The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson: A Powerful Divination Deck and a Suggested Triquetra Spread

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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.

bellwen-Hermetic-KnightGodfrey 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.

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Moreover, some imagery in the Hermetic Tarot are reminiscent of the Thoth, such as Key 12, The Hanged Man, Four of Cups, or Ten of Wands, among others. Practitioners who use the Thoth will be right at home with the Hermetic Tarot. Overall, the Hermetic Tarot combines the many practical symbolic elements of the RWS and the haute esoteric nature of the Thoth for the creation of one incredible deck that every serious tarot practitioner will want in his or her arsenal.

While I found the deck dysfunctional when reading mundane inquiries about the prospects of a romantic relationship or whether a promotion will be given at work, the Hermetic Tarot can be consulted when a seeker needs to channel or tap into greater universal life forces for personal empowerment. Thus, if the love inquiry is more focused on what greater forces are at play in a seeker’s love life, the Hermetic Tarot can answer that better than the standard decks. Rather than ask whether a promotion will be given at work, if the seeker asks about the greater karmic threads interwoven into her career and professional development, the Hermetic Tarot will prove to be profoundly empowering.

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A reading spread that takes well to the Hermetic Tarot is the Triquetra Spread. It is a simple spread that draws on three cards only, which will keep reading with the Hermetic Tarot under control, as the deck is black and white and detail-intensive. Just try reading a Celtic Cross spread with the Hermetic Tarot and it will become immediately apparent why limiting the number of cards and keeping the message of the cards focused and intense is the better objective when using the Hermetic.

The Triquetra Spread is based on the triquetra symbol, a symbol that is significant to many philosophies and religions. It represents a trinity of forces that combine into a unity. For instance, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Christianity; the Triple Goddess in Neopaganism; or the three promises of a relationship: love, honor, and protection in the Irish tradition. It can also represent the three parts of the Freudian psychic apparatus, the ego, superego, and the id. Here, the triquetra symbol is invoked to draw out the trinity of cosmic forces that the seeker must command in order to stay in control of his or her situation at hand. The spread reveals to the seeker what forces are crucial for turning his or her luck around.

After shuffling, three cards are drawn and placed around the significator or signifier card (“S”). The cards are set down in the formation of a triquetra in the order illustrated above. Card 1 represents the ego, the self, or the seeker’s own subconscious. In a Holy Trinity attribution, it corresponds with the Son. Card 2 represents the superego, the order of the universe, or the collective unconscious. It corresponds with the Father. Card 3 represents the id, the Holy Spirit, or the final part of the trinitarian force. Of the 3 forces, it is likely the most challenging one for the seeker to master.

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The trinitarian force, like the mystical concept of the Holy Trinity, represents three distinct bodies that are one. The Hermetic Tarot lends itself well to the Triquetra Spread because the card titles are immensely helpful in indicating to the practitioner what universal forces have influence over the situation at hand. The three selected Lords, Magis, or Dignitaries from the Hermetic Tarot represent the trinity of forces that will empower the seeker to change his or her outcome for the positive. These are the 3 facets of 1 solution to the seeker’s problem. Using the Hermetic Tarot with the Triquetra Spread is effective when reading for yourself because the reading is introspective. You can ruminate over the three drawn cards in solitude and use them to think on the problem at hand.

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Inevitably there will be comparisons between The Hermetic Tarot and the Golden Dawn Tarot by Israel Regardie & Robert Wang (1977) or the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn by Giordano Berti & Patrizio Evangelisti (2008). For me there is no comparison. Dowson’s Hermetic Tarot prevails over all as the preeminent instructive tarot deck on the Golden Dawn interpretive system. The detailing, the angelic references, the 10 sephirots of the Tree of Life, the astrological, numerological, and elemental symbolism challenge me to advance my own scholastic studies of tarot and related metaphysical sciences. It is a must-have for any tarot practitioner subscribing to the Golden Dawn system.

All that said, the Hermetic Tarot is better used for spiritual reflection and meditation than everyday tarot readings to the public. It is an introspective deck, one that aids indispensably in harnessing your personal power or tapping into the universal unconscious, but I cannot imagine how exhausting it would be on the mental faculties to do a tarot reading party with the Hermetic.

