In honor of my 60th trip around the sun last month, I organized a free local tarot class for women who want to learn to read Tarot de Marseille style of cards. This gesture was a gift of gratitude for my life. I try to give back to the universe in some way, every time I make another trip around the sun.
We have been meeting on Tuesdays, and our Class is called, Ladies of the Landing, referencing our location in Mays Landing, NJ. I deliberately chose to make it a women's only group because the social dynamics change when men are in the mix. But certainly if you found this blog and you happen to be a man, you are invited to read on.
The class is designed to be only six intense lessons, and while six classes won't make anyone a tarot expert, these classes will get you off onto a good footing. I've been reading, studying, and collecting tarot for forty-three years, and I'm still learning. It kind of becomes an insatiable pursuit.
The classes have been in session for a few months now, and this particular blog entry will contain the content covered in the classes. The decks I reference throughout the discussion are decks that I have shown the class. Until I get around to loading photos of these cards to this blog, it will be necessary for you to do the leg-work to find online references to them. I will update this blog entry until the content of all six classes have been posted, so this blog will be a long one!
I've structured this first class to include a healthy dose of tarot history and I give homework. If you are not willing to put in the work, you are not terribly interested in learning tarot beyond a superficial level. This is true about anything.
Why the history? Well, it's my firm belief that if you don't understand where something is coming from, you'll never understand what it is or how it works.
This class is structured quite differently than a typical tarot class and the following content, particularly the way this class is structured, is my intellectual and copyrighted property. No cutting and pasting and no reprinting of the following material without my own written consent. Please have integrity on this point.
There are three primary tarot traditions, TdM, (Tarot de Marseille) RWS, (Rider Waite Smith) and Thoth. My vision is a class of women helping women and my ulterior motive is to acquaint more women with TdM decks. Most people shy away from TdM because they are intimidated by it and I’d like to remove that barrier for you.
This class is ideally suited for people who want to learn the TdM style of card interpretation.
The one thing all genuine tarot decks have in common, no matter the tradition, is that they consist of 78 cards made up of essentially two categories or five suits. For now we’ll refer to these categories as the major and minor arcanas. If you have a deck with any other amount of cards, you do not have a deck of tarot cards. You may have an oracle deck masquerading as a tarot deck, but it’s not a tarot deck and this class won’t teach you how to read them.
Why listen to me?
I’ve been reading, researching, and collecting tarot decks for forty-three years, I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve probably forgotten more than most people know, and I can save you years of study. As a matter of fact the information you’ll receive from this first class represents years of research, maybe a decade.
I’ll give you good advice.
I sincerely want to keep the art and practice of dignified card readings alive and I want more people to be quality readers, people who take it seriously. Too many people give tarot a bad name.
I’m not one of those people who give tarot a bad name. I’m not exploiting anyone and I’m not asking for anything in return for these free classes. I’m not making any money from this little enterprise and as a matter of fact, it’s costing me money.
Some of you may already have a tarot deck. Ask yourselves these questions:
Which of the primary systems has your deck been inspired by? Is it a pips style deck, (TdM inspired) or is each card fully illustrated as in the tradition of RWS or Thoth?
How did the deck you own come to be in your possession? Sometimes the story is very insightful.
For those of you interested, you may read about my first tarot experiences here.
Class discussion on tarot myths or rules have you picked up on along the way, such as:
Cards in general have an evil reputation. How did that get that reputation? (Abundant with Christian iconography they’re almost a road-map for virtuous living. So how on earth did cards in general get such a bad reputation by the church? My guess has always been that if you’re gambling, you’re less likely to have money to put in the coffers. I've never read this assertion anywhere else. But come on folks, always follow the money.)
What do you know about tarot storage? Are you supposed to wrap it in in silk or velvet, etc (This is entirely a personal preference, but 43 years later as a collector, I can say that I wish I never would have taken my first decks out of their original boxes and tossed them.)
Sleeping with it under your pillow (Another personal preference)
First deck must be gifted (Why surrender the thrill of choosing for yourself with a deck randomly chosen for you by another person? )
Charging and energizing decks, cleansing, etc (Personal preference)
Code of Ethics (Responsible tarot readers have a code of ethics and that will be one of your homework assignments. Here is my code of ethics)
What can tarot do? Is it about fortune telling? Is it a prediction of 'What Will Be', or is it 'Giving your Client a Sense of Empowerment?'
