Written in March 2015
There exist a few thousand Tarot decks nowadays. At first, it does seem hopeless how one could find their way in this ocean of information. There are different options how to handle this. Some do it through teachers, that is, they trust their judgement and long experience; others rely on their feelings and intuition; others (my approach) try and put an anchor, searching for the origins and roots of the art in question, and then decide what to do.
There is some factual information (better put: some evidence which has survived or was left for a purpose) about the origins of Tarot which points to about the14th century Italy. There is other data about Persia and even China as well as legends about the gypsies in Egypt or the priests in Atlantis. I must, however, make two clarifications about the Tarot:
- The Tarot is an occult system of Knowledge;
- The Tarot works with cosmic archetypes which transcend every culture and time period.
From these conclusions it follows that:
- The Tarot was extremely valued and zealously guarded (few were able to read back then but anyone can look at representations/images and derive a principle behind them, no matter how profound or base, which seriously threatened the control or religions and the ruling elite, as the text in a given occult book can easily be altered, erased, edited etc, where it is not the same case with pictures/representations). Moreover, the higher faculties as well as the subconscious minds of humans work overwhelmingly with symbols and not words/text;
- The Tarot, the way it was meant in its essence, contains Everything that is allowed for mankind to know; in other words – regardless whether the cards were 22, 52, 78, 108 etc – the Tarot has existed since the dawn of the human race, in one form or another.
So as I was seeking the roots of the Tarot and looking for decks which best preserve the essence of this great art, after a while and discarding lots of decks, I came across the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot. Before I examine it and explain why I picked it I need to give some information about which I had to learn the hard way and am certain a lot of people should know about, least of all because it is absolutely vital and because it is NOT being discussed, which can be and is dangerous, especially when one looks at what happened in the last 100 years.
It is about this deck which has been setting the trend for the last 100 years, namely the Rider Waite deck (which should more correctly be called the Pamela Colman Smith because she illustrated it and not Waite). It is important to know that traditional Tarot decks do not have drawings/illustrations for the Minor Arcana (Ace to 9; arcana means “secrets”). When, however, Pamela Colman Smith illustrated the deck (it was first offered to the public in 1910) she included drawings depicted by her and in this way disassociated herself from the centuries long tradition (to be exact, she pretty much borrowed some of the drawings from the late 15th century Sola-Busca Tarot deck, which however was used privately and not to be shown to the public for a few centuries!). From this moment on, the next decks, imitating the Rider one, which was gaining big popularity for being more available/easier/requiring far less study, also began to illustrate their Minor Arcana. It is equally important that Pamela Colman Smith was not initiated in the Golden Dawn secret society, Waite did not reveal that many insights to her, hinted some and was silent about many, and thus she was working with pieces of the Knowledge.
The Rider-Waite deck became extremely successful and subsequently the leading one worldwide. It, so to say, rules not only in our time but for the last 40 years to such an extent that literally at least 95% of all the hundreds and hundreds of decks are directly influenced by it. Let me repeat to make sure: hundreds of thousands of Tarot readers, if not more, over the last 100 years have relied on the interpretation of an uninitiated woman who was relying on her feelings and intuition (and quite possibly being influenced by lower astral beings) in illustrating the cards, especially the Minor Arcana because the Major Arcana of the Marseille Tarot, as one of the oldest surviving ones, are the basis of most traditional decks, including Rider-Waite. Henceforth, the thought-form is so powerful that if someone even bothers to ask a Tarot reader why they use the Rider-Waite deck, the answer almost inevitably is: “because everyone else does”, “because all the books I perused while searching for a deck were using it”, “because my teacher uses it” or “because it was the only one being sold in the bookstore close where I live”. Do you get where I am going with this and the ramifications?
There is one more key thing I need to mention and it is that a few occult systems have been put/integrated into the Tarot: Astrology, Kabbalah, Numerology and others such as I Ching, the Runes etc (the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot deck includes: Astrology, Numerology, Kabbalah, masonry, Magic, Alchemy, Occult Science, also correspondences to colours, minerals, musical tones, herbs, and even the christian bible, but with its esoteric and symbolical-mythological meaning of course, because it is an established fact that it is based on plagiarized myths from various preceding cultures and sources, and not on historical truths but events of fiction).
