The Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA is a deck for occultists who sojourn that Mystic Sea, “charting a course between sharp, fateful rocks and perilous cliffs, to harbours’ grateful rest. And when the journey’s done, sought other quests. . . . A Library of books set in the heavens, stretching beyond all logic, Infinite. . . . The Navigator scryed to learn this source. Hermes revealed the Holy Cabalah. The archetypes from that eternal base, create clear symbols which, in turn, embrace this Tarot of the Mystic SEA.” (poem accompanying the deck, by Julia Turk)
In most places, SEA is all-caps, which suggests to me it’s an acronym, while in other places, there’s a straightforward reference to the Thoth-Hermetic Mystic Sea. I believe I’ve combed through the LWB thoroughly in search of what SEA stands for, but couldn’t find it. The old Aeclectic Tarot forum came to the rescue. According to this thread, the Mystic SEA is the Mystic Society of Enochian Anchorites (SEA), anchorites being essentially a hermit or solitary ascetic of a religious devotion.
In this deck, Key 8 (though the Majors are unnumbered) is Strength and Key 11 is Destiny (Justice) with the keyword “equilibration,” not to be confused with the deck’s Key 10, Fortune, with the keyword “rotation.”
I had known about this deck for years, but didn’t own it. Then once at a public reading event, someone I read for told me about his first tarot deck. “It was the Sun and Moon Tarot,” he said, and was trying to describe the deck to me. I knew exactly which deck he was talking about.
“It’s got two lovers on a lotus blossom on the box cover, right? With a full moon? Bluish box?” I said. At the time, and this was years ago, the Sun and Moon Tarot was really popular, and everyone was talking about it. So of course I had heard of it, but just never gotten around to pulling the trigger to buy.
He lit up. “Yeah! That’s the one!”
Then synchronistically enough, a month later I was gifted this deck.
And I really do adore it to pieces.
The Sun and Moon Tarot by Vanessa Decort was published back in 2010 by U.S. Games. It is a Thoth-inspired deck with notable Rider-Waite-Smith influences. In Decort’s bio, she notes that the Thoth was her first tarot deck. The edition featured here in this blog post have white borders, but I’ve also seen a version with black borders, if that interests you.
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.
The Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson was one of my earliest deck reviews on this blog, back in 2013. And it wasn’t even really a deck review. I don’t know what that was other than a little bit too cringe for me to try to reread now. Anyway, let’s revisit the deck and add this posting to our cluster of Golden Dawn deck discussions.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active for only about fifteen years, and yet consider the scope and breadth of their influence in Western occultism, especially in the world of tarot. Even fun, flighty, not-at-all-occult mass produced pop tarot decks are unintentionally influenced by the Golden Dawn.
Crowley first published a description of the Order’s card designs in The Equinox in 1912, riling MacGregor Mathers to the point of litigation to try and stop Crowley’s publication. Then around World War II, Israel Regardie published the Golden Dawn card descriptions again, and provided oversight to both Robert Wang and the Ciceros in their subsequent GD decks. The LWB introduces Dowson’s deck as one more Golden Dawn based tarot deck in the line of succession since the Order dissipated.
Dowson’s pen and ink drawings for the Hermetic Tarot were done between 1975 and 1977, with the deck published by U.S. Games in 1980. Stuart Kaplan co-wrote the LWB that comes with the cards. Kaplan remarks about the Hermetic Tarot that it is a “compelling reconstructed version of the tarot that undoubtedly will take its place as one of the most important esoteric tarot decks published during the twentieth century.”
Like the Golden Dawn decks preceding it, Aleph is assigned to Key 0, the Spirit of Ether, which Dowson corresponds with the modern planet Pluto (whereas the majority view today assigns Uranus to The Fool card). In the LWB, Key 0: The Fool corresponds astrologically with either Pluto or Uranus, while Key XX: The Last Judgment is either Uranus or Pluto.
The LWB that comes with this deck may be just a stapled little white booklet, but it packs a punch. Key III: The Empress is personified by the Daughter of the Might Ones, which Dowson connects in his imagery to Aphrodite – Urania. The black eagle in front of her connects her to the alchemical white eagle front and center on The Emperor. Compare that mythological association to Regardie’s notes, which connects The Empress to an aspect of Isis.
Key XI: Justice is personified by the Daughter of the Lord of Truth and, according to Regardie, an aspect of Nephthys, twin sister of Isis, clothed in green. (See Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, Book 8: Divination, “The Tarot Trumps.”)
If the Hermetic Tarot was in color, and colored per GD correspondences, you’d see the green that connects The Empress to Justice, where both feminine figures are robed in green, though The Empress should wear a more emerald green while Lady Justice is in a cooler-toned green.
You’ll see that I worked with Israel Regardie’s color instructions in SKT The Revelation. Anyway all that is to say that the 48-page LWB gives you enough to start in terms of helping you to understand what’s depicted on the cards. Of course if you then want to do divinatory readings with this deck or go more in-depth with your ritual work, you’ll need supplemental texts. I’ll talk about what I think are a couple of good ones at the end of this review.
Like Wang and the Ciceros, Key 6: The Lovers card depicts Andromedia chained to a rock, attacked by a dragon rising out of the waters. Perseus comes to her rescue, sword in hand. The secondary key title here is Children of the Voice Divine. Key 6 is assigned Gemini, though “it is important to study this card along with Key XIV: Temperance (Sagittarius) . . . The Lovers also pertains to Sagittarius – the Archer – hence the bow and arrow at the upper center.”
Dowson’s illustration of The Chariot card is very much modeled after the Thoth. Here, “at the center of the card is the Holy Grail. The card depicts the chariot of Heremes drawn by two sphinxes. Jachin signifying love and Boaz signifying power.”
Key 8 is Strength (or Fortitude) and Key 11 is Justice in this deck. Fortitude is personified by the Daughter of the Flaming Sword. The female figure over the lion represents the Higher Self’s mastery over the Lower Self. Meanwhile, per the notes in the LWB, the shield depicts a lion that is uncontrolled, in contrast to the maiden and the lion. This is the shield of indomitable energy.
You can also see most of Key 9: The Hermit in the above photo. The magical lamp, a description of which you can find in Eliphas Levi’s works, is pictured above the Moses-like figure, who is cloaked in a hood and mantle. “The lamp burns without wick or fuel. It is lit only bh the lux of the universal fluidic agent.” The bottom foreground features the cosmic egg and an ear of wheat, “dormant for years, but ready to nurture to life at the opportune time.” The snake here symbolizes “Wisdom sought.”
The Devil card depicts Pan, and the inverted pentagram is a symbol of dark forces. In The Blasted Tower, Lord of the Hosts of the Mighty, the old is destroyed to clear way for the new. An outline of the Tree of Life appears at either side of the blasted Tower.
While the human figure is inverted in The Hanged Man, so is the ankh, and since both are aligned, it is the viewer who is “upside down,” though we presume ourselves to be right side up. The serpent depicted on the hanging man’s leg represents both The Creator and The Destroyer. You’ll see the serpent motif in the Death card, and again symbolizing both Creator and Destroyer.
Like DuQuette’s Tarot of Ceremonial Magick, Dowson is heavily influenced by Crowley’s writings, and you can see that here in Key 12. Like DuQuette’s deck, Enochian magic is also integrated into some of the symbolism in Hermetic Tarot– the background grid on Key 12 looks like a blanked version of the four Watchtower Qudrangles from Israel Regardie’s Book 9: The Angelic Tablets in The Golden Dawn.
The arms are outstretched to form an equilateral triangle, giving the symbol of the Triangle surmounted by the Cross, a representation of light descending into darkness to redeem the shadow. (See Crowley’s Book of Thoth.) Crowley makes reference to a Rose and the Cross for Key 12, and here you see the Rosy Cross.
