The biggest question that one must ask about the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn is: “Is it really a Golden Dawn Tarot deck, or merely a Tarot deck labeled ‘Golden Dawn’ in an effort to sell more copies?”
To answer that question, first one needs to know the background of the design and preparation of this particular Tarot deck. Giordano Berti says in the instructional booklet that accompanies the deck that it was “decided that the artists should know nothing about the previous versions of the deck”. Berti seems to find it wrong that Golden Dawn Tarot decks are “derived from previous decks”.
The goal was to have an artist design a new deck merely from the descriptions of the Major Arcana contained in the Tarot Trumps document that was issued by GH Soror QL (Quaestor Lucis; Harriet Miller Davidson; Mrs. Felkin), and the divinationary meanings from Book T. Exactly how any artist could accomplish this task from just those two documents is beyond me; I suspect that a third document must have been consulted.
Berti feels that the resulting deck is better than previous published versions of the Golden Dawn Tarot. “[T]he painted version by Patrizio Evangelisti expresses a new vision that is in any case coherent with the tradition of Golden Dawn and with the needs of the contemporary public.”
This attitude is going to put off many students of the Golden Dawn Tradition; it is a blatant misunderstanding of how an esoteric Order operates.
Traditionally, the Tarot deck of a Golden Dawn member is supposed to be modeled on a Master Copy (the official version) of the Order’s Tarot deck. The member, who has been a member of the Order for several years, is not only supposed to have access to the Master Copy, but to have also undergone the initiation rituals and studied the instructional material of the Order.
The previous published versions of the Golden Dawn Tarot were never meant to break new ground; they were meant to restore access to a Master Copy that few had actually seen. The decks were designed for a niche audience and not for the general public. While there are many who believe that Golden Dawn should be open to everyone, and that Golden Dawn is a religion, it is not; Golden Dawn is an esoteric lodge based system with a (more or less) limited membership.
There is also the little fact the GH Soror QL’s descriptions of the Major Arcana was unofficial. This is a minor issue compared to the fact that the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn’s Minor Arcana includes “56 new figures capable of making the meanings defined by [Samuel Liddell (MacGregor)] Mathers explicit and transforming them into emblematic personages and allegorical situations”.
While Berti claims that “In spite of this innovative aspect, many images [Minor Arcana] hold the structural element specified in Liber T [sic] hidden within,” some will argue that the elements that are included are less important than the elements excluded. The biggest exclusion is the use of the four color scales which those who have worked with the Classical Golden Dawn Tarot (Richard Dudschus and David Sledzinski) using the instructions of Pat Zalewski will have experience in.
Based on these facts, I must conclude that the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn is not truly one hundred percent Golden Dawn. Nevertheless, I do like this Tarot deck and recommend that members of Golden Dawn actually considering buying it.
For while it was not produced using traditional Golden Dawn methods, and does not confirm to our Master Copy, it does address a problem (however unintentionally) that members of Golden Dawn have. Besides being an “Order with secrets”, our official Tarot deck has symbolism that is different than most commercial available Tarot decks. Many of the divinationary meanings of Book T do not sync up with the decks made for the mass market. For someone who reads Tarot with Book T in the back of their mind, occasionally one is hard pressed to justify one’s reading of a card when using a standard (A.E. Waite influenced) Tarot deck in public.
This deck is actually closer to Book T than many of the Tarot decks that I have seen. For instance, with this deck, I am not going to have to dance around the fact that the Golden Dawn version of the Lovers looks nothing like the version typically issued. The Court Cards look like our Court Cards, and the decan cards lend themselves to producing the meanings from Book T more than the standard commercial cards.
So despite the misunderstanding of the creators about how to design a Golden Dawn Tarot deck, and artwork that is going to turn some people off, I am giving the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn four and a half out of five stars.