Tag Archives: A E Waite

Do you prefer The Hermetic Tarot over the Rider Waite tarot? – Quora

The Hermetic Tarot

The Rider Waite Tarot Deck

(A2A) I own both decks: for my own particular reasons I prefer using the Hermetic Tarot over Rider-Waite, and usually end up recommending it to others (I even bought a copy of the Hermetic Tarot as a Christmas present for my girlfriend!)

Because I am keenly interested in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Hermetic Tarot is my go-to deck, because it is an actual GD deck. It closely follows the designs specified in Book T, which is the Golden Dawn’s inner order teachings on the Tarot; it includes the astrological attributions of all 78 cards; and each card features divine and angelic Hebrew names which reflects the Qabalistic associations thereof. It is thus an ideal deck to complement Golden Dawn teachings.

The Rider-Waite deck, whilst not completely incompatible with the Golden Dawn, is not GD-specific, despite the fact that A E Waite and Pixie Coleman-Smith were both (at one time) GD members. The Rider-Waite deck is more generic in outlook. It is thus perfectly suitable for people who just want to use it for Tarot divination: the fact that it is fully illustrated in colour makes it especially suitable for giving readings to clients. So although I prefer the Hermetic Tarot, that’s not to say the Rider-Waite deck is not a good deck in its own right.


Source: Alex Sumner’s answer to Do you prefer The Hermetic Tarot over the Rider Waite tarot? – Quora

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David Bowie: Closet Occultist!

Q: “So were you involved in actual devil worship?”
A: “Not devil worship, no, it was pure straightforward, old-fashioned magic.”
Q: “The Aleister Crowley variety?”
A: “No, I always thought Crowley was a charlatan. But there was a guy called [Arthur] Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called ‘Psychic Self-Defense‘. You had to run around the room getting bits of string and old crayons and draw funny things on the wall, and I took it all most seriously, ha ha ha ! I drew gateways into different dimensions, and I’m quite sure that, for myself, I really walked into other worlds. I drew things on walls and just walked through them, and saw what was on the other side!”

David Bowie, interviewed in NME, 1997

So the news this week has been dominated by the passing of David Bowie, and when I consider how much attention was paid to the untimely death of Freddie Mercury – the last pop star of comparable status to leave us – it is almost certain that this event will remain in public consciousness for years to come. Anywho: amongst the magical community, it has been widely noted that Bowie was interested in the occult, as witness his interview with NME quoted at the top of this page, and the back cover over the Station to Station LP, below left:

Photo used for the back cover of Station To Station (1976)

Photo used for the back cover of Station To Station (1976)

Video for Lazarus (2015)

Video for Lazarus (2015)

NB: given the amount of Charlie he was packing away at the time, his precise allegiance might well be pinned to the Holy Order of the Sun! Interestingly, Bowie resurrected the costume covered with, ahem, “white lines,” for his almost-certainly-not final music video “Lazarus” (above right). Might not this video be suggesting that David Bowie did not just keep this costume but this persona hanging up in the closet all this time?

But I digress.

There is an image in the Lazarus video on which a number of bloggers have already commented: where Bowie sits frantically writing at a desk, on which rests a skull. Now the obvious interpretation is that it was a reference to Bowie’s own impending mortality, but when I saw it, it stirred the Sumner Family Brain Cell to life, and got me thinking, where have I seen that before?


See: 3minutes 38seconds.

The answer is: it comes from the first degree (Apprentice) ritual of the Ancient & Primitive Rite of Memphis and Misraim – a particularly esoteric form of Freemasonry. Assuming the candidate for initiation passes the ballot, just before the ceremony of his initiation,

…[t]he Expert (i.e. Junior Deacon) then takes possession of the Candidate in the Parvis, carefully binds his eyes and leads him to the Chamber of Reflection. He has him sit before a table, sparingly furnished with a real human Skull; a lit wax Candle, half-consumed; a sheet of white paper, pen and ink. The seat is a stool without a back. He lights a little Myrrh, the traditional funereal perfume, in a corner of the room, in a Censer containing lit coals.