Later in this article I will examine some of these but for now let me say that the astrological correspondences in the Golden Dawn Rider-Waite deck are simply wrong and messed up in a lot of the Major Arcana. Anyone, who is well versed in Western Ancient Astrology, can immediately spot some obvious errors, which shows basic ignorance of the fundamentals on the part of that secret society. Whether this was done on purpose though is another matter…
The key thing here is that, with minor differences, the other secret societies copied these astrological correspondences in their decks and thus the circle was closed and the cycle began, namely, the vast majority of Tarot readers work with these messed up correspondences.
YES, this is divination (knowing the thoughts of the Divine), where it is vital to use a system and for one to absolutely adhere to it, because the answers come from the person’s Higher Self; in other words, there is no science here and even a system that is not objectively accurate can and does give incredibly precise answers and predictions (for those who can predict objective events). What I am trying to say is that here, with this psychic approach, the trick works and it is quite possible that it does not matter whether the correspondence system is objectively accurate or not, BUT coming from Ancient Astrology, the queen of all sciences, this trick would not work there and one sees right away which is right and which is wrong.
A quick example: the zoidion of the Lion, or the zodiacal sign of Leo (I am talking about tropical Astrology) in modern astrological parlance, has totally different meanings in these two branches. Ignoring for the moment that the Lion/Leo would be representing a different Major or Minor Arcanum in different decks, which could seriously change the final answer, modern astrology makes no distinction between it and the 5th house, that is, it uses it to mean sex, children, entertainment, creativity etc, and if this card gets picked and the question being asked is whether the native will have children (a side but important note is that for questions that pertain to the whole life of the native, such as this one, it is strongly advised not to use Tarot for them but Astrology, provided you are properly trained) someone using modern astrology would answer with a “strong yes” to the question. Contrary to that, in Ancient Astrology, (which lies on a 2000 years old tradition and was/is used by emperors and popes and military and nobility, bankers etc), the Lion is not synonymous with and does not equal the 5th house and not only does it not promise children, it denies them, or, in the best case and one must really have other positive testimonies, it promises 1 child. In other words, the answer would be that the native will not have children. Yes, this is just one card and one looks at the spread and synthesizes, but you should understand the reasoning in my example. To take this further, using Ancient Astrology if the place of children in the natal chart is in Leo (or the other barren zoidia/signs) or the ruler of that place or the planets naturally bestowing children or the Lot of Children and its lord, that native will not have children. Even if they do, provided there are mitigating testimonies, there will be a single child and it will either suffer from illnesses or die young. In a chart with these configurations modern astrology would say that the native will have many children! Thus readers should draw their own conclusions, particularly because the overwhelming majority of Tarot decks are based on modern astrology.
Speaking of Astrology, the Tarot decks today overwhelmingly use the Chaldean decanates (it is really controversial whether they work as an essential dignity if they do so at all). The only deck, which I know of, which uses the Indian decanates of Varahamiria is the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot. Others before me as well as I have found through experience that these (they are best thought of as elemental; for instance the 10 degrees of Aries is pure Aries, 10 to 20 is Aries-Leo and 20-30 is Aries-Sagittarrius) work remarkably well in physiognomy.
So let me explain why I picked the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot deck (it was illustrated in black and white in 1936 by Gloria Beresford and in 2009 Vicky Brewer illustrated it with colours. This deck differs from others in a number of fundamental ways:
- The names of about half of the Major Arcana are different. This IS very important. Moreover, the illustrations themselves are different, which in some cards slightly changes the meaning and in others the difference is enormous: it is a almost a different card. For one to be able to appreciate these differences accordingly, it is mandatory that they be familiar with the major traditional decks and not just to have bought a deck or two from the closest esoteric bookstore.
