Tarot and The Golden Dawn

Tarot and the Golden Dawn Rose CrossThe Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had a profound impact on the development of esoteric Tarot.

Without the magical workings of its members, modern day Tarot would probably not exist.

In order to understand thoroughly the Golden Dawn’s influence on Tarot, it is necessary to gain more insight into this illustrious group.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in 1888 in England by William Wynn Westcott, William Robert Woodman and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, who were all Freemasons.

A remarkable aspect of this organisation was that it was one of the first to admit men and women as equal.

As a result, some of its most influential members were women: Moina Mathers, Florence Farr, Dion Fortune, Annie Horniman and Maud Gonne.

These women were free-spirited, and thanks to personal wealth and benefactors lived unconventional lifestyles in Victorian times, when the main occupation of a woman was to be a wife and mother.

Women of the Golden Dawn, by Mary K. Greer, provides a fascinating insight into their lives and works.

The Golden Dawn was headed by MacGregor Mathers, who was mainly responsible for its structure and rituals as well as creating a whole system of magic.

He spent most of his time researching in the British Library. His fondness for medieval scripts and old magical texts led him to write most of the Golden Dawn’s material, drawing his inspiration from Egyptian, Greek and Jewish magic.

MacGregor Mathers also came across the writings of Eliphas Lévi, a Frenchman, who dedicated most of his work to magic and the Kabbalah.

Lévi tried to make connections between Western magic and occult philosophy; he researched medieval and renaissance writings, Egyptian images, mythology and Hebrew.

He also developed a Kabbalistic system, which was fully integrated into the Tarot. Lévi greatly influenced Mathers and the magical teachings of the Golden Dawn.

MacGregor Mathers’ legacy is the fusion of all the material he researched into a working coherent system.

It is known as the Western Mystery Tradition, which includes Kabbalah, Tarot, Egyptian Mysteries, Enochian Magic, Alchemy and the Four Elements.

The Golden Dawn was not founded to be based on any religious beliefs.

Its purpose was to provide spiritual development and enlightenment, searching for the truth and experiencing the magical side of reality rather than just settling for belief.

In practice, Golden Dawn magic incorporates ritual, meditation and development of psychic abilities, using the symbols, gods and wisdom of all religions in order to express a single divine energy.

Often, Golden Dawn members would gather and perform past life regressions and attempt to interpret visions and dreams.

The hierarchical structure was based on the ten degrees of the Sephiroth from the Kabbalah.

Members would advance from each level by sitting exams and partaking in elaborate rituals, which took place in specially designed temples set up throughout England.

In order to pass the exams, members had to prove their knowledge of astrology, Tarot, Kabbalah, divination, Hebrew letters symbolism and other esoteric disciplines.

The rituals were quite theatrical; high-ranking members dressed up as Egyptian Gods and Goddesses (notably Osiris and Isis), the initiate was led blindfolded into the temple, and several incantations, prayers, spells and invocations took place, before the ritual was over.

Right from the start, the Golden Dawn shrouded itself in secrecy. Members took an oath not to reveal its teachings, which ultimately may have protected them from persecution.

By using the word ‘occult’ (which simply means ‘hidden’), the organisation could have been mistakenly accused of black magic or Devil worship.

The Golden Dawn maintained that by working through its rituals, teachings and travelling the psychic pathways described by the Tarot, it is possible to reach a state of divine enlightenment, even acquire great power.

This may have been the main reason to keep the Order a secret, so misuse of its knowledge could be prevented.

At the pinnacle of its existence, the Golden Dawn had some influential people within its ranks, amongst them Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edward Waite, who both went on to develop the two most famous Tarot decks of the 20th Century:

the Thoth Deck (Crowley with artist Frieda Harris, first published 1969) and the Rider-Waite-Smith (Waite with artist Pamela Coleman-Smith, first published 1909).

By the year 1900, arguments amongst Golden Dawn members led to rifts within the group.

MacGregor Mathers was expelled from the Order, when he accused Wynn Wescott of having faked some documents. He left for Paris with his wife Moina in 1892, where he founded a splinter group.

W. B. Yeats, the Irish poet, took over from Mathers, but in 1903 A. E. Waite took control and moved the Order into a Christian direction, renaming it ‘The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn’.

But due to dwindling membership and apathy, Waite had to close the Order in 1914.  By then, a number of groups had dispersed across Britain, to Paris and even Chicago.

Today, many occult groups claim to have originated from the Golden Dawn, and its teachings are still researched and practised today.

