The Tarot And The Hermetic Qabalah

For those new to the Tarot, the cards themselves can appear mysterious and, in some cases, rather daunting. Where do these symbols come from? For many seasoned practitioners, it seems as if the Tarot has always been as it is but, in truth, the Tarot we know and love today has only been existent for just over 200 years.



The Tarot existed as an independent entity for around 350 years. In 1781, an article was written by the Comte de Mellet, drawing parallels between the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the 22 cards of the Major Arcanum and the two became inextricably linked. Shortly afterwards, French occultist, Eliphas Levi, linked the four suits of the Tarot to the Hebrew Tetragrammaton: YHVH, the four-letter word for God. Levi began to develop the idea of the cards as a key to a higher plane and passed his ideas on through the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; a group of occultists in the UK.


The Order of the Golden Dawn

The Order taught esoteric philosophy through the teachings of the Hermetic Qabalah, a belief-system that suggests that there is no separation between divinity and man. The Order was also much concerned with self-analysis and understanding and began to use the Tarot as a tool with which to gain access to the higher self. In correspondence with their beliefs, the Order of the Golden Dawn then began to create Tarot decks, using symbolism and imagery from the Hermetic Qabalah, giving rise to the decks that most people know today. The images on the most popular deck, the ‘Rider-Waite’ deck, were drawn by artist Pamela Colman-Smith, under the instructions of fellow Golden Dawn member, Arthur Edward Waite. This was one of the first decks to illustrate each card and was published by Rider in 1909.


Formed in 1888, the Order of the Golden Dawn shaped much of the structure of occultism through the 20th Century, particularly in the UK, the USA and the Commonwealth. While the Tarot owes much of its present incarnation to the followers of the Hermetic Qabalah, it is still very much an entity in itself, used by people from varying spiritual backgrounds, on a daily basis.



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