Earlier in the week I posted about the Golden Dawn Tarot by Robert Wang and Dr. Israel Regardie, and continuing on what has somehow turned into Golden Dawn Tarot week here on my blog, this will be a showcase of the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot (or New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot) by Chic and Tabatha Cicero.
The guidebook is titled The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot: Keys to the Rituals, Symbolism, Magic & Divination (2010). I’m reviewing the 2014 reprinted edition. The guidebook also refers to the deck as the New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot, but then the box reads Golden Dawn Magical Tarot. In the guidebook, the authors themselves refer to the deck as the Ritual Tarot, so that’s what I’ll be going with.
If you’re interested in contemporary Golden Dawn based ceremonial magic and the tarot, then you’ll want to get this book and deck set.
The Introduction offers a concise history and overview of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, in particular how the “lamp of the Hidden Knowledge came into American hands.” A temple was established in Columbus, Georgia in 1977. Then one appeared in California, and another in Tennessee, and so on.
The text references Robert Wang’s 1978 Golden Dawn tarot, saying it has come the closest in accuracy to illustrating the MacGregor Mathers deck. As Wang worked with Regardie on his version of the Golden Dawn deck, so, too, the Ciceros worked with Regardie on the New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot. “We wanted a deck that would fulfill the traditional symbolic and ritual requirements of the Golden Dawn’s system of magick,” they write.
Echoing the dominant attitude toward the tarot adopted by occultists, the Ritual Tarot emphasizes use of the cards for spiritual attainment, ranking divination as “the least important of tarot applications.” Each card is “an astral mirror of the human mind” and meditating on specific cards helps to advance self-knowledge in that corresponding realm of your conscious or subconscious.
As Wang did, the Ciceros assert an inextricable bond between the tarot and the Qabalah. “One cannot make an in-depth study of the Tarot without mentioning that body of ancient knowledge known as the Qabalah. This mystical tradition is the foundation upon which the modern Hermetic Tarot rests.” Furthermore, the “Tarot is an illustrated textbook of Occult Knowledge that has numerous parallels with the Qabalah.” Each Atu, or Key, is a window through which you can envision an aspect of the Tree of Life.
What follows in the companion text are instructive chapters on the Qabalah through the Hermetic Golden Dawn framework. How it bears compared to Jewish Kabbalah is not a matter I can comment on, but that may be something for you to consider.
The coloring on this deck is acutely significant. Incorporated into the works are the flashing colors and the Color Scales of the Four Qabalistic Worlds, “teachings of the Order that had never before been utilized in a Tarot deck.”
The Color Scales refer to four color palettes per the Four Qabalistic Worlds (Yod assigned to the element Fire called the King Scale, the first He to Water is the Queen Scale, Vav to Air is the Prince Scale, and the second He to Earth is the Princess Scale). Each of these four color palettes consists of ten colors for the ten sephiroth.
We’ll address the flashing colors when we get to the Minors.
The companion guidebook to the Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot is phenomenal. Let’s take the entry for The High Priestess, for example. The magickal title of this card is the Priestess of the Silver Star and as the 13th Path, is the longest path on the Tree. It corresponds with the Hebrew letter Gimel, which means camel (hence the camel pictured on the High Priestess card of the Thoth deck, and also on The Priestess card in the Revelation Edition of SKT).
The entry for each card describes what’s pictured on the card illustration, why, such as the lunar crescent crown and the water cup of the Stolistes you see here, how to interpret the card in divination, and its Qabalistic correspondences. “The High Priestess is a form of the Shekinah, the spiritual Bride and Mother,” notes the text. Its relative Keys are Key 13: Death and Key 18: The Moon.
If you’re going to get this deck, get the version that comes with the guidebook. (I believe the deck is also sold separately, without the book.) It’s one of the best books I’ve come across deconstructing Golden Dawn symbolism in esoteric tarot decks. The writing is clear, easy to follow, and never gets too lofty.
Use of color in Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot and the Ciceros’ Ritual Tarot are on different ends of a spectrum, so you’re likely to prefer one over the other, and which that will be is per your aesthetic values. The Ritual Tarot plays up color contrast, working with dark values, whereas Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot worked with light values. Coloring here in the Ritual Tarot is also more intense.
If you refer back to Wang’s depiction of Key 6: The Lovers in Golden Dawn Tarot, as instructed by Regardie, you’ll see here that the Ritual Tarot goes in the same direction of depicting Key 6 as Perseus freeing Andromeda from the Dragon of Fear. The Golden Dawn decks that were released to the public following the RWS sought to “remove the blinds” that Waite purportedly put in place, and one of those blinds was to restore this imagery for The Lovers rather than what we’re more familiar with in the RWS Key 6.
This theme that you see in the Regardie-influenced decks wasn’t found in Crowley’s Thoth version of The Lovers, however, whereby Crowley went with a more decidedly alchemical figurative representation, closer thematically to Waite’s Key 6 than the Perseus-Andromeda metaphor.
Studying the card imagery alongside reading its entry in the guidebook is how you’re going to get the most out of this deck. It’s how you’re going to learn that Key 7: The Chariot is your key to the Vision of the Merkabah, the Vision of Ezekiel. Sphinxes embedded in the tarot imagery are Guardians of the Mysteries, and where in the deck you see one you see potential, promising access to your Higher Self. I find the Ciceros’ depiction of the Chariot card particularly compelling.
Like Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot, Key 8 is Strength and Key 11 is Justice (compare that to Crowley’s Thoth, designating Adjustment as Key 8 and Lust for Key 11). The tail of the lion in Strength forms a serpent, representing Kundalini. Thus, Key 8 is used to activate the body’s energy centers. I thought that was very cool, since I went with a similar motif in the SKT.
