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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Review of the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot

This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on September 05, 2008
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Summary: A brilliant deck that is ideal for practitioners of ceremonial magick and for those following the system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Will also interest those researching the link between earlier traditional Tarot decks and the Rider-Waite-Smith version. Will help people become familiar with Kabalistic correspondences and experience a little bit of the Golden Dawn right in their hands. The tradition-based lack of a pictorial Minor Arcana may not appeal to those who require RWS-style assistance.

Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN: 1-56718-125-2
Creators names: Sandra Tabatha Cicero and Chic Cicero
Artist’s name: Sandra Tabatha Cicero
Brief biography of artist(s): Sandra Tabatha Cicero is a Senior Adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and holds a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is the co-author of numerous books on magick and the Golden Dawn system, as well as the creator of The Babylonian Tarot.
Name of accompanying book/booklet:Golden Dawn Magical Tarot
Number of pages of book: 192
Author(s) of book/booklet: Sandra Tabatha Cicero and Chic Cicero
Brief biography of author(s): Chic and Sandra Tabatha Cicero are Senior Adepts of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. They share an enthusiasm for the esoteric arts. They live in Florida with their cat, Lealah, where they work and practice magic. Chic was born in Buffalo, New York, and helped Israel Regardie resurrect a legitimate branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the early 1980s.
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes, it is in a mini-kit that has the boxed deck and a book formatted to the size of the boxed deck contained in a slipcase. This is much better than the usual "little white book" that comes with many Tarot deck and offers much more information (and larger type!).
Magical Uses: Virtually unlimited. It is ideal for use in initiations (and includes an extra card used in Golden Dawn initiations). The Ciceros wrote a book Tarot Talismans, that shows how to use the Tarot to create talismans and amulets, invoke angels, and more. The deck is also good for astral projection, meditation, basic rituals such as banishings, dreamwork, and other magical purposes.
Reading Uses: Again, virtually unlimited. Probably better for more in-depth readings (such as the Golden Dawn divination technique) rather than simple superficial questions, but can be used questions on travel, emotions, finances, the future, etc.
Artistic Style: Advanced primitive with brilliant colors
Original Medium: Oil
Theme: Based on earlier decks and filtered through the minds of the Golden Dawn adepts.
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: It’s more accurate to ask if the RWS follows the Golden Dawn standard. Both Waite and Smith were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Both created their own copies of the Golden Dawn Tarot deck. Both used the Golden Dawn deck for divinations, rituals, and magick.

In the book Waite published to accompany the deck he and Smith created he wrote, "…neither in root-matter nor in development has more been put into writing, so that much will remain to be said after any pretended unveiling. The guardians of certain temples of initiation who keep watch over mysteries of this order have therefore no cause for alarm." In other words, Waite was not revealing all of the secrets of the Tarot that he knew and was keeping the vows he had taken not to reveal the secrets the Golden Dawn Order.

While that was ethical at that time, the ship of Golden Dawn secrecy has sailed. The secrets have been revealed. They remain mysteries only because to access the power of the secrets requires dedication, study and practice, and few people are willing to do that. So the revelation of the Golden Dawn’s secrets by Crowley, Regardie, King, Zalewski, Torrens, et al, have left little to the imagination in theory. It is in practice where the real secrets are revealed.

A major difference between this deck and the RWS deck consists of Waite’s renaming of the court cards and redesigning them (with Smith) so that they are patriarchal. They have Page, Knight, Queen and King, one female unbalanced with three males. This deck, following the Golden Dawn tradition of balance, uses Princess, Prince, Queen and King, keeping the natural male-female balance. This also follows the Kabalistic focus of the holy name of God, the Tetragrammaton. This name has four letters that correspond to the four elements, the four suits of the Tarot, and the female, male, female, male structure of the court cards.

As with other pre-R-W-S decks (and many post-R-W-S decks), the Minor Arcana are more numerical than pictorial.

Does it have extra cards?: Yes, it has one extra card, a second version of the Temperance card. This is used in Golden Dawn initiation rituals and one can be discarded for readings.
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: Yes, the "World" card is named "The Universe."
Why was deck created?: I was fortunate in knowing Israel Regardie to a small degree. The first deck giving the Golden Dawn imagery was by a man named Wang. According to Regardie, he (Regardie) had quickly sketched out the cards of the deck (his original deck had been stolen) and given his sketches to Wang, expecting Wang to redraw them in greater detail and accuracy. Instead, Regardie claimed Wang simply colored the simplistic designs that had been provided. Regardie told me he was very dissatisfied with Wang’s work.

Still, it was the only deck of its kind that was available. I trained with it and used it for years. I still have my original Wang deck, now quite banged up and dirty from use. I would add that Wang’s book, The Qabalistic Tarot, is brilliant, and deserves to be in the library of every magician and Tarot worker.

The Ciceros were close friends of Regardie. Sandra Cicero made some designs for a true Golden Dawn Tarot and they showed them to Regardie. He was so impressed that he commissioned her to do the entire deck. Unfortunately, ten days later, Regardie suddenly died. It took four more years to complete this deck, designed to "fulfill the traditional symbolic and ritual requirements of the Golden Dawn system of magic."


