The Spirit of the Tarot
The Search for God's Picturebook


Cartomancy or the use of Tarot cards for divination, the “wicked” aspect of Tarot cards, assumes that how the cards are drawn follow a pre-ordained pattern.

This aspect of the use of Tarot cards evolved when the cards were associated with magic and the occult in 18th century France.  While discredited as a fabrication, their use for either prediction or to explore possibilities became very much a part of the Tarot tradition. The inspiration was the use of regular playing cards for readings.

The Hermetic Order of the  Golden Dawn, a British occult group founded in the 19th century,  inspired a number of influential decks that are used for cartomancy as well as meditation. Interpretations of the cards were heavily influenced by the French occultists.

The most popular deck is the Rider-Waite-Smith, created by Arthur Edward Wait, painted by Pamela Coleman Smith, and published by Rider in 1909. The innovation, combined with the appeal of the artist’s work, added image/stories to each card, the Minor Arcana as well as the Trumps. This deck has sold millions since becoming popular in the 1970s.

Another influential deck from the Golden Dawn tradition,  The Book of Thoth was created in the 1940s, with Aleister Crowley as the creator and Freida Harris as the painter. Not published for distribution until 1971, many find its complex design, more compelling.

A third version is the Golden Dawn Tarot that was published in 1977 under the direction of Israel Regardie, the source of much information on their ceremonial magic,  and illustrated by Robert Wang. The creators write that this deck is the closest to the deck created by MacGregor Mathers and his wife.

Each of these decks is striking, perhaps helped by the Golden Dawn practice of using black and white sketches and then applying set colors to the cards by hand to create their deck.

There are at least three other decks associated with the Golden Dawn: the Hermetic Tarot by Godfrey Dawson, 1990;  the Golden Dawn Magical Tarot by Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, 2010; and The Magical Tarot of the Golden Dawn, by Pat Zalewski and David Sledzinski, 2022.

The Smith-Waite and Thoth decks are the inspiration for many of the decks created since the Seventies.

No calculation or scientific observation is necessary for  the tarot game.  Its entire magic theory rests upon the belief that in nature there is no accident–that every happening in the universe is caused by a pre-established law.  The most  insignificant event is subject to this fundamental rule: cards mixed at random do not yield haphazard results but a suit of figures bound magically to the diviner and to the inquirer…

The practice of the tarot is based upon  a prophetic gift of man which manifests itself through a special condition, called clairvoyance by the occultists, and hyperesthesia by the scientists.


Kurt Seligman, Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books, 1948, 1971, 271-272.

Magician- Oswald Wirth Tarot
Oswald Wirth Tarot, U.S. Games Systems, 1975-2019. “The deck is the first in a long line of occult, cartomantic, and initiatory decks.” Tarot images used with permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Magician-Tarots Egyptiens Paris 1875 CA, Lo Scarabeo
Tarots Egyptiens Paris 1875 CA, Lo Scarabeo, 2018. A French deck based on Etteilla, the I8th century French man who inspired cartomancy. © of all Tarot images belong to Lo Scarabeo. Used with permission.
Golden Dawn, Robert Wang (illustrator) and Israel Regardie (director), U.S. Games Systems, 1978. Tarot images used with permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Alesister Crowley, Freda Harris, The Magician
Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck, Aleister Crowley (designer) and Lady Frieda Harris (artist), U.S. Games Systems, 1978-1983. Exhibiting for educational purposes.
Magician, University
Rider-Waite Tarot, Pamela Colman Smith (artist) and Andrew Edmund Waite (writer), University Books, 1969.