on 11 July 2013
Golden Dawn Magical Tarot comes in a typical Llewellyn box: oversized, flimsy and coming apart at the seams upon arrival. When I opened my parcel, I could feel something sliding around inside the box, tore off the outer shrink wrap, and the side of the box (not the top flap) came open because the glue was dried out. I opened the box and the deck slid out onto the table, not in its own tuck box but only wrapped in cellophane, like a pack of cigarettes. I dumped the remaining contents out: a white bit supposedly meant to hold the deck in place, but nothing like the same size or shape as the deck, and a companion book called 'The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot'.
The cards are not particularly thick nor thin and have a slight lamination with a matte finish. The card back is a borderless black background, with a red cross atop a white pyramid, inside of which is a half sun, which also resembles a cog. Must be some sort of Golden Dawn logo. The fronts of the cards have a white outer border, then elaborate black line borders which echo the Egyptian/Deco style of the Thoth. The cards measure 4.5 x 3 inches (11.5 x 8 cm), and the actual image on each card is 3.25 x 2.75 inches (roughly 8 x 6 cm). So there is a lot of white on the card, which might bother some people. Stacked, the deck is just under 1 inch thick (2.75 cm).
Some of the cards of my particular deck are printed crooked on the card, particularly in the Pentacles suit. This is quite noticeable when examining the deck, but I don't think it will detract when using for actual readings, when the focus locks onto the actual image to the exclusion of all else. It's been my experience that many apparent deal breakers fade into the background during readings.
The majors include an arabic numeral, Hebrew letter, and astrological symbol. The courts have a title at the bottom and elemental symbol at the top. The minors have an arabic numeral, suit name at top, elemental symbols and Golden Dawn title at the bottom. There are the planetary and astrological symbols in the minor images. The colours of the cards are not random but to do with Golden Dawn attributes, and a technique called 'flashing colours'--the Golden Dawn assigns each element two complimentary colours, those that sit on opposite sides of the colour wheel which, when stared at, will swap places with each other in an optical effect. This is designed to enhance intuition, meditation, divination and magical practice.
One thing about the card art which might bother some but doesn't bother me at all is that the format for cards is very samey, or should I say 'formulaic'. All the kings look exactly the same save for colouring and symbols. Same with queens, princes and princesses. This makes perfect sense when you realise that they ARE the same in value and function, changing only as related to their suit.
Another thing is the minor cards. All cards in a particular suit have identical colouring, and vary only in arrangement of the pips in order to fit the proper number on the card. This, too, makes sense, as the colours are Golden Dawn associations with suit, and the numbers are only important as they pertain to which sephiroth on the Tree of Life each number is associated with. I've also noticed that every single minor card has at least one human hand in it. There is always a human hand holding the pips. Though sometimes it's a green hand (in the wands, because red and green are flashing colours, I guess.)
A Word about the Art
I would put the art work on par with the Sol Invictus deck: that is to say, it seems to have been created by someone who cannot draw, but who is motivated to do so anyway, and who soldiers on to produce work that would be praised by a 6th grade art teacher. This doesn't bother me. I am mindful that Golden Dawn students were required to create their own tarot decks based on the descriptions given, and this deck looks like the kind of thing that I, having no artistic talent, might produce after hours, months or even years of devoted labour. It would be my best possible effort, and it makes me feel kindly toward the deck, and lends it a sort of personal feeling.
Comparing it to Lady Frieda Harris's art, which is so skilled and stylish, the symbols so integrated into the lines of the art that it is sometimes hard to pick them up or understand why they are there, this deck's art is quite clunky. In Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, the symbols are rather guilelessly plonked in, to be earnestly pondered. Let's compare the Princess of Cups from this deck and the Thoth, a card that puzzled me greatly in the Thoth deck, on first encounter. Both artists worked from the same Golden Dawn description: 'She stands on a sea with foaming spray. Away to her right is a dolphin. She wears a crest on her helmet, belt and buskins, a swan with opening wings. She bears in one hand a lotus, and in the other an open cup from which a turtle issues. Her mantle is lined with swan's down, and is of thin, floating material.' Students of Golden Dawn would have been taught what each one of these symbols means. (And the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot companion book explains them). It is much easier for me to pick out the details in the more primitive (or 'naive') art style of the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot on the right than the Thoth on the left. It might not be as lush or aesthetically pleasing, but as a straightforward representation of the symbols that the Golden Dawn required for Princess of Cups, it's pretty darn close to perfect. There is clearly a headdress, belt and buskins, whereas the Thoth figure looks like a swan has landed on the head of a statue, which is sailing away toward a vortex behind her, on cosmic ribbons, wearing a voluminous pink sheet. Great, once you know the symbols, not so great if you're a student just learning.
There are two versions of the Temperance card, which I think deserves examination in a separate blog entry of its own. Very interesting. So in total there are 79 cards in this deck.
The book, 'The Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot' by Chic and Sandra Cicero, is the usual full-size soft cover companion book, with glued and stitched binding and a few black and white illustrations. It contains five chapters and a bibliography -- but what chapters! This book packs a lot of information and is great for beginning students of the Golden Dawn system. The basics of Qabalah, the Tree of Life, The Hebrew alphabet, the colour scales, and the decanates are all presented here in a straightforward manner. There are succinct, easy-to-read tables of attributions.
The bulk of the book is the card-by-card explanation. Don't look for much in the way of divinatory meanings here; this book is not about fortune telling. This book is about Golden Dawn theories of tarot, which are summed up in the intro: 'Whether or not the original creators of Tarot intended to create a pictorial system of that would explain the basic principles of Qabalah is unimportant. It is irrefutably evident that the two systems fit together so completely that one explains the other, and both point to the same Divine Truths.'
The final chapters of the book include detailed instructions on magical basics such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, Ritual Bath, Relaxation Ritual, Tarot consecration rituals, and many more. An index lists divinatory card meanings, and there are some spreads supplied at the end of the book, including the Golden Dawn 15 card spread and the Opening of the Key. It is not a lightweight work, but a book for true magical practice.
I am very happy to have purchased this kit and believe it will enhance my study of the Golden Dawn system and the Thoth deck.