Sometimes a client will ask a question so obvious that you don’t even need to crack open the deck. I mean, it takes no psychic or intuitive talents to know that if a person puts their hand on a lighted stove they’re going to get burned. But sometimes a client can’t see the forest for the trees.
An example of this is a client who states that the guy she’s been dating for ten years and broken up with thirty times, cheats on her, and lives with his mother, but she continues to ask, ‘Is he my soul mate?’
She may already know the answer, but for whatever reasons, she doesn’t trust her own instincts or intuition. Maybe she doesn’t want to take responsibility for ending it. She wants permission and validation to leave, or maybe she wants validation that she’s doing the right thing in staying. Either way, she wants a course of action.
In this way, tarot is less about divination and more about psychological aspects of helping people think things through for themselves.
Tarot provides insight into who they are which is always seductive. People like hearing about themselves.
Here’s an unfair ethical question, unfair because you haven’t had enough experience to consider a proper response:
1) Would you tell the above mentioned client that you don’t need to pop out the tarot cards to answer her question, give her your sage advice to dump his sorry ass, and send her on her merry way?
Or, 2) would you agree to do a paid reading? (It sounds like a cruel thing to do, no? I mean, it’s kind of like taking candy from a baby, right?) BUT...
...She’s probably heard the same sage advice from her mother, best friend, sisters, and aunt Tootsie, and they’ve all dismissed her and told her to drop him. She’s been dismissed a dozen times already before coming to you. This question isn’t going to go away.
3) I would read the cards for her question, but that’s a risky proposition because what if the cards end up suggesting that he’s her perfect match? Then what, do you lie and give her a common sense answer? Is that cool? I mean, our job is to give honest readings, not to make stuff up.
First thing to remember is that tarot is wasted on yes or no questions. It can deliver much better responses, so explain to this client that a tarot reading can offer so much more than a yes or no response, and redirect the question with her permission, A better way to ask her question would be to something like, 'What characteristics does her ideal partner possess and where is she likely to meet him?' etc, then read the cards accurately for her, delivering the message they suggest.
This gives your client hope that there is someone better, It gives her an idea of where she might find a person better suited to her. It will give her a little extra pep in her step. It gives her validation for exiting the relationship or being responsive to the possibility that a better match is possible for her.
When she does keep her eyes open and ends up meeting someone wonderful, it will go down in her mind that the tarot reader's message came through. But was it really a psychic prediction, or was it more a case of giving sound advice that led to a best possible outcome for her? See my drift?
Do you need to be psychic?
It helps to be intuitive and to have psychological awareness as the above situation illustrates, and regular practice most definitely strengthens these qualities in a reader. There’s no doubt that some people are more adept than others. Some readers who aren’t especially intuitive prefer decks with an abundance of symbolism as a prompt to help them make connections between things. Maybe their interest lies in astrology and a deck with astrological symbolism will help them remember the meaning of a card. But those embellishments really aren't necessary once you have a firm grip on what the cards mean. And this course of six lessons with homework, will help you get there.
One thing for certain is that the more you practice, the better you get and the less you need to rely on symbols and memorization. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I love the TdM so much, because once you grasp the concepts, which are uncomplicated, there is nothing to memorize. It’s also very liberating for reasons I’ll demonstrate later in these classes.
The more you make tarot a regular part of your life, the more intuitive and connected you become. In a way, what people label as psychic is really a heightened sense of awareness, making connections, and keen observations that most people don’t make. Tarot is definitely a discipline that heightens your intuitive awareness.
So What is a Tarot Deck?
Tarot is essentially an additional 22 cards added to a regular deck of playing cards.
The evidence reveals that the earliest tarot decks came out of Milan in Northern Italy as early as 1410. Hence, TdM might be said to refer to, 'Tarot de Milan.'
We’ll get back to the history of tarot in a few minutes, but let’s look at the history of a regular pack of cards which comprises more than half of a tarot deck and has a pretty interesting history of its own.