Expert: – Sir, alone, left to yourself, before an image of termination of terrestrial Life, I invite you to write your Philosophical Testament.

The “Philosophical Testament” consists of the candidate’s reflections on his duties to God, the World, and himself: but more especially, like its name suggests, how the candidate would answer these questions if his words were the final legacy which he leaves on Earth. However, the code-word “philosophical” indicates that one is meant to interpret it alchemically. In other words, Death is not the end for the candidate – i.e. for David Bowie – but is the first step on the path to spiritual transmutation.

So, there you have it – Bowie indulging in esoteric symbolism right up until the last!

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World Tarot Day

Today is World Tarot Day, and so I thought I (as a Tarot reader myself) would contribute by reviewing my own favourite Tarot decks.

Golden Dawn – Robert Wang

Golden Dawn Deck – artwork by Robert Wang

The Golden Dawn was my entry into occultism generally, and consequently the Tarot as well. Hence Robert Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot was the first deck I ever bought: it was the one on which I learnt. The trumps struck me as the most impressive, although I confess I thought the art-work was a bit ordinary. Nevertheless this is still my default deck today, the one which I most use for doing readings. I have to admit though that if I were buying a Golden Dawn deck for the first time today, I would probably get Tabatha Cicero’s versioninstead, mainly because the art-work is livelier.

Crowley-Thoth

Crowley-Thoth deck. Designed by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris.

Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck is one of a number of decks which I keep at home mainly for the sake of comparison. One has to remember that for 19 years from 1969 until 1988, this was the closest thing to a Golden Dawn type deck that was publicly available. In many ways this would be an ideal deck, due to its bold artwork courtesy of Lady Frieda Harris and its wealth of symbolism which is all authentic … from a Thelemic point of view. Essentially Crowley took the GD symbolism, right down to the particular colours appropriate to each card – and augmented it with ideas derived from his own visionary work, e.g The Book of the Law and The Vision and The Voice. Hence, whilst it is mostly GD-ish, and undoubtedly superb for actual Thelemites, a GD purist would need to be wary of this. (Incidentally, a good book to read about this deck is Lon Milo Duquette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot).

Golden Dawn Enochian Skrying Tarot

Golden Dawn Enochian Skrying Tarot

This is not really a Tarot deck per se, more a Cartomancy deck. It is not based upon the traditional Tarot format at all: instead, each card represents a portion of the Enochian Watchtowers and the Tablet of Union. Meanwhile, the reverse of each card instead of having a uniform backing has elemental symbolism (corresponding to the Enochian associations on the obverse side) which can be used in skrying. The meanings of the individual cards take a bit of getting used to, although there is a logic to the general scheme which is based on GD teachings.

This has given me an idea – about how an Adept might incorporate this into ceremonial magick. When performing a divination with this deck, typically there will be one card which points to the solution of a given problem. Because each card represents a portion of the Enochian Watchtowers, the “solution-card” will therefore represent a particular Enochian angel – a being who can be evoked by constructing a magical ceremony with the appropriate symbolism.

Rider Waite

Rider Waite – designed by A E Waite, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith

Given that the Rider Waite deck is the world’s most popular version, I suppose that I could hardly call myself a tarot connoisseur unless I actually had a copy. Undoubtedly Pamela Coleman-Smith’s artwork must be a big reason for its popularity – especially the fact that each of the Minor Arcana is individually illustrated.

The Mythic Tarot

The Mythic Tarot

I decided to get hold of this after seeing a fellow Tarot reader use this. What I find most appealing is that the creators of this deck have based the artwork on Greek mythology. Hence: the suit of Cups is the story of Cupid and Psyche; Wands is the story of Jason and the Argonauts; whilst the characters in the Major Arcana are identified as Greek gods and goddesses. This is a visually appealing deck because, like the Rider Waite one, all 78 cards are fully illustrated. Also it is refreshing to see a deck which goes with an original idea for a change which comes off successfully.

