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Golden Dawn Meanings & the Waite-Smith Tarot Deck

February 5, 2012

Brief Meanings of the 40 Spot Cards

A while back, Tony Willis prepared a collation of all the spot card meanings given in Book T and generously shared the fruits of his labors with interested parties. He has given his permission for the collation to be reproduced on this blog. It is a valuable document because spot card meanings appear in two, and in some cases three, places in Book T. However, although these meanings frequently differ, sometimes markedly, nowhere in Book T (or out of it, come to that) are they codified. Mr. Willis has done this work for us, something I for one am deeply grateful for. But he has gone further than that, comparing meanings given by one-time G.D. members like Paul Foster Case and Aleister Crowley, picking out those that correlate with key terms from Book T, and adding them to the compilation.

Study of these compilations is very revealing in and of itself. There are, for example, pointers to ways Mathers, the author of the G.D.’s compendium of the Tarot, stretched the meanings from the early part of Book T in various directions according to, on the one hand, the inquirer’s circumstances and, on the other, the implications drawn from the significance of other key cards in the spread. Yet, as my correspondent Walt has noted (see previous post), even when all the meanings are pooled, the result is often, for this reason or that, of little practical use to anyone hoping to practice the art of divination. I have, therefore, made a synopsis of Mr. Willis’s compilations, reducing them where possible to one or two lines of text. (In only four instances have I exceeded these self-imposed limits and spilled over into three lines of text.) My synopses are preceded by a bullet mark to make them easy to find.

But now it is time to let Mr. Willis speak for himself.

For the next section, I have assumed that A.E. Waite was influenced by Crowley, and that Paul Foster Case too has borrowed phrases from Crowley (notably ‘philanthropy’ as a meaning for  the 6 of Pentacles), and has tended to lean on Crowley as the source of meanings he assigns to the spot cards in his book The Tarot (Macoy, 1947). Frankly, I couldn’t imagine Crowley borrowing from Case and certainly not from Waite. This left two possibilities. One, that Crowley composed his divinatory meanings some time before the publication of his Book of Thoth in 1944, and that these were drummed into service by Waite and Case. Two, that further information on the use of spot cards exists, or once existed, in the archives of the Golden Dawn on which all three authors based their published meanings. I concede that I could be wrong in this. If I am, that would imply that Crowley absorbed some of Case’s meanings from his book on the Tarot. My problem is, I can’t see Crowley deferring to anybody.

There follow the Golden Dawn meanings for the spot cards, tens through to aces, culled from various sources. The first source – represented by those words with no brackets around them – is Book T; these are the ‘brief meanings of the 36 smaller cards’ situated towards the end of Book T plus information about the aces drawn from elsewhere in the text. Those words set within parentheses (or curved brackets) – ( ) – are drawn from the main section of Book T, where they appear, also within parentheses, at the end of the extended sections given over to individual cards and including information such as the personality described by the card. Where one of these entries is simply a repeat of the other, I have saved space by recording only a single version, or by compressing the two, so that some words are bracketed – ( ) – and others unbracketed allowing data from the two sources to remain differentiated. Entries within double square brackets come from the part of Book T where an example is given of how to make a Tarot divination using a series of different spreads.

This is an especially rich seam to be mined for information as it demonstrates how the meanings were used in practice. At times a completely new aspect of a card is uncovered. The Tarot Trump No. 5, The Hierophant, for example, has the following meanings assigned it under the heading Brief meanings of the 22 keys: Divine Wisdom, Manifestation, Explanation, Teaching. But when the card comes up in a spread, none of these keywords is brought into play. Instead, the card is read as Good, that is Sound, Advice. Other Tarot authorities do assign Trump 5 this significance; that it is not mentioned among the G.D.’s ‘brief meanings’ suggests that it forms part of another, fuller list. If this list actually existed (it might have been only notional), it does not form part of Book T. Even where there is a fuller list of meanings in Book T, as there is for the spot cards, its section demonstrating how a divination ought to be carried out contains keywords appearing nowhere on the more comprehensive list. It is my opinion that particular attention should be paid to words and phrases lifted from this part of Book T, and I deeply mourn the fact that so few cards, of either arcana, feature in this section of the Paper. (Documents like Book T are frequently referred to in the G.D. as Order Papers.) [Auntie.]