Like today, a regular deck of playing cards from back in the earliest day, was a deck of 52 (or in some cases 56) cards which most certainly had arrived from points east. All the decks had 4 suits, which varied depending on the country it was played in, and 12 court cards. (In the case of a 56 base deck, there was an additional deputy court card which depending on the culture, may or may not have included a queen.)
Playing cards are a small, portable gaming device that can easily be carried around, and in times without television, video games and smart phones, it was a highly entertaining pursuit.
Card playing was probably spread throughout Europe from points east by soldiers. The most up-to-date research suggests playing cards originated out of Persia and spread east to China and west to Europe anytime between 1100s-1200s-1300s
No one knows the identity of the person who invented the concept of playing cards or for sure what they are based upon. That is lost to history for now.
Evidence suggests that the current fifty-two cards could represent fifty-two weeks in a year, the four suits could represent the four seasons of a year, and the twelve regal cards might have represented the twelve months of the year.
It’s uncanny that all these numbers do seem to relate to a yearly cycle, which makes sense when we consider how dependent humans are to understanding the cycles of the earth for our survival.
It’s been further speculated that the four suits might have also represented the primary class distinctions of whatever society it was part of.
One thing we know for sure, the deck relies heavily on numbers and numerology and they are symbolically enriched objects.
If these numbers were legitimately connected to reflect cycles of time on earth, and other features of the human experience, then the number of cards themselves would have been significant.
52, when reduced to 5 + 2 = seven. Did that mean anything?
We know that the #7 has had a sacred significance for eons across world cultures. (Check out my previous blog on this topic.)
The additional number of 21 cards of a tarot deck which essentially make up the 5th suit, is divisible by both 3 and 7, both numbers retaining spiritual significance across many world cultures and belief systems. (Yes, I know I left out the Fool, but he is most accurately a free agent, separate from both the major and minor arcanas.)
The 5th suit of tarot comprising of 21 cards results in 3 tiers of 7.
This is fascinating stuff when you consider that prior to games with cards, there were games with dice. Both card games and dice games are essentially, games of strategy, chance, and luck. (Just like a tarot reading, no?)
The sum of opposite sides of a di is 7 (1+6, 2+5, 3+4) and the total when you add 1+2+3+4+5+6=21.
Speculation could go on forever. It’s the ultimate mystery. But there’s no denying that both the regular deck of cards plus the additional 21 cards of a tarot deck all have numerical significance and similarities. Yes, the fool is an additional card but it is a card that is not part of either the major or minor arcana. He’s a free agent, he’s a wild card outside of any of the five suits. The tarot deck retains the 3-7-21 relationship
So back to tarot
What we do know, based on documented records, was that in 1410, the then Duke Visconti of Milan Italy, commissioned an allegorical trick-taking card game based on the Virtues, Vices, Temptations, and human archetypes of being, the stuff of human consciousness.
It was documented because it was a big sale. This deck was a hand-painted commission between a very wealthy patron and a skilled artist.
Visconti requested a deck that in addition to the then 56 cards of a regular playing deck, an additional 21 cards depicting classical allegorical images from antiquity be included. A wild card was also added. This appears to have been the commission of the first 78 card deck intended to play a card game that we now call tarot.
The four suits of this deck consisted of Chalices or Cups, Swords, batons, and Coins.
The 5th suit of 21 cards consisted of allegorical images from antiquity, such as the virtues, vices, and other states of the human condition. The Fool, was a wild card and most certainly has become the modern day Joker card.
These cards contained no words, just the images of the allegorical representations in the case of the major arcana suit, and for the pips, a quantity of images to represent that suit. In example, 4 cups om a card represented the four of cups, etc.
The word ‘tarot’ is of French origin. However, more accurately the deck originated in Italy was called Tarocchi or Trionfi or some variation of those words.
The French word ‘tarot’ is the word that captured the world’s imagination.
In modern times, tarot is still used as a deck for card playing, as well as for interpretation, and divination, but in Renaissance Italy there is no documented proof that the cards were ever read for divinatory purposes. This makes sense since fortune telling was considered a sin and punishable by certain jail time or execution. It doesn't mean that the cards didn't seduce some individuals to interpret them, only that no one was willing to advertise that they did.
