Cards - The Golden Dawn Tarot (U.S. Games Systems)

The Golden Dawn tarot. U.S. Games Systems, USA. Full divinatory tarot deck, Mediterranean suited, 79 single-headed cards + divinatory-meanings booklet.

Deck make-up:
Trumps: 0-21.
Pentacles (i.e. coins), wands (i.e. clubs), cups, swords: A, 2-10, princess, prince, queen, king.
Extras: title card.

Israel Regardie (born 1907) was a member of an esoteric group called Stella Matutina, a descendent outfit of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Feeling the group's procedures were wrongly limited to such a small set of people and that, over time, the order's secrets could even be lost, in 1935 he broke his oath and started publishing the group's secret internal documents. One of these documents was Book T (subtitled A Description of the Cards of the Tarot with their Attributions; Including a Method of Divination by Their Use) and dealt with the Golden Dawn's thinking behind tarot. Book T had been anonymously written, in the main, by Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers, the head of the Golden Dawn.

Though Mathers and the Golden Dawn had one or two internal specimen decks (probably illustrated by Mathers' wife, Moina), the usual procedure for Golden Dawn's members was to make and colour their own tarot deck using the instructions contained in Book T.

For example, the instructions given for the eight of pentacles are: "A WHITE Radiating Angelic Hand, issuing from a cloud, and grasping a branch of a rose tree, with four white roses thereon, which touch only the four lowermost Pentacles. No rosebuds even, but only leaves, touch the four uppermost disks. All the Pentacles are similar to that of the Ace, but without the Maltese cross and wings. They are arranged like the geomantic figure Populus:

      ✪       ✪
      ✪       ✪
      ✪       ✪
      ✪       ✪

Above and below them are the symbols Sun and Virgo for the Decan."

In 1978, Regardie decided to supervise the creation of a tarot deck following closely to the recipes outlined in Book T. The illustrator of the cards was Robert Wang, a medievalist art-historian-cum-artist. The deck followed the Book T specifications far more closely than earlier decks overseen by members of the Golden Dawn, such as Arthur Waite's and Aleister Crowley's. Wang: "We submit that this deck is the only published deck which includes all of the correct attributions of a secret oral tradition, and that these materials have been passed down for centuries. We believe that the Golden Dawn Tarot is the result of Macgregor Mathers' intensive research into the history of Tarot, correlated with, and affirmed by, his contacts with this secret oral tradition."

There are two main criticisms of the resultant deck. Firstly, that the imagery is rather simplistic and child-like; this fact causing a falling out between Wang and Regardie. Wang said later, in his autobiography: "...it took me quite some time to realize that the real reason for my rift with Regardie was that I had done a terrible job of painting the Golden Dawn Tarot cards. I did my best at the time, but whenever I look at these badly drawn, strange little wooden figures I cringe in embarrassment. It's no wonder that Regardie didn't want to talk to me after the cards were published."

The second problem for the purists is that the pictures on the cards do not follow the recommended colour scheme of the Golden Dawn. This problem inspired at least one notable follow-up deck, The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot (aka The Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot), by Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, which again was approved by Regardie.

Despite these issues, the deck has stayed in print for over forty years, and remains very popular. An accompanying book An Introduction To The Golden Dawn Tarot by Wang was also published; this included the original Book T specifications.

Click on any card to explore the design.

(Comments or corrections, please e-mail: Click to see e-mail address.)

Trumps

Pentacles (i.e. coins)

Wands (i.e. clubs)

Cups

Swords

Extras

The title card on the left shows the Qabalah Tree of Life.



The deck on this page is one masterminded by a Golden Dawn (or its offshoots) member, or designed to adhere to their concepts of tarot. A list of other major such decks is given below:

Deck Author/s Artist/s (if diff.) Release year "Official" guide book Notes
Marseilles tarot / Tarot de Marseille unknown various 15th century The Tarot: Its Occult Signification, Use In Fortune-Telling, And Method Of Play, Etc. The booklet cited (written in 1888 by Samuel L MacGregor Mathers of the Golden Dawn) gives "official" Golden Dawn divinatory meanings when using the Marseilles tarot (referred to at that time as the Italian tarot).
The Rider-Waite[-Smith] Tarot Arthur Edward Waite Pamela Colman Smith 1909 The [Pictorial] Key To The Tarot
Builders Of The Adytum (BOTA) Tarot Paul Foster Case Jessie Burns Parke 1931 Highlights Of Tarot or The Tarot: A Key To The Wisdom Of The Ages [NB covers trumps only] Revised version of Rider-Waite with some "corrected" trumps, and simple pip cards. Trumps also issued in colour form; full deck is b&w.
Thoth Tarot Deck Alistair Crowley Lady Frieda Harris 1972 (painted 1938-43) The Book Of Thoth (Egyptian Tarot): A Short Essay On The Tarot Of The Egyptians
The Golden Dawn Tarot (aka The Whare Ra deck) Israel Regardie Robert Wang 1978 An Introduction To The Golden Dawn Tarot
The Hermetic Tarot Godfrey Dowson 1979 Black & white.
Golden Dawn Magical Tarot (aka The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot) Chic Cicero & Sandra Tabatha Cicero (with Israel Regardie) 1991 Golden Dawn Magical Tarot / The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot "Ritual" was the earlier name. Do not confuse this deck with the one below – they are different!
The Magical Tarot Of The Golden Dawn Pat Zalewski & Chris Zalewski Skip Dudchous & David Sledzinski 2022 The Magical Tarot Of The Golden Dawn: Revised Ed. Earlier editions had art by Jonathon A Pierce instead. This deck is not to be confused with the similarly named deck above!

Links to other full tarot and divinatory decks

Ancient Italian Tarot / Tarocchino Milanese (Lo Scarabeo)

Tarot: Spécial Cercle / Tarot Nouveau / Tarot A Jouer / Jeu De Tarot / Bourgeois Tarot (Grimaud)

Grand Jeu De Mlle Lenormand (Grimaud)

(Petit) Lenormand / "Blue Owl" Lenormand (AGM-Urania)

Grand Etteilla (Tarots Egyptiens / Egyptian gypsies tarot) (Grimaud)

Tarot De Marseilles (Conver-Camoin)

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (Rider)

Sola-Busca Tarot (privately commissioned deck)

Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck (AGM-Urania)

The Urban Tarot (U.S. Games Systems)

Minchiate Fiorentine (Baragioli)

Le Tarot Astrologique / The Astrological Tarot (Grimaud)

Learning Tarot Cards (Witchy Cauldron)

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