Updated: Sep 29, 2020
You may have heard the Golden Dawn’s astrological tarot correspondences. But what, or rather, who, is the Golden Dawn?
Before we go any further, I’d like to share three disclaimers.
1. Tarotology strives to be an inclusive community, welcoming individuals of all backgrounds and beliefs.
2. I am not associated with the Golden Dawn, but have received questions about them.
3. At the time of my penning this article, my tarot history is very weak for someone who devours the rich imagery and interpretations behind the cards. To be fair, however, the history of tarot is largely unknown and greatly disputed. Unlike astrology which has surviving primary sources including charts, references in works such as the New Testament (the three Magi following the Star of Bethlehem) and even how-to manuals dating back to the Hellenistic period, there are countless stories and very little definitive proof championing one tarot origin theory over others. Rather than focus on its past and the baggage associated with tarot, I prefer to focus on the future possibilities of tarot as a tool for personal development, self-care and a modality for therapy and reconnecting with our innate intuition.
Now that that’s out of the way….
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or more simply, the Golden Dawn) was a secret society devoted to the study of theurgy, Neoplatonism, Enochian magic and tools for divination, including the tarot. The order was founded and heavily influenced by the Freemasons, and its hierarchy reflects this.
While this magical order was only active from 1888 to 1908, it is from them that we receive a lot of the present day ideas and traditions surrounding esoteric philosophy – including the Hermetic Qabalah, insights into the four elements, tarot, astrology and geomancy, as well as originating the idea of “initiation” into the study of practical magic. Quite a few well-known individuals from the Victorian era belonged to its ranks, including W.B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and A.E. Waite of Rider-Waite fame.
The Golden Dawn linked together several principles of traditional astrology to the tarot cards. Many of their teachings are recorded in the Cipher Manuscripts, a collection written in English using a tabula recta known as the Trithemius cipher. It is from these Golden Dawn connections and associations that we can credit the emergence of tarot decks depicting astrological influences or correspondences, such as the inclusion of glyphs and symbols representing the planets or zodiac signs on major arcana cards. As A.E. Waite was a member, and given the popularity of the deck in the present day, it is not surprising that many Golden Dawn influences persist to this day in tarotology and other metaphysical studies.
I hope that you learned something about the Golden Dawn and that this article perhaps inspires you to delve deeper into topics like metaphysics, theology and cosmology, or even the history of tarot.
Speaking of learning more about tarot, the five-class Foundations of Tarot weekly series begins on September 30th! Feel free to sign up for an individual class on a topic that you'd like to brush up on or to simply dip your toe in the water, or you can dive right in and register for the full series here.
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In peace & love, Erin