Today, there are tarot game tournaments all around the world in much the same way that there are poker tournaments.
Class shown samples of the Visconti decks.
So Visconti either invented the game of tarocchi or modeled his game after a game he was already made aware of. No one knows for sure. All we know is that the first recorded evidence of the game of tarot is from Milan, in Northern Italy in 1410.
Over the years the Visconti family commissioned several decks that were passed down to each new generation . None of the Visconti decks have survived completely intact, but between all the decks, historians have been able to piece together a general idea of what a completed deck might have looked like. The oldest Visconti deck that has survived is from around 1440-1450ish.
The Visconti family had missing or damaged cards replaced by commissioning the best artists of the day, so the decks weren’t all painted by the same artist. It is also known that the people depicted in their cards were representations of their family members and ancestors. Curiously, none of the Visconti decks included The Devil nor The Tower, although other decks of the era did include those cards. For whatever reasons, the Visconti clan did not include them in their decks. The recreation/restoration decks we currently have of the Visconti decks all include modern day interpretations of how those two cards might have looked. The best ones are based on other Italian decks of that era and not based on the decks that came out of the last century, namely the influence of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
I mentioned earlier that there are two categories in a deck of tarot, the major arcana and the minor arcana. In the game of tarot, the major arcana cards trumped the pip cards, and for this reason they are sometimes referred to as trump cards.
Other Italian decks sometimes referred to as tarot are:
The Minchiatti Tarot, which was played with a 97 card deck and may have been a different card game altogether, or a variation on the game.
Tarot de Mantegna was a deck that wasn’t created by Mantegna and may have not have been a card game at all but may have been a deck used in the capacity of flash cards for youngsters to learn the classics.
Italy from 1440 to 1475, seems to have been a very prolific period for the game of tarot.
Other wealthy patrons commissioned one-of-a-kind decks expressing their personal interests, exalting their family history, or whatever agendas they had, which might explain the variation in number of cards in decks and the cast of characters that appeared on them in Italy of the 1400s.
By 1491, we know that the deck of tarot had become standardized in Italy and consisted of two categories (the major and minor arcanas), and a wild-card for a total of 78 cards. We know this because this is when the Sola Busca Tarot Deck was created.
Essentially, what makes a tarot deck different from a regular deck of playing cards, is a 5th suit and one additional court card.
The earliest Italian trump cards were not numbered or titled, but the Renaissance audience knew their playing order, what the cards represented, and their scoring value.
It is presumed that the four suits might have referenced the four class distinctions of Italian society: The clergy, the military, laborers, and merchants.
In addition to these parameters, a modern reader might have expanded meanings for what these suits represent. The following are general guidelines only and vary according to the reader and or the deck they use:
Cups: Emotional, social, or spiritual issues and sometimes romance, matters of the heart, art, and poetry.
Swords: Military, officers of the law, or positions of legal authority, aggression, quick thinking and communication.
Batons: Blue collar line of work, hands on craftsman, creative energy, hobbies and interests, sports.
Coins: Wealth, educated, cultured, home-life, material aspects of life, of the earth, nature, the better things that money can buy.
All of the above descriptions depend on how they relate to the client's question.
Some readers attribute seasons and times of year to each of the four suits and also times of the year and even cardinal directions. These are usually personal choices by the reader or designated by a deck creator and you’ll make your own designations later in this series. It is unclear if these aspects were ever intended when the deck was originally created, and was probably first considered by the occultists who used the deck for divinatory purposes.
When the game spread to other European countries, the deck became standardized in their cast of characters, (probably by French card makers), the sequential order of the major arcana was established, and titles appeared on the cards, in order to make the game of tarot easier to play.
But during the Renaissance, as I've mentioned, Italian decks didn’t always have the same cast of characters, nor did they have a standard order, which allowed them the flexibility to have game variations.
Only one card remained un-numbered and that was the Fool, and only one card remained untitled and that was Death.
The Fool was a wild card, and seems to be the ancestor of our modern day joker
The first numbered card of the major arcana is the Bateleur, or Magician, which is the least valuable trump card. The World is the highest valued trump card and is #21.
