“The tarot is a mirror of reality. Its construction, based on the four elements, the celestial phenomena, the Holy Qabalah, and a very evolved psychology, can lead its devotees to the inner recesses of psychic and intuitive awareness. The tarot itself can be used as the basis of occult study, as it may be said to possess all aspects of the inner wisdom tradition.” – From the Little White Book
Completed between 1975 and 1977, the original pen and ink drawings of Godfrey Dowson are the basis of the Hermetic Tarot deck. Once out of print and in great demand, U.S. Games re-published the Hermetic Tarot in 2006 in recognition of its artistic and historical importance.
Complex and stark, the black-and-white images are jam-packed with alchemical, astrological and Qabalistic symbols easily recognized by those familiar with those and other esoteric systems. Revealing many of the workings of the Secret Order of the Golden Dawn, this deck draws heavily upon the work of Mathers, Crowley, Case, Levi and others.
The Hermetic Tarot comes with a 70-page LWB, which is thicker than most, which details astrological attributions for the cards and the numerological correlations of the Minor Arcana with the Tree of Life. The LWB also has a handy chart of elemental and astrological glyphs, as well as an illustration of the Tree of Life. However, Hebrew letters rather than actual card names depict the paths on the Tree.
Upright and reversed meanings are provided, as well detailed explanations for many of the symbolic components of the cards. The various angels connected with the Minors are given, as are the thirty-six decans of the Zodiac. The astrological placements for the Minors appear in the image proper.
Cards measure approximately 4 ¾ x 2 ¾ inches and although card backings appear fully reversible at first blush, they are not. The elemental symbols for the Courts are placed in the top corners of the cards (e.g. Knight of Cups shows the glyph for Fire then Water for “Fire of Water”), and follow the ordering of Knight, Queen, King and Princess.
For the Majors, the corresponding Hebrew letter and card number are on the top corners, while the elemental/astrological symbols are within the actual image. The titles of all the cards are on the bottom (e.g. Lord of Material Success for the 6 of Pentacles, the Magus of the Voice of Light for The Hermit, Spirit of the Primal Fire for The Last Judgment and so on).
The Hermetic Tarot is fascinating to look at, although the crowded nature of the symbols can be a bit overwhelming. In fact, when I gazed upon a group of these cards, I began to get a headache! Inexplicably, a few of the cards appear smudged and pixely, in contrast to the cleaner lines of the rest of the cards. Also unusual is the pronounced uneven trim on the bottom of the Court Cards, which gives them a slight lip (you can see this a bit on the lower-left hand corner of the Queen of Cups image). If you’re looking to enhance your magical practice or further your knowledge of Golden Dawn esotericism and Qabalistic associations, this would make a fine deck for your studies. The intricacies of the Hermetic Tarot almost serve as a meditative scrying mirror—and if you enjoy the art of M.C. Escher, you may very well feel an affinity for this deck. I feel that the symbol-laden cards would lend themselves well to small spreads and contemplation. However, it’s definitely not a beginner’s deck for those wanting to learn the Tarot. In my estimation, the Hermetic Tarot would likely appeal to those who prefer decks like Thoth, Liber-T and perhaps even the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, more so than those who are ardent devotees of Rider-Waite-Smith imagery or decks with animated minors.
Below are 12 images from this deck:
Illustrations from the Hermetic Tarot deck reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright © 1979, 2006 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited.
Content copyright © by Janet Boyer. All rights reserved. This review was written by Janet Boyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission.