Initiatory Golden Dawn Tarot Review
Lo Scarabeo’s Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn is a 78-card tarot deck that was based on the semi-mythical Golden Dawn deck, which was created in the late 19th Century by S L Mathers to be used by initiates of the order. The accompanying booklet explains that the Lo Scarabeo deck is based on the extant writings on the Golden Dawn on tarot, Liber T, and the essay about the tarot-trumps by H Soror QL. It was designed to make the esoteric symbolism of the Golden Dawn teaching accessible to modern tarot readers.
This deck is a great divination tool. The images of artist Patrizio Evangelisti, are beautiful and engaging. This deck is a delight to use because of the dramatic angles and the beautiful characters and landscapes. Anyone familiar with the RWS and its clones will be able to distinguish the illustrated minors or courts by their elemental and thematic structure. The majors contain some unique images from Golden Dawn teachings like The Fool and The Lovers. However, they are easy enough to be understood by most readers, regardless of whether they use intuitive reading or book meanings.
These cards are intended to replicate the occult symbolism and meaning of the original Golden Dawn deck. This deck should be evaluated against its stated objectives and quoted sources. First, consider the perceptions of the Golden Dawn on the tarot.
The tarot was for the Golden Dawn more than a divination tool. It was also a pictorial representation, in the form of a pictorial map, of the cabalistic tree, of the powers, forces, and worlds that are themselves maps of the universe. The images of the Tarot were symbolic representations of the entire philosophy and teachings of the Golden Dawn. The tarot cards represented the paths that novices would take during their magickal training. Every colour and every object had meaning for the golden Dawn, which is why they were ever lined. The elaborate correspondence system used by the order would have communicated with the user about the objects’ meanings.
Unfortunately, the Mathers original deck is lost. All that is left are descriptions and writings from members. Mathers’ Liber T document, which details the court cards and minors in great detail but does not give the names and beautiful descriptions of the majors or the Hebrew and astrological letter correspondences. These are the two most important. G H SororQ L also wrote an unofficial document that provides brief descriptions of majors, but focuses more on the colour scales and mystic significance rather than the imagery. These two sources are cited in the booklet as the source of the inspiration for the images on The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn. It is obvious from a glance that this deck does not conform to these sources. This deck is clearly different from the Wang deck, which attempted to recreate it as members of the Golden Dawn would see it. Instead, it is a reinterpretation the writings Mathers and SororQ L.
Initiatory Golden Dawn Tarot Details
Majors follow the well-known Golden Dawn pattern, which places Strength at VIII and Justice on XI. The Fool, numbered zero, is depicted as a child, a wolf, and the Lovers as Perseus, freeing Andromeda of the rock. While very little evidence is presented that contradicts the essay by SororQ L on the trumps, which is the source of these images, it is evident that some symbolism in these cards was drawn from another source. Although the booklet clearly states that the artist didn’t consult any other Golden Dawn decks, there are many points of congruence that exist between the Wang deck and this deck. These symbols are uncommon on tarot cards but are found on the Wang deck as well. This includes the cup in hand of the Priestess and scroll held by the Hierophant, the eagle, and the snake on death card. These images indicate that another source was used to create these images. However, this is not covered in the accompanying booklet. It would have been useful to name it, as Soror QL’s descriptions are often short and unhelpful. This makes it difficult for us to assess how this deck conforms with the esoteric symbolisms of the Golden Dawn.
The court cards‘ images are based entirely on Liber T’s detailed descriptions. They are beautifully drawn and rich in character. Some cards have a slight loss of symbolism, such as the lost crab on Knight of Chalices or the reversal of positions of the orb/sceptre on Prince of Discs. But these are minor issues compared to how the artist captured the essence of each card. The titles of the court are Crowley-inspired, with Knight, Queen and Prince, rather than the confusing Golden Dawn titles Knight Queen, King, Princess and Queen. Although the booklet attempts to explain the meaning of the court cards, it is too brief to cover the details or address issues such as 16 sub-elements as described in the Golden Dawn court.
This deck is most far from the known Golden Dawn imagery, and it’s the minors that this deck strays. Liber T describes the minors in great detail, and this description is entirely symbolic. Flames that explode from the wands represent the progression of the elements as the descend the tree of living. They also include lotus flowers that fill the water chalices with water, five-petaled roses that are torn by swords of air, and the buds of the rose bush that bears pentacles made of earth. The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn illustrates minors pictorially. Sometimes the Golden Dawn symbols are included in the design, while other times it relies more on RWS iconography. This may seem contrary to the Golden Dawn writings. It is definitely not the deck that the initiates would have seen. However, these pictorial cards illustrate an aspect the Golden Dawn’s teachings not often addressed.
Aleister Crowley, the most well-known initiate of the Golden Dawn, states in his “Book of Thoth” that the cards are living beings. He asks us to picture a room with 78 people. The names that the Golden Dawn gave the 78 cards of tarot are beautiful and mysterious. The Lords are given to the minor cards, and the power of spheres is personalised and individualised. The Two of Chalices is called ‘The Lord of Love’ while the Ten of Pentacles ‘The Lord of Wealth’. In his illustrations, the artist managed to capture the individuality and power of these forces. The eight of Wands, “The Lord of Swiftness”, is shown as a running woman. Every line of her illustration speaks to the force she represents. The five of Swords, The Lord of Defeat’, are also armoured, helmed with black and his foot on the neck of the defeated enemy. Although this personalization of the Lords in the minor arcana might not be approved by Golden Dawn purists it is the highlight and reveals a side of the orders teaching that has never been seen before in a Golden Dawn deck.
This deck shares a common problem with all Golden Dawn decks. It isn’t really accessible to the general reader as any other than an ordinary, but beautiful, divination deck. Although it may contain golden Dawn symbolism as well, it is not a complete explanation. The tarot and its symbolism would have been part a long magickal education for an initiate of the Golden Dawn. They would have learned magickal correspondences, cabalistic theory, and the significances of colour scales. Symbols on the cards would have been as easily understood by modern motorists as a road sign. The symbols are meaningless without the ability to read them. It is not enough to say that the Golden Dawn used Perseus on the Lovers card. However, we don’t know why. While some information can be found in published sources, it does not replace the years of study an initiate of the Golden Dawn would have had to learn. All Golden Dawn decks without this knowledge are nothing more than curiosity. They are merely a recreation of an historic artifact, detached from its original context and meaning. The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn, despite being the most beautiful of all Golden Dawn decks, is still the best. It’s unique depiction of the minors has made the tarot more interesting and allowed at least some of the orders ideas to be seen in an original and fresh way.