The center seal in the Wheel, in white, is the Seal of Ezekiel, and when this card appears in a reading upright, it’s an omen of good fortune; when it appears ill-dignified or in reverse, it is an omen of bad luck. According to Golden Dawn texts (see, e.g., Regardie), the Wheel is the revolution of experience and progress, and therefore on this tarot card, the key icons is the zodiac wheel. The GD interpretation of Key 10 features the “Plutonian cynocephalus (i.e., a jackal-like creature) below, and the Sphinx above.” Here again we see some departure from GD tradition.
The art style here gives me strong M.M. Meleen vibes, doesn’t it? There’s really no disputing that the artwork here is impressive and among the best of the Golden Dawn deck options. I’m also reminded a bit of the art style in Nemo’s Book of Azathoth Tarot. In other words, awesome.
The level of detail and ornamentation that the Minor Arcana cards get into here surpass some of the earlier Golden Dawn decks we looked at, for sure. Yet I wouldn’t call these scenic per se, at least not the way the RWS Minors are scenic.
The compositions are abstract, highly conceptual, at a crossroads between optical art and surrealism, with ornamental elements reminiscent of Art Nouveau.
The courts are ranked: Knights (corresponding to the element Fire), Queens (Water), Kings (Air), and Princesses (Earth), where the Knights represent the Yod force of the Tetragrammaton. According to the LWB, they are the Fathers.
My brain is now mush from talking about so many different GD decks in such close proximity to one another, so I can’t remember the exact source now (but I feel like I mentioned it in the review I’m referencing, so if you’ve been following this series, you’ll be able to pinpoint the author)– the RWS King (Fire), Queen (Water), Knight (Air), and Page (Earth) court rankings was allegedly a blind that Waite put on his deck to conceal certain occult knowledge. Crowley, among others after Waite, removed that blind to show the true identities of these divine beings.
You can make of that what you will. I think I’m just too indoctrinated from having worked with King, Queen, Knight, and Page for so long that for the rest of this lifetime, I guess I’m just going to have to operate the tarot with Waite’s blinds on. =) …shrug…
After the Knights are the Queens, representing the first Heh force of the Tetragrammaton YHVH, and signify the Mothers. Per Israel Regardie, the four Queens are supposed to be “seated upon Thrones” and “clothed in armour,” symbolizing steady but unshaken forces. While Dowson diverged from that, all four queens here either appear to be wearing armor or express a warrior spirit.
I love it when a Queen of Swords gives off strong Judith vibes, and we certainly have that here.
The Kings are subordinate to the Queens, representing the Vau force of YHVH, and the sons of the knights and queens. They’re called Kings (in the Thoth, they’re the Princes) because they are the true heirs to sovereignty.
And then we have the Princesses, corresponding with the Pages, and the second Heh force of the Tetragrammaton. Echoing Crowley in his Book of Thoth, here Dowson writes about the Princesses: “This is original energy in its completion and crystallization.” The Princesses, writes Regardie, are the four “figures of Amazons standing firmly by themselves.” And in many of the Golden Dawn decks, it would appear, that’s interpreted pictorially as topless women.
The 72 pip cards (Twos through Tens) feature the 72 Shem HaMephorash, or angelic hidden names of the Divine, and using a translation table, I attempted to figure out the English translations of the names to see if they correspond with Regardie’s tables, but I confess I had some trouble. That it’s handwritten and being a language I have no familiarity in meant it was a major challenge for me to decipher.
The English translations for the angel names are provided in the LWB. The Five of Swords, for instance, invokes Aniel and Chaamiah. All the detailing in the art is symbolic. Here, the Five of Swords corresponds with the decan ruler Venus in Aquarius. The swan and dove pertain to Venus, and the pheasant and hawk to Aquarius. The torn rose with the petals falling symbolizes the energy of defeat.
Fun tidbit: “The true astrological year was begun by the Golden Dawn with the star Regulus at 0 degrees Leo, rather than the more common 0 degrees Aries.” Thus, the 5 of Wands leads the Minor Arcana. You’ll see this in Book “T” The Tarot in Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn books.
Look at those disks in the Suit of Pentacles. At least to me, they almost appear to be an optical illusion, and I think I see them spinning. Then I read the LWB. Dowson intended for the disks to look like they’re spinning. For the Nine of Pentacles, he writes, “The pentacles are gently turning, suggesting the gradual exhaustion of the original whirling energy.” But then in the Ten of Pentacles, those disks are not moving. “Although the pentacles are not turning [in the Ten of Pentacles, Lord of Wealth], they still imply the great and final solidification of energy.”
As far as I know, there is currently no in-depth guidebook for the Hermetic Tarot, but any of the guidebooks we discussed– Wang’s Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot or Chic and Tabatha Ciceros’ The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot: Keys to the Rituals, Symbolism, Magic & Divination would be great companion guides for working with Dowson’s deck. M. M. Meleen’s Book M: Liber Mundi would be great, too. Sure, the card descriptions aren’t going to transfer, because the artists have gone in different stylistic and symbolic directions, but the interpretative approach is aligned enough for any of these texts to be instructive. And of course, there’s Crowley’s Book of Thoth.
The Tarot of Ceremonial Magick by Lon Milo DuQuette and Constance DuQuette was first published by U.S. Games in 1997, then republished in 2010 by Thelesis Aura. The edition you see here is from the Third Printing, 2013. Interestingly, these cards were printed in the Republic of Korea. Since it’s rare to see that, I thought it was worth a mention.
Let’s conclude Golden Dawn Tarot week with an offshoot-GD deck, the B.O.T.A. Tarot by Paul Foster Case, illustrated by Jessie Burns Parke. In this blog post, the fully colored Majors are from the 2009 Ishtar Publishing reprint of Paul Foster Case’s Learning Tarot Essentials: Tarot Cards for Beginners (1932), via the Internet Archive.
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.
Robert Wang, perhaps best known as the author of Qabalistic Tarot, is also an artist. He created The Golden Dawn Tarot back in 1978 and later the Jungian Tarot in the 90s. There’s a companion book to the deck, An Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot published through Weiser also in 1978. You can digitally “check out” or borrow the text at OpenLibrary.org for an hour, which is what I did and will comment on as a supplement to this deck overview.
“Rarely has a tarot deck created more pre-publication interest than this long-awaited Golden Dawn Tarot pack by Dr. Robert Wang, a devoted scholar and researcher of the Secret Order of the Golden Dawn,” wrote Stuart Kaplan about the deck.
With the guidance of Dr. Israel Regardie, poring over old notebooks of members from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Wang created the Golden Dawn Tarot as an esoteric deck intended to reveal, with greater clarity, the Golden Dawn interpretive approach to the cards. This was to be a “missing link” between the Rider-Waite and the Crowley Thoth. Kaplan described Wang’s deck as “an important rare book in the field of tarot.”
Most of this blog on my website consists of deck reviews, some book reviews, and right now because SKT III is in production, SKT status updates. I haven’t checked in with you with a personal update in a while. So let’s chat. Hi! How’ve you been? Let me share with you what’s been going on in my corner. =)
That Novel I Kinda Started Talking About… and then Didn’t?
Back in 2013 I started this ambitious novel (I say “ambitious” because the plot and premise is really convoluted and in terms of my own skill level, I was trying to accomplish way more than my technical proficiency or storytelling ability was capable of.) I got up to 37,000 words before I abandoned ship.
I revisited that same manuscript in 2015, discarded about a third of what I had written in 2013, continued on, and got to 59,000 words before, again, abandoning the undertaking because it got too overwhelming.
In 2018, I threw away all 59k words of the previous manuscript, started from 0, wrote furiously for 2 years straight, and by February/March of 2020, exactly when the pandemic hit the U.S., completed the manuscript at 118,000 words.
This deck intrigued me because I haven’t seen anything like it. The concept is ambitious. Méhész is a metalsmith and jewelry designer. She creates upcycled jewelry. Secrets of the Jewelry Box is a photographic collection of her beautifully crafted pieces, each one inspired by a tarot card. What if you opened up your jewelry box and each trinket in there connected to a Key of the tarot?