The imagery was the product of an unmistakably Catholic influence and they do have fascinating symbols that capture imagination. The symbols, at the time were deliberate, even if we can no longer immediately identify who they specifically reference or what they meant, but for sure, they were based on a God-fearing Catholic culture. Not everyone could read, but they all knew the stories and moral concepts that these cards represented.
In these original cards out of Italy in the 1400s, there is no reference to Egypt and only the most superficial references to signs of the zodiac, alchemy, or hermeticism as they applied to myth, and no kabalistic references whatsoever.
Primarily, the references were to Christian virtues and general moral concepts.
Aside from the possibility that individuals may have been interpretating the cards as a form of entertainment, there is no written evidence of them being used for divination, but, that doesn’t mean they weren’t used for those purposes, just that there’s no record of it. Certainly, it does not require a huge stretch of the imagination to imagine individuals sitting in posh Italian parlors and trying to make sense of the cards in an interpretative way.
It is easy to understand that these occasions went undocumented, because anything that remotely appeared to be heretical or blasphemous resulted in certain prison time or even execution.
Deck Shown: Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot Deck; The Golden Tarot Visconti Sforza Deck. Art created by Bonifacio Bembo and other artists.
Now for something a little different:
Shown: The Sola Busca Tarot Deck is the oldest, intact deck of tarot and was created in 1491, Italy. I referenced it earlier in my discussion. It is the first known printed deck, (carved in copper, intaglio printing in black and white) and the color applied by hand, either by the same artist responsible for the drawing or by a different artist.
It was a private deck commissioned by the wealthy Sola Busca family and was unknown to exist until 1907 when the Sola Busca family donated the cards to the British Museum.
Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith most definitely saw them. You will be reminded of this tidbit of information a little bit later.
More than one copy was made but it was not made for the general public. The Sola Busca was a wealthy family who could afford to have cards reprinted as they were lost or damaged.
It is constructed like a trick taking card game with the 22 cards and 56 suit cards.
The suits appear to be similar to a regular deck of tarot with swords, chalices, batons, and shields or discs in place of coinage.
But, it differs from other contemporary decks in that there are no religious references in it at all, in fact, the deck seems to reference the rise and fall Holy Roman Empire and is illustrated with military general, Roman heroes and other historical figures. (Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperor Nero. Even the court cards are historic figures.)
Another striking characteristic of this deck is that each pip card, the 1 through 10 of each suit, is fully illustrated and not just decorative.
In 2008, Nadya Chisty-Mujahid (Introduction to Western Esotericism) proposed the idea that the Sola Busca seemed to have characteristics of an initiation into a secret society. She observed that when the 22 cards are arranged in a circle, they seem to suggest a kind of movement from night to day further suggesting a type of illumination. Chisty-Mujahid put out the idea that it was an early form of the European group we now know as the Illuminati.
In Peter Mark Adam’s book, The Game of Saturn, 2017, he asserts that it’s actually a type of magical text book, containing instructions for creating magic spells for a secret sect, intended to bring material gain and worldly power through the use of black magic, human sacrifice, and paganism.
The French Tarot
Once the game of tarot emigrated to France in the 1500s, the game became instantly popular among French circles, and with the development of wood-block printing, card makers in Marseille began a highly lucrative business mass-producing the cards in woodblock prints. This is probably when they were labeled, numbered, and standardized for game play.
Due to the nature of the beast of block printing, artisans hurriedly copied images or completely misunderstood what they were looking at and fudged the artwork.
These inconsistencies sparked the imaginations of occultists who created ‘explanations’ for what these inconsistencies meant. Examples of this for a later class.
Tarot of Nicholas Conver 1760. Not the first TdM out of France and is actually a bit late out of the gate, but it’s particularly beautiful and is very popular due to its gorgeous pale blue color, and quality images.
It is not the oldest Tarot out of Marseille, and truth be told has some anomalies but it has good TdM bones and has a strong fan base.
You can see evidence of the Golden Rule which had been employed by artists in visual arts, sculpture and architecture of the time. For example, the length of most TdM cards is twice as long as its width.
Class shown the Tarot of Marseille Millennium Edition by Wilfred Houdouin.
This is a modern deck created by Wilified Houdouin, who believes he has returned the proportions of this deck back to its intended sacred geometry based on Metaron’s Cube. (Class is shown a diagram of Metaron's Cube.)
It seems highly unlikely that a mass produced deck of cards created in the 1600s exclusively intended for card playing would have aspired to implement the detailed symmetry of Metatron’s Cube.
But having said that, this recreation deck is gorgeous in its perfect symmetry and has many admirers. If any of you have an interest in the old scholl style of Marseille, you might consider this one.
Houdouin believes that it is the perfectly designed deck of Marseille, that was the intended ideal even if none of the historic decks ever achieved it.
One very interesting coincidence of his assertion is that the number of lines in a Metraton’s Cube is 78, the same number in a deck of tarot. And it illustrates how even today, researchers are determined to find an ancient divine connection to the cards.
Metatron is an angel in Judaism yet he’s not listed in either the Old or New Testaments, only the Talmud.
Metatron’s Cube is kind of like a DNA map of the big bang or creation of the cosmos and how everything is connected to everything else. Metatron’s Cube is thought to be a way for the supreme being to pass knowledge on to human beings.
It should be noted that this theory may or may not be true, the evidence for it is thin, but it is the vision of this particular deck creator.
Class shown the Ancient Italian Tarot aka Soprafino. 1830s. This deck is shown out of chronological sequence but intended to illustrate an example of other cards based on TdM style.
1JJ Swiss Tarot Deck, 1860 is also shown out of chronological sequence and based on, but not genuinely a TdM style deck.
Notice the appearance of Jupiter and Junon in place of the Pope and Popess, this is known as the Besancon style.
The 1JJ Swiss is the official deck used in Troccas tournaments (a Swiss variant of the Italian game of tarocchi.) The substitution of Junon and Jupiter was a politically correct adjustment intended not to offend either over-zealous Catholics or over-zealous protestants.
Deck shown: Out of sequence but roughly based on the same pip style of TdM cards, The Tarot of the Witches by Fergus Hall, US Games Systems Inc, 1976.
Originally created for the James Bond Film, Live and Let Die 1973. Not created by a tarot reader.
Shown: Le Tarot Noir created by Matthieu Hackiere 2013.
Notice the Two of Cups taking root, and death and the fool facing one another.
Notice the Fool and The Death card and how they have the opportunity to face one another if they fell in the correct sequence. The Soprafino deck also presents them this way.
The Fool and Death facing one another is rare, and random in decks, but it is my own personal opinion that it had always been the original plan, as they share an interesting relationship. The Fool is the card with no number and Death is a card with no name. The Fool is a liberated individual, and what is more liberating than Death?
Le Tarot Noir is a modern deck, that is not super strict about the Marseille tradition, but it was created by someone who had done their research. If you like this deck and want to buy it you might curse me out a bit because it isn’t readily available in the US unless you buy it on ebay, and it’s likely to cost in excess of $100.00 USD.
Big Names in Cartomancy (Primarily French)
Antoine Court de Gébelin 1725-1784 - A French Mason, he was the first to speculate that tarot originated in Ancient Alexandria, Egypt. He proposed that the cards were a kind of book, (Book of Thoth) and contained all the secrets of the universe.
These ideas arose out of a scientific and increasingly educated and secular population that was learning about the world. He created a tarot for his own purposes but he never published it.
Etteilla 1738-1791 (real name Jean Baptiste Alliette) -Within two years of de Gebelin’s published observations, Etteilla seized a grand financial opportunity by designing the first known deck specifically for occult and divination purposes that he released commercially, AND most significantly, he seized the opportunity to establish cartomancy as a viable profession and established himself as an expert in the field.
Etteilla claimed to have learned the art of divination from a little old Italian lady which suggests that although these big wigs were claiming they knew the secrets of tarot, they inadvertently alert us to the fact that women and others in the general population were already interpreting the cards, and in Italy.
By now, it is known that the nobility were not only playing card games for a hundred and fifty years, but that they were also seeking the services of fortune-tellers.
Think of the French Revolution and how desperate the upper echelon of French society must have been to know their fates and keep their heads.
Two Decks Shown:
1) Etteilla’s deck Grand Etteilla Egyptian Gypsies Tarot Notice the decidedly different ‘feel’ to the cards, the use of key-words, and designated meanings assigned to reversals.
