A Study of Golden Dawn Decks and the Western Tradition of Occult Tarot

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

This past week I posted deck reviews, which turned out to be more like discussions, on the above five occult decks and their companion guidebooks, with references back to Regardie’s texts, Waite’s Pictorial Key, and Crowley’s Book of Thoth. It was time-consuming and quite the Effort, but I thought, one-and-done, meaning let me just knock each of these out of the way and then have it memorialized on my blog for future referencing.

If you’re a tarot enthusiast, then I hope there were inclusions of insights from those discussions that you’ll want to add to your personal tarot journal. For me, even while I’ve worked with the tarot for two decades plus, the process of consolidating study of these Golden Dawn based decks in quick succession synthesized so much.

Even most of the light, fun, fast-and-easy pretty decks published as of late are at their essence rooted in the Golden Dawn system, whether or not it was consciously done.

No matter how you feel about the Golden Dawn system of correspondences or the melding of a Christianized perspective of Kabbalah (or calling it Hermetic Qabalah to make the distinction), it’s impossible for the tarot enthusiast to deny the objective influence of the Golden Dawn on the popularized versions of tarot today.

And so I thought, hey, somebody out there is going to maybe probably benefit from this focused study of select GD-based decks. I hope even scrolling and skimming the five deck discussions will impart a rudimentary foundational understanding of this Western occult heritage.

We started on Monday with a look-through of The Golden Dawn Tarot by Robert Wang and the deck’s companion book An Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot.

Wednesday we covered The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot (or Golden Dawn Magical Tarot) by Chic and Tabatha Cicero, along with its companion text, The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot: Keys to the Rituals, Symbolism, Magic & Divination, building our study of that deck atop of what we gleaned from Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot.

I scheduled these two deck reviews side by side since both were designed under the direct instruction of Israel Regardie.

Going a bit nonlinear in terms of publication date chronology, Friday we considered the essentials of the B.O.T.A. Tarot by Paul Foster Case and Jessie Burns Parke, supplemented by insights from Case’s writings.

On Saturday we looked at the more Crowleyian-Thelemic inspired deck, Tarot of Ceremonial Magick by Lon Milo and Constance DuQuette. This diverges somewhat from the earlier decks mentioned, but nonetheless bears strong Golden Dawn influences syncretized with many different mystical traditions in the spirit of the Golden Dawn correspondences. That’s why it’s worth including in this week-long tour.

Then on Sunday we revisited The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson. Here you’re going to see pronounced influences from Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual, Israel Regardie, and artistic designs notably inspired by the Thoth deck. Like Tarot of Ceremonial Magick, the Hermetic Tarot integrates the Enochian system of ceremonial magic, angelic tablets, and watch towers as espoused by Regardie in The Golden Dawn.

Top, Left to Right: Kabbalistic Tarot by Eugene Vinitski, Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery by Robert M. Place, Tabula Mundi Tarot by M. M. Meleen. Bottom, Left to Right: AlcheMystic Tarot by D. W. Prudence, Tarot of Magical Correspondences by Eugene Vinitski, and prototype test print of the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, Revelation Ed.

The above selection of Lovers cards come from a few of the contemporary occult tarot decks (in terms of market genre) I had within my physical reach. So there are others I would have wished to share in that snapshot, but those decks just happen to be out of sight at the moment. Wait, crap, like immediately I can see I forgot Payne-Towler’s Tarot of the Holy Light. How the bleeping heck did I manage that?!! @#$%^&* Argh. Now after I finish typing this up I’m gonna have to figure out where my Tarot of the Holy Light decks are and why they’re not within reach! Grrr.

Anyway. I chose to showcase Key 6: The Lovers card mainly because I find that this card in particular is where one of those exoteric vs. esoteric schisms happens.

You’ll have noticed that throughout those GD deck discussions, I inserted asides to the SKT. In designing the SKT, I took a lot of inspiration from the writings of Eliphas Levi, and the Golden Dawn was heavily influenced by Levi. So there will be a lot of similarities, not to mention most of us (but not all) tarot readers with a penchant for the occult are, on some level, influenced by the Golden Dawn system of correspondences.

That was actually one of my main motivations for doing this week of GD deck studies. By reviewing these decks of precedent, you can see where exactly my inspirations in the SKT came from. And I think anyone interested in doing an in-depth study of the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot is probably also going to be interested in doing an in-depth study of these GD decks.

Ooh, can you do me a favor? Please? If you actually worked through this Golden Dawn deck review series and want to see more content like this, please leave a comment to let me know. This will be my way of trying to gauge what to invest my time on and what’s not worth the bother. Thanks!

18 thoughts on “A Study of Golden Dawn Decks and the Western Tradition of Occult Tarot

  1. stankbeest

    Hey Bennie, thanks for all that!
    As always you are a veritable (and venerable) font of fascinating information.
    You needn’t worry that your efforts are wasted – no doubt you will get many other messages of deep appreciation besides this one.

    Only problem is … now I am itching even more to get my paws on the newest SKT Deck!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicole Foos

    Benebell this series was absolutely essential and invaluable to the serious tarot student, enthusiastic, whatever. It highlights the importance of having each of the decks mentioned within one’s collection and I know I will be referencing back to your posts again and again. Plus they were a blast to read. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are a wonder and continue to blow my mind! Can’t wait to receive the latest version of the SKT!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ken Stevens

    Hi Benebell,
    While I’m not a fan of the Golden Dawn and Thoth decks in general (I guess I’m put off by the childish artwork in most of the decks), I always read what you have to say and I found your deck reviews fascinating. I love comparative discussions such as this. Love the work you’ve done on your SKT deck and am looking forward to getting my copy!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Benebell! I loved your Golden Dawn deck series, and when I realized you were reviewing several GD decks I got really excited. I don’t own any of the above decks yet and I’ve been shopping around for a deck with GD correspondences and your reviews are invaluable to me choosing which one to get!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I truly appreciate the deep dive! I have all of these decks (and Tarot of the Holy Light), but I haven’t previously seen them all syncretized in this manner. I have a bit of difficulty getting past the artistic style of most of them to appreciate the breadth of scope distilled into them, so thank you for your concerted effort to make their depth more accessible.

    Waiting for you to dig something up on that Chinese system I only found a book for! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nina

    Hi Benebell 👋
    I absolutely loved getting to know more about the GD decks and would definitely be interested in learning more!
    Thank you so much for sharing ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. And now I want a delineation of the exoteric vs esoteric schism 😂. I super appreciate the breakdown and study of each of these decks- so informative and from an occultist’s perspective, absolutely invaluable. Plus no one is covering the material the way you do, so there’s that! Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi Benebell!
    Let me join my voice to all the previous comments by telling you how much these reviews were insightful. Never worry about wasting your time and energy. Your blog is a real treasure for a tarot student as I am. And I too can’t wait to receive my SKT deck. I’m currently reading the Book of Maps… Wow! So much information and yet so fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved these blogs! I learned things I didn’t know or saw from your lens which expands mine. I hope lots of people comment so you will continue. Thank you for all you add to our community.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. RAUL T

    Hello BENEBELL , the SKT deck is looking beautiful . Thank you for this post about the GD decks. There is also one deck , the KNAPP-HALL Tarot from Manly Hall . Paul Foster Case uses it as a reference deck in one of his course book , it would nice if you can post something about this deck , thank you

    Like

  11. Pingback: Rota Mundi Tarot: The Rosicrucian Arcanum by Daniel E. Loeb – benebell wen

  12. Pingback: English Magic Tarot (Weiser Books) – benebell wen

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