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MAJOR ARCANA CORRESPONDENCES

Key

RWS Hermetic Hermetic Card Title

0

The Fool The Foolish Man The Spirit of Ether.

1

The Magician The Magician The Magus of Power

2

The High Priestess The High Priestess The Priestess of the Silver Star

3

The Empress The Empress Daughter of the Mighty Ones

4

The Emperor The Emperor Son of the Morning

5

The Hierophant The Hierophant Magus of the Eternal Gods

6

The Lovers The Lovers Children of the Voice Divine

7

The Chariot The Chariot Lord of the Triumph of Light

8

Strength Fortitude Daughter of the Flaming Sword

9

The Hermit The Hermit Magus of the Voice of Light

10

Wheel of Fortune The Wheel of Fortune Lord of the Forces of Life

11

Justice Justice Daughter of the Lord of Truth

12

The Hanged Man The Hanged Man Spirit of the Mighty Waters

13

Death Death Child of the Great Transformers

14

Temperance Temperance Daughter of the Reconcilers

15

The Devil The Devil Lord of the Gates of Matter

16

The Tower The Blasted Tower Lord of the Hosts of the Mighty

17

The Star The Star The Daughter of the Firmament

18

The Moon The Moon Ruler of Flux and Reflux

19

The Sun The Sun Lord of the Fire of the World

20

Judgement The Last Judgment The Spirit of the Primal Fire

21

The World Universe The Great One of the Night of Time

MINOR ARCANA – SUIT OF WANDS

RWS Hermetic Hermetic Card Title
Ace of Wands Ace of Wands Lord of the Root of the Power of Fire
Two of Wands Two of Wands Lord of Dominion
Three of Wands Three of Wands Lord of Established Strength
Four of Wands Four of Wands Lord of Perfected Work
Five of Wands Five of Wands Lord of Strife
Six of Wands Six of Wands Lord of Victory
Seven of Wands Seven of Wands Lord of Valour
Eight of Wands Eight of Wands Lord of Swiftness
Nine of Wands Nine of Wands Lord of Great Strength
Ten of Wands Ten of Wands Lord of Oppression
Page of Wands Princess of Wands Princess of the Shining Flame
Knight of Wands Knight of Wands Lord of Flame and Lightning
Queen of Wands Queen of Wands Queen of the Thrones of Flame
King of Wands King of Wands Prince of the Chariot of Fire

MINOR ARCANA – SUIT OF CUPS

RWS Hermetic Hermetic Card Title
Ace of  Cups Ace of  Cups Lord of the Root of the Powers of Water
Two of Cups Two of Cups Lord of Love
Three of Cups Three of Cups Lord of Abundance
Four of Cups Four of Cups Lord of Blended Pleasure
Five of Cups Five of Cups Lord of Loss in Pleasure
Six of Cups Six of Cups Lord of Pleasure
Seven of Cups Seven of Cups Lord of Illusionary Success
Eight of Cups Eight of Cups Lord of Abandoned Success
Nine of Cups Nine of Cups Lord of Material Happiness
Ten of Cups Ten of Cups Lord of Perfected Success
Page of Cups Princess of Cups Princess of the Palace of the Floods
Knight of Cups Knight of Cups Lord of Waves and Waters
Queen of Cups Queen of Cups Queen of the Thrones of Waters
King of Cups King of Cups Prince of the Chariot of Waters

MINOR ARCANA – SUIT OF SWORDS

RWS Hermetic Hermetic Card Title
Ace of Swords Ace of Swords Lord of the Root of the Powers of Air
Two of Swords Two of Swords Lord of Peace Restored
Three of Swords Three of Swords Lord of Sorrow
Four of Swords Four of Swords Lord of Rest from Strife
Five of Swords Five of Swords Lord of Defeat
Six of Swords Six of Swords Lord of Earned Success
Seven of Swords Seven of Swords Lord of Unstable Effort
Eight of Swords Eight of Swords Lord of Shortened Force
Nine of Swords Nine of Swords Lord of Despair and Cruelty
Ten of Swords Ten of Swords Lord of Ruin
Page of Swords Princess of Swords Princess of the Rushing Winds
Knight of Swords Knight of Swords Lord of the Winds and Breezes
Queen of Swords Queen of Swords Queen of the Thrones of Air
King of Swords King of Swords Prince of the Chariots of the Winds

