The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson is a masterpiece. The tone of the deck and Dowson’s artwork invokes the full spectrum of powers within the tarot practitioner for spiritual divinatory work. As a Golden Dawn study deck, the card images are fundamentally focused on alchemical and astrological references such as the decans in the Minor Arcana, with the deck outfitted for theurgy. It can be integrated into personal rituals, meditations, and ceremonies and in fact is probably far better suited for such work than, say, the Marseille, Rider-Waite-Smith, or even the Thoth decks.
Godfrey Dowson draws heavily from elemental dignities and affinities, Western astrology as interpreted by the Golden Dawn, and the Qabalah. Corresponding alchemical symbols for the four elements and astrological symbols are embedded into each card to denote the attributions. In the Major Arcana, the Key’s corresponding Hebrew letter appears on the top left corner. In the court cards, the alchemical symbol corresponding with the classical element that the card itself represents appears on the top left and the symbol for the element corresponding with the suit appears on the top right. The Knight of Swords, for example, represents Fire (for the Knight) on Air (for the suit of Swords). For practitioners who adopt interpretive methods reliant on elemental dignities and affinities, that is a godsend. The backs of the cards are illustrated with the Hermetic Rose and hexagrams. As they are non-reversible, it may not be an ideal deck for reading with reversals. That being said, the little white booklet that accompanies the Hermetic Tarot provides the meanings of the cards in the “ill-dignified” position, as reversals are called in the booklet, which suggests that the deck is nevertheless intended for reading with reversals.
The anatomy of the Hermetic Tarot is the same as the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) (e.g., VIII is Strength and XI is Justice or their equivalents) and there is substantial crossover of subscribed card meanings to render the Hermetic Tarot user-friendly for anyone familiar with the RWS. At the end of this deck review are correspondence tables that compare the RWS with the Hermetic Tarot. Note the card titles assigned to each card in the Hermetic deck. The essences of the cards as denoted by the titles are almost transferrable onto the RWS.