- The Fool does not exist as a card by itself. Instead there is an Arcanum which is close to an extent to the illustration of the Fool which, when right up, is number 22 the Materialist when reversed is number 0 and the Spiritualist (look at the picture at the beginning of this article). This is based on the Egyptian Knowledge and the difference between the numbers 0 and 22 in the physical and spiritual world;
- Astrology takes a critical place. The 22 Major Arcana correspond to the 10 planets (yes, this is the modern 20th century version and includes the transsaturnian planets, no matter how illogical this is compared to the name of the deck) and the 12 zoidia/zodiacal signs;
- The Major Arcana are not 56 but 36 – from Ace to 9, and correspond to the 36 extra-zodiacal constellations (the modern 16th-20th century breaking of the ancient 48 constellations and making them 88 is a travesty and truly sinister in intent. It has no basis whatsoever). This is one of the things which really influenced me in picking this Tarot deck because there is Astrotheology here, and as those have really studied it know that this eternal Knowledge is that basis of ALL religions in human history. The Major Arcana are not illustrated and only the stars comprising the constellation in question are seen as well as its number and suit of course;
- Face cards/Court Cards are King, Queen, Youth and Horseman. The King, Queen and Youth correspond to the 12 zoidia/signs of the zodiac and describe people in the life of the person asking the question/querent or, according to the context of the question, they can show some inner characteristics. Using reversed Court cards is mandatory as it changes the gender of the person described by the card: Kings reversed show women, Queens show men and Youths show women and everyone is according to the zoidion being shown on the card, that is, 3×4 =12 zoidia/signs. I must clarify that it is not about Sun signs, but about character traits. There is a difference! The person shown by the card may not have the Sun in that zoidion but the Ascendant or the Moon, or a few planets in it etc, etc.
Horsemen show not people but thoughts, because they travel fastest (this is also the case in Chinese Astrology, the BaZi/Four Pillars of Destiny system where horses travel fastest and there is star that is called Travelling Horse and it indicates travel, movement and changes) and are extremely useful when one wants to find out what a given person thinks of you or about people close to you. When the Horseman is reversed it shows thoughts to your detriment and the interpretation is according to the suit of the Horseman.
The 10s show the seasons, in other words change, and are connected to the 10th Major Arcanum – the Wheel (called the Wheel of Fortune in other decks);
- The 4 suits are Scepters (instead of Wands), Cups, Coins (instead of Discs) and Swords. The Scepters correspond to the element of Fire, Cups to Water, Coins to Air and Swords to Earth.
It most probably looks strange (because of the imprinted Rider-Waite deck system of course) how Coins can correspond to Air and not Earth, but with certain knowledge and understanding it becomes why this is so and even though there are differences in their assignations with the elements in the different decks, for some of which there are arguments that are in favour of a given assignment and they are at least partly true, here there can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever. First, Coins being Air show communication and wealth/money. The Coins relate to the current of thoughts and the currency. Thus the flow of ideas and money/currency is connected to the Coins.
Looked from a different perspective, historically it was precisely the traders and those using their minds, that is, Coins, that were wealthy in the past, and not the farmers and those toiling in the field from morning till evening every day, that is the Swords.
For those who know how principles are formed it is clear why Coins are assigned to the Earth element. For those who don’t know (which incidentally includes the vast majority of those who practise modern astrology worldwide, be it as hobbyists or professionals) the explanation lies in the concocted and totally wrong astrological alphabet of Zipporah Dobyns from the 1960s and 70s in which Aries=1st house=Mars, and in this case Taurus (a sign of the Earth element/triplicity)=the 2nd house=Venus=money/coins. Yes, the 2nd house does show one’s money and moveable wealth in Ancient Astrology but the 2nd house does NOT equal the Earth element and Taurus does NOT equal money/coins.
Still, I must be thorough and say that the more systems get included in the Tarot the more difficult and almost impossible it becomes to sort them in a way that does not oppose one to the other. For instance, the 4 suits in the Tarot (and regular playing cards) are thought to correspond to the 4 elements in Astrology, the 4 directions on the compass, the 4 types of social classes in Medieval times, the 4 angles of the natal astrological chart, the 4 temperaments in medical Astrology etc etc. But mixing all these categories brings contradiction. For instance, money corresponds to the sanguine element/Coins/Air, while hard work and farming to the melancholic one/Earth, but the Swords do not fit to this type of work as do the Wands/Clubs, but in this Tarot deck there are Scepters, symbol of royal power, and the mess is starting to form.
That is why a Tarot reader picks a system and commits it to memory for years so at to integrate it and put it in their subconscious.
On the other hand, the advantage of the Brotherhood of Light Tarot is that the 4 suits correspond to the 4 elements and the Minor Arcana correspond to certain constellations that rise at an exact time during the year, that is, the Sun’s path, and therefore one cannot change the system (a given suit to represent a different element), because here the foundation is astronomy, that is, mathematics and science.
I also have to say that there are things that I disagree with the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot. First, and this must be clear to anyone who is a Seeker of Knowledge, this Knowledge is endless and as such is subject to distortions, be they intended or not, so it is not possible for a single deck to contain the Truth, at least in 3rd density. This is especially valid for such systems of divination, which rest on symbols/representations.
