Learning and living the Golden Dawn tradition is not just about intellectual studies and magical work. It is also about aesthetics and the art of magical images and symbols. The Golden Dawn tradition is brimmed with artistic images; it draws upon a wonderful array of symbolical images, geometric patterns, hermetic symbols, and colours and blends them into a coherent whole, which is utilized by the initiate in magic and meditation. This was one of the major reasons I chosed to work with the Golden Dawn tradition before all others; I was attracted to the sheer beauty of it.
One such beatuiful imagery, the most noble of the Golden Dawn system of Magic, is the series of pictures known as Tarot or The Book of Tokens. In the Rosicrucian Inner Order, the Ordo Rosæ Rubeæ et Aureæ Crucis or R.R. et A.C., these 78 cards are referred to as the Book T, alluding to the sentence in the Fama Fraternitatis of 1614 and the description of the opening of the Tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz:
Now as yet we had not seen the dead body of our careful and wise father, we therfore removed the Altar aside, there we lifted up a strong plate of brass, and found a fair and worthy body, whole and unconsumed, as the same is here lively counterfeited, with all the Ornaments and Attires; in his hand he held a parchment book, called T. the which next to the Bible, is our greatest treasure, which ought to be delivered to the censure of the world.In the past, initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn wasn’t given the full occult significance of the Minor and Major Arcanas of the Tarot until entering the Adeptus Minor 5°=6° Grade. But they were presented with some basic correspondences of the 22 Keys of the Major Arcana and also learned basic knowledge about the composition of the Minor Arcana, such as the existence of the Court Cards and Four Suits, and their relative correspondences to the Elements and the Four Worlds of the Qabalah, etc. However they were not presented to the images of the card themselves, with the exception of the Keys corresponding to the Paths leading to the Elemental Grades.
Each of the Elemental Grades corresponds with the four lowest Sephiroth on the Tree of Life, viz. Earth and 1°=10° to Malkuth, Air and 2°=9° to Yesod, Water and 3°=8° to Hod, and Fire and 4°=7° to Netzach. Now, according to the elaborate system of the Qabalah and the Tarot of the Golden Dawn, each of the 10 Sephiroth are interconnected together with 22 Paths, in all making the 32 Paths of Wisdom. While the Sephiroth themselves correspond with the Minor Arcana of the Four Suits, the 22 Paths connecting them are comprised of the 22 Keys. Thus each Ceremony of the Elemental Grades in the Outer Order contains distinct rituals corresponding to the Sephirah itself and to each of the Paths leading thereto. During each of these Rituals of the Paths the candidate is presented to the picture of the Tarot Key corresponding to that Path, and a brief explanation of the imagery is given.
When I went throught the Outer Order Elemental Grades, between 1995 and 1998, to better incorporate the imagery and symbols of the Golden Dawn I set out to construct and paint the most essential of them, such as the Tarot Keys. Now, over the years I have not only broadened and deepened my understanding of these Keys but also gained access to original documentation of how to paint them correctly.
The Tarot has for a long time been one of the most guarded secrets of the Golden Dawn. Compared to the situation as it stands today, with publications such as that of the Whare Ra Tarot deck, called The Classical Golden Dawn Tarot painted by Richard Dudschus, I only had very scarce information about how to design and paint them correctly. Basically I drew my inspiration from The Golden Dawn Tarot Deck by Robert Wang, The Book of Thoth Deck by Aleister Crowley, and whatever I had learned through my studies of the B.O.T.A. (i.e. Builders of the Adytum) system of Paul Foster Case, a former Adept of the Golden Dawn. To this I blended my own interpretation of how to implement the colour schemes according to the traditional Four Scales of the Golden Dawn, inspired by the small but important text by Soror Q.L. called The Tarot Trumphs (as published by Israel Regardie in his The Golden Dawn).
So in retrospect I wouldn’t had designed and painted some of the cards, especially the earliest of them, in the same manner today as I did originally more than a decade ago, and hence I don’t use some of them anymore in my personal work. For this reason alone I have decided to publish these wanting versions here on my blog as a gift in the hope that they somehow will inspire other students of the Golden Dawn to do the artwork themselves. I strongly recommend Outer Order initiates to go about this the way that I did it, i.e. to paint the Tarot Keys when they encounter them during the initiatory process and to use them as meditation tools. My other intention to provide these images here is also to have readers understand some of the richness of the artstic and aesthetic aspect of the Golden Dawn tradition, and to emphasize the importance of utilizing the inherent pontecy of these images in one’s personal work.
I will only publish two of these Keys here on my blog, as they don’t reveal much at all of the secret designs of the Keys according to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Regarding the use and application of colours, this is the fruits of my own personal research. It is however, in my opinion, soundly based on traditional Golden Dawn correspondences and its philosophy of the Tarot.
The Key in question which I will present here is the one commonly known as The Universe, which is the last of the series of the 22 Keys, numbered as XXI (21), and the very first encountered by the initiate in the Ritual of the 32st Path of the Theoricus 2°=9° Ceremony. Its esoteric title is “The Great One of the Night of Time”, and it corresponds to the Hebrew letter Tav, and as such it is an expression of the 32nd Path of Wisdom according to Sepher Yetzirah, which reads:
[It] is called the Administrative Intelligence and it is so called because it directeth and associateth in all their operations the Seven Planets, even all of them in their own due courses.This path, connecting the Sephiroth Malkuth and Yesod at the base of the Tree of Life, is attributed to the Planet of Saturn and to the Element of Earth. The rest is self-explanatory by watching the Key itself, but to aid the reader in his or her meditation I will quote the passage regarding this Key extracted from the Theoricus Ceremony:
Within the oval formed of the 72 circles is a female figure, nude save for a scarf which floats around her. She is crowned with the lunar crescent of Isis, and holds in each hand a wand, her legs form a cross. She is the Bride of the Apocalypse, the Qabalistic Queen of the Canticles, the Egyptian Isis of Nature now shown partly unveiled, the Great Feminine Kerubic Angel Sandalphon on the left hand of the Mercy Seat of the Ark. The two wands are the directing forces of the Positive and Negative currents. The Seven pointed Star or Heptagram alludes to the Seven Palaces of Assiah, the crossed legs to the Symbol of the Four Letters of the Name. The surmounting Crescent receives the Influences alike of Geburah and of Gedulah. She is the synthesis of the 32nd Path uniting Malkuth with Yesod. The oval of 72 small circles is the Schem-hamphorasch, or the 72 fold Name of the Deity. The 12 larger circles form the Zodiac. At the angles are the four Kerubim, which are the vivified Powers of the Letters of the Name Tetragramaton operating in the elements.The image above represents my very first venture into painting my own Tarot deck, not counting the colouring of the B.O.T.A. deck as part of my studies in that particular organization. According to my magical diary I started to do my initial sketch on August 1, 1996, and finished painting the Key on November 22, almost three months later. It was painted on a panel of 24 x 33 cm in size, using acrylic colours.