It would seem that many people seem to think that the Tarot started and ends with the RWS design, and that everything else should simply be different artistic styles of the same thing. In fact, however, the Tarot existed for hundreds of years before Waite and Smith were born. Numerous styles and numbers of cards developed over the decades. Although Eliphas Levi noted the de facto link between the Major Arcana cards and the paths on the Kabalistic Tree of Life, few practitioners actually focused on that or expanded upon it.

The genius of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, in my opinion, was not their creation of systems, but rather their synthesis of numerous and widely varying systems into a complex but coherent whole. It literally took years to study the system and longer to master it. Part of the curriculum included having each person draw their own copy of the Tarot based upon the GD’s original compiled designs, making it the first Tarot to truly unite the Tarot with the Kabalah, astrology, magick, and, of course, divination. The act of personal creation helped encourage visualization and creativity, two skills that are often lost in our pre-fabricated world.

The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot is unique in that it was designed by an adept of the Golden Dawn Order and encouraged by the best known adept of the Golden Dawn, Israel Regardie. It also has the advantage of being created by a woman who was trained in fine art. The result is one of the most important and remarkable decks ever created. If I sound like I really like this deck, it’s only fair for me to say that this is the deck I usually work with for doing readings, meditation, and magick.

The first thing most people first coming to this deck will notice is that the Minor Arcana is not pictorial and has extremely limited symbolism. This was the design of the original Golden Dawn deck, and if you are fixated on the Waite version, you might not like this one. At the bottom of each card is a simple meaning of the card, often just one word, but the cards also have the astrological signs associated with the card. This can give you more information about the deck but unless you’re familiar with astrology, it means you need to do a bit of study, something often foreign in a world where so-called restaurants have pictures on the menu rather than words.

Note that I said a "bit" of study. The "mini-kit" this comes in features a surprisingly large book (although not full size) that gives all of the information you need to do readings. Also included in the book is an introduction to the Golden Dawn, the Tarot, and the Kabalah. This is great introductory information, and even experienced Tarot practitioners who have not studied these fields will find valuable concepts here.

The book also includes a 10-card spread (not the Celtic Cross), a 15-card spread, and the amazing Golden Dawn spread itself. This is perhaps the most complete, most thorough, and most accurate spread ever created (it’s actually several spreads) and, again, requires some study to understand the system. Further, the more you know about the Kabalah and astrology, the better your readings will be. In short, to really get to know this deck will start you on an entirely new direction of study (if you haven’t covered those areas already).

There are also some unique aspects to divination that are not covered in other books or reading methods. For example, what is the meaning of lots of cards of the same number? Of the same suit? A majority of Major Arcana cards? This information is fully laid out in this book. There’s also information on how to judge time, one of the most difficult aspects of any Tarot reading.

Unlike other decks, the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot is specifically designed for working magick. One of the features of the deck is the specific color design. It uses "flashing colors" that can result in altered states of consciousness simply by looking at them (really). ASCs are important for magical rituals and can really help in astral project. No other deck I know of uses color in this way.

The book that comes with this set includes a basic introduction to ceremonial magick, including banishing rituals, a Tarot consecration ritual, a meditation, skrying and pathworking. Other decks may be used for these purposes. The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot is designed for these purposes as well as for divination.

The symbolism on the Major Arcana cards is firmly based on previous decks but is filtered through the Golden Dawn’s syncretism. Some cards are dramatically different. The Fool shows an innocent infant controlling a dangerous wolf. The Magician shows waves of energy sweeping from the mage’s hands, with traditional Golden Dawn tools on a transparent altar. The Lovers shows Perseus fighting a multi-headed dragon to rescue Andromeda who is bound to a rock. The Chariot explodes with dynamic movement, something sorely lost in Smith’s staid vision.

As with all art, either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. The style seems to be a more advanced primitive style, simple just as our deepest emotions are simple and powerful. One aspect of this deck that really strikes is the way the eyes of the characters are represented. The eyes! No matter the character, the eyes are the same. Simple, almond shaped, and they stare right to and through your soul. There is an uncanny depth to them that asks—demands!—that you seek ever more in the cards…and more in yourself.

There are two versions of the Temperance card in this deck. This is specifically for use in a Golden Dawn initiation. No other deck I know of offers both of these cards. By the way, with today’s technology I suggest scanning and printing out the image in a muchlarger size. Trying to impress someone psychologically and psychically isn’t as effective when you point out a tiny symbol as opposed to a large image.

To sum up, this is a great deck for doing divinations if you’re not addicted to pictures on the Minor Arcana cards. It’s great for doing magickal, ritual, and initiatory work. If you’re following the Golden Dawn system, this is the best current deck to use. It’s also a valuable item for those looking at the transition between traditional Tarot and the RWS-style Tarot. It’s the deck that was used by Waite and Smith. The book includes a great introduction to ceremonial magick as well as the Tarot. However, to really work with this deck requires some study. If you do not wish to do such study and prefer to only give intuitive readings based on pictures, or if you are not attracted to the deep, rich colors or style of the art, you might prefer another deck.

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