Builders of the Adytum

The BOTA deck.

Of all the Tarot decks which are available, the ones that particularly interest me are those created by Occultists – as opposed to the many which appear to be novelty decks, or created by people with only a superficial understanding of the subject. Hence my reason for being drawn to not only the Golden Dawn, but also the Crowley Thoth, Rider Waite, etc decks. I suppose it was thus inevitable that I would seek out the Builders of the Adytum, given that it was designed by not only an occultist but by an actual Tarot scholar, Paul Foster Case. The thing about the BOTA deck is that it comes uncoloured: the point being that as a student learns about the Tarot, they use their own knowledge of the esoteric associations of colour to colour it in themselves. Unfortunately I discovered that the BOTA deck is very hard to come by on Amazon – with one going for over £100.

So I cheated.

The unfortunate fact, I am ashamed to say, is that a full set of scans of the entire BOTA deck is available via bit-torrent and certain P2P clients. So whilst I have never purchased a BOTA deck, I am nevertheless using my Adobe Photoshop skills to illustrate it anyway. 😉

The Black Tarot

The Black Tarot – illustrated by Luis Royo

This is something of a curiosity which came into my possession, and of which I have not made use since acquiring it. The trumps feature a lot of lurid artwork – dragons, monsters, scantily-clad buxom women, etc – which only vaguely references traditional tarot imagery. Meanwhile the accompanying booklet puts a Vama-marga Tantric spin on interpretation of the cards.

I first acquired this when a dear friend of mine was getting rid of her spare tarot decks, so I just happened to pick this up. Ironically, the same friend later received a present – another copy of the Black Tarot. Hmm seems to me this must be more than coincidence – perhaps the universe is trying to tell her something???

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Adeptus Major

Today I am going to do a survey of the grade of 6=5 Adeptus Major, by examining how the various different offshoots of the Golden Dawn –  the Alpha et Omega, the Stella Matutina, the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross – decided to deal with the subject. The one thing they all have in common is that they agree the grade has to do with Geburah – in the same way that 5=6 Adeptus Minor is to do with Tiphereth – but there the similarities end. Each different faction went off in their own direction, having different ideas about what the Adeptus Major was actually meant to do.

As far as I am aware, none of the published Adeptus Major rituals are used by modern day Golden Dawn orders – they have gone on to use different or modified versions.

Alpha Et Omega

The cover for "Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers" by Tabatha Cicero, featuring a reconstructed version of the Tablet Of Union.

The Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers, by Sandra Tabatha Cicero

The Alpha et Omega 6=5 so-called Ritual has now been published: as an appendix to Tabatha Cicero’s new publication, “Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers.” I say so-called because the version published is not a real ritual. It does not have an opening or closing, nor does it have any drama in it. It consists of one chief officer, the “Conferring Adept,” teaching the signs and words of the grade to the Aspirant, who is prompted throughout the ceremony by a conductor. The explanation of the Tarot cards is brief. If anything, it is more of a fragment of a ritual – perhaps part of something that remains unpublished, or a work-in-progress.

The only interesting thing, IMHO, is that the brief explanation of the nature of the signs gives a tantalising glimpse into what Mathers might have imagined the work of an Adeptus Major to be – i.e. the use of Geburah-force to subdue evil entities – although no detail is given about the Adeptus Major curriculum itself. It is also interesting in that the symbolism anticipated the ideas the Crowley expressed about the nature of the Adeptus Major grade in the latter’s John St John.

Stella Matutina

Now the Adeptus Major ritual of the Stella Matutina is a far more interesting affair. An incomplete version of the ritual was published by Pat Zalewski in his book Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn: fortunately though, I have seen a copy dating from a Stella Matutina temple circa 1916, so I have been able to compare. Now this is a proper ritual. It has drama, it has beautiful ritualistic speeches, but most importantly it introduces in the course of the ritual several key qabalistic concepts which provide much food for thought. The ritual should be read in conjunction with the account of W B Yeats’ own experience of this ceremony, which is printed in George Mills Harper’s Yeats’ Golden Dawn, which gives details of the astral work that went on invisibly as the ceremony took place.