The Golden Dawn assigns titles to ‘the 36 smaller cards’ – Lord of Love, Lord of Swiftness, and so on; these, turned into keywords – e.g. Love, Swiftness – have been placed within square brackets, usually; but whether bracketed off or not, they are italicized. What Paul Foster Case has to say about the spot cards is included within curly brackets – { }. Comments drawn from Crowley’s writings on the Tarot are enclosed within double square brackets and are distinguished from the additional keywords supplied by Book T by having Crowley’s name attached to them. Waite’s Key to the Tarot is on the whole not a useful source for Golden Dawn meanings. On the odd occasion when Waite’s contribution is cited, it will be found linked to Case’s keywords, or sometimes to Crowley’s. Very occasionally I have had recourse to Mathers’ non-Golden-Dawn-oriented essay The Tarot (George Redway, 1888).

Ace – Force, strength, rush, vigour, energy. [[(hard) work (my brackets –the emphasis should be the other way around, Wands representing Effort rather than Labour. The theme of hard work – its virtue, especially with regard to getting one’s self out of difficulties – resurfaces in other meanings for spot cards of this suit.)]]

  • Force, strength, rush, vigour, energy, effort, work.
    Deuce – Influence over another [[sometimes that other is the querent]]. (Authority, power.) [Dominion.] [[gain and/or victory (Victory as a facet of Dominion. Am not sure about Gain – it may not belong here, unless it be gain of power (see 3 of Wands)).]]

  • Authority, power, dominion. Influence over another (sometimes that other is the querent). Victory.
    Three – Pride and arrogance (and self-assertion). Power sometimes. [Realisation of hope. Completion of labour, successful struggle.] [Established Strength

  • Realisation of hope. Completion of labour, successful struggle. Power sometimes. When afflicted: Pride, arrogance and self-assertion.
    Four – Settlement. Arrangement completed. (arrangement, completion.) [Rest after labour.] [Perfected Work]

  • Completion of a thing built up with trouble and labour. Matter settled and arranged. Rest after labour.
    Five – Quarrelling. Fighting. [Strife and contest.] {Case has ‘competition’, as does Crowley; however, the word is not in Book T.}

  • Strife, contest, competition, fighting, quarrelling.
    Six – Gain and success. [Victoryafter strife, success through energy and industry, pleasure gained by labour.]

  • Victory after strife, success through energy and industry, pleasure gained by labour. Gain and success.
    Seven – Opposition [obstacles, difficulties]; sometimes courage therewith. [Possible victory, depending upon the energy and courage exercised.] [Valour] {Case has ‘courage in face of difficulties’ where the emphasis is slightly different from what is in the original.}

  • Opposition, obstacles, difficulties; courage in face of difficulties. Very determined opposition. Possible victory, depending on the energy and courage exercised.
    Eight – A hasty communication, letter or message. Swiftness. {Again Case differs, with ‘Activity; swiftness; approach to goal.’} {Note in this respect that Waite has ‘activity in undertakings’ as well as ‘swiftness’, ‘great haste’ and ‘speed towards an end which promises happiness.’} [[Activity, approach to goal. [Crowley]]]

  • Activity, swiftness, approach to goal. A hasty communication, letter or message.
    Nine – Strength. Power. Health. (Recovery from sickness.) Energy. [Great success, but with strife and energy.] [Great Strength] {Case continues to differ: ‘Preparedness; strength in reserve; victory after oppo­sition’, none of which is in Book T.}

  • Power, strength, energy, health. Recovery from sickness. Great success accomplished through strife and the expenditure of much energy.
    Ten – Cruelty and malice towards others. Overbearing strength. Revenge. Injustice. [Sometimes shows failure in a matter, with the opposition too strong (to resist).] [Oppression] [[Cruelty, harshness]] {Case speaks of the ‘burden of ill-regulated power.’ This seems influenced by the Waite-Smith design.}

