoteric Archives)

·        The Secrets of Ghâyat al-Hakîm

·        The Picatrix By Ian Freer MA(Cantab)Hons (The Astrological Association of Great Britain) – Although this article’s main focus is on the lunar mansions, it also discusses the decans and puts them in context.

·         About Faces – The Third Face of Aries

·         Image for the Second Face of Leo from Book Two, Chapter Eleven of Picatrix

Cornelius Agrippa

·   Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book II Chapter 37 – “Of the images of the faces, and of those images which are without the Zodiac” (the complete text is online)

Giordano Bruno

Bruno's first two works on mnemotechnics, which were centered on the solar cult and contained hermetic overtones, proved to be real guides towards obtaining "all the powers of the soul". De Umbris Idearum is presented as a dialogue between three characters: Hermes, Philothine and Logifer, the first of whom is familiar with the magic art of revealed images, which he will pass on to his two disciples. Mnemotechnics is related to the sun, and the entire work expands on the theme of solar magic taught by Trismegistus.  This is followed by a mystic catalogue of 150 images on which the magic system of the memory is based, which is greatly inspired by Agrippa's The Occult Philosophy . The images of the 36 decans are shown in succession: the images of the seven planets, the 28 images of the lunar houses, and finally the image of Draco Lunae.

·        Magic According to Giordano Bruno (Source of above quote)

·         Giordano Bruno's Images of the Decans of the Houses of the Horoscope and of the Signs of the Zodiac

Hall of the Months in Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara (Sala/Salone dei Mesi)

Frescoed with the Decans in 1470 by Francesco Cossa and Cosmè Tura as requested by Borso d’Este, based on the ideas of the learned hermeticist Pellegrino Prisciani.  Frescoes from this palace were used in another recent Lo Scarabeo deck to inspire Jo Dworkin in her creation of missing cards in the Golden Tarot of the Renaissance deck

·       Artists and philosopher-Magicians in renaissance period  - includes two images from the Salone dei Mesi  -  June and August

·     Francesco del Cossa - The bio page mentions that only the frescos on the east wall, showing March, April and May, have survived relatively intact.

·      Palazzo Schifanoia a Ferrara (in Italian)

·      Pellegrino Prisciani - (short bio on page about his palazzo)

The Indian Astrological Tradition

Vedic Astrology uses a different rulership system for the decans, but there are images associated.

§        The 36 Decanates (Drekkana)

§        Astro Dictionary

§         The Vedic Divisional Chart

§         The Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja

§         The Relation of Hellenistic to Indian Astrology by Robert H. Schmidt

Other Sources for Decan information

§      Occult-Lore.Com: Faces of the Zodiac

§       Bill Heidrick’s comments on the 777 columns pertaining to Magical Images of the Decans

§      Decans, Faces, and Planetary Order (nagasiva)

You can read other reviews of the Liber-T Tarot here and here.

Joan Cole is a stay-at-home mom and former geek. She has been studying Tarot off and on since the early 1980's. You can see her deck collection here.


Review © 2004 Joan Cole

Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes