The Rota Mundi Tarot by Daniel E. Loeb, published earlier this year by Red Feather, is a tribute to the original Fraternity of the Rose Cross, and at its core, a tool for studying theosophy (theos = god, sophia = wisdom). The Rosicrucians integrated Western occultism with the tarot, a deck of playing cards, and through this medium, found a way to reconcile alchemy, Kabbalah, and the Arcanum Sapientiam Deum, or the Secret Wisdom of God.
The Rosicrucians were Christian mystics that formed a secret society to protect themselves from being burned at the stake for heresy. They embraced a divine feminine with parallels to the Shekinah (indwelling glory), a feminine word referring to the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit. Rosicrucians believe this divine feminine to be “the Breath and Power of God, and an exact mirror of His goodness.” There is an oracle that can be used to consult this divine feminine form of wisdom called the Rota Mundi, or Wheel of the World, which is this deck’s namesake.
Eliphas Levi made the connection that the Rota Mundi of the Rosicrucians was the Tarot, and that theory stuck to the point where now, ROTA is inextricably tied to TAROT in Western occultism.
Loeb’s Rota Mundi Tarot seeks to convey Rosicrucianism in a coherent oracle system to clarify that theoretical connection between ROTA (i.e., the Spirit of Wisdom) and TAROT as an oracle for consulting that divine feminine form of wisdom.
While the Rota Mundi Tarot can be used as a divination tool, its main function is as a teaching tool, to aid you in understanding the principles of the tarot. It explores the Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom, clarifies the connections between the cards and the Kabbalah, and to elucidate the Rosicrucian mysteries. “In thirty-two most occult and wonderful paths of wisdom did Yah the Lord of Hosts engrave his name.” – Sefer Yetzirah These Thirty-Two Paths are the ten sefirot and twenty-two connecting paths.
The Rota Mundi is a sequel to and an expansion of the AlcheMystic Woodcut Tarot by the same author, which I’ve reviewed before here.
The Page of Cups, then, is a teaching tool for understanding the Gateway of Wisdom; the Ten of Pentacles is a tool for understanding the Luranic Tree; the Six of Pentacles for revealing the Seal of Solomon, the Queen of Wands for revelations of the Chymical Wedding, and so on. If and when you acquire this deck, the reference tables on pages 15 and 16 are going to be immensely useful.
According to Robert Fludd, a 16th and early 17th century occultist, astrologer, physician, and Rosicrucian, when God said “Let there be Light,” the Spirit of God emerged from the mouth of God in the form of a dove, and this dove separated the light from the darkness. After referencing that in the guidebook, I would have been thrilled to see the RWS version of the Ace of Cups for the Ace of Cups here, but here, as you see above, the Ace of Cups is captioned Solve et Coagula, a familiar alchemical maxim.
In the guidebook Loeb also discusses the distinctions between Cabalah with a C, denoting the Christian Cabalah, Kabbalah with a K, in reference to Jewish Kabbalah associated with the Zohar, and later Qabalah with a Q, in reference to Hermetic Qabalah.
Rota Mundi synthesizes Renaissance alchemy and the Kabbalah, while what sets it apart from other occult or esoteric decks is its treatment of astrology as having secondary importance to alchemy, the Kabbalah, and Christian mysticism. The text gives the example of the four animals along the corners of The World card and/or the Wheel of Fortune as being the Four Living Creatures from Ezekiel and Revelation, and not as astrological references to the four fixed signs of the zodiac.
Loeb goes on to cite Waite as supporting this position that astrology isn’t as important: “But those who are mystics must remember that astrology, though it passes for a secret science, is scarely a branch of mysticism . . . because while it cannot be classified as unimportant, its best results can contribute nothing to the science of the soul.” – A. E. Waite, The Occult Sciences (1891). And so you won’t really see any astrological references in the Rota Mundi.
Let’s do a pictorial walk-through of the deck. The cards are going to be shown in the order they appeared out of the box. The physical arrangement of the cards follow a classical order you’ll be familiar with, but here in the Rota Mundi, focus on the Thirty-Two Paths.
The Fool card is Path 11 connecting Kether and Chokmah, and is associated with the Hebrew letter Alef. This is the number 1 (though in the popular decks are often numbered Key 0) because The Fool is the start of a new cycle beyond the first ten paths. This is the personification of naivete, enjoying life, but missing an appreciation for its sustenance, and unaware of the dangers that potentially abound.
Above you’ll see the Three Septenaries of the Major Arcana consecutively ordered, i.e., Key 1, 2, 3… 19, 20, to 21. The prominent number on the cards denote which of the Thirty-Two Paths that Key occupies.
To reveal the Rosicrucian Arcana through the tarot, the guidebook anchors explanations of card meanings in Biblical verses. For example in Path 14, which corresponds with Key 3: The Empress, we see the personification of Wisdom in the illustration of an empress. “Wisdom is associated with the Holy Spirit of the New Testament, and the Shekinah of the Kabbalah,” notes Loeb, followed by citations to Wisdom 7:7, 9:17; Isaiah 11:2; Wisdom 7:21-23, 1:6; Matthew 12:32; Isaiah 63:10; Ephesians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:13; and James 1:5.
“Wisdom is always a feminine word: in Hebrew it is Chokhmah; in Greek, Sophia; and in Latin, Sapientia. When John 14:17 promises the Spirit of Truth, the words pneuma aletheia (truth/feminine) are used. . . . The Woman Wisdom plays a key role in God’s plan and is an important figure in alchemy, Kabbalah, and Christianity.”
In the Majors, the path on the Tree of Life that the key corresponds with is illuminated and pictured in the background. Then the bottom third of the card features a text box with Kabbalistic correspondences and card meaning keywords. These features enable the cards to function as a study tool, but can also work in the way text on oracle cards function.
If you want to work with this deck as a tarot system, then you’ll probably need to read the guidebook first. For example, in the above photo, you might think that first card in the top left corner is the Ace of Swords, because it features the Ace of Swords imagery from the RWS.
But it’s not. That’s the Ace of Wands, corresponding with Kether.
Explains Loeb, “On the Ace of Wands card of the Rota Mundi Tarot, the Ace of Swords card from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck is used to represent all of the Aces.” This card represents the Will of God, his intention, providence, and plan contained in an idea, concept, or logic.
The next card over features on its face the Two of Cups from the RWS, but this is the Two of Wands in the Rota Mundi, corresponding with the second Sefira Chokhmah (Wisdom).
The next card over with the RWS Three of Swords is, in this deck, the Three of Wands, Binah. In fact, if you follow the photographed order of cards above, up to the RWS Ten of Pentacles, that series is the Suit of Wands in the Rota Mundi. The card captioned The Lover’s Journey is the Page of Wands. The explanations for Loeb’s approach are extensive and thorough in the guidebook.
Let’s study another example. The Page of Wands (Pages corresponding with Malkuth alongside the Tens) features the Lovers, Devil, Two of Cups, and Judgement from the RWS (1910) deck, and is titled “The Lover’s Journey.” (You can see it in the above photo, top row, second card from the left.)
The card over on its right, with the RWS Chariot, Wheel of Fortune, High Priestess, and Hierophant titled “Oral, Written, Applied” is the Knight of Wands. Next to it on the right is the Queen of Wands, featuring a remastered colored version of De Lapide Philosophorum (1604). You’ll pick up a wealth of knowledge into medieval alchemy by reading the card entries here.
These re-assignments from the RWS into the tarot structure of Loeb’s deck is reasoned on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life correspondences. The Ace of Wands, Kether, corresponds elementally with Air, so to designate that, the RWS Ace of Swords is used here. The Rota Mundi Two of Wands is associated with the Root of Fire, but on the diagram of the Tree of Sefirot, connects to the Hebrew letter Mem (corresponding with Water); hence, the RWS Two of Cups.
Rota Mundi Tarot is an homage to Occult Tarot, reconstructing the efforts of the Rosicrucians, starting with Eliphas Levi and completing with Arthur Edward Waite. These cards are a pictorial tool for you to develop a personal relationship with God. And a testament of that personal relationship is the achievement of your Great Work.
The suit of Pentacles in the Rota Mundi focuses on geometric shapes concealed within the Kabbalah while the court cards explore the four living creatures. Keys from the suit of Swords help you to analyze logos and universal patterns.
The suit of Cups is here for you to study the secrets of the Chymical Wedding. (There’s also a whole chapter in the guidebook on the Chymical Wedding, to give you a framework.) By and large the art featured here are digitally colored 16th, 17th, and 18th century alchemical engravings, which I love. I’ve got a preferential soft spot for tarot decks collaged from alchemical woodcut engravings.
The guidebook turned out to be a fantastic standalone reference book you’ll want on your personal occult bookshelf. However, it would be remiss of me as a reviewer to not note that it does bring a defined point of view, and not one that 21st century young tarot readers may be comfortable with. For example, in a discussion on the Shekinah, Loeb quotes certain writers in the text, such as:
“[A]s Berg (2002) wrote, . . . ‘the Shekinah rests upon whoever has a wife, but not upon him who does not.’ It is the wife who provides the female balance to her husband and procures the blessings of the Shekinah on their marriage. The ‘foundation of the house is the wife, because of whom the Shekinah does not leave the house” (Ibid.) Rabbi Ginsburgh (1999) wrote that the mystery of the marital relationship aided couples in understanding the Torah, which is why “one should not begin the study of Kabbalah until he is married . . . Only after marriage can one experience the Divine mystery and intention underlying creation” (Ibid).”
While this expression of “union of husband and wife” should be interpreted as a figurative metaphor, as the “relationship between God and his people,” you’ll want to go in with the understanding that this is the presentation of one point of view, and one rooted deeply in Abrahamic religiosity.
The nature of using public domain 16th and 17th century engravings and woodcut prints is that many of these illustrations become familiar to you, and you’ve seen them in other decks, such as the Tarot of the Holy Light. However, Loeb’s colored remastering of the original images is spectacular.
Another point I really appreciate is that he cites the engravings he’s sourcing from, so you know exactly what you’re looking at in each card image. That Seven of Pentacles features an engraving from Robert Fludd’s Tree of Sephiroth, the Philosophy of the Cabalah (1621).
Okay, but how does this deck read? Confession: Before I tried, I had my doubts. So I was delighted to conclude that this deck is operable as a divinatory tool and I found that the way I approach it was more along the lines of an oracle deck than tarot. For example, I started with one of those “take my psychic temperature right now” single-card draws and pulled Feminine Triangle.
I opened the reference table up and saw that this corresponds with the Eight of Pentacles. By the way, the Pentacles symbol on the card also anchors you immediately into which suit your card is from. I love that while this card is the Eight of Pentacles in tarot, its Kabbalistic correspondence to the Sefirot of Chokhmah, Binah, and Tifereth evokes the Empress, Strength, and High Priestess cards for that Feminine Triangle.
Here’s how I worked with the deck: I relied more heavily on the imagery and card captions in the Rota Mundi and let go of any preconceived notions of the card’s RWS tarot correspondences. In the example of the Eight of Pentacles, instead of focusing on what the Eight of Pentacles in tarot means to me, I focused on the Feminine Triangle as a spiritual theme– Eve, Esther, and Ruth and the presence of Shekinah revealing Herself to me through this particular imagery.
While Loeb makes clear that the card meanings in the Majors are based on the 22 paths of the Kabbalah and the card meanings in the Minors are based on the ten Sefirot of the Kabbalah cross-referenced with the Tetragrammaton formula of Papus, you can just read the cards intuitively because there are no “correct” meanings to the cards. What these cards should prompt is an exercise of your own mental faculties, and by challenging your own mental faculties, you push it into psychic, spiritual realms.
In a divinatory reading with the Rota Mundi, should that be how you want to work with this deck, when you pull the above card captioned “Unforeseen Challenge,” you don’t necessarily need to connect that card with its tarot equivalent, i.e., the Two of Swords. Instead, see these pictures as exercise prompts to reach beyond your ordinary scope of thinking, reasoning, and processing. Same goes for the next card over captioned Rectification. Work with the card as you connect to it as a standalone image, and worry less that this is the Three of Swords.
That said, when Major Arcana cards showed up, I stuck rather true with the classical attributions for the 22 Majors, then looked at the text box of correspondences as a lesson plan given to me by Divinity.
The Rota Mundi Tarot is expressive of the soul DNA of the tarot, interpreted primarily through Waite’s framework. That’s why the “looking under the hood of the card” reference is apt here. Ultimately, the Rota Mundi will deepen and supplement your study of the RWS.
Some comparables for you to consider: If you like Travis McHenry’s Angel Tarot and Occult Tarot, are a huge Robert M. Place fan, enjoy the study of the Golden Dawn based decks, the Tarot of the Holy Light by Christine Payne-Towler, tarot as occult study tools such as the Kabbalistic Tarot by Eugene Vinitski and Frater North or Vinitski’s Tarot of Magical Correspondences, then you’re going to love the Rota Mundi Tarot. Those aligned with the work of M. M. Meleen’s Tabula Mundi Tarot or The Rosetta Tarot are also going to find kinship here.
Let’s do the obligatory commentary on production value, cardstock, etc. =) Box, guidebook, and deck are a beautiful matte finish and there’s great slip to the cards, making them easy to shuffle and work with. Just something I noticed: the box is heavy, or has this really appreciable weight to it. The box itself is a magnetic clamshell, though inside, you have to separate the deck into two piles to store.
I don’t always love that, but that’s just a personal and very subjective thing– I prefer to keep all the cards in a single deck pile. I find that long-term storage of a deck in two separate piles results in that strange warp situation (?) where the two piles never quite come back together as a united pile.
I love the gold edging on the cards, though. The gilding here is the smooth, fine-grain gold powder kind, which I appreciate. The other production issue to consider is the print quality. Both the cards and the illustrations in the guidebook were a little too dark. It almost felt like there was a shaded filter over the illustrations.
From my own tarot deck design experiences, this was most likely a graphic design or production problem, where RGB image files didn’t get properly tweaked and prepped for CMYK printing. I had this problem too with my early test prints. I had to exaggerate the digital files for them to print with the actual color saturation, brightness, and contrast I wanted. It looks like there may have been a hiccup here.
The Rota Mundi Tarot is a must-have for any practitioner with an interest in occult tarot. I ended up taking the guidebook out of the box and keeping it on a shelf in my personal library just so I could have easy access to it, because it’s a treasure trove of reference material on Western alchemy. Loeb has produced a masterpiece here and it is truly unlike anything I have yet seen in the world of tarot.
I thought I loved the AlcheMystic Woodcut Tarot, which I had said was in the top percentile of occult tarot decks I’ve come across, and yet Loeb has outdone himself with the Rota Mundi. The amount of thought and research makes this guidebook a godsend for anyone who wants to dive deeper into alchemy, the Kabbalah, and Abrahamic mysticism, not to mention it’s service as an invaluable narrative history of the Rosicrucians.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received The Rota Mundi Tarot from Red Feather Publishing for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.