  • Overbearing strength, revenge, injustice, harshness. Cruelty and malice towards others. Sometimes shows failure in a matter, with the opposition too strong to be resisted.
    Ace – Fertility, Productiveness, Beauty, Pleasure, Happiness, etc. (whatever ‘etc.’ means in this context). (Cups as a suit represent pleasure and merriment [[pleasure, visiting friends, love-making]]. (Keywords taken from various places in Book T.) Note the similarity between the suit meaning and the meaning given to the Ace.) (By the by, ‘pleasure’ recurs as a keyword for several Cup spot cards, such as Loss in Pleasure [5 Cups]. Even where not part of the main key phrase, the word appears among the general meanings of several Cup cards, the 3 of Cups, for example.)

  • Fertility, Productiveness, Beauty, Pleasure, Happiness, Love.
    Deuce – Marriage, (home,) love, pleasure. Warm friendship. [Harmony.] {Case has ‘Reciprocity, reflection.’}

  • Marriage, the home, harmony, pleasure. Love, warm friendship.
    Three – Plenty. Hospitality, eating and drinking. Pleasure, dancing, new clothes and merriment. [Abundance; passive success, good luck and fortune. Can indicate love and/or marriage.] {Case reframes the foregoing as: ‘Pleasure, liberality, fulfillment, happy issue.’}

  • Passive success, good luck and fortune – e.g. an unexpected stroke of good luck; success that was not anticipated. Can indicate love and/or marriage. Plenty, pleasure, dancing, new clothes and merriment.
    Four – Receiving pleasures or kindness from others, yet some discomfort therewith. (Receiving pleasure, but some slight discomfort and anxieties therewith. Blended pleasure and success.) [Success or pleasure approaching their end. A stationary period in hap­piness which may or may not continue.] {Case has ‘Contemplation. Dissatisfaction with material success.’ This seems influenced by the Waite-Smith design, though it is also suggested by Crowley’s text and so may be part of G.D. teaching. If so the teaching exists separately from Book T.}

  • Receiving pleasures or kindness from others, but some slight discomfort and anxieties therewith. Success or pleasure approaching their end. A stationary period in hap­piness which may or may not continue.
    Five – Disappointment in love. Marriage broken off, etc. Unkindness from friends (un­kindness from a friend).Whether deserved or not is shown by the cards with it, or counting from or to it.) Loss of friendship. [Death or end of pleasures. Disappointment. Sorrow and loss in those things from which pleasure is expected.] [Loss in Pleasure] [[Engagement broken off, or other relationship – friendship, etc.; loss of a relative (by death)]] {Case adds: ‘Partial loss. Vain regret.’ The latter is also to be found inCrowley.}

  • End of pleasure. Disappointment in love; rift in relationship – love affair, marriage, friendship. Loss of a relative (by death). Unkindness from a friend; whether deserved or not is shown by the cards with it.
    Six – Wish, happiness, success, enjoyment. (Beginning of wish, happiness, success or enjoy­ment.) [Commencement of steady increase, gain and pleasure, but commence­ment only.] [Pleasure] [[Success, later ‘beginning to succeed’ is said]] {Case concurs but appears also to have taken Waite’s comments in The Key to the Tarot to heart: ‘Beginning of steady gain, but beginning only. New rela­tions, new environment.’}

  • Beginning of wish, happiness, success or enjoy­ment. Commencement of steady increase, gain and pleasure, but commence­ment only.
    Seven – Lying, deceit, promises unfulfilled, illusion, deception. Error, slight success, but not enough energy to retain it. [Illusionary Success] {To the basic idea, Case adds ‘Ideas, designs, resolutions.’ ‘Idea’ and ‘design, resolution’ are from Mathers’ The Tarot, the former being one of the card’s upright meanings, while the latter two are reversed meanings according to Mathers. ‘Design’ and ‘resolution’ go back ultimately to Etteilla!}

  • Promises unfulfilled, lying, deceit, error, deception, illusion. Slight success, but not enough energy to retain it.
    Eight – Success abandoned, decline of interest in a thing. Ennui. [Things thrown aside as soon as gained. Not lasting even in the matter in hand.] [Abandoned Success] [[To lose interest (in something)]] {Case speaks of ‘instability. Leaving material success for something higher,’ the latter being a spiritual aspect of the card. ‘Instability’ is found in Book T.} [[Crowley: ‘Abandoned success; instability. Leaving material success for something higher.’]]

  • Success abandoned, decline of interest in a thing. Things thrown aside as soon as gained. Not lasting even in the matter in hand. Instability. Leaving material success for something higher.
    Nine – Complete success. Pleasure and happiness. Wishes fulfilled. [Material Happiness] {Case has: ‘Material success; physical well-being.’ Crowley has ‘physical well-being’ too. Note that Waite has physical bien-être [well-being] as one meaning for this card; as usual with Waite we don’t know his source. Though backed by Case, Crowley and Waite, the meaning is not sanction by Book T.}

  • Material Happiness. Complete success. Pleasure and happiness. Wishes fulfilled.
    Ten – Matters definitely arranged and settled in accordance with one’s wishes. Complete good-fortune. [Permanent and lasting success.] [Perfected Success] {Case says: ‘Lasting success’ [echoing Book T]; ‘happiness to come.’ ‘Lasting success’ is also inCrowley.}

  • Permanent and lasting success. Matters definitely arranged and settled in accordance with one’s wishes. Complete good-fortune.
    Ace – Strength through trouble. Spiritual Brightness (?), Justice, Divine authority upheld; (thus, can indicate) wrath, punishment and affliction. (This section of Book Tis worded poetically and so I have paraphrased parts of the foregoing.) (‘Strength through trouble’ is a theme that repeats in other Sword spot cards.) [[Invoked force; conquest; activity. Case and Crowley.]]

  • Conquest, activity. Justice, and thus can indicate wrath, punishment and affliction.
    Deuce – Quarrel made up, and arranged. Peace restored, yet some tension in relations. [Arrangement of differences, justice.] {Case has: ‘Balanced force; indecision; friendship.’ ‘Friendship’ and ‘balanced force’ are from Waite, the former directly, the latter suggested by the card’s design and the text’s reference to ‘equipoise’. (‘Friendship’ goes back to Etteilla.) ‘Indecision’ is from Crowley. It is not sanctioned by Book T.}

  • Quarrel made up, arrangement of differences. Peace restored, yet some tension in relations.
    Three – Unhappiness, sorrow, tears. [Disruption, separation, quarrelling.] {Case broadly agrees, adding ‘delay’ to the list, which he probably took from Crowley.} [[Sorrow, unhappiness, tears, delay, absence, separation. [Crowley] ‘Delay’ is not to be found in Book T, but it is in Etteilla!]]

  • Unhappiness, sorrow, tears. Disruption, separation, quarrelling.
    Four – Convalescence, recovery from sickness, change for the better. [Rest from sorrow, yet after and through it. Relaxation of anxiety. Quietness, rest.] [Rest From Strife] {Case broadly agrees, but also has ‘relief from anxiety; Quietness, rest, rest after illness. NOT a card of death,’ which in part repeats and in part reworks the relevant section from Book T.}

  • Change for the better. Relaxation of anxiety. Convalescence, recovery from sickness. Quietness, rest. Rest from sorrow, yet after and through it.
    FiveDefeat, loss, malice (spite). Slander, evil-speaking. [Contest finished, and decided against the person, failure, anx­iety, trouble, poverty.] [[Slanderous reports, mischief-making]] {Case follows suit, adding only ‘dishonor’, which he possibly took from Crowley.} [[Defeat, loss, failure, slander, dishonour. [Crowley.] Dishonour is not found in Book T, but it is in Etteilla!]