MINOR ARCANA – SUIT OF PENTACLES

RWS Hermetic Hermetic Card Title
Ace of Pentacles Ace of Pentacles Lord of the Root of the Powers of Earth
Two of Pentacles Two of Pentacles Lord of Harmonious Change
Three of Pentacles Three of Pentacles Lord of Material Work
Four of Pentacles Four of Pentacles Lord of Earthly Power
Five of Pentacles Five of Pentacles Lord of Material Trouble
Six of Pentacles Six of Pentacles Lord of Material Success
Seven of Pentacles Seven of Pentacles Lord of Success Unfulfilled
Eight of Pentacles Eight of Pentacles Lord of Prudence
Nine of Pentacles Nine of Pentacles Lord of Material Gain
Ten of Pentacles Ten of Pentacles Lord of Wealth
Page of Pentacles Princess of Pentacles Princess of the Echoing Hills
Knight of Pentacles Knight of Pentacles Lord of the Wild and Fertile Land
Queen of Pentacles Queen of Pentacles Queen of the Thrones of Earth
King of Pentacles King of Pentacles Prince of the Chariot of Earth

 

15 thoughts on “The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson: A Powerful Divination Deck and a Suggested Triquetra Spread

  1. It seems to this cynic that every man and his dog devises the very latest all-singing all-dancingTarot. No shortage of them; for all I know there’s even a Tarot of the Rubber Duck.

    Is there a definitive Tarot pack anywhere? At least ol’ Waite’s deck has simple appealing imagery (and he was “firstest with the mostest”).

    I had a try at devising a ‘system’ myself once, based on archetypes of various kinds. I gave up after a few hours of real fun, it was too addictive. Instead of grandiose ‘Lord of the shining Flames’ and such I had a more mundane ‘Cold hearths and empty cradles’. It’s fun, it’s addictive and it’s too easy … I think the purpose of life is to live life, rather than dabble in semi-scientific sounding pseudo analysis, no? (Oops, I didn’t mean that for you. Dammit, I meant for me …)

    Which isn’t to decry Tarot per se, intuition, feminine wisdoms and feeling the universe all around at any moment. (For oracle I use the online Sabian which is remarkably effective—well devised, it gives more hits than misses but that too can be very very subjective.)

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    1. Tarot of the Rubber Duck sounds nifty! I’d be in line to get it for my collection! 🙂

      There are 3 prevailing tarot systems:
      1) Tarot de Marseille (1440-ish)
      2) Rider Waite (1909)
      3) Thoth Tarot (1969)

      On account of popularity, the Rider Waite is the system most tarot practitioners are familiar with and the one that most derivative tarot decks (like the Rubber Duck Tarot) are based on.

      For me, I live life through making informed decisions. I would never ever make a decision based in total reliance on what a tarot deck said to me (or what I think it said to me) just like I would never render a legal opinion on whether to invest in a particular startup by relying solely on the corporate due diligence. I’d want to look at the asset/technical DD and the financials as well. I honestly see tarot as part of my DD for life.

      The symbology of the tarot, esp. on the Rider Waite, is great for triggering your creativity in analyzing a particular problem. I wouldn’t say the tarot tells you the answer. It’s just a deck of cards, an object. But symbols pop up, certain imagery, and they prompt you to look at the problem you’ve been obsessing over from a new perspective. I don’t know why it works or how it works and that itself is a philosophical study. Also, how you interpret the cards is very telling about where you are at in terms of your thought process. Thus, even the subjectivity of tarot interpretation holds value.

      As for studying tarot systems beyond the prevailing 3 (such as the Hermetic), that’s just good fun.

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      1. The imagery is what appeals most of all to me. As you say, great for triggering thoughts.