This ritual lays much emphasis on the Shekinah – the divine presence of God – who is here portrayed by a female officer. Why the Shekinah? I believe the answer must lie in the fact that in Gematria, “Geburah” is equivalent to “Debir,” which is the Holy of Holies, where the Shekinah was said to reside upon the Ark of the Covenant between the wings of the two kerubs. The aspirant is therefore the High Priest, who goes into the Holy of Holies (actually the Vault of the Adepti which has been re-dressed for the occasion) and after a period of meditation discovers the Shekinah, who first comes to him (or her) like a light-bearer in darkness.

An interesting feature is that the Aspirant remains completely silent throughout the ceremony, until formally released at its climax. It is worth noting that quite separately Wynn Westcott did indeed describe the Adeptus Major grade as:

“…a degree of death and solemnity—referring to the precedent stage of obscuration, during which silent study and meditation may be considered as the typical condition…”

Flying Roll XVI, the History of the Rosicrucian Order.

One is tempted to speculate that in this respect the Stella Matutina ceremony is probably more to what Westcott intended than that of the AO! Unlike the AO ceremony, which is nothing but signs and an explanation thereof, the Stella Matutina 6=5 mentions two signs (“thou shalt avert thy eyes from evil as did Isis on the right … thou shalt withdraw from evil as did Nephthys on the left,”) but does not really demonstrate what they are: obviously part of the esotery that was only transmitted from person to person.

The lacuna in Zalewski’s ritual amounts to three-fifths of the oath being omitted (the oath of an Adeptus Major is in five parts), as well as an instruction that the Aspirant is censed in the form of a Pentagram, before being led out temporarily before the next point in the ceremony. When read in full, the oath of the Adeptus Major reveals that the duty of the new initiate is to apply the severity of Geburah to his or her own moral nature, whilst emphatically being merciful to the faults of others.

I found one mistake when I first read Zalewski’s version, however: when I checked, I found that the mistake had been in the original ritual! Namely: the wrong passages of the Sepher Yetzirah are quoted when the aspirant is given the teachings of the Paths of Mem and Lamed.

A sort of curriculum has emerged as to what the Stella Matutina envisioned for the Adeptus Major grade. Although on first reading it does not seem much, from my own personal researches I believe that additional papers were also issued to the adepts which suggested ways in which the Adeptus Major practices could be extended to achieve extremely sophisticated results. In any event, the lines “try to find your own Path for the Inner Life,” and “now is the time to fill in gaps of the 5=6 syllabus and to choose your special subject in which to qualify,”  conceal more than they reveal: I get the impression that Felkin, the author of the Stella Matutina 6=5 ritual, believed that if the Adeptus Minor grade was equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in Magic, then the Adeptus Major was equivalent to a Master’s.

Holy Order of the Golden Dawn / Fellowship of the Rosy Cross

Aleister Crowley in A.'.A.'. regalia making the sign "Vir."

Whaddaya mean, I’m not the prophet of a new aeon?

The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn Adeptus Major Ritual has now been published in Regardie’s Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic. It catches Waite as he was beginning to embrace mysticism, yet had not completely thrown off all of the trappings of the original GD. Now here is a curious thing: despite superficial differences, much of the underlying structure of the first Waite ritual is identical to that of the Stella Matutina version. E.g. the aspirant remains in silence until released in the final part of the ceremony, he or she goes into the Vault for a period of meditation, before encountering the Shekinah, who leads the aspirant out. Intriguingly, Waite identifies the Shekinah as Nuit, and the newly advanced aspirant as Horus. Could this in fact mean that Waite was a secret Thelemite (extremely ironic given the caning he received from Crowley in the Equinox)? Or perhaps when Crowley received the Book of the Law, the Gods were telling him not to become the prophet of a new aeon, but that he was now ready to become an Adeptus Major?

After the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn closed, Waite founded the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. The grades are named after those of the Golden Dawn – but Waite finally took the opportunity to abandon the last vestiges GD dogma of which he disapproved and finally do his own thing. Nevertheless, the FRC Adeptus Major ritual still displays certain similarities to the version he wrote for the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn. There is a sojourn within the sanctuary, the Shekinah makes an appearance – but the insistence of silence is strictly removed. Needless to say, any references to Horus and Nuit have been removed.

As far as I know, there was no curriculum per se for the FRC grades – I believe that Waite intended the ceremony itself to be both the initiation into and the teaching of a given grade. In this sense the FRC is rather like a masonic version of Rosicrucianism. I did hear one senior esotericist say that this being the case, an initiate could theoretically be advanced through each grade at successive meetings, or slightly less than a year if they met every month, although I doubt very much that this would happen in practice.

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A Method of Vibrating Adonai Ha-Aretz To Unite Yourself with your Personal Kether

This is a follow up to my previous blog post, Golden Dawn Manuscripts and Where To Find Them. Your Humble Blogmaster, and basset-hound of all things GD, has found yet another cache of original Golden Dawn manuscripts, i.e. in addition to the one which I said its owner did not want publicised. This new cache, however, is reasonably accessible to the public – it is also at a venue that I happened to mention in passing the last time – the Library and Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall in London.

It hasn’t been hidden away at Great Queen Street all this time, it was actually purchased by them in 2008 (I would not be surprised one bit if it is Bob Gilbert’s old hoard). It has only just been catalogued in the past few weeks – i.e. since I first wrote my original blog post. Most of the papers, from my initial perusal, appear to be from the collection of the Reverend Ayton, who was amongst the very first members of Isis Urania temple. Ayton, an alchemist who had briefly met Eliphas Levi many years earlier, became a 5=6 in the original order, and stayed with Isis Urania after the split, becoming a member of Waite’s Holy Order of the Golden Dawn.

As you might expect, the contents of most of the documents have found their way into the public light by other routes, although there are a few rare gems. By way of example, I present the following ritual, which to my knowledge has never before been published. There is a saying in the Golden Dawn – “Invoke the Highest, First.” In this spirit I present the following: the first goody to be revealed from the archives at Great Queen Street is an invocation of the Highest, a ritual of pure Theurgy. It is a particular method of vibrating “Adonai Ha-Aretz” which was distributed to advanced members of the 5=6 Adeptus Minor grade. NB: This is substantially different from the method mentioned in Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn” ! It is, however, similar to a document in the other archives to which I have had access.

Unfortunately I don’t have a facsimile of the ritual. When I asked about making a copy, I was informed that they don’t do photocopies – as this damages the books. They can arrange to make digital photographs of the pages, but this is charged at the rate £2.50 per image (+ £1 for burning it to CD-Rom). Hence the ritual I present below, which was two pages long, would have cost £6 (I didn’t have any change on me at the time when I had a look at it). NB the National Library of Ireland charges similar rates for making facsimiles, which is why Yeats’ papers are not more widely known.

Hence I will have to rely on my notes which I made.

Pay attention – it’s the Scholarly Bit!

The ritual is hand-written on both sides of a sheet of foolscap octavo, which on the front bears a hexagram device in the top-left corner. It is illustrated through at key points in the text with pencil line-drawings. It is bound with other papers of different handwriting in a volume called “Grade of Geburah etc,” which despite its name contains just two documents relating to the 6=5 of the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, whilst the rest are mainly Adeptus Minor documents of the original order, along with some miscellaneous items.

The hand-writing itself is very neat. I was not able to make a comparison with any known handwriting samples to establish precisely who copied or wrote it. The only thing I can definitely say that it wasn’t Wynn Westcott! Doubtless it would be possible to work out who did it simply by spending more time studying it.

The Ritual Itself

First clear the room with the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.