  • Defeat, contest finished and decided against the person. Failure, anxiety, trouble, poverty. Slanderous reports, mischief-making.
    Six – Labour, work; journey, probably by water (shown by cards near by). [Success after anxiety and trouble.] [Earned Success] [[Labour and work; anxiety]] {Case follows suit, adding only ‘passage from difficulties’ which could be influenced by the Waite-Smith illustration.} [[Success after anxiety; passage from difficulty; a journey by water. [Crowley.]]]

  • Success after anxiety and trouble. Labour, work; success earned by laborious effort. Journey, probably by water (shown by cards nearby).
    Seven – In character untrustworthy, vacillation. Journey probably by land (shown by cards near, etc.) [Partial success. Inclination to lose when on the point of gaining through not continuing the effort.] [Unstable Effort] {Case agrees on the main points, adding only ‘uncertainty’. This may arise from Waite’s influence: he gives one meaning for the card as ‘a plan that may fail’. Book T has ‘unreliable’ rather than ‘uncertainty’.} [[Unstable effort, vacillation, partial success (through giving up on the brink of winning) [Crowley.]]]

  • Unstable Effort. Partial success. Inclination to lose when on the point of gaining through not continuing the effort. Journey probably by land (shown by cards nearby.)
    Eight – Narrow or restricted. Petty. A prison. [Shortened Force] [[Life is arduous, petty and uninteresting]] {Case: ‘Indecision; waste of energy in details; a crisis.’ ‘Waste of energy in details’ comes from the longer Book T entry. The other two keywords have been introduced by Case.} [[Waste of energy in details. [Crowley.]]] {{‘Crisis’ goes back to Etteilla and is mentioned by Waite. It does not appear in Book T.}}

  • Life is arduous, petty and uninteresting. Waste of energy in minor details. Narrow or restricted. A prison.
    Nine – Illness. Suffering. Malice. Cruelty. Pain. [Despair, want, loss, misery.] [Despair & Cruelty] [[Anxiety, health suffers]]

  • Illness, suffering, pain, malice, cruelty. Despair, want, loss, misery. Anxiety, health suffers in consequence.
    TenRuin. Death. Failure. Disaster. (Disruption.) [Complete disruption and failure. Ruin of all plans and projects.] {Case is broadly in agreement: ‘Ruin, pain, desolation; sudden misfortune. NOT a card of sudden death. In spiritual matters: End of delusion.’}

  • Ruin of all plans and projects. Disaster. Complete disruption and failure. With the appropriate cards, Death.
    Ace – Material gain, labour, power, wealth. (‘Power’ is used here in the sense that ‘money talks’. Labour is obviously different from the Energy, Vigour, etc. of the Wands suit. It signifies labour as the source of wealth – or of income, at least.) [[Prosperity in business]] (The 4 of Pentacles is Lord of Material Gain, repeating one of the Ace’s meanings. The 10 is Lord of Riches and Wealth. Thus qualities allotted to the Ace repeat in other Pentacle cards.) [[Material gain, wealth, contentment. Case and Crowley.]]

  • Material gain, wealth, labour, wealth as power. Prosperity in business.
    Deuce – Pleasant change. Visit to friends, etc. [Harmonious Change] [[Change]] {Case: ‘Harmony in midst of change.’}

  • Harmonious change. Pleasant change. Change of occupation, visit to friends or the like.
    Three – Business, paid employment. Commercial transactions. [Realisation, and increase of material things, increase of substance or influence, cleverness in business, commencement of a matter to be established later.] [Material Works] {Case: ‘Construction; material increase; growth; financial gain.’} [[[Crowley]: ‘constructive building up, increase of material things’, ‘paid employment, commercial transaction.’]]