Recommended Books:

Mary K. Greer: Women of The Golden Dawn

Israel Regardie: The Golden Dawn: An Account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn

Chic & Sandra Tabatha Cicero: Self-initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition: A Complete Curriculum of Study for Both the Solitary Magician and the Working Magical Group

Bill Genaw, Judi Genaw &  Chic Cicero: The Golden Dawn Enochian Skrying Tarot: Your Complete System for Divination, Skrying and Ritual Magick [Cards]

Sandra Tabatha Cicero : Golden Dawn Magical Tarot Deck

Recommended Websites:




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Tarot & the Four Elements: Earth

Just like Water, Earth is a feminine (yin) element; stable, sustaining and supportive; energy at its most solid; substance; matter; the body of the Great Mother of ancient times.

Our bodies are partly made of the earth and we return to it when we die. Our ancestors buried their dead in caves and burial mounds, the womb of Mother Earth; they realised our intuitive bond with earth.

Much of the food we eat comes from the soil, and many things we can touch are made of earth in many ways or forms.

Positive: knowledge, ability, stability, endurance, dependability, solidity, self-worth, success, financial prudence; in touch with nature; well-being.

Negative: greed, financial loss, material obsessions, inability to change, stubbornness, possessiveness.

Tarot Cards

Major Arcana: The Empress, The Hierophant, The Hermit, The Devil, The World

Minor Arcana: The Suit of Pentacles; Pages

In Tarot, the element Earth is concerned with the material world, form and substance; putting ideas into practice, practical matters, money, career, home and family, business projects, skills and labour, education, security. They also represent what grounds and stabilises a person; traditions and inheritance.

Earth Correspondences
Astrological signs Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Atmosphere Cold and dry
Direction North
Moon Dark
Season Winter
Time Night, Midnight
Animals Cow, bull, snakes (earth-dwelling), rabbits, mice, stag, dogs
Chakra Root
Colour Brown, green, black, white, yellow
Plants Ivy, oats, corn, rice, comfrey, barley, rye, wheat, fruit, flowers
Places Forest, garden, field, caves, mountains, standing stones, rocks
Jungian Function Sensation
Stones/Gems/Crystals Green agate, coal, salt, turquoise, rock crystal, emerald, Cat’s eye, green jasper, jet
Spirit The tenacious, hard-working gnome; Faery folk
Tools Coin, pentacle, stone, shield
Tree Oak

How to get  in Touch with the Earth Element

  • Walk barefoot in the garden on grass and soil; take your time and try to be aware of the earth energies slowly penetrating your feet and rising slowly up your body. This should make you feel refreshed and replenished. Slowly let the excess energy flow back into the soil by visualising it like trickling water. Don’t overdo this or you will drain your own life force. Trust yourself to know when to stop.
  • Sit against a tree trunk. Close your eyes and imagine you’re becoming part of the tree and your feet are roots growing into the soil and drawing up energy, circulating it around your body. Visualise this energy as a greenish-gold light. After a while, imagine drawing back your ‘roots’ into your feet and disconnecting from the earth and the tree.
  • Lie on the ground in your garden. Relax and feel the heartbeat of the earth like a pulse deep under the soil. Imagine the growth of plants, swelling of seeds and unfurling of grass and leaves.
  • Visit ancient sacred sites. Standing stones were placed in a way that they utilised and intensified the earth’s currents, which can still be felt today if you touch or being near them. Something similar, usually a special aura or atmosphere, can be felt at the great ceremonial mounds.
  • Bring fresh flowers and plants into your home. Tend plants in your garden and feel their life force as you enjoy their beauty.
  • Observe the seasonal changes around you. The cycle of growth and decay; see the first buds appear on bare branches. Follow the cycle through to autumn observing the changing colours of the foliage and falling of the leaves. Note how the foliage is not wasted but turned into mulch to nourish future growth.

Tarot & the Four Elements: Air

tarot element airAir is a masculine (yang) element; fast moving, abundant, the least dense of the four element. It is invisible, but we can see its effect on the things around us: blowing trees in the wind, fluttering paper on a desk in a draft, clouds moving across the sky. We can feel it every time we breathe as it keeps us alive.

Air energy is light and can feel almost any temperature when it is being worked with. It is most powerful during the fury of a storm.

The Air element represents our need to keep moving and learning, our quest for knowledge and curiosity. It is the energy of intellect, wisdom, and understanding. It also supports communication and friendship.