Etteilla spread the idea that the “gypsies” not particularly PC, were people who originated from Egypt and therefore were the carriers of this secret knowledge. We now know that the Romani people were out of India, not Egypt.
2) Etteilla inspired deck The Book of Thoth. Created by followers of Etteilla.
Alphonse Louis Constant better known as Eliphas Levi after he translated his name into Hebrew. He lived from 1810-1875. Eliphas Levi was a French occultist who made his living by giving lessons in the occult and the practice of communicating with the dead.
Levi elaborated on the principals originated by de Gebelin, and further assigned Hebrew letters and numbers to the 22 trump cards of the tarot, because this concept particularly appealed to occultists who further elaborated by adding their own two cents to his system.
Oswald Wirth Tarot Deck. Wirth lived from 1860—1943 and was a Swiss occultist who created a tarot deck consisting of only the twenty-two majors embellished with occult Kabbalistic symbolism on the cards.
His deck was not shown in class and his name is only mentioned to illustrate the wide-spread European interest in occult and tarot.
Hermetic of the Order of the Golden Dawn (English) (HOotGD)
Was an Englishman who may have been a pupil of Eliphas Levi.
MacKenzie gathered all the information compiled by all the guys I just mentioned and intended to introduce this information to the UK, and create a secret society based on all these teachings.
Unfortunately, MacKenzie died before he could accomplish this, but by then his papers were made available to Free Masons who went on to establish the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and based the group’s practice on MacKenzie’s manuscripts.
The three founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were: William Robert Woodman; William Wynn Westcott*; and Samuel Liddell Mathers. All were Freemasons. *Westcott appears to have been the initial driving force behind the establishment of the Golden Dawn.
MacKenzie’s work on tarot provided a floor plan for relating the 22 trump cards in tarot to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, establishing pathways on the tree of Life, and astrological correspondences. He lumped the Fool, the Wild Card into the category of the Major Arcana suit to make a connection between the 22 cards and the Hebrew alphabet. Some, myself included, might consider this association to be a forced one to fit his agenda. However, it makes sense and works for some readers, and so they've adopted this approach to tarot.
Keep in mind:
By the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, scientific study became more mainstream and more secular thinking was acceptable.
Secular orders began to attract people who were looking for something to believe in, but felt limited by the confines of organized religion of the day.
Occultists asserted that tarot was the Book of Thot, and truly predated the bible, and contained the secrets of the universe, why wouldn’t it capture public imagination and be more attractive to non-Christians or people rebelling against the Church?
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was restructured a few times due to a bit of a Machiavellian power struggle which almost certainly involved Aleister Crowley.
Fashionable members from every class of Victorian society belonged including celebrities which included women.
Actresses Sara Allgood, Florence Farr, and authors Bram Stoker, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the Welsh author Arthur Machen, and the English authors Evelyn Underhill and Aleister Crowley were all members of this organization.
A deck was created for use by members for ritual work and meditation but it was never published for the general public because it was a secret society and their deck was intended for their eyes only.
Deck Shown: Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dowson Technically, this deck is shown out of chronological sequence, but strictly adheres to the tarot conceived by the HOotGD. I think it was conceived and created sometime between the 1970s and 1990, long after the Order was dismantled and their secrets made public..
This deck was not used by the original members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but once their papers were released to the public, Dowson was able to create a deck which followed their teachings to the letter of their law.
A E Waite 1857-1942, was an American-born British gentleman and poet who wrote extensively on esotericism, magic, alchemy and kabbalism. His work was well received by his academic peers. He was more or less a main-streamed proponent of the 19th century Spiritualist Movement embraced by polite society.
Waite was a devout Catholic and had distanced himself from the HOofGD, stepping away from ceremonial magick and rituals to pursue a more Christian mysticism. When he separated from the HOofGD, he created his own society order called the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.
In collaboration with Pamela Colman Smith, Waite created the Rider-Waite Tarot.
This deck was somewhat inspired by the Sola Busca Tarot deck from the 1400s. Pamela was also a devout Catholic. Waite gave Colman Smith almost free artistic reign of the creation of the deck, but he did provide her with paramenters. Colman Smith was not as highly ranked in the Order as was Waite, so information given to her by Waite was limited, which is why she had so much personal creative range to interpret his parameters.
