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The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn Review

This article was written by Barbara Moore on January 11, 2009
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Summary:The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn is an evocative and provocative deck exploring a new vision of tarot that is fresh and exciting while remaining consistent with the Golden Dawn tradition. This deck would be suitable for someone with an interest in or experience with the Golden Dawn teachings. An ambitious and curious new Tarot reader would be exhilarated (or perhaps overwhelmed) by the possibilities of this deck. Two extra cards are included so that you can use Strength VIII/Justice XI or Justice VIII/Strength XI.

Name of deck: The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN: 0738713872
Artistís name: Patrizio Evangelisti
Brief biography of artists: Patrizio is a comics artist.
Name of accompanying booklet: The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn
Number of pages of booklet: 63, 14 in English
Author of booklet: Giordano Bertia
Brief biography of author: Giordano is an expert in the history of Tarot and all things esoteric. He has designed many decks, has written many books, and serves as a consultant for Lo Scarabeo.
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes
What are the extras in the kit?: A red satin bag for the cards
Magical Uses: Path working, rituals
Reading Uses: General divination
Theme: Golden Dawn
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Somewhat
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: No
Why was deck created?: The artist, Patrizio Evangelisti, had no prior knowledge of any previous Golden Dawn decks. He made this deck based on the direction provided by Giordano Berti, who used (among other sources) a 1904 Golden Dawn document by Soror Quaero Lucem (alias Harriet Miller Davidson). This was done on purpose so that the artist would be free to interpret the descriptions and create a completely fresh deck. This can be seen as an evolution of the Golden Dawn Tarot tradition rather than a derivation.

The Review

The concept of this deck is fascinating. A knowledgeable deck designer and historian, Giordano Berti, used primary source material to create instructions and direction for an artist who has not viewed other versions of Golden Dawn or Golden Dawn-tradition-based decks. This allows for an entirely fresh composition and depiction of these meanings, including illustrated pips. This deck moves away from numeric pips, expanding on the original design (just as Waite and Smith did) to create the first truly all-pictorial Golden Dawn deck What an exciting technique to create a deck that is based on a specific foundation but not derivative. Is this what the tarot world has been waiting for? Is this a step in evolution for tarot, a way to break out of the clone rut? Time and usage by readers will tell.

Patrizio Evangelistiís images are almost all amazing. While not the familiar Rider Waite compositions (they are not meant to be that at all), there is still a fleeting familiarity in the feeling of the images, which makes sense because it is based on the deck that both Waite and Smith used before they co-created what has become the RWS standard. The familiarity may be somehow in the composition or in the reaction evoked. Even better, the familiarity is just enough to set me at ease and allow me to respond to the image. It is not enough to allow my mind to say "oh, the 6 of Pentacles, that meansÖ" without delving into the image to see what nuances Patrizio and Giordano bring to this particular 6 of Pentacles. But I will talk about specific cards momentarily. First, I want to talk about the Court Cards as well as an interesting technique with a few of the Majors.

The Court Cards are appropriately named Princess, Prince, Queen, and Knight and follow the Golden Dawn astrological associations. I have to commend the little bookletís author, Giordano, for including an explanation of the Golden Dawn court names for those who may only be familiar with the Rider Waite names. His reasoning for the composition of the courts is elegant and useful: the Knights (aka Kings in Rider Waite decks) are on horseback and show rapid and energetic influences that soon pass; the Queens are on thrones showing solid, long-lasting influence; the Princes are in chariots representing power contingent on another; and Princesses have nowhere to sit and nothing to ride because their power is illusionary.

This deck includes at least one panoramic and perhaps two that I noticed. There may be more, but I couldnít find them. The little booklet doesnít mention them, so they are like wonderful and intriguing surprises for the alert reader. The Empress, the Emperor, and the Hierophant form one panoramicóthe one I am sure of. If you lay the cards out side-by-side, they form a kind of circular court with the Emperor in the middle, his bare feet resting on a Ram as if it were a pet dog. Behind the figures are windows looking out on a lake and mountains. The sky changes from daylight to sunset. Itís quite a lovely image and is an interesting observation of how these three arcana play off each other.

The other panorama, I am not sure is meant to be one because it doesnít flow quite as elegantly as the aforementioned one. If you lay Strength and the Hermit next to each other, the mountains in the background match up and the foreground looks the same. However, the sky in Strength is daytime and in the Hermit, nighttime. I am going with "it is a panoramic" because I like thinking about how these two cards relate.

There are plenty of individual cards that Iíd love to talk about, but Iíll keep it to just a few. After all, youíll want the joy of discovering most of them yourself. First, a very tender and poignant cardóthe 4 of Swords. Now usually this card shows someone apparently sleeping and we know it to be a momentary rest from troubles. Itís usually very calm, but otherwise devoid of emotion, in my opinion. Here we see a warrior at the dinner table, laying back in his seat, his bare foot and bandaged ankle visible under the tablecloth. His battered armor is on the floor. He looks a bit worried as if thinking about going back to the battle. The poignant touch is his wife. She is sitting next to him, her head on his shoulders, her eyes closed. The LWB (Little White Book) says "rest following a struggle. Comfort following exertion. Relief of anxiety." This image shows all of that so beautifully. What the LWB doesnít say is that the man and woman in the picture know that this is just a temporary respite. At least, thatís how I see it. Another of the Swords, the 9, is also very moving. It shows a bloodied battlefield, bodies and swords strewn here and there, a city burning in the distance. In the foreground, crouching near on of the bodies, a white-haired old woman holds a bloodied sword and weeps. The LWB says "Dejection. Despondency. Depression. Sense of loss." Indeed.

The 9 of Cups. We are used to seeing a smug, self-satisfied man nearly gloating over his good fortune. Okay, maybe we donít all see that. In this deck, though, we see something completely different. A man stands on the bank of a lake in midst of 9 cups overflowing with different beautiful fruits. His eyes and arms are raised heavenward, and he seems to be signing with joy as the rain falls. If we consult the LWB, we find: "Lovableness. Near-perfect happiness. A wish come true."

Finally, for those of you who are never quite satisfied with those 8 wands flying through air and who yearn for a less abstract image, this one should do the trick. A woman is racing up stairs. The stairs rise through the air and are held in place by hands that seem to appear out of the clouds. I love this image. It makes me think that if youíre inspired and moved to do something and act on that, then the universe will put things in place and meet your needs. Itís magic, really. You intend a certain outcome but let the universe do its thing to make it happen. From the beloved LWB: "Rapidity. Impulse. Enthusiasm. Great trust." Great trustÖI do love that.

You may have noticed that I quote the LWB quite a bit. As far as LWBs go, I really like this one. It doesnít feel at all arbitrary in its lists of assigned divinatory meanings. And if they do seem at first glance to be arbitrary or puzzling, just think about it a bit while looking at the images. Doors will open, light bulbs will go on, you will be amazed.

Oh, I canít end this review without a creepy kid report. This near perfect deck is flawed for me: The Fool and the Sun have creepy kids. Is it just me or is anyone else disturbed by bizarre-looking children on Tarot cards?

My love affair with the LWB ends with the spread included: The Method of the Rosacrcoe [Rosy Cross]. Iím sure itís based on very sound principles, but it didnít sing for me. Four of the six positions are "what _________ advises should be overcome." Thatís assuming that every issue has much to overcome. The readings felt awkward and forced. However, using the cards in spreads of my own choosing worked very well. The deck has proved extremely readable, challenging (in a good way), and a delight.

The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn will go in my "use often and learn more about" pile.

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