  • Business, paid employment. Commercial transactions. Increase of material things, increase of substance or influence. Commencement of a matter to be established later.
    Four – Gain of money and (or) influence. A present. [Assured material gain.] [Earthly Power] {Case: ‘Earthly power; physical forces; skill in directing them.’ [Crowley]: ‘Skill in directing of physical forces’. This meaning is not found in Book T.}

  • Assured material gain. Gain of money and/or influence. Gift or present.
    Five – Loss of profession. Loss of money. Monetary anxiety. (Loss of money or position. Trouble concerning material things.) [When very well dignified: money regained after severe toil and labour.] [Material Trouble] [[‘Loss of business’ (i.e., loss of trade) in place of ‘loss of profession’.]] {Case goes off-message G. D.-wise regarding this card.}

  • Trouble concerning material things. Loss of profession or position. Loss of money. To receive no financial recompense for work done. Monetary anxiety.
    Six – Success in material things; prosperity in business. [Gain in material undertakings.] [Material Success] {Case has ‘Material prosperity, philanthropy, presents’, which seems influenced by the Waite-Smith illustration, though see following remark on this point. [Crowley]: ‘Success and gain in material things, philanthropy.’ ‘Philanthropy’ is not sanctioned by Book T, but may derive from Mathers (The Tarot), ‘presents, gifts’.}

  • Success in material things; prosperity in business. Gain in material undertakings.
    Seven – Unprofitable speculations or employments; also honorary work un­dertaken for the love of it, and without desire of reward. (Little gain for much labour.) [Promises of success unfulfilled. Loss of apparently promis­ing fortune. Some­times it denotes slight and isolated gains with no fruits resulting therefrom, and of no further account, though seeming to promise well.] {Case changes the emphasis slightly with ‘Success unfulfilled; delay, but growth.’ The phrase ‘delay but growth’ is to be found in Crowley but is not sanctioned by Book T.}

  • Unprofitable speculations or employments. Little gain for much labour. Promises of success are unfulfilled. Loss of apparently promis­ing fortune. Some­times it denotes slight and isolated gains with no fruits resulting therefrom, and of no further account, though seeming to promise well.
    Eight – Skill, prudence, also artfulness, and cunning (depending on the cards associated with it.) [Gain of ready money in small sums.] [[Skilful action (in the broadest sense – but note what Case has to say)]] {Case has: ‘Skill in material affairs.’ [Crowley]: ‘Skill, intelligence applied to material affairs.’}

  • Gain of ready money in small sums. Skill in material affairs, also artfulness and cunning (depending on the cards associated with it.)
    Nine – Inheritance [[legacy]]. Much increase of money (much increase of goods). [Complete realisation of material gain.] {Case’s ‘Prudence; material gain; completion’ repeats Waite’s use of ‘prudence’ under this heading – whereas the G. D. associates the term with the 8 of Pentacles. Case also alters ‘complete realisation’ to ‘completion’.} {{The use of ‘prudence’ by Waite and Case may derive from Mathers’ The Tarot. It is not to be found in relation to this card in Etteilla.}}

  • Complete realisation of material gain. Much increase of money or goods. Inheritance.
    Ten – Riches and wealth. [Completion of material gain and fortune, but nothing beyond.] [[Business prospers]] {To the basic idea, Case adds ‘material prosperity’, which also appears in Crowley and may have been taken from him by Case.}

  • Riches and wealth. Business prospers. Completion of material gain and fortune, but nothing beyond.
    The ‘brief meanings for the 36 smaller cards’ are geared to the Tarot’s role as a divinatory tool, its fortune-telling aspect, if you wish. There is a plentiful supply of psychological material in Book Tand those interested in working the Tarot from the point of view of psychology will find much to instruct and inform them therein. Those more concerned with the Tarot as a predictive medium, however, will be well served by my synopses of the ‘brief meanings’. My advice is that students first make an effort to understand the keywords and, second, commit the forty synopses to memory.

    In making my synopses, I’ve junked almost a third of the Golden Dawn’s ‘titles’ for the spot cards. What use to the average Tarot reader are such ‘meanings’ as Shortened Force (8 of Swords)? We’re still left with a slew of keywords in most cases, the implications of those remaining keywords in general readily accessible. For example, the 2 of Wands has associated with it the keyword Victory. A good way of approaching keywords is to regard them as the outer packaging wrapped about a set of connected ideas. Then the wider meaning of the keyword can be ‘unpacked’, as it were, by the simple expedient of considering its synonyms. Instead of Victory, try Triumph – which may denote triumph over business rivals or triumph over hampering circumstances depending on the question asked. Other keywords don’t even need ‘unpacking’. The 5 of Swords has Failure, Poverty and Trouble as three of its keywords. Their meanings are clear: whatever project the inquirer has asked about is likely to fail; if the question is about money, financial loss is forecast, possibly a severe one; or, quite simply, trouble is brewing and the inquirer should prepare herself for the inevitable moment when the storm breaks.