Stand in the form of a cross. Say I N R I

YOD NUN RESH YOD*

Alex’ note: in the original this is written in Hebrew, right to left.

Virgo Isis Mighty Mother

Scorpio Apophis and Typhon Destroyer

Sol Osiris slain and risen

Isis Apophis Osiris. IAO

The Sign of Osiris Slain.

L the sign of Isis mourning.

V the sign of Apophis and Typhon.

X the sign of Osiris Risen.

Alex’ note: the above lines are each accompanied by a miniature line drawing demonstrating the signs of an Adeptus Minor. Think of a stick-figure wearing a tau-robe and you get the idea. Interestingly, the “L” is not a straight-armed “L” as given in Regardie’s books, but more of a crooked-arm swastika-like arrangement demonstrated by Crowley in the plates that accompany “Magick in Theory and Practice.” I.e. from the sign of Osiris slain, turn the right arm straight up at the elbow, and the left arm straight down from the left elbow.

L V X Lux the light of the Cross.

Trace the Rose-Cross in the four cardinal points.

Alex’ note: Here there is an illustration of the Rose-cross. Note that the ritual clearly says the “four cardinal points,” not the cross-quarters – thus differentiating it from the more well-known Rose Cross Ritual. Thence over to page 2…

Formulate whilst facing the East before you in flashing white brilliance:

Illustration from the ritual - Adonai Ha-Aretz formulated in flashing white brilliant letters. Recreated from memory. (c) Alex Sumner 2010

Alex’ note: The word Formulate conceals far more than it reveals. As a magician I would guess this means vibrate “Adonai Ha-Aretz” by the vibratory formula of the Middle Pillar 16 times – once for each letter of the cruciform version of the divine name. However – and note well – this is not indicated in the text.

Attach yourself to your Kether until you see brilliant white light.

Alex’ note: The ritual ends with a sketch of an Adept standing in the sign of Osiris slain, a globe of brilliance immediately above his head (i.e. Kether).

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Magick, Wicca, Witchcraft, Christianity

Magick is an old English spelling of Magic which was revived by Aleister Crowley. He defined it as “the science and art of causing change in conformity with Will.” The crucial word in this sentence is Will. This does not mean any passing fancy, but refers to the great spiritual forces which are driving ones soul. Magick is therefore really about finding your Soul’s purpose – and then giving effect to it.

The concept of True Will is something Crowley took – like most things – from the Golden Dawn. True Will is what occurs when your ordinary everyday conscious Will is perfectly united with your Higher Will – which is your aspiration to that which is highest and most spiritual.

Wicca is a term most associated with the movement first brought to public consciousness by Gerald Gardner in the middle of the last century. It is primarily concerned with worship of the Goddess and God, and the observance of the traditional pagan festivals (Sabbats) and full-moon ceremonies (Esbats). There is now evidence to suggest that what we now know as the modern Wicca movement was founded in the 1920s by former members of the Golden Dawn who believed that they had been Witches in previous incarnations. Gardner did not found Wicca, but he was the first person to actively publicise it. See, for example, Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration by Philip Heselton (which coincidentally I once reviewed in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition).

Witchcraft is a general term for the historic Witch tradition. Many Wiccans would say that Wicca is Witchcraft, or at least a part or an example of Witchcraft: I do not particularly want to get into an argument upon the matter.

Can a Christian ever practice Magick – and remain a Christian? Certain elements of Thelema and Wicca have a religious character, so in these instances, probably not. However, one should also remember that for 1900 years prior to the 20th century, magick was being preserved and studied by Christian scholars. Not, of course, those who slavishly followed the dictats of the Church, but freethinkers who believed that the Kabbalah was the perfect synthesis between magic, mysticism and religion – even though at times they were persecuted by the mainstream Church for daring to say so.

So for a modern day Christian who is thinking of magick I would say if you are such a Free-Thinker then yes it is possible – you would then find Christian overtones in Martinism, the Elus Cohens, Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light, and even in the Golden Dawn.

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