Let’s conclude Golden Dawn Tarot week with an offshoot-GD deck, the B.O.T.A. Tarot by Paul Foster Case, illustrated by Jessie Burns Parke. In this blog post, the fully colored Majors are from the 2009 Ishtar Publishing reprint of Paul Foster Case’s Learning Tarot Essentials: Tarot Cards for Beginners (1932), via the Internet Archive.
You can buy the black and white deck for coloring direct from the Builders of the Adytum here for just $8.50. It’s an incredible deal! I’ll share more photos of the physical deck later in this review, but it’s matte, unrounded corners though, and lovely quality.
The digital images of the Major Arcana for download can be purchased for $5.00, linked here and digital the Minor Arcana digital files for $5.00, linked here. B.O.T.A. also has a couple of other deck purchasing options at their online store, so be sure to check it out, and nothing over $20– great prices. (fyi this is not an advertisement or promo; no one paid me to say any of this.)
In Learning Tarot Essentials, Case traces the connection of the tarot to the occult to a revival that happened in 1854, credited to Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual of Transcendental Magic. Levi took his inspiration from the French occultist Dr. Gerare Encausse, or Papus. I have a free two-part video lecture that was part of Sightsee the Tarot on Tarot of the Bohemians.
This deck review will also cover Case’s discourse on tarot card meanings as found in his Introduction to Tarot published in 1922.
Coloring instructions for the deck can be found in Tarot Fundamentals (1936). The background for the Fool card, for instance, should be yellow, the garment green, violet mountains, the eagle pictured on his knapsack is brown, a white sun, the Fool is flesh-toned, with blond hair, etc.
Key 2: The High Priestess is memory and record-keeping of the past. Key 2 endows us with the power of recollection. The tarot High Priestess is a personification of Prakriti, a feminine primordial aspect of all life forms. The binary dark and light stone cubes forming the base of the pillars is also symbolically important– any time you see stone cubes, pay attention. “STONE is an esoteric word representing Union, Life, and Wisdom,” writes Case.
The Empress, significantly, features a string of seven pearls and a crown of twelve stars for her connection to Urania, Muse of Astronomy.
Key 5: The Hierophant, for another example of Case’s texts on the cards, is assigned the function of Hearing, or more particularly, Interior Hearing–clairaudience.
As we do this look-through of the card images, I’ll also be referencing “Highlights of the Tarot” (1931) a pamphlet published by Paul Foster Case and a B.O.T.A. study guide. That text also includes all coloring instructions for the deck, and esoteric card meanings for the Majors.
Little snippets here and there do date Case’s texts, such as the explanation for why The Emperor follows The Empress: “A man cannot be master of his household until his mate has had children.” (On Key 4: The Emperor, Lesson Three, An Introduction to Tarot) Or making reference to Asians as Orientals, which hey, I’m no mad at all. Context is everything.
His tarot school of thought runs contrary to much of what you see of contemporary tarot as it’s gone mainstream (or what I call “fast food tarot”). For instance, he notes:
“The tarot is a textbook of occult teachings. It is intended for the use of serious aspirants who are in search of spiritual enlightenment . . .
“Those who seek to find in the Tarot an easy method of spiritual development will be disappointed. . . . The Tarot is not a plaything, nor is it only a pack of cards designed for the purposes of fortune telling.”
Case makes reference to the Inner School, where and how occult wisdom is kept alive and passed on through the tarot cards. Don’t quote me here, but I think this is the same reference Robert Wang makes in An Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot when he describes his Mathers-based deck as being based on the Inner Tradition. These references are in contrast to an exoteric approach to religion or here, divination. The Inner School or Inner Tradition thus refers to an esoteric approach to the cards.
Of Key 6, Case writes: “The principal lesson of this Key [The Lovers] is of importance to all who wish to make best use of their powers. In very simple terms it is this: Superconsciousness (the angel) sheds its influence impartially upon both self-consciousness (the man) and subconsciousness (the woman). The most important meaning to understand about Key 6 (per Case’s writings): this is the key of discernment, and how to harness the alchemical powers of harmonizing opposites.
I’ve often heard modern-day tarot readers express confusion over the astrological correspondence of Cancer, a Water sign, with Key 7: The Chariot, especially in light of the classical card meaning attributed to The Chariot– that of kinetic energy, progressive movement, achievement, the vehicle of the mind in full motion, etc. It doesn’t quite seem to align with the watery Cancer sign of introversion.
“The ignorant, when they hear us name water, think it is water of the clouds; but if they understood our [occultists’] books, they would know it to be a permanent or fixed water . . . our water is a heavenly water, which wets not the hand . . . water is the root of all minerals. . . . In short, the occult ‘water’ is the Astral Fluid, the electromagnetic energy which is the substance of all things.”