    I have, I hope, moved well away from Book T’s more puzzling offerings, such as ‘Skill, prudence, cunning’ cited by Walt. The exceptions are the Aces. I shall be talking about how their keywords are to be ‘unpacked’, as well as dealing with some remaining grey areas – Home for the 2 of Cups, and one or two others – in my next post.

    But before I finish, I feel impelled to point out to Walt, and anyone else who thinks as he does, that he is mistaken in believing that the Golden Dawn spot card meanings ‘fit so well with pictures on the Rider-Waite tarot drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith’. Let’s look at a triad of meanings, taken at random, and try to match them to Pamela Coleman Smith’s illustrations. Start off by removing from a Waite-Smith deck the 7 of Pentacles, the 9 of Cups and the 2 of Wands. Study the pictures on the cards. Try to imagine that you have not seen these illustrations before, and ask yourself what ideas they evoke. Make a note of your thoughts before reading on.

    Now let us consider the Golden Dawn meaning for the 7 of Pentacles: ‘little gain for much labor, promises of success unfulfilled’. Are these ideas that came to mind as you contemplated the picture on the card? A man, an agricultural laborer or gardener, is shown leaning on a staff, regarding a plant on which six pentacles appear to be growing; there is a seventh pentacle at his feet. The plant seems to be fairly well endowed with ‘fruit’, there being little space for further pentacles among its leaves. Does the scene suggest that promises of success remain unfulfilled for this gardener? On the contrary, his efforts seem to have been adequately productive. Does the scene suggest that a great output of labor on the man’s part has yielded only a small return? Once more, if anything, the picture implies the reverse. The plant is almost replete with ‘fruit’, while the image gives no indication of the amount of work the gardener has put into the project. On the basis of the illustration alone, one might conclude that the things had turned out very nicely, thank you, for the laborer.

    For the Golden Dawn, the 9 of Cups indicates ‘Complete success; pleasure and happiness’. The image on the card might possibly be taken to symbolize happiness, but self-satisfaction is a word that comes just as easily to mind. The picture isn’t especially redolent of ‘complete success’, a prime meaning for the 9 of Cups. It does, just, I suppose, embody the phrase ‘physical well-being’ endorsed by Waite, Crowley and Case; but that is not a prime significance of this card, and does not appear as a keyword for it in Book T.

    We find a similar situation when we come to examine the 2 of Wands. While the illustration does lean in the direction of the G.D. Title for the card, Dominion, I doubt that anyone seeing the image for the first time would have that word on their list of ‘top ten things this picture makes me think of’. Even if ‘dominion’ was the suggested to an observer by the image of a man holding a globe in his hand, as a keyword it’s no great help to someone attempting a divination. The G.D. meanings for the card (all of which would be of use when making a divination) are ‘influence over another’, ‘victory’ and ‘authority’, none of which are unequivocally evoked by the picture on the card.

    Make other comparisons and you will find that most Waite-Smith illustrations are as ill-matched with the divinatory meanings recorded in Book T as are the three discussed in the examples given above. If Walt is hoping that the pictures on the Waite-Smith spot cards are going to help him remember the G.D. meanings because those images reflect, in a non-distorted way, Book T’s keywords, he is going to be sorely disappointed.


    From → tarot divination

    1. pearluna permalink

      This is a treasure house of gems, a labour of love. Like an onion, layers upon layers of meanings are unraveled from the key words of the spot cards, and the research, as ever is meticulous.
      Thank you Tony, and thank you so much Auntie, for this wonderful blog.

      • Thank you, Pearl, for your appreciative message. You’re very kind.

        I’ll pass your thanks on to Tony Willis.

        Best wishes,


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