Key 9: The Hermit is the Magus of the Voice of Light and the Lightbearer. The top of the Hermit’s staff resembles an orphic egg with a coiled serpent, and there’s the ourosboros forming the magical circle within which the Hermit stands. On his cloak across the hood above his forehead is the word LOGOS.
In Key 10, the Cynocephalus, or dog-faced ape, at the bottom of the wheel symbolizes the animal self, or Lower Self (you’ll recall the ape pictured at the bottom of Key 10 in Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot). This is another one of the Majors in this deck where I really love how it’s been rendered. The Hanged Man, a card of baptism by water, and is the archetype of the resurrection of the Slain God.
Above you’ll see the two versions of Key 14, the Temperance card, that this deck comes with. This was to conform with the requirements of the Golden Dawn Ritual, or “in accordance with the requirements of the Portal Ritual of the Golden Dawn.” In both you’ll see “the naturally opposing energies within the physical body manipulated consciously for the sake of balance, which is necessary to achieve conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel.”
When activated upon their respective positions on the Tree of Life, the 22 Majors, or 22 Paths form the “winding path of the Serpent of Wisdom.”
The Minor Arcana represent the “fixed and static energies of the Sephiroth, compared to the paths of the Trumps, which are active and moving.” These are 56 immutable characteristics of the human psyche, inherent within all of us. The 16 court cards represent personality; the Aces are facets of divinity within.
Interpreting the pip cards Twos through Tens hinges on the 36 decanates, which the guidebook attributes as originating from Egypt. Aces are not assigned a decanate because in them, Kether is the primary influence.
The court cards are bifurcations of the four-fold Tetragrammaton model and Four Qabalistic Worlds.
Color scales matter, and matter a lot, in Golden Dawn tarot symbolism. The Minors are illuminated by flashing colors, as referenced earlier.
Flashing colors refers to the specific color correspondence of the Minor Arcana suit. For example, the suit of Wands, which corresponds with the element Fire, is red; Cups (Water) is blue, Swords (Air) is yellow, and Pentacles/Disks (Earth) is black.
Each suit is assigned that first color and a complimentary color (per color wheel theory), thus two flashing colors. They’re called “flashing colors” because, per Golden Dawn ritual theory, when you gaze or meditate upon the complimentary pair of colors, they’ll switch places, back and forth, as if flashing.
Wands (Fire) is thus red and green. Cups (Water) is blue and orange. Swords (Air) is yellow and violet. Pentacles/Disks (Earth) is black and white. The first color mentioned is the grounding color and the second is the charge.
The text describes the suit of Wands as Great Masculine Power, dynamic and vital, while the suit of Cups is Great Feminine Power, pleasing and fertile. The suit of Swords is the son of the first two, while the suit of Pentacles is the daughter. The son is the realm of intellect, communication, but also pain and suffering. The daughter is the realm of worldly affairs, business, and money.
The bold colors, sharp contrast, and complete fill of the canvas with minimal negative space brings an animation and sense of life to these cards, whereas that naive-style colored pencil and watercolor art commonly found on other Golden Dawn occult decks can often feel flat.
Like the pip cards in The Golden Dawn deck, the suit relics (e.g., the Cups) are presented by a divine hand. The pips here are rendered in the same way, as instructed in the MacGregor Mathers texts. It’s fascinating to see how two different artists apply coloring and how they interpret a written text of instructions into these pictorial representations. Substance-wise, they’re similar, and yet style-wise, they’re different.
The Ritual Tarot is, at least to me, visually more appealing than some of your other GD deck options out on the market. And it absolutely does the job in terms of facilitating your psychic development. The way the Ciceros integrated color wheel theory and ceremonial magick here really works for me.
Study, meditation, ritual, and astral travel are the “key elements to magickal work” and the most optimal application of the tarot.
The text closes with instructions for several foundational rituals, from the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram to ritual baths and how to consecrate your deck.
There are also sections on finding the self in the tarot. The Major Arcanum corresponding with your sun sign reveals your Individuality Key. I’d add to that consideration of the Minor Arcanum corresponding to the decan ruler of your natal sun placement. The ascendant sign in the Majors will reveal your Personality Key. Augment that study with the Minor Arcanum corresponding to the decan ruler of that ascendant sign.
The divination chapter features the same fifteen-card spread that Wang oft references. The five operations of the Opening of the Key (OOTK) are also explained in detail.
The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot by Chic and Tabatha Cicero is enriching whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned tarot reader. I wouldn’t consider it an advanced tarot deck because of how well-written the guidebook is– it will hold your hand and walk you through a comprehensive primer education on esoteric tarot. Yet so much of the knowledge it offers can only be attained by actual practice, which is why the deck is also geared toward the seasoned practitioner.
I’ll end on the production value of the deck, published by Llewellyn, which I chose not to dwell on too much because it’s nothing to write home about. I don’t love the paper-thin box that’ll get dinged up within the first week, and it’s the same early-2000s Llewellyn packaging as what I showed here in the Mystical Cats Tarot deck review. However, the content of the deck and book is so invaluable that the packaging is easily forgiven.
|B.O.T.A. Tarot||1931||Paul Foster Case & Jessie Burns Park|
|The Golden Dawn Tarot||1978||Robert Wang (w/ Israel Regardie)|
|The Hermetic Tarot||1980||Godfrey Dowson|
|Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot||1991||Chic Cicero & Sandra Tabatha Cicero|
|Tarot of Ceremonial Magick||1997||Lon Milo DuQuette & Constance DuQuette|