Pamela Colman Smith created the deck commissioned by AEW, and did it in about 6 months time and for very little compensation. In fact, she had to badger him to get paid.
Her name did not originally appear on the packaging until the 1960s, under scholar Gertrude Moakely's influence, but PCS was a clever girl and left her initials on each and every card. PCS
The deck renamed the characters to better jibe with the agenda of the order, ie. The High Priestess replaced the Papess and the Hireophant replaced the Pope. The Fortitude card was renamed Strength and switched positions with Justice to make it fit in better with astrology.
Aleister Crowley 1875-1947 was born into a privileged British family and raised in an extremist Christian society called the Exclusive Brethren lead by Preacher Darby. Darby preached the “Rapture,” the belief that people will literally be teleported into heaven during the second coming.
Crowley’s childhood could be described as one of abuse and he established a new kind of anti-Christian religion which was evidently a knee-jerk reaction to his extreme Christian upbringing.
He named his religion Thelema, and assigned himself as the High Priest. Crowley’s religion preached, ‘Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,’ and he has more or less become an icon of rebellion and sexual freedom.
In fact sex was a major feature of his practice of magic.
Crowley had a non-relenting hatred of and competition of AE Waite, seemed to go out of his way to discredit Waite, and created a tarot deck which to outside observers seemed to be intended to overshadow the RWS collaboration. Crawley didn’t seem to have much respect for women, or anyone in particular for that matter.
Together with artist Lady Frieda Harris, they created the Thoth Tarot deck. Crowley was very hands-on with the creation of the deck and insisted Harris recreate some individual cards as many as eight times. The deck took five years to create. Unlike the Ride Waite Smith collaboration, the Crowley Harris deck was never published in either Crowley or Lady Harris’ lifetimes. In fact, it wasn’t published until the 1960s. Interestingly its release coincided with the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Decks Shown: Crowley's Thoth Deck and the Thoth Deck Liber T
Although I presented the history of tarot to you in its correct chronological order it wasn’t until 1966 that the history of tarot was more fully understood.
In 1966, librarian and scholar, Gertrude Moakley was the first researcher to figure out that there was a similarity between the tarot trump cards and the triumphs of Petrarch’s poem of medieval Italy, which in turn was based on decorated parade floats depicting triumphs familiar to a medieval audience.
Take that in for a few moments. Of all that had been written by all the scholarly occultists, Moakely was the first to figure it out. And that wasn’t even until 1966. Btw, she died in obscurity at age 94 in a retirement home and has only recently been acknowledged for her contributions to the research in the history of tarot. She’s a mere footnote in most sources largely unknown except for tarot geeks. She’s also the first person to refer to Waite’s deck as the RWS cards, thereby including Colman Smith’s name on the deck.
Class shown images of medieval floats of a triumph parade
In her 1966 book The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family: An Historical and Iconographic Study, Moakley was the first honest and objective writer to place tarot in its proper medieval Italian context and strip away all the irrelevant occult references. Her interest was in the historic TdM cards, which were the closest to the source. Despite an appreciation for the Waite Smith deck, she basically recognized it as a contaminated deck with misguided symbolism.
Class participants will need to purchase a 78-card tarot deck to continue with this course. Amazon has a huge selection of tarot decks and will deliver them promptly.
If you buy a deck with any other number of cards, you have not bought a tarot deck and this class will not teach you how to use it.
Students will mix their cards thoroughly, lay three in a row, and ask the following question depending on whether you pull your cards in the morning or at night:
“What do I need to know about today/tomorrow?”
Record what the three cards are. Please, without looking up the individual definitions of the card, create a narrative based on the images on the three cards. Notice if the imagery seems to relate to anything going on in your life. Notice the numbers, colors, patterns, suits, and the directions that the images are facing.
Record your impressions of the cards and then later, compare the events of the day with the reading to see how they jibed.
Independent Research for those interested:
*Mary K Greer has provided a simplified set of rules for the rules of play on her website: https://marykgreer.com/2008/10/14/simplified-game-of-tarot/ *
Lessons #2 Comming Soon