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Rider-Waite Tarots Golden Dawn History

The Golden Dawn was a British magical order active from 1888 to about 1910. The organization was short-lived due to “politics” and “power struggles” within the order. Even though the Golden Dawn was active for less than 25 years, many of  its teachings still guide magical practices  worldwide. Their readings and rituals remain a strong influence today among followers of the Golden Dawn.

These charts include descriptive meanings of Tarot according to the original Golden Dawn manifest.

# Name Tarot Title


0 The Fool The Spirit of GR:ΑΙΘΗΡ א Air
I The Magician The Magus of Power ב Mercury
II The High Priestess The Priestess of the Silver Star ג The Moon
III The Empress The Daughter of the Mighty Ones ד Venus
IV The Emperor Sun of the Morning, chief among the Mighty ה Aries
V The Hierophant The Magus of the Eternal ו Taurus
VI The Lovers The Children of the Voice; the Oracles of the Mighty Gods ז Gemini
VII The Chariot The Child of the Powers of the Waters; The Lord of the Triumph of Light ח Cancer
VIII/XI Strength The Daughter of the Flaming Sword ט Leo
IX The Hermit The Magus of the Voice of Power, the Prophet of the Eternal י Virgo
X The Wheel The Lord of the of Fate Forces of Life ק Jupiter
XI/VIII Justice The Daughter of the Lords of Truth: the Ruler of the Balance ל Libra
XII Hanged Man The Spirit of the Mighty Waters מ Water
XIII Death The Child of the Great Transformers: the Lord of the Gates of Death נ Scorpio
XIV Temperance The Daughter of the Reconcilers: the Bringer-Forth of life ס Sagittarius
XV The Devil The Lord of the Gates of Matter: the Child of the Forces of Time ע Capricorn
XVI The Tower The Lord of the Hosts of the Mighty פ Mars
XVII The Star The Daughter of the Firmament, the dweller between the Waters צ Aquarius
XVIII The Moon The Ruler of Flux and Reflux: the Child of the Sons of the Mighty ק Pisces
XVIII The Moon The Ruler of Flux and Reflux: the Child of the Sons of the Mighty ק Pisces
XIX The Sun The Lord of the Fire of the World ר Sun
XX Judgement The Spirit of the Primal Fire י Spirit and Fire
XXI The World The Great One of the Night of Time ת Earth and Saturn

In 1887, William Wynn Westcott, a coroner and occultist, found a manuscript written in cipher. He decoded its contents and found descriptions of magic rituals. One part of the manuscript, Book T, described the true meaning of divination in the Tarot.

Westcott corresponded, or faked correspondence, with a Fräulein Sprengel, member of “die Goldene Dämmerung.” Sprengel’s letters survive, though scholars believe they were written by a non-native German speaker, and no evidence supports the existence of a Fräulein Sprengel, or an “Eingeweihten der Goldenen Dämmerung,” in Germany or anywhere else.

Westcott asked Sprengel’s permission to found a similar secret order; this permission was granted without any particular requirements, very suspect considering the circumstances. The following year, Westcott founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Teachings of the order were based on the Book T manuscript, Westcott’s personal experience with occult societies, and the letters he claimed authority by approval of Fräulein Sprengel. Westcott invited two colleagues, W.A. Woodman and S.L. Mathers, to join him in a ruling triumvirate, which is how this group began. Unfortunately, Woodman died three years later.



Divinatory Meanings of Cards

0 The Fool Spiritually: Idea, thought, spirituality, that which endeavours to transcend Earth. Materially: folly, stupidity, eccentricity, or even mania.
I The Magician Skill, wisdom, adaptation, craft, cunning; occult wisdom or power.
II The High Priestess Change, alternation, increase and decrease, fluctuation, for good or evil.
III The Empress Beauty, happiness, pleasure, success. Also luxury, dissipation.
IV The Emperor War, conquest, victory, strife, ambition.
V The Hierophant Divine wisdom, manifestation, explanation, teaching, occult force voluntarily invoked.
VI The Lovers Inspiration, motive power, action.
VII The Chariot Triumph, victory, health.
VIII/XI Strength Courage, strength, fortitude, power passing on to action. Obstinacy.
IX The Hermit Wisdom from on high. Active divine inspiration.
X Wheel of Fortune Good fortune, happiness, intoxication of success.
XI/VIII Justice Eternal justice. Strength and force, but arrested as in act of judgment. May mean law, trial, etc.
XII Hanged Man Enforced sacrifice, punishment, loss, fatal and not voluntary, suffering.
XIII Death Time, age, transformation, change.
XIV Temperance Combination of forces, realization, action.
XV The Devil Materiality, material force, temptation, obsession.
XVI The Tower Ambition, fighting, war, destruction, danger, fall, ruin.
XVII The Star Hope, faith, unexpected help. Dreaminess, deceived hope, etc.
XVIII The Moon Dissatisfaction, change. Error, lying, falsity, deception.
XIX The Sun Glory, gain, riches. With “very” evil cards it means arrogance, display, vanity.
XX Judgment Final decision, judgment, sentence, determination of a matter without appeal, “on its plane.”
XXI The World The matter itself. Synthesis, world, kingdom.

Members S.L. Mathers and A.E. Waite of the Golden Dawn, wrote guides to the Tarot’s use and correspondences. Golden Dawn rituals sometimes included the Tarot as a meditative and divinatory aid. Other teachings furthered astrological, symbolic and kabbalistic correspondences of the Tarot.
No one could publish tarot decks based on Book T, as that would violate the order’s oath of secrecy. However, some Golden Dawn members, including Pamela Coleman Smith, drew up decks for their personal use.
Holmes Publishing Group released some of the Tarot card sketches made by a Golden Dawn member, probably Moina Mathers. The sketches, though primitively drawn, show the influence of previously unpublished Golden Dawn teachings, and may have been used in Golden Dawn rituals.

In 1909 the Rider-Waite Tarot was published. Both A.E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, each being a Golden Dawn member, created this most popular of all Tarot decks. Smith’s designs are influenced by the teachings of Book T, but do not exactly follow them.

Around this time, the secrets of the society were nearly revealed. In 1909, Aleister Crowley published some of the Order’s secret documents, and in 1911, he published the entire of Book T, the order’s main text on the Tarot. This violated the order’s oath of secrecy. Crowley later co-created the Thoth Tarot, which often follows Book T’s descriptions of card imagery, though it is not accurate according to the original Book T since Crowley added a measure of his own interpretations over some of the original.

In 1938, Israel Regardie’s Golden Dawn omnibus was published, showing how tarot was used in many Golden Dawn rituals. This book, and the correspondences illustrated above, influenced the occult revival of the 1960s and 70s.

Today there are hundreds of Tarot decks with illustrations that vary according to designers and artists. There is an amazing history to the Tarot which is documented to the 1400s in the original Visconti Soforza Tarots. Many of these 15 hand made decks, (some incomplete), exist today in various museums and private collections. Also, there are many indications, including pictoral evidence, that a form of Tarot existed back to the times of ancient Egypt where it was likely used in divination and other magical workings. Tarot is a great mystery, but it is also a useful tool and has been a divinatory key to fortune telling for hundreds of years. The magic is not in the cards, chance will determine the cards that are drawn. It is your reader who interprets cards that fortune has provided for you.



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