Second, no matter what the Church of Light in the USA says, one can’t help but notice that most of the Major Arcana has a lot to do with the Marseille Tarot and parts have also been taken from the authors Antoine Court de Gébelin, Paul Christian, R. Falconnier and Comte De Saint Germain.
Third, the people in the Church of Light teaching the Tarot in California rely too much on Astrology. As they say, in the Hermetic tradition, because this is a Hermetic Tarot after all, Astrology and the written tradition are represented by the Sun whereas the Tarot and the oral tradition are represented by the Moon. This sentence alone should speak volumes to those familiar with Ancient Astrology, but let the facts be clear after all. The Tarot (and as I explained that by this term I understand the Knowledge about Everything in the form of cosmic archetypes which exist since the dawn of the mankind) is much, much older than Astrology, at least in the form we understand it and use it while having the human experience. I mean the horoscopic Astrology of course, which is only 2500 years old. The Tarot is also older than Numerology (Pythagorean and Chaldean) as well as the Kabbalah and is the most ancient Knowledge as a whole. Only Astrotheology can compare to the Tarot in age so to say, but there is a caveat here, namely the precession of the equinoxes which, for 2500 years, has moved over a whole constellation (72 years for 1 degree), not to mention in 5-10000 and more years and what will happen to the circumpolar stars.
So my advice is no matter which deck you use, rely on the Tarot first and above all, and only after that and in addition, and not as a priority, on Astrology (the planets and signs in this case because one relies almost exclusively on Astrotheology for the Minor Arcana and the eternal Wisdom encoded in the myths of the constellations) and the other occult sciences.
This also means that the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot is not for beginners in the sense of people or who are not ready to commit to years of learning and are simply looking for a casual deck. This is especially true in today’s “I want it all and I want it now” culture. This is because you will need a lot of information and time to absorb it and integrate it. You can’t just learn by heart the meanings of the cards from books. This is NOT Tarot and certainly not the point. On the other side of the spectrum is “going by intuition alone”. Yes, but true intuition is not always on and it is much better for one to have a system of knowledge, and what better than that one which is based on over 2000 years of practice. Of course the meanings of the 78 cards are given in the booklet being sold with the cards and included in the price, but that is just a teaser. I strongly suggest that, as a minimum, you buy two of the books by C C Zain, namely “The Sacred Tarot” and “Spiritual Astrology” where he goes into great depth for all the 78 cards. They are a solid foundation and an absolute must because, after all, the reasoning behind this deck comes from occult/hidden Knowledge and there are layers upon layers of meanings and symbols. Without knowing what the symbols mean and at least something about the Egyptian culture and the norms of secret societies, you would only achieve a superficial understanding of the meanings of the cards. Then there is the distortion part, which is inevitable, be it deliberate or not.
My advice, to those who really intend to get into this deck and this Hermetic tradition, is to get these books and study them over a period of time, so that you become familiar with the symbols and reasoning. Only after that, would you want to expand on that Knowledge (by buying for instance the unique and priceless book “Egyptian Mysteries – an Account of an Initiation” by an anonymous author published in 1988). For example, I can give cases where I disagree with C C Zain and the meanings he has given, not just for the Minor Arcana but also for the Major, BUT I have not made anything up in the meanings that I use, I am simply arriving at the meanings of a card by increasing my understanding of the fundamentals again and again and testing that. Also, keep in mind also that the Astrology used in these books by C C Zain and even more so by his students like Doris Chase Doane and others, is overwhelmingly modern/psychological/evolutionary. They use the astrological alphabet and other concepts which are flat wrong and not present in the 2000 year old tradition. As someone well versed in that is easy for me to notice these and substitute these interpretations with such that are traditional and have proven themselves over many centuries. To be clear, I am not blaming them (or the Golden Dawn for that matter) because they simply did not have the translated texts from ancient Greek, Latin, Persian and Arabic that the astrological community has enjoyed over the last 22 years with Project Hindsight, James Holden, Ben Dykes and others). My point is that you will need to really study the ancient myths and be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, that is, the essence/moral of the myth, because even though it is somewhat different in the various cultures its essence remains the same.