        I’ve sat with people who literally believe in demons, not good. I still find it hard to understand how otherwise intelligent (?) folks can think that printing words or images on to a bunch of papers or cards can imbue them with demonic (or angelic) powers. I wait to be convinced …

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    2. I’ve found that the most informitave and true to fact and religion decks are the Rider-Waite deck, the Hermetic Tarot, the Golden Dawn Tarot, and the Thoth Tarot. They were all compiled and created by members of the Golden Dawn, the one true authority on the subject in their time inv the late 1800’s through 1900’s.

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      1. For the beauty of it I love the Hansen Roberts, especially The Star.

        I once did a wee trial of lengthy random shuffles, random cutting and turning overs. The Star kept coming up a totally disproportionate number of times. Spoooooky!

        Okay, there’s no reason why in (say) 100 shuffle-cuts any one card shouldn’t come up a hundred times. It’s not impossible, just statistically improbable …

        So right now I’m going to have a single-shot trial, shuffle lots and cut once. Let’s see what eventuates—

        EEEK

        —it was The Star, reversed.
        Now you won’t believe me and I am feeling a bit—a lot—spooked.
        So logically there has to be something wrong with that card, no? Furry edges, slightly oversized? Incidentally, so far as I know I’m the only one that’s ever touched that pack. Weird …

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    1. Haha. Welcome to the world of tarot reading, Argus. We all through the “why does this XYZ card keep on popping up in all my readings?” That XYZ card changes, too. This phase it’s this card, next phase it’s another card.

      The numerology/astrology reading requests I get are even weirder.

      One day I will get three requests from three different people who don’t know each other– and even if they did all know each other, what would be the odds that all three of them are, say, Life Path 5 with Mercury in Virgo, for instance? Or one week three different people will come up to me at various times to talk about astrology and all three will be ascendant sign Aquarius?

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      1. As a rational man I’d immediately say coincidence.

        As a rational man I’d have to admit of the possibility of a cause other than pure coincidence.

        And I’d have to follow leads if I wanted answers—which I have been doing all my life. I am still in the dark although I’ve been given very much food for thought.
        Sadly there are some things that you cannot tear apart to see how they work. My own sister is a ‘spiritualist medium’. Admittedly she is a very acute and perceptive person, she is also extremely gullible in some matters. She sent me a tape once of her meeting with a very highly regarded NZ ‘medium’ … sadly it went beyond pathetic:

        “I see standing behind you a man with a military aspect …”
        “Oh! That will be my Dad! Is he in an army uniform, he was a soldier—”
        “Yes, that’s right … he says he loves you …”

        She was rapt. I wasn’t, but later I said ‘Wow’ in all the right places (may the gods forgive me).

        Do we delude ourselves? Hell, science still cannot explain consciousness. But I hold it entirely possible that some people can be more conscious than I. Some can’t see colours, but that doesn’t mean that colours don’t exist. I imagine that in the Land Of The Colour-blind a person with full vision would be very loudly scoffed at, derided and possibly even locked away as quite insane.

        Coincidence? Of course! What else? Maybe. Possibly. Or perhaps not …

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  2. Wait, it gets even more better — I just had to phone the garage to find out what time they refill BBQ gas bottles. Rabbiting through the nearest notebook with the (vague, remote) possibility of a blank page I stumbled over the very tally sheet I’d been looking for earlier, on the topic on my Star count (above):

    Star: 19
    Hermit: 6
    3 Cups: 6
    3 Pents: 4
    Tower: 3
    6 Pents: 2
    5 Swrds: 2

    —and a whole bunch of others, 1 each …

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  3. Love the deck, one old one new, the other one I was using, the one in safety is like the new but different.

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  5. […] Finally there is the Hermetic Tarot, one of my first decks. It wasn’t my first, but definitely up there, acquired during the early years. Again, like the Tarot of the Holy Light, the bold, detailed artwork speaks to me. I love pen and ink drawings. There is something intimate about the medium, something about it that immediately synthesizes my analytical side with my intuitive. Old review of it here. […]

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