Case’s order of the Majors follows Waite’s switch between Keys 8 and 11. Of Strength, there are two principal symbols in the force behind this Key: the snake and the lion, The Adversary and The Redeemer. Exoteric theology would have you believe the two are irreconcilable antagonists, but it is in esotericism and occult wisdom that you understand that they are not only necessarily reconciled, but one never appears without the other.
Key 10 features at its outer corners “the four mystic animals mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel, and appearing again in the Apocalypse.” The four mystic animals designate the four fixed stars, four elements, which “occult tradition associates” with the Divine Name IHVH. Therefore IHVH is inscribed within the Wheel, alternating with ROTA, meaning wheel, and also the Latin sentence: Rota Tarot Orat Tora Ator– “The Wheel of Tarot speaks the Law of Ator (Hathor).”
Case describes Key 12: The Hanged Man as the “most important emblem in Tarot.” The Hanged Man represents the Law of Reversal, and the Law of Reversal “is one of the great secrets of occultism.”
Here is the secret of the Law of Reversal, quoting Case:
“To reverse the conditions of misery, disease, and failure, and substitute for them their opposites of health, happiness, and success, it is necessary to think, speak, and act in ways which are the reverse of those in which most persons think, speak and act.” (An Introduction to Tarot, Lesson Seven, Key 12: The Hanged Man)
And “right use of Key 12 is such a method” for fully understanding and actualizing the Law of Reversal.
The red pants of the Hanged Man and his legs forming the figure 4 connects Key 12 to Key 4: The Emperor, both by the red color and the figure 4. Both teach the seeker Use of Power. Meanwhile, the Hanged Man’s jacket is blue, connecting this Key to the High Priestess and the element of Water, with silver trimmings invoking a lunar presence.
“Verification is the basic meaning of Key 14,” Temperance. This is having arrived at the Truth after undergoing a Trial. The Great Work necessarily “combines and harmonizes all the various elements which enter into the constitution of human personality, blending them together in one whole.”
Temperance is the alchemical process of combining and harmonizing that leads to achievement of your Great Work. Case identifies the angel in Key 14 as Archangel Michael, Angel of the Sun. IHVH is written on his robe, meaning One Reality and all aspects coming together as One Life.
The last seven Keys of Tarot, beginning with Key 15, illustrate seven steps in the spiritual unfoldment of man, writes Case. And that first stage begins with The Devil card: confronting fear, ignorance, and misery. There is no path to spiritual ascent open to you without first confronting The Devil.
As for Key 16: The Tower, “use this Key as a means to overcome your superstitions. Use it to free your mind. . . . Use it also whenever you are confronted by what seems to be a problem. You have a problem because you are ignorant. You are ignorant because hitherto you have accepted some appearance at face value. You are in trouble because your words express faulty reasoning.” Thus, Key 16 is the occultist’s tool for overcoming problems, ignorance, and faulty reasoning.
Describing The Moon card, there should be eighteen falling Hebrew Yods, colored red and yellow to represent the life force. Red is the exoteric vision of raining blood, while yellow is the esoteric vision of Light. Key 18 is a gateway, as formed by the two battlemented towers. There should be a suggestion here that beyond the edges of the card, the towers connect to a fortified wall, and so the only opening for access forward is this gateway revealed in The Moon card. The two facets of canines represent the two facets of man: the wolf is natural evolution and the dog is human adaptation.
The Sun card is used to harness conscious energy as power to move terrestrial activities. The sunflowers “represent the manifestation of the solar force in the organic world below man.” Depictions of human youth in the tarot Sun card is about representing “the unfolding of regenerated human consciousness.”
In the Judgement card, writes Case, the angel is Gabriel. Here, though, he makes a distinction between the Biblical doctrine of the Last Judgment and Key 20 in the tarot. Key 20 Judgement is about completion of the Great Work. Key 20 also gives access to the Fourth Dimension. This card is the magus’s tool for “personal realization of immortality” and “realizing that, even now, you are living in the Fourth Dimension.”
In this card image, note a man, woman, and child rising from the three coffins in the waters. The man and woman are again two aspects of the consciousness paired, and the child “stands giving the traditional sign of Typhon, or Apophis the Destroyer. This is because he represents the rebirth which comes as the result of mastering the destructive principle.” The three figures together “represent an ancient mystery formula– Isis, Apophis, and Osiris… I A O, or Yaho, one of the most potent words of power.” (Lesson Eleven in An Introduction to Tarot).
By the way if you’re interested in a discussion on Invoking HRU and commentary on the references to I A O, check out an old Sightsee the Tarot video, “Invoking HRU and the Riddle of the Sphinx” in which we talk about M. M. Meleen’s Book M: Liber Mundi (2015).