In this respect those well versed in Ancient Astrology have a distinct advantage. I have known all these myths and their meanings for years because it was a required study in my astrological training. Nevertheless, I studied them again, this time from the perspective of Egyptian mysteries and the Tarot, and of course my somewhat refined perspective over the years. The cards are very powerful and it takes time to absorb the information decoded in them. For example, when I was studying their meanings for the first time, I could not study more than a few cards per day. I was studying from these 2 books and 5 other different sources at the same time. It took me about 3-4 weeks to go through all them. I have also been leading a diary over the past few months doing a 1 spread card every day and studying its meaning even more. The results have been truly impressive. I have watched historical/mythological films the characters of which are in the cards. I also found an object with the cards, which was deliberately hidden.
This difficulty, this demand that one commits themselves for a while, and of course combines a few occult sciences and meanings, this is the great advantage of this deck.
This is because you will KNOW why for instance the 8 of Cups (corresponding to the Andromeda constellation and the Cancer decanate of Pisces) means: (among other things) self-sacrifice, to save the others, to be dominated by family obligations, being dumped in stuff through no fault of your own, to be thrown in the ocean of desires out of which there is no escape unless through wisdom and transmutation etc etc, because this story was put on the heavens millennia ago precisely with the purpose of teaching you something and is present in a bunch of cultures, which are even not related between themselves. The difference between this ancient approach and the modern, mechanical one in which one reads and learns by heart the interpretations of a given author, without knowing why they are the way they are and where they come from/are derived from, is enormous!
This type of deck would also appeal to Seekers, who are running away from the conventional decks used by the masses, in this the case Rider-Waite deck, or to those to whom the symbols of the Golden Dawn are dull, overstuffed and rife with christian values and assumptions (the Justice card in the Major Arcana comes to mind, among others) and therefore the deck “does not speak to them” as card readers like to say. You must also be aware by now that this deck is pretty much a universe of its own (the illustrations and meanings and the philosophy and methodology is really different), that is, once you really commit to it there is no going back. People are different of course with different characters and predispositions but in this case almost ALL other materials on the Tarot will be of very little, if any, use to you. Only you can say whether you are ready for that: pretty much no books, or courses or conferences etc.
Most important of all is whether a given deck appeals to you and speaks to you or not, now matter what it is. I have nothing against the Rider-Waite deck; the illustrated Minor Arcana even have certain advantages over the non-illustrated ones. The same goes for Thoth deck of A. Crowley, which even though does not appeal to me, has its own values (Astrology is also messed up there, even the decanates. At least Freida Harris was invited by Crowley and initiated and worked over a few years on the illustrations knowing what she was doing but I digress). In the Brotherhood of Light the names of some Arcana are Egyptian which does not appeal to me much, but the illustrations are very occult and at the same time powerful and sharp. I really mean no disrespect to the other decks and the work of their authors, but their illustrations look childish to me, almost at times bland, including the traditional Marseille deck. Ultimately, the only flawless deck is the one you make for yourselves.
It is absolutely vital that when all is said and done, those really interested in dedicating a significant part of their time and life to this art, know who, when and what intentions were imbued in the developing of this psychic instrument called the Tarot.
Lastly, I have known and read about the Tarot for a long time (even before I found out that there was a lot more to Astrology than Sun signs and psychology) but something was holding me back then. I went to esoteric bookstores, even in different countries, but I was not impressed (I did not see the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot deck though, but even if I had, I would have not been able to appreciate it). It is only in the past months that I have realized in hindsight that that was my Higher Self. I had to become well versed in Astrology (starting backwards from modern/psychological, to 19th century, then Medieval, then Hellenistic, then some Jyotish and finally Chinese, the Four Pillars of Destiny/BaZi branch). Without this background, as well as some in regular playing cards for divination, gypsy cards and I Ching cards, it would be impossible for me to be in a position handle this secretive and most powerful deck and to continue to deepen my understanding of it so that my Tarot skills reach my astrological ones one day.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to C. C. Zain (for those that are trained in Astrology and are hesitating whether to try this deck, you are lucky because C C Zain’s natal chart is preserved and you will be able see for yourselves the type of man he was and whether that is compatible with you and your Path) and the Brotherhood of Light for making this deck possible. Special thanks to Ali Mccray, because even though I had seen the Major Arcana cards and read of this deck, I was not completely certain that it would be for me. It was only after reading her very useful blog (where she describes the meanings of all the cards and shows pictures of about 50-60 of them among other things) page to page that I decided to enter the world of the Tarot. Here are 3 links that give more information about the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot (the first one is the blog).
Published on the 12th of March 2015 Day of Zeus, hour of the Moon