Positive: Truth, justice, courage, strength, organisation, ethical principles, decisiveness

Negative: thoughtlessness, being judgemental, sharp-tongued, fear, confusion, disharmony, conflict, animosity, unhappiness and sometimes illness.

Tarot Cards

Major Arcana: The Fool, The Lovers, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Star

Minor Arcana: The Suit of Swords; Knights

In Tarot the element Air symbolises mind, rational thought, intellect, conflict; uncomfortable processes. It can also indicate communication, a desire for truth and justice and necessity to decide about (or separate from) past attachments.

Air Correspondences
Astrological signs Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Atmosphere Hot and moist
Direction East
Moon Waxing Crescent
Season Spring (Autumn in Tarot)
Time Dawn
Animals Birds, butterflies
Chakra Throat
Colour Yellow, pastels, steel grey, crimson, ice blue, blue-white
Plants Dandelion, Frankincense, myrrh, pansy, primrose, vervain, violet, yarrow
Places windswept hills, plains, windy beaches, high mountain peaks, high towers
Jungian Function Thinking
Stones/Gems/Crystals Aventurine, pumice, Topaz
Spirit Playful sylphs, who looked like the winged fairies of folklore
Tools Wand, aromatic; Athame, sword, censer; incense
Tree Aspen

How to get  in Touch with the Water Element

  • Stand outside on a windy day; the gusts will cleanse your aura and revitalise you, clearing your thoughts and making you feel fresh and alert.
  • The idea of each of the elements can be conveyed through the medium of air: depending on the seasons, the east wind can be sharp and harsh, the north wind cold, the south wind dusty and dry and the west wind warm and gentle.
  • Visit places that are subject to a lot of strong winds: beaches, hills, cliff tops, grassland, open desert. Feel the clarity of the place and observe how it affects you.
  • Pick up twigs and leaves that have been blown by the wind; they often retain a vigorous, blustery feeling. Windy places can give you a sense of cleanliness and lucidity.
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Tarot & the Four Elements: Water

Just like Earth, Water is a feminine (yin) element. Its energy is flowing, cleansing and life-giving.

All life on earth originated from water; the human body contains up to 85% water (depending on height, weight, age and gender), which suggests a dominance of its energy on our bodies.

Water is the most receptive of the four elements; it can easily absorb any form of contamination from its surroundings and needs to be purified.

Due to its receptivity and flowing, formless nature, the element of Water is associated with psychic powers, dreams, divination, the subconscious as well as cleansing the spirit.

Although Water is regarded as a passive element, it can be quite forceful in nature: waterfalls, enormous ocean waves, floods can be destructive and overpowering; so can be the feelings and emotions Water is associated with.

Positive: love, nurturing, creativity, imagination, serenity, contentment, compassion, happiness, understanding.

Negative: moodiness, jealousy, hate, sadness, psychic drains, excess, addiction, illusions.

Tarot Cards

Major Arcana: The High Priestess, The Chariot, The Hanged Man, Death, The Moon

Minor Arcana: The Suit of Cups; Queens

In Tarot the element Water represents feelings and emotions; relationships, imagination, fantasy, dreams, astral worlds and the psyche, intuition. Cups indicate a love for pleasure, intuitive art, beauty and serenity.

Water Correspondences
Astrological signs Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio
Atmosphere Cold and moist
Direction West
Moon Waning crescent
Season Autumn (Summer in Tarot)
Time Dusk, twilight
Animals Fish, seals, walrus; dragons (as serpents), dolphins and porpoises, water-dwelling snakes, dragonfly, all water creatures and sea birds
Chakra Sacral Plexus
Colour Blue, aquamarine, bluish-silver, blue-green, green, grey, indigo, black, shades of green; purple
Plants Willow, lettuce, kelp, ferns, lotus, mosses, rushes, seaweed, water lilies, and all water plants
Places Rivers, lakes, oceans, beaches, swamps, pools, springs, wells
Jungian Function Feeling
Stones/Gems/Crystals Moonstone, silver, pearl, Aquamarine, Lapis lazuli, coral, jade, quartz crystal, amethyst, sapphire
Spirit Undines
Tools Cups, chalice,  cauldron
Tree Willow

How to get  in Touch with the Water Element

  • Next time you have a bath, feel the comfort of immersing yourself in water and the trancelike condition it invokes; where thoughts and feelings are suspended, peace and serenity taking over. Feel the water moving around your skin washing away the psychic baggage accumulated during the day.
  • When you go swimming, experience the water carrying you; close your eyes and float; let the water take control.
  • Take a walk when it rains; summer rain after a hot day can bring refreshment and a sense of purification. Watch the plants being replenished with water.
  • Children love water; they don’t mind getting wet. They love bath time and playing with containers in the paddling pool in summer. Try it for yourself; perhaps you notice how relaxing that can be.
  • If you have a garden, why not create a pond? Plant water plants and create spaces for frogs. Enjoy watching tadpoles transforming into frogs. If your pond is big enough, consider getting some fish and create a little eco-system.
  • Visit the seaside and enjoy the sea with all its riches: shells, crabs, pebbles. Savour the waves and the changing tides. Feel the water and see if you can smell the sea. Be hands on and experience the effects of the sea on you. Do you feel calm, carefree and content or perhaps lonely or sad?
  • Visit a lake or a river. Sit beside a stream and watch the water move. Perhaps you can see some fish. Can you look down to the ground? Is the water clear or murky? Feel any tension slowly leaving you, when you listen to the gurgle of water over pebbles and rocks.
Back to Elements


Tarot & the Four Elements: Fire

Just like Air, Fire is a masculine (yang) element; it is vital, energetic and vigorous.

Fire energy is difficult to control, and it can easily destroy everything in its path. Yet when contained, the energy can provide light, warmth, comfort and used to prepare food.

When our ancestors learned how to use fire, it transformed their lives.

In religions, fire is regarded as a great purifier, cleansing sacred space. It is also a symbol of the soul, a metaphor for spirit.

Fire cannot exist without fuel to consume including oxygen. In order to put it out, it needs to be dowsed with water or the air supply needs to be cut off with soil or a wet blanket.

Fire energy is the hot, devouring power of the most intense emotions: anger, lust, love.

Just like a real fire, people with a “fiery” temperament need the element Water in the form of feelings and emotions to calm down and find balance as well as the Element Earth for grounding and stability.

Positive: creativity, enterprise, drive, enthusiasm, passion, determination.

Negative: restlessness, willfulness, pride, reckless behaviour.

Tarot Cards

Major Arcana: The Emperor, Strength, Temperance, The Tower, The Sun, Judgement

Minor Arcana: The Suit of Wands; Kings

In Tarot the element Fire represents growth, inspiration, energy, creativity, self-development and passion. Fire refers to career, work, enterprise and ambition.

Fire Correspondences
Astrological signs Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Atmosphere Hot and dry
Direction South
Moon Full
Season Summer (Spring in Tarot)
Time Noon
Animals Komodo dragon, fire-breathing dragons,  desert-dwelling animals, lion, horses (when their hooves strike sparks), salamander
Chakra Heart
Colour Red, orange, gold, crimson, white (the sun’s noon light)
Plants Sunflowers, basil, fennel, onion, garlic, hibiscus, mustard, nettle, red peppers, red poppies, chillies
Places Deserts, volcanoes, hearth, bonfire
Jungian Function Intuition
Stones/Gems/Crystals Amber, ruby, carnelian, garnet, lava, Bloodstone, Tiger’s Eye, topaz
Spirit The joyful, exuberant Salamander
Tools Censer, wand, candle
Tree Almond in flowe

How to get  in Touch with the Fire Element

  • If you have a fireplace, kindle a fire in the comfort of your home, or make a fire safely outside. If this is not possible, light a candle instead and watch the flames; observe its movements, change of shape and strength. Watch it flicker and flare up, when you add more fuel or the flame is affected by a draught or wind. If you burn a fire in a fireplace, experiment with burning different fuels: coal, wood, paper, some twigs and leaves from the garden. If you burn a candle, add some essential oils, but keep the candle safely on a fireproof surface. Notice the different colours of the flames; orange, yellow, white, blue, sometimes green. What sort of emotions does the fire or the burning candle invoke in you? Energy, passion, anger or a feeling of warmth and cosiness?
  • On a sunny day, sit outside and do some sunbathing. Sunlight is relaxing and after a while you can feel your skin slowly warming up.  But make sure you don’t get burned! After a long winter, sunshine is invigorating and improves our sense of well-being. The heat of the sun gives life in summer an “easy” feel, but tempers and passions can also flare up quite quickly. Note, what impact does sunbathing have on you: do you feel relaxed, enlivened, cheerful or irritated and unnerved? This may well depend on how long you are exposed to the sun.
Back to Elements


The Four Elements in Tarot

In the Western Mystery Traditions, the four primary elements are Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

These basic components have been a core part of occult sciences including Tarot, Astrology, Magick and Alchemy for over two thousand years.