The Tarot Tableau, arranged as you see above, while most likely older than Case, was popularized by Case, so he tends to get the credit for it. He talks about pathworking and meditation with the Tarot Tableau. (Thomas of Hermit’s Mirror published a great modern take on working with a Tarot Tableau. My book review of it here.)
B.O.T.A. (Builders of the Adytum), like the Golden Dawn, emphasize using the tarot in meditation rather than fortune-telling. Case himself elevated the definition for “divination” as distinct and separate from “fortune-telling.” Case goes so far as to call fortune-telling with the tarot “vulgar.” (in The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, 1947)
In many of his texts, Case espouses an astral concept called the Cube of Space where 3 axes (up-down, left-right, front-back, and also symbolic of the Tria Prima, Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt), plus its 1 center converging point, connect 6 sides of an astral cube and 12 edges: 3 + 1 + 6 + 12 = 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
I’m speculating that the Cube of Space is inspired, at least in part, by the Platonian concept of all earthly matter being made up of cubes. I went to town on this concept of the Cube of Space, but through my own lens.
In the above hand-drawn diagram, each of those units are supposed to be perfect cubes. It’s not to scale. I did it by hand so by the time I got to the front/bottom half of that diagram, I was running out of space and my “cubes” started looking very un-cube-like…
Anyway, in my approach, I perceived each of the 22 Majors to be an astral cube (one astral realm or gate of light), tiered as an astral ladder up to Knowing by Way of Unknown, hence Key 0, which can also be represented by a Holy Trinity, hence three Key 0s in my SKT deck.
Then each numerological realm (as in all the Fours, all the Fives, etc.) are four elemental cubes (one cube is the Four of Fire, one cube is the four of Water, four of Air, Four of Earth) that combine to form a bigger cube of four cubes, thus forming the elemental worlds. The court cards then represent the concept of a fifth element, Spirit, and they are the Light that traverse across all cube-realm-gate-things in this…thing. 🙂 Also, hence we get this concept of angels as messengers.
Here is where I start thinking about how an equilateral triangle can be inscribed in a square forming three right triangles in addition to that equilateral triangle that unites the three right triangles that, superimposing the multiple dimensions in the Cube, forms the Merkahabah star, relating to the Chariot and Ezekiel’s vision, then somehow connect that to Ezekiel’s Wheel on Key 10: Wheel of Fortune and Postel’s Key, Key to the Wisdom of the Ages they keep saying… and the unit circle within the square, sine, cosine wavelengths forming that unit circle, cycle of life, God, Squaring the Circle, and around this moment is where my brain melts and I need to go eat cake.
In contrast, as I understand Case’s Cube of Space, this diagram on its own is symbolic of Creation, both how the universe was created by the divine and also a blueprint for how the magus creates, transmuting what was in the mind into what is now matter. The numerical sequence of the 22 Keys, because they correspond with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, are the whole “in the beginning there was the Word” idea. And you extrapolate that into an ordered series of steps to turn Word (mind) into reality (matter).
The sets of Minors from the B.O.T.A. Tarot are grouped by their numerological ranking. One of the “blinds” that Case purportedly removed from Waite’s deck so that more of occult wisdom could be revealed to the lay is in the depiction of the Wands. The Wands in this deck are drawn per the instructions of Eliphas Levi, on the magician’s wand.
Unlike the Rider-Waite-Smith, which was one of several inspirational sources, or at least sources of references to Case and his illustrator, the pips in the B.O.T.A. Tarot are simple, though the formations of the elemental relics are significant. The active Fours (Wands and Swords) form a square, while the passive Fours (Cups and Pentacles) mark the four corners.
The formations in the active elements (Fire and Air) convey materials arranged by human intelligence and willpower while the passive elements (Water and Earth) convey materials arranged by nature, and organic evolution– Mother Nature’s architecture and an expression of the building blocks of life.
Something I’ve noticed about Golden Dawn based texts on tarot fundamentals is the great amount of pages within these books that are devoted to the Major Arcana, but the Minor Arcana cards pretty much get summed up in a couple of pages, mainly rooted in numerological and elemental theories. If you’d like to learn more about Case’s perspective of the four suit correspondences, I wrote about it in a 2013 blog post on Oracle of the Tarot (1333) here.
Case talks about the “Occult Meaning of Numbers” and its through plotting elements and numbers on an astral Cartesian coordinate system that you derive a significance for each element-number coordinate. The 36 coordinates that make up the pip cards Twos through Tens correspond with the 36 decans (also, 9 x 4) in the astrological zodiac wheel, demonstrating an interplay between mathematics and space, where a continuum is thus created, giving rise to the Fourth Dimension that Case likes to talk about. One layman’s approach to conceptualizing that Fourth Dimension is as Time. (See An Introduction to Tarot.)
In fortune-telling, you’ll reduce each of these element-number coordinates to keywords revealing different formulas of universally experienced life events or emotions. Divination is reaching up to grasp at the astral, intangible Divine and, through the works of the magus, bringing it down to the earthly plane and transforming or translating it into a physical, tangible Mundane for the lay to comprehend.
But in occult approaches to the tarot, you want to keep your studies and meditations on the abstract and conceptual. So here in decks like the B.O.T.A. Tarot, or as applied to any deck where the pips are presented in an abstract, diagram-ornamental form rather than humanistic and scenic, the occultist can just focus on the raw blueprints.
By that rationale, these types of pips, like what you see here and in all of the Golden Dawn based decks we reviewed this week, are “better” for meditation. Even if I don’t personally agree with that point of view, I can certainly appreciate it, and see its merits.
This theoretical concept is most pronounced in the Tens. The active cards (Wands and Swords) show intelligent design from human willpower and ingenuity. So you get the whole as above so below motif with the square symbolic of harnessing the cube of space between the two triangles. This is union of opposites in alchemy. Meanwhile the passive cards (Cups and Pentacles) show the relics in a Tree of Life arrangement, which is the natural order of design.
For all the talk about how Case removed the “blinds” from the RWS deck to offer a more accurate deck of occult wisdom, it’s interesting to consider how here, he keeps Waite’s court rankings, i.e., Page, Knight, Queen, and King.
I’m trying to remember exactly which occult author said this was one of the blinds that Waite put into his deck to conceal the true identities of the courts… argh… yeah I’m blanking out, but I swear I read that somewhere. Flowing from that, the perspective forwarded by some occultists (predominantly from the Thoth schools) is that this is a blind, and the “true” ranking of the courts is Princess, Prince, Queen, and then Knight.
Revisiting the Golden Dawn decks we covered this past week on the blog, Robert Wang’s Golden Dawn Tarot, created with the guidance of Israel Regardie, uses the court titles Princess, Prince, Queen, and King, where the imagery on the King cards would, to an RWS reader, look like Knights, and the Prince cards ride chariots, like in Crowley’s Thoth.
In the New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot by Chic and Tabatha Cicero, also done under the guidance of Israel Regardie, use the same designates as Wang’s deck– Princess, Prince (on chariots), Queen, and King (with horses). Lon Milo DuQuette’s Tarot of Ceremonial Magick follows Crowley’s titles: Princess, Prince, Queen, and Knight.
One of the hallmarks of Golden Dawn decks, writes the Ciceros (in The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot), is that the four Kings are shown to be on horseback, representing “swift and ecstatic but not lasting” energy, which RWS readers are going to scratch their chins and think, hmm, that sounds a lot like Knight cards.
Case’s deck departs from that stated Golden Dawn tradition and instead, look like spitting image clones of Waite’s Kings.
“There is nothing you know that is not made of Light. There is no force or power you employ which is not a transformation of that same illimitable radiance.” (from the Key 3: The Empress entry in An Introduction to Tarot)
Paul Foster Case advocated for every serious tarot student to, at some point, color in your own tarot deck, and he produced a set of black and white images for just that purpose. Coloring your own set of tarot Keys is a form of spiritual integration– it is you putting your psychic and magical imprint on an external, preexisting collective value of magian powers, and also, you giving yourself access to that external, preexisting collective of powers and abilities. It is “one of the most practical secrets of all occultism” and “the necessary foundation for all advanced tarot practice.” (Case, from Highlights of the Tarot, 1931)
The practice reenacts the metaphor of you as a triangular prism, embodying the trinity. The esoteric concept of Light represented by the white space on the cards pre-coloring encompasses the full spectrum of colors, but in its divine form in union to appear as white light. You refract that white light into a full scale of different colors and color patterns to reveal, for yourself, your own theology for how the Divine appears in all aspects of the Mundane.
This practice of coloring in your own deck, or at least coloring in a full set of Majors, was most likely inspired by the Golden Dawn initiatory practice of having their members each creating their own tarot deck from scratch, though per particular Order instructions.
You may find it productive to follow the Golden Dawn color scales for coloring instructions, but it most certainly isn’t necessary for an enriching, spiritual experience. In fact, if you find yourself not resonating intuitively with the GD approach, you’ll want to (and I’d strongly recommend that you) go your own path. Let your thoughts and feelings guide you in the coloring process.
Heck, that’s how I did it myself. I started with the intention of following the Golden Dawn scales, and then realized it just wasn’t working for me, so diverged from that path to chart my own route. None of this is about wrong or right. It’s about what works for you.