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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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???
Do not read this blog post if you do not want your mind-blown outside the bounds of four-dimensional space-time. Kind of like what happens when the characters in The Great God Pan look upon the face of the supernatural unveiled. Or when the powder of Ibn Ghazi hits the spot in The Dunwich Horror. This happened to me as a side-effect of undertaking my Abramelin operation this year (i.e. my mind being blown, not literally having an experience with the child of Yog Sothoth), so now I’m inflicting this upon the rest of humanity. Muah ha ha! Ia Shub Niggurath!
But I digress. We normally think of space-time as having four dimensions: height, width, depth, and time. But ask yourself this:
How big is a Thought?
How wide is a dream?
How deep is a Memory?
Thoughts, dreams and memories all exist, hence they must exist within spacetime, yet they can’t be measured in terms of the conventional four dimensions. Hence they are Dimension-less, no?
It occurred to me, whilst I was in some altered state of consciousness or other, that if a thing exists yet cannot be measured in terms height, width, depth or time, then the fact of its existence must constitute a separate Dimension in addition to the preceding four. Hence, we are actually living in five-dimensional space-time, to wit:
Now, this is where things get complicated. Consider the following diagram:
Domain coloured representation of a complex function
Despite the lurid nature of the introductory paragraph, this is not meant to induce major SAN loss. Instead it’s essentially a colour-coded diagram.
Complex numbers are those which consist of a Real and Imaginary part, the latter being a multiple of i, the imaginary square root of -1. Such numbers cannot be represented on a number-line, but they can be represented on a graph – an “Argand Diagram” – where two number lines become the two axes.
However: what if one wanted to display the effects of a Function which involves Complex Numbers? If one were using only Real numbers, this would be easy – just plot a graph. However, this can’t be done with Complex Numbers, as the set of Complex Numbers on which the Function is already performed is already a graph – that is to say, a two-dimensional diagram. Hence the only way to plot a function with Complex Numbers is to somehow come up with a four dimensional diagram – two dimensions for the original Complex Number, and a further two to represent the results of the Function when applied to that number.
It is not literally possible to represent Four Dimensions in just two. Hence, some way must be found to approximate the results – one such way might be by “Domain Colouring,” producing a diagram like that above. In computing terms, every possible colour has an RGB value, or 24-bits. Hence a Complex Number may be represented by assigning 12 of those bits to the Real part, and 12 to the Imaginary part. The colour of the diagram thus becomes the two extra axes needed to complete the Four-Dimensional representation. We have in effect simulated the representation of four dimensions in two dimensions, by adding extra layers of Meaning to the two-dimensional plane.
What however would happen if one were to analyse the above picture from a Magical perspective? One might break it down as follows:
Again, consider the following photograph:
This might be analysed thus:
Or again, this Tarot card, from the BOTA deck:
Key 1, “The Magician,” from the BOTA tarot deck.
Without going into as much detail as previously, one may say that this can be analysed in terms of:
In other words – “Meaning” is our way of depicting Higher Dimensions within the confines of conventional Space-Time. Meaning is not those Higher Dimensions themselves, but a convenient representation thereof. Consequently, it is possible if not to conceive of Hyperspace, then to conceive of approximations thereof, hence:
The final two being virtual categories allowing for a potentially infinite number of actual dimensions. Conversely when, in Occultism, one studies a Symbol and one perceives that it has many layers to it (as all good symbols do), one may conceive of the Symbol as an object existing in Hyperspace, either metaphorically or even literally.
I was going to answer a question on Quora.com, “What do I do if I just threw my tarot cards on the ground out of anger?” A number of respondents answered along the lines of “Get rid of them, for they come from Satan!” Some more respondents answered “Get rid of them, they are a load of rubbish anyway.” A number just responded, “Just pick them up and clean them up, they’re just cards.”
“But,” I thought to myself, “they’re not just cards.” The simple answer to such a question would go like this:
Assume for one moment it is your unconscious mind which does the divination, and the tarot cards are just tools it employs for the purpose. Your Unconscious Mind will remember the day you treated its tools with disrespect, and will respond by showing you a similar lack of concern, by not providing you with an accurate tarot divination again.
However, a hyperspatial analysis might go like this: they are cards with pictures on them; pictures which have multiple layers of meaning both objective and subjective – and moreover, the connections which one builds with them in ones mind become reified as the psychic keys which unlock the intuition which in turn provides the real answer to the divination. A Tarot Card is thus a perfect example of a Hyperdimensional magical object – nay, a Hyperdimensional Entity – of which the Card laying on the ground where it has been carelessly thrown is but a five dimensional cross-section: which is a long way of saying that a Tarot card is far too important to ever be treated lightly.
I rather think that many of the concepts across which one comes in the Western Mystery Tradition, which at first sight are unexplainable to the rational mind, suddenly become explainable when one starts thinking in terms of the geometry of higher dimensions. For example: the Qabalistic Tree of Life. We all know that it has Ten Sephiroth and Twenty-Two paths, but some theories also say there are four Qabalistic Worlds, and moreover, each Sephirah has a Tree within it. Is there one Tree, four Trees, or forty? Are there Ten Sephiroth or four-hundred? Are (e.g.) Kether of Atziluth, Kether of Briah, Kether of Yetzirah, and Kether of Malkuth the same, different, related to one another, separated or conjoined and if so how? Is each one within the succeeding one like Russian dolls, and how can one conceive of any of them if they are or they are not?
One could try to resolve the incongruities by assuming that curious position of the meditative mind in which all dualities are resolved and the critical intellectual faculty is by-passed… if one wanted to limit oneself to thinking in three-dimensions. Alternatively, one could regard the Tree of Life as a Hyperspatial Object – that each Sephiroth is not a Sphere but a Hypersphere – in which case one can perfectly reasonably say that there is only one Tree of Life, one set of Sephiroth and Netivoth, and that a particular part – e.g. Malkuth of Malkuth of Assiah – is but a cross-section of the Hyper-Object (in this example, the Malkuth Hypersphere) that happens to be visible to us at one particular moment.
Ironically, though, Higher Dimensional Geometry also forces us to re-evaluate what we think we know about esotericism. For example: many of the theories which are candidates for a “theory of everything” in Physics posit the existence of multiple dimensions. If one were therefore to look at this from a Magical perspective, one would have to say that if the Universe is inherently Hyperspatial, then the Creator of the Universe must be a Hyperdimensional Deity. Hence, when we try to represent this Hyper-God using lower-dimensional symbols, we must accept the inevitability of failing to capture a fully accurate picture. The Sepher Yetzirah, for example, suggests that the Twenty Two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet can be arranged to form the Cube of Space. But what if the cosmos were more accurately represented not by a Cube but by a Tesseract? Or a Hypercube of five or more dimensions? If the former, then the Hebrew Alphabet would have to have forty-nine extra letters. Hey! Perhaps that means the language spoken by God and His angels in Heaven is infinitely more complex than anything of which us lower-dimensional creatures can conceive? I have not calculated how many letters would be required to make a hypercube of any higher order, primarily for my own convenience, but also because I feel that without knowing just how many dimensions in total are involved, it would be idle speculation.
“If the Universe is inherently Hyperspatial, then the Creator of the Universe must be a Hyperdimensional Deity.”
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) – Salvador Dali, 1954.
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Tagged as Aleister Crowley, BOTA, Builders of the Adytum, Cube of Space, hyperspace, hypersphere, Salvador Dali, tesseract