The Greek Philosopher Empedocles of Acragas (495—435 B.C.) developed the theory, that the four elements were the basis for all life on earth, everything in existence. This theory was later endorsed and supported by Aristotle.

Since then scientists and philosophers have studied and investigated the meaning and attributes of the four elements, their influence on our world and interaction with each other.

Gradually, the elements were incorporated into the Tarot.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the Tarot, it is necessary to familiarize yourself with the elements, their attributes and correspondences, to  increase your awareness of them around you:

Fire Water Air Earth

elements aces in the tarot

Images: The Aquatic Tarot, © Andreas Schröter, aquatictarot.de

Angels in Tarot

angels in tarotAngels have become very popular over recent years.

More people are trying to bring them into their lives to manifest the positive energies radiating from these celestial beings.

Angels are messengers of the divine; they are also guides and enablers—powerful symbols of love, compassion and kindness.

Although they are seen as helpers to solve problems, they can also cause a certain level of disruption at times.

Angels are well known throughout history and present in many different religions.

Therefore it is no surprise that angels feature in the Tarot, most notably in the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck, Crowley’s Thoth and Paul Foster Case’s B.O.T.A. deck.

Once we get to know the angels in Tarot, they can offer us new insightful messages.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn derived the following correspondences from the Enochian system of Magic:

Tarot Card Angel Direction Element Symbol of Element
Lovers Raphael East Air Clouds below angel
Temperance Michael South Fire Solar orb on brow of angel
Judgement Gabriel West Water Ocean below of angel
The Devil Uriel North Earth Black background and brown body
The Wheel of Fortune


The World

Both cards feature the four angels as lion, eagle, man, bull (the four creatures from the vision of Ezekiel 1:10; also Revelations 4:7) in the corners of the cards:

Eagle—Water—Gabriel (Scorpio)
Lion–Fire—Michael (Leo)
Bull–Earth—Uriel (Taurus)
Man—Air—Raphael (Aquarius)

So, who are these angels and what may they tell us in a reading?

Raphael—”God Heals” is known as the Angel of Love. As the meaning of the name suggests, Raphael assists healing and is a messenger of reconciliation and unity. Raphael also helps with space clearing.

Michael—”He who is like God” is known as the Great Protector. Michael guides us to divine illumination, a fiery warrior of light and protection. Michael offers help when you feel anxious or worried.

Gabriel—”Power of  God” is called the Angel of Truth and is the messenger of prophecy, revelation and resurrection. Gabriel inspires art and communication and helps those who speak out for society. Gabriel is regarded as an angel of feminine energy.

Uriel—“Light of God”, messenger of punishment and salvation. Uriel illuminates situations and gives prophetic warnings of disasters; also connected with earth healing after floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

The Wheel of Fortune and The World—Additional Correspondences

Two of the association may look confusing—it makes more sense to connect the eagle with air and man with water. However, the following table by Paul Foster Case in his Introduction to Tarot should offer some clarification:

Spirit Soul Astral Body Physical Body
Archetypal Creative Formative Material
Fire Water Air Earth
Lion Eagle Man Bull
Leo Scorpio Aquarius Taurus

Baphomet the Horned FigureThe Devil—What’s going on?

On the three aforementioned decks—RWS, Thoth and B.O.T.A.—the Devil is depicted as a demon-like figure.

Waite describes the creature in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot as “The Horned Goat of Mendes” and refers to it as a “Bathometic figure”.

Bathomet is a mythical figure, its image on the left was created by Eliphas Lévi, a 19th century occultist.  There is a lot of controversy about the origins and true identity of Baphomet, but this is not important here.

However, it is interesting that an evil-looking demon can be associated with Uriel, one of the archangels.

Firstly, there is a notable connection between one of the Devil’s many names—Lucifer—and the name Uriel.

Lucifer means Light Bearer, so both names are connected with light and illumination.

It suggests that the Devil is not “all bad”; perhaps it is fair to say that the Devil suggests enlightenment as a result of dark times, and everything carries the light of God/the Divine within.

When contemplating this card in a reading, Uriel may “highlight” the areas, where we go wrong, we know about them, but the Devil prevents us from doing something about it.

Quite literally, this card can mean that the truth shows its ugly face, and Uriel can well be a call for action.

Further Reading:

Gustav Davidson: A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels

Sandra Tabatha Cicero, Chic Cicero: Tarot Talismans: Invoke the Angels of Tarot

Hazel Raven: The Angel Bible – The